Review: The Honor of the Queen
by Tom Ingram
David Weber is one of those authors who is so prolific that, even if you don’t like his work, you have to have some respect for him. He has two and a half shelves devoted to him at the book store, an honour few other authors can claim. I got into Weber’s Honor Harrington series the usual way–through TV Tropes. When I found out that my mother had actually worked as a proofreader for the series, I dug around in the basement and found an old copy of On Basilisk Station, the first Harrington novel. It was a delight, and my next trip to the bookstore, I bought The Honor of the Queen.
The Honor of the Queen follows Captain Harrington on a diplomatic mission to the planet Grayson. Grayson was established by generation ship as a religious settlement. The extremists who settled there had a schism and separated into two groups: the Faithful, who were driven off the planet and exiled to Masada, and the Moderates. The Moderates’ rules have become looser over time, and it resembles the most conservative parts of the modern US, while the extremists in Masada are more like the worst parts of Iran and Saudi Arabia. Both planets have an extremely sexist culture, but Masada is actively hateful and oppressive, whereas Grayson is just patronizing. Captain Harrington, a woman, being assigned as the senior officer on the mission opens the door for all sorts of trouble.
Weber’s books are an interesting spin on far-future mil-sf. Ship to ship engagements, rather than being flashy Star Wars-style affairs, are a complex mathematical endeavour more than anything. Weber throws around figures–I get the impression that he actually did the math, though of course it doesn’t really matter–and somehow this works as a vehicle for action. The battle scenes are no less tense for being laden with numbers.
The characterization is just as strong, and many of the characters from Basilisk return with higher ranks. It’s always a delight to be inside Honor’s head, but the narrative jumps around to other side characters who are just as fun. The weary professionalism of the Havenite villains, in particular, is always worth reading. One thing I didn’t like was the misogynist narration of the Masadan villains, which was at times a little overdone. It does detract from the tension of a battle scene if every few minutes you get a reminder that “THESE ARE REALLY BAD GUYS, ALL RIGHT?”.
Weber deals deftly with the issues of feminism, cultural collision, and religion. The last of these was particularly well done–a pervading theme in his work seems to be that religion can be a powerful force for good or for evil. Ultimately it’s just a tool like any other ideology, and it’s what you do with it that counts. This is a fairly complex view for sci-fi, where all too often we learn that the people of the future have outgrown such petty superstitions and that’s that. I didn’t like the way the book’s sole pacifist was portrayed, though. In a book that otherwise seems to tackle the issues very well, the guy who doesn’t want to start a war gets turned into a snivelling, cowardly strawman and ultimately beaten up with no repercussions. I have to admit that soured things a bit.
But nevertheless, The Honor of the Queen is pulpy fun with an interesting twist, leaving you entertained and intellectually satisfied. What more can you ask for, really?