I’ll start with the warnings. First, this is a rant, and it’s a rant by a fan. There will be spoilers. Second, this is not actually about the worst Honor Harrington book (that I’ve read), which is Cauldron of Ghosts, but that’s properly a side story and not the main line. And if I think David Weber’s been letting Eric Flint influence the main story too much, let alone the side story that’s mostly Flint’s own creation and responsibility, well, that’s not really the point here either.
Third, this isn’t really even about my complaints about certain ‘verse-building choices – the addition of treecat sign language, the title character’s developing
psychic empathic powers, or even (since it doesn’t even show up in the book in question) the use of Mesan nanotechnology as a deus ex machina whenever Weber or his co-authors write themselves into a corner that requires something really implausible to get out of. Or occasionally something really implausible to set up future conflicts.
No, this is about the problems with War of Honor, in which a number of David Weber’s authorial weaknesses combine in unfortunate ways, as well as one gigantic mistake by his characters that even Weber’s having them point out as a mistake they made doesn’t keep it from being a major problem with the plot.
I’ll get this major plot hole out of the way first. The climactic battle only works out in Harrington’s favor because a heavy reinforcement for her understrength Manticoran force is sent to her unofficially from Grayson. Yet the opposing Havenite fleet commanders knew the reinforcements were missing from their normal post on a “training” mission, and never even ask if the destination (or exercise area) is known. And these are supposed to be the smart opponents, not the dumb ones that have been thinned out over the course of the series. Of course these mistakes do happen in war – but this one is just a little too convenient, made in the execution of a plan that’s supposedly been worked over with several of the proverbial fine-toothed combs. It sours the taste of the final victory – and piling on another improbable scouting coincidence that let Harrington know a surprise attack was coming and set a trap only makes it worse.
So the plot, as it concerns Harrington, has a rather hollow core. But if the only problem were the military implausibilities, it could be shrugged off. The history of military operations is in some respects nothing but a collection of really stupid decisions from people who should have known better, or others who just got absurdly lucky, from Carrhae to Agincourt to Midway.
No, what really grates is the Manticoran politicos. For a change, the opposition parties (from the perspective of most of the main characters) have charge of things – and there’s not a reputable viewpoint among them. Which, from Weber, whose work is distinctive in large part because of his dedication to presenting antagonists as openly – and mostly fairly – as possible, is an awful falling off. His Havenite oligarchs that we start the series with are hardly sympathetic, but they’re as invested in trying to control the tiger they’re stuck riding as merely continuing to make a profit – not nice people, but not abnormal, and unsentimentally aware they’re stuck with a poor system, as far as they can see – or dare to see, at least. His first batch of revolutionaries are presented symapthetically, even though their behavior is modeled on some of the worst excesses of the French and Russian revolutions. The rather blatantly named Rob S. Pierre, in particular, is a fairly well-done portrait of an extremist with good intentions trying to deal with the results of his own initial success.
Of course one can write a series in flatter tones, with villains and heroes plain to see if not quite color-coded. But that’s not Weber’s reputation: so when that’s the tone for the heroes merely domestic antagonists (while the foreign enemies and allies retain their respectful presentations – mostly), the book as a whole is jarringly out of place in the series – or the series as it was to that point. As noted in passing above, I think Eric Flint’s influence as a co-author has had an over-simplifying effect on the series (to say nothing of Weber, partly because of Flint’s side series, ending up having to write himself out of a hole dug by not wrapping up the story where he originally intended). But Flint writes openly uncomplicated stories with over-the-top hijinks: by way of cheap comparison, he plays Errol Flynn to Weber’s Humphrey Bogart.
Worst of all, however – though it’s only a tiny detail in one sense – is that War of Honor begins in the middle of a truce, and despite these open villains taking charge of Manticore’s government, and being presented quite early as perfectly willing to present a selective view of diplomatic correspondence for public – or even wider private – consumption, Weber can’t quite bring himself to have Manticore commit the final falsifications of correspondence that bring the war raging back. Instead it’s pinned for plot purposes on Haven’s new Secretary of State and his staff. Now said official is ambitious enough for any three normal people, but that’s par for the course among politicians even in this universe. But it’s never convincingly explained exactly what he thinks he’s getting from the changes made – which are not specified. (And, to put the side-stepping cherry on top, in the sequel he’s conveniently discarded before the question can be forced in Haven of what exactly the diplomatic responsibilities are between President and Secretary of State – as what he’s guilty of – that we’re told about – is more or less making changes without informing the President.)
Fortunately for Weber, the next two volumes published in the Honorverse were side stories – one Flint’s creation, the other Weber’s own idea to continue the story after the main plot wrapped up – and much lighter in tone, so that when he got around to finishing At All Costs, the volume that was supposed to wrap up the main story – even if it had in the meantime been dragged much closer chronologically to the other now-continuing intended-to-be-sequel series than Weber had planned – I at least was ready to see what happened without too much trepidation and the bad taste of this one rather forgotten. But it’s a really bad taste.