Field of Dishonor (Honor Harrington 4), David Weber

Baen, 1994, 367 pages, C$7.50 mmpb, ISBN 0-671-87624-4

Well, that’s a pleasant surprise.

After bemoaning the lack of variety in Honor Harrington’s first three adventures, here’s a fourth volume that delivers exactly what I’ve been asking for. No space battles for Honor this time around; in fact, precious little military action is featured in Field of Dishonor. As the title may suggest, this time the action pretty much all takes place in the political arena, with consequences far more affecting than any of Harrington’s military engagements.

The novel starts scant moments after A Short Victorious War, as Pavel Young’s (grrr!) cowardly behaviour during the third novel’s final engagement is examined by military analysts. The recommendation is swift to come; Young should be court-martialed for his actions, a process that may carry with it the death penalty for treason. All is not so simple, however, as the case becomes a battleground for the political factions in the Manticoran parliament. Conservatives are quick to defend Young, which they see as an unfairly persecuted member of one of the most honoured families in the kingdom. Many of the other factions rally around Honor… well, except for those who still remember her punching one of theirs in the face during the events described in The Honor of the Queen. It’s a complex issue and it quickly gets even more complicated when the court-martial is decided by a jury with opposing -but definite- views.

All of the above takes place before the novel is halfway through. What follows is, by a significant margin, the most interesting section of the Honor Harrington novels yet. Matter of revenge and retribution are exacted left and right, with Harrington in the middle of the conflict. Pretty much all of the series becomes important in many subtle ways; no details are forgotten as Harrington becomes an unfortunate media darling. Nearly all characters are involved in the story. The final chapters are a heck of a lot of fun as, finally, we get something else than a Big Space Battle as a climax. Harrington’s involvement is also deeply personal, going beyond simply playing a lethal video-game combat really well with occasional casualties. This fight has no intermediaries.

In short, it is by side-stepping the usual military SF dramatic arc and embracing a character-driven plot that Field of Dishonor becomes the best entry (so far, so far!) in the series. Real character development takes place, with real issues affecting the characters. Though some of it may be predictable (it’s not as if we couldn’t see part of the story coming, even from the previous volume), it’s very well-done and carries with it a great sense of urgency. It’s also deeply satisfying in a very unconventional way. For maybe the first time, the entire series truly pays off. While a dramatic loop of some kind has been closed, it’s clear that this is far from being an ending.

(I’m not too pleased, however, with the off-screen death of one major character, whose demise is simply reported in the next chapter without any attempt at showing what happened. Kind of a missed opportunity for a good dramatic scene, if you ask me.)

Field of Dishonor might be a lot of things, but it’s -perhaps most importantly- a shot in the arm for the entire Honor Harrington saga. Wisely concentrating, maybe even only for one novel, on the characters rather than the hardware and the strategies, Weber has ensured a renewed interest in the adventures of his heroine. Despite the sombre tone of the last few pages, there is no doubt that Harrington will be back in action, and soon. Next volume, please!

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