August 03, 2005

Crown of Slaves, by David Weber and Eric Flint

Hold on to your hats, it's old home week in the Honorverse.

Crown of Slaves is the first full-length novel set in Weber's Honorverse that doesn't directly involve Honor Harrington herself. Coincidental in time with War of Honor it involves a grand pageant of characters from all over the Honorverse with a plot that's really too complicated for me to even attempt to explain it.

Anton Zilwicki is sent by Queen Elizabeth III as Manticore's envoy to the funeral of the Solarian League's leading opponent to genetic slavery. The funeral is to be held in the star nation of Erewhon, which makes things tricky. Erewhon is one of the charter members of the Manticore-led Alliance against the People's Republic of Haven, but the government formed by Baron Highridge at the end of Ashes of Victory has been doing its darnedest to alienate all of Manticore's allies--at least it seems that way--and Erewhon has recently been flirting with Eloise Pritchart's new Republic of Haven. With Zilwicki go his wife, Cathy Montaigne, formerly Countess of the Tor, his daughter Berry, whom he adopted at the end of "From the Highlands" in Worlds of Honor #3: Changer of Worlds, and also by Ruth Winton, daughter of Prince Michael's wife Princess Judith. Remember Judith? She was captured by the Masadans as a young girl and led a successful exodus of women off-planet--with Prince Michael's help.

Zilwicki and his charges travel to Erewhon in a ship provided by--for all intents and purposes--the anti-slavery organization called the Audubon Ballroom, a group his wife has supported for many years, and also a group that helped him rescue his daughter Helen from the Scrags under Old Chicago.

Of course, fanatic revolutionary Victor Cachat had a hand in that rescue as well; and he's come to Erewhon as the envoy of Havenite President Eloise Pritchart. And Manticoran Captain Michael Oversteegen is in-system as well, just to keep an eye on things.

Of course, there's a plot by Manpower Unlimited, working with a group of Masadan terrorists and the aforementioned Scrags, to kidnap Princess Ruth; an amoral and ambitious Solarian officer who's taken to playing power politics of a particularly dirty kind; and and an Amazon of a Solarian Marine Lieutenant who thinks that Victor might just be her cup of tea.

There's a lot to like about this book; it's wickedly funny in spots, the action sequences are good, and it's completely unpredictable. Both Weber and Flint are good spinners of tales, and it was fun watching them work together. On the other hand, a number of the characters, notably Victor Cachat and Lieutenant Thandi Palane, are (not to put to fine a point on it) monsters. They are on the right side, mostly, and are fighting against the Bad Guys, but there's too much moral ambiguity and sick violence in them for them to really be Good Guys--and yet, the authors mostly treat them as Good Guys. If they are monsters, one can hear them saying, then at least they are Our Monsters. There's a thin line between encouraging the reader to identify with seriously flawed characters and praising those characters for their monstrosity. Weber and Flint don't quite cross that line--at least, I don't think they do. But this is an uncomfortable book in places nevertheless. praising

Posted by Will Duquette at August 3, 2005 08:35 PM