Sequels read in July: By schism rent asunder

By schism rent asunder by David Weber is a sequel, but I didn’t realise it until the end. I thought the plot was just starting in media res. It follows Off Armageddon Reef (2007) and the series is called Safehold, after the planet it is set on.

The island Kingdom of Charis bears striking similarities to Britain at the start of the gunpowder age. Charis is undergoing rapid technological development, and this is causing social changes that the Church of God Awaiting opposes. In the previous book, the Church goaded six kingdoms neighbouring Charis to attack it. This leads, at the start of the current book, to a schism similar to the emergence of the Church of England in the real world (although there’s none of that business about a divorce). In this book, the young king of Charis grapples with the corruption in the Church through political and military strategies, aided by a reformist archbishop and a mysterious bodyguard. A bodyguard who, in his innermost thoughts, makes references to our world’s military history.

Weber is a master of naval combat stories, and we see several of them here. His sci-fi books are usually based on retelling historical incidents with a thin veneer of science fiction over the top. So, his Honor Harrington series is heavily based on Cochrane and Nelson, with naval battles and political machinations that closely parallel their source material. He is also very interested in the role research and weapons development plays in warfare. In the Honourverse, these are science-fiction weapons paralelling real advances, but in this series, he just uses the development of things like iron cannons, rifled muskets, and machine-woven canvas as his backdrop for how a small, outnumbered nation can still plausibly win naval battles.

I have to say I’m enjoying the book with some reservations. The pace is glacial for an action-style book. The number of characters is extremely large, their names are indistinct, and many of them seem to have been included to set them up for the third book, so they don’t do much. The final book in the series is not yet published, although the next along, By heresies distressed, is due this month.

So, it’s only for those who already like this sort of thing. If you liked David Drake’s Belisarius series, then this will work for you (although Drake’s work moves the plot along a lot quicker.) If you haven’t read any Weber before, then you should start with On Basilisk Station instead. It’s available from us in analog, but Baen books also has it available, complete and for free, from their website.