Story: Having recovered from the serious injures she sustained in the battle to protect Grayson, Captain Honor Harrington is assigned to her new command – the battlecruiser Nike, fresh out of Manticore’s shipyards and ready to take its place at the head of the fleet. Nike’s shakedown cruise is a little bumpy, however, delaying the ship’s participation in fleet wargames near the remote Hancock Station outpost – and giving Honor time to become friendly with Captain Paul Tankersley, overseeing Nike’s repairs at Hancock. But the wargames are in danger of becoming the real thing as the signs begin to point toward a sudden escalation in aggressive territorial moves from Manticore’s enemy, the People’s Republic of Haven. Eager to quell civil unrest within its own empire, the Havenite military plans a bold strategy to start a war with Manticore – intending all along to make it look like Manticore is the attacker.
Review: Whereas the first two books in the Honor Harrington series are more or less self-contained, with the universe’s backstory and a few tendrils connecting them, “The Short Victorious War” is clearly setting us up for big stuff down the road, while also giving the reader more than enough action to stay awake for. But this book shakes things up where storytelling in the Honorverse is concerned in other ways.
For one thing, the viewpoint shifts slightly – this book isn’t all about Honor, or even her ship. When the war implied in the title finally breaks out, and all hell breaks loose with is, Honor and HMS Nike and her crew are pieces of the puzzle, and yes, vital pieces, but not in the singular fashion of the past two books. If anything, “The Short Victorious War” primes us for further development of Honor Harrington as a viciously cunning tactician before the firing starts, which would in any case be a much more realistic character development. Numerous characters opposed to her return to the command seat call her a hothead throughout the book, but Weber skillfully turns that on its ear; Honor’s tactical thinking before the shooting starts helps to salvage the situation (as much as it can be salvaged), rather than brash heroics. (And let’s give credit to the real tactical brain here – David Weber’s portrayal of large-scale space combat is refreshingly realistic, and his explanations of the tactics and their ramifications doesn’t fly over the reader’s head faster than a superdreadnought on full burn.
All things being fair in war, love breaks out in this book too, and it’s handled skillfully without sudden radical changes to the main characters. (If anything, Weber continues to tip the scales in favor of equality of the sexes, noting during the final battle that the life of Honor’s love interest rests squarely in her hands if she and her fellow Manticoran ship captains fail to defend their home turf.) At no point does the romance angle seem forced or contrived, though I have an uneasy feeling that anyone getting involved with Honor Harrington may have a life expectancy only slightly higher than that of someone who gets into a shooting war with her.
This brings us back to “The Short Victorious War” as something which is decidedly not a standalone story. It wraps up the immediate conflict, but makes it very clear that there are ramifications and repercussions yet to come. By the end of the book, Honor has made new enemies at home and abroad, and a new government has clawed its way into power among Manticore’s enemies. These things begin here, but they’re left tantalizingly open-ended – and therefore, if you’re a new recruit to the Honorverse, this is not where you need to start. But it’s a more than worthy entry in the saga, and a refreshing change of pace from the previous novels’ focus on personal heroics. Clearly, the landscape is changing here, and the battles will have to be fought differently. Good stuff.
Author: David Weber