Story: Although she and several of her fellow Manticoran and Grayson POWs escaped from the shady head of State Security for the People’s Republic of Haven, Honor Harrington and her two shuttles of escapees have still been stranded on the Havenites’ prison planet of Hell for months. Without the benefit of the food drops for the actual prisoners on Hell, Honor and her people are both worse off and better off than those in the prison camps. But she hasn’t given up, and with her crewmates – and the Havenite defector who helped them escape – she begins to put into motion an elaborate escape plan, involving taking over the central StateSec base camp (which also happens to control Hell’s deadly array of orbital defense plstforms) and then waiting for the next inbound prison ship. While her officers try to whip the freed prisoners of Hell into an effective fighting force, Honor prepares to spring a trap from deep inside Haven territory – and she aims for nothing less than freeing every POW and political prisoner on Hell. But back home, as far as her family and friends know, Honor Harrington and her surviving crew have already been executed.
Review: “Echoes Of Honor” is the most atypical book in the entire series for numerous reasons. The setting of the story, dictated by the cliffhanger ending of “In Enemy Hands”, takes Honor Harrington off the bridge and plunges her into the middle of bloody guerilla warfare. Previous books have shown her to be more than capable of defending herself, but the series hasn’t really covered ground engagements extensively. As usual, Weber lets us peek into Honor’s mind at the tactics underlying the whole thing, and it all seems to make sense, even if the strings of coincidences that make it all work stretch the envelope a bit. (This book may well contain the costliest game of chess-by-mail in literary history.)
While it’s interesting to take Honor and her – if you’ll pardon the pun – honorable allies taken out of their ordered chain-of-command context, and watch them try to maintain that order in the face of anarchy and occasional savagery, it seems like a bit of a cheat that, for many of the characters, there’s never a question of whether to maintain order, or why they should, but just debates over how to do it. That may have been a no-brainer for the book’s 1998 publication date, but one need only look at the things that have happened in the world in the decade since then to realize that there are bad apples in uniform – among both the putative good guys and the alleged bad guys – to realize that perhaps, in hindsight, this scenario is almost too good to be true. There seem to be hints along the way that there’ll be big trouble controlling the prison population or getting them to get in line behind Honor’s elaborate escape plan, and yet the feared trouble never really happens.
Almost more fascinating is what’s going on with the Peeps (a.k.a. the People’s Republic of Haven) as their new war chief takes power and begins to consolidate that power. The loss of one of the Peeps’ prime movers and shakers (as seen toward the end of “In Enemy Hands” also shakes up the status quo interestingly behind the enemy lines, and really makes for most of the interesting reading in the book’s soft middle sections. When the Peeps strike at the Manticorans, it’s somewhat gratifying to see that the Manties can win a battle or two without Honor calling the shots. A lot of this material seems to be setting things up for Honor to fix in future books, however, so don’t give the Royal Manticoran Navy too much credit.
Overall, though, “Echoes Of Honor” is more unpredictable than most books in the series, precisely for all the status-quo-shaking-up that it does. Nobody, not one single character, is on a sure or familiar footing in this story, and that keeps the reader on their toes as well.
Author: David Weber