Baen, 1993, 300 pages, C$9.99 mmpb, ISBN 0-671-57864-2
(read as an e-book, from the War of Honor CD-ROM)
Honor Harrington is back in this second instalment of David Weber’s wildly popular military fiction series. After being introduced to readers with On Basilisk Station, the capable officer faces another set of impossible odds in this new mission.
This time, she’s supposed to be on diplomatic duty; the Manticorian Republic is courting another solar system as an ally in an effort to protect itself from the evil socialist Havenites, and so they send in a military/diplomatic delegation to offer support and comfort to a government that has other enemies of its own. Said enemies, naturally enough, are backed by Haven. You can guess what happens from here.
“Bigger” and “better” are usually the operating directives for sequels, and The Honor of the Queen is no exception, with a structure that is essentially reprised from On Basilisk Station while allowing for more fireworks. It ends with the expected space battle in which Honor triumphs over a vastly better-equipped enemy. Repetitive, but it works; fans of the first volume shouldn’t be disappointed by this one.
What’s not as successful, though, is the explicit Women-are-people-too content in this entry. One of the most refreshing aspects of On Basilisk Station was how it handled the matter without comment, simply by putting men and women alongside in a military setting, The Honor of the Queen makes it an integral part of the plot, as Honor must demonstrate her competency to the fundamentalist characters she encounter. That smacks of overt preaching, and it’s something I’d like to avoid as much as possible. Oh well; maybe Weber now got it out of his system. Fortunately, Weber avoids the “all theists are evil nuts” cliché by featuring a few sympathetic characters whose beliefs are opposed to Harrington’s. (But they respect her. In this series so far, “goodness” and “badness” can reliably be inferred from anyone’s respect for Harrington.)
I was rather relieved to see that Honor “gets her patch” in this volume; glancing at the cover art for the latter books, I was sort of worried this would be an important spoiler for a subsequent volume. While I expect some kind of fix in the next few books, at least it explains War of Honor‘s illustration.
I was also pleased to see Nimitz (Honor’s treecat “pet”, though the term must be used lightly) get a good role. In itself, that compensates for a certain repetitiveness of the structure. It does lead me to ask, though, if every single Honor Harrington book will end with a naval engagement in which Honor is severely outmatched. I recognize that military fiction has a few basic demands and that this is, after all, only the second volume, but it does raise a warning flag.
Still, despite the familiar feel, there is a lot to like in this entry, from Weber’s unpretentious prose to his willingness to kill a few characters. It’s a pleasant surprise to see Honor’s parents turn in for a few pages. (And I’m even more pleased to notice ethnic diversity creep in Harrington’s very Anglo-Saxon universe, starting with her own Asian-ethnic mother) It’s a weaker entry than the first volume, but patience; this series is barely getting started. I have reason to believe that better stuff awaits.