Ashes of Victory (Honor Harrington #9), David Weber

Baen, 2000, 560 pages, C$37.00 hc, ISBN 0-671-57854-5

I had been warned, early in my quest to read all ten novels of Honor Harrington’s saga, that the series took a sharp downturn in the last few volumes. It seemed difficult to believe during the first few books; how could such an enjoyable series turn sour?

Well, after reading the ninth book, it’s now more than possible; it’s obvious. What started as a fun romp through classical military fiction in zippy three-hundred-pages instalments with plenty of overdone space battles has now degenerated in a contest of endurance with overwritten behemoths that tell the story in a self-satisfied manner that belies way too much overindulgence.

When we last saw omnipotent Honor Harrington and her magical treecat Nimitz (I’m not beyond sarcasm at this point), she had successfully managed to escape the galaxy’s most secure prison, freeing half a million political prisoners in the process and destroying a sizable fraction of the enemy naval forces. No less.

The previous novel, Ashes of Victory, ended as Harrington ran back to friendly territory, leaving all the tedious mopping-up work to be done—we assumed—during the two novels. Er, not so. Almost half of Ashes of Victory is spent tying the loose ends of the previous volume. As Honor meets and greets practically every single member of the Harrington household, she engages in a tedious series of insufferable discussions in which both parties do their best to be as smug as possible. Trivial points are explained in excruciating details, well past the point at which any reasonably patient readers cries uncle. Meanwhile, the treecats’ capabilities are expanded once more (this time, they’re learning language. Quantum physics research can’t be far behind.) and Harrington gradually becomes queen Elisabeth III’s trusted confidante. The only upside to the whole sequence (indeed, the whole novel) is that we’re saved most mentions of the icky Harrington/Alexander romance.

That’s because Alexander (“White Haven”, whatever) is off grabbing the latest Manticoran technology and kicking Havenite butt. The war (launched all the way back in volume 3) finally ends here, though it ends with a abrupt twist: Rather than fight it out like men, those evil cheese-eating Havenite actually surrender! Those perfidious monkeys! How can they dare?! Heck, by that time even the readers are applauding, as the war seems to be won through large scale space battles… that are never shown on-screen. Weber’s tendency to explain useless things and gloss over major events is never clearer than in Ashes of Victory, where even the fate of several major antagonists are briefly explained away in a sentence or two even as treecat minutiae takes pages to resolve. When the ending finally arrives after chapters and chapters of self-satisfied armchair bon mots between Harrington’s best friends, Weber rushes through dozen of dramatically important events in mere pages in order to wrap up the novel.

Worst of all is that while all of this is going on, Honor Harrington is safely back home, managing her stead and setting in her new job as… a teacher. That’s right; the war ends without her. In fact, the only heroics are late, late, late in the book, and seem tacked-on to contrive Weber’s pre-determined conclusion. Those who have been charting Harrington’s ascent through the ranks will be pleased to note that she ends this particular novel on quasi-kissing terms with the Queen.

But that’s not much of a relief for everyone else who had to slog through the novel. The tell-don’t-show style of plotting is bad enough, but when you couple it with the grating dialogues and the overall lack of energy, well, suddenly it’s just as well if this is the penultimate volume of the series as it currently exists. There’s only one more Harrington book left on my bookshelves, War of Honor, and that’s more than enough for me. At this point, I don’t care all that much to see what happens to her next.

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