Shadow of Victory by David Weber
Synopsis from GoodReads:
The Mesan Alignment is revealed, and, for Honor Harrington and the Manticoran Star Kingdom, this means war!
Sometimes things don’t work out exactly as planned.
The Mesan Alignment has a plan—one it’s been working on for centuries. A plan to remake the galaxy and genetically improve the human race—its way.
Until recently, things have gone pretty much as scheduled, but then the Alignment hit a minor bump in the road called the Star Empire of Manticore. So the Alignment engineered a war between the Solarian League, the biggest and most formidable interstellar power in human history. To help push things along, the Alignment launched a devastating sneak attack which destroyed the Royal Manticoran Navy’s industrial infrastructure.
And in order to undercut Manticore’s galaxy-wide reputation as a star nation of its word, it launched Operation Janus—a false-flag covert operation to encourage rebellions it knows will fail by promising Manticoran support. The twin purposes are to harden Solarian determination to destroy the Star Empire once and for all, and to devastate the Star Empire’s reputation with the rest of the galaxy.
But even the best laid plans can have unintended consequences, and one of those consequences in this case may just be a new dawn of freedom for oppressed star nations everywhere.
Before reading this review, please keep in mind that this is the fourth book in a spin-off series that ties in VERY tightly with both the main series and a second spin-off. Spoilers WILL be involved for those who haven’t read any of the Honor-verse (or who have only read either Manticore Ascendant or the Stephanie Harrington novels).
I want to start this review off by saying that I read a lot of mixed reviews about this novel before I ever picked it up. And, to some extent, that made me lower my expectations of this book. But something I want to point out to anyone reading the Honorverse: Shadow of Victory is not one of the main-line novels, the way so many people (including GoodReads’s categorization system) seem to think. The title tells me that it properly lines up with the side-series that began in Shadow of Saganami. Also, the next main series novel will have to have Honor in the title somewhere, in order to keep up with the tradition to this point. So whatever criticisms you can make about this novel – and there most certainly are some – one of them cannot be that it doesn’t advance the main series plot.
Having said that, there were quite a few valid criticisms floating around out there. The primary one is the use of language in this book. Specifically, Polish and Czech. I wouldn’t mind if there had, in previous books, been cases where foreign words were used fairly often on certain planets – for instance, if Haven used French terms. That would have led me to expect to read foreign words for offices, bureaus, etc. However, with the exception of occasional German words for Andermani naval officer ranks, that has NOT been the case. On top of this, while there is a glossary – for the Polish ‘world’ – in the back of the book, it doesn’t include everything, so if you forget a word’s definition, you can’t necessarily go and look it up. Plus, the Czech words DON’T have a glossary.
My second major complaint is another one I’ve seen echoed in other places. Mainly, that this novel retreads a lot of ‘old’ ground. Yes, we get to see a lot of different perspectives and a lot of gaps filled in – which I loved. I have no complaints about that. But I didn’t think we needed to see new worlds being prepped for rebellion. We had several already from Shadow of Freedom, and while we did get to see those worlds, we spent a lot more time on some of the new ones, especially the two above-mentioned worlds. Which, yes, fine, they did add something new and different. But they also padded the book out to over 700 pages.
My final major complaint is that this book really needed a good copy editor. It feels to me that the more books Weber writes, the fewer time is spent correcting grammatical mistakes, leading to me, at least, being jerked out of my reading. Combined with having a hard time getting used to the foreign words, Shadow of Victory was much harder to get into than any other Weber novel I’ve read. And I’ve read a lot of them.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. I loved getting to see some of the scenes I thought were ‘glossed over’ in previous books, so the scope of the book – it’s time period, if you will – was actually acceptable to me. I liked getting to read the build-up of the revolutionary movements, and I really liked the side scenes with Manticoran – and Grayson (hello, Abigail!) – characters, showing us what they were up to during and between the scenes in other novels. And as someone who’s enjoyed the Manticore Ascendant novels, I enjoyed the side references to Travis Long’s family, even if they make me wonder a lot more about exactly how the Manticore Ascendant series is going to end.
The other thing I thought Weber did really well was to show different socio-economic classes leading different revolutions. For example, on Chotebar, for example, it is one part of the elites who lead the uprising, trying to take back the revolution he had watched stagnate into nothingness. Meanwhile, on Swallow, we watch as a sprawling clan comprising middle and lower-class folks takes on the local government and transstellar more because of one woman’s death than for any other reason. And so on and so forth. Many of the revolutions were against the same people – the Solarian League and corrupt transstellars alongside repressive ‘local governments’ – but they all happened for slightly different reasons led by slightly different people. Not only did this help in keeping things straight, but it also helped each world feel different.
I’m going to end with something that is sort of critical and sort of not. An observation of something people have already noted in regards to some of the short stories. And that is that when Weber goes ‘back in time’ to write about either pre-series events involving characters in the main series or even when he simply publishes a new book that covers the future and ground already written about, inconsistencies tend to pop up. In this case, the Solarian spy/police-figuring-out-something’s-hinky subplot. We have been following Irene and Daud about it in the other novels. But in this one, we’re introduced to a pair who have been following the same problems – for longer than Irene and Daud. So why haven’t they popped up before? Or at least met up with Irene and Daud (or one of their co-conspirators)? The answer is that it’s because different sections of the intelligence community ‘don’t talk’, and at least they all do meet up by the end of this book, closing that plothole. But I really feel like Blanton and Weng came out of nowhere, in some respects. That doesn’t mean I’m not happy to see them, because it’s always nice to see intelligence and competence, but it does make their introduction to Daud feel a bit late, even with the reasons why that happened when it did.
In total, 3.5 stars. I really liked it, and I got really into it, especially the parts with the Grahams and Firebrand, filling in the gaps about the Manticorans in Talbott dealt with the Yawata Strike, and watching the Havenite-Manticoran interactions. But, unfortunately, there wasn’t enough new stuff to keep me happy, and the way the book ended is not endearing Weber to me when it’s already been two years (at least) between the release of the last book in the ‘current’ plot and this one.