At the Sign of Triumph (Safehold #9) by David Weber
Synopsis from GoodReads:
The Church of God Awaiting’s triumph over Charis was inevitable. Despite its prosperity, the Charis was a single, small island realm. It boasted less than two percent of the total population of Safehold. How could it possibly resist total destruction? The Church had every reason to be confident of a swift, crushing victory, an object lesson to other rebels.
But Charis had something far more powerful than simple numbers. It had a king, a crown prince, and a navy prepared to die where they stood in its defense. It had the Brethren of Saint Zherneau, who knew the truth about Safehold’s founding. Who knew that the Church of God Awaiting was a monstrous lie. And it had Merlin Athrawes, last survivor of long-vanished Earth. Merlin, the cybernetic avatar of a woman dead over a thousand years, who was determined to break the Church’s grip upon the human mind and soul.
So after eight years of war, it is not Charis but the Church that stands upon the brink of defeat. But the Church still commands immense resources, and — faced with the unthinkable — it’s decided that it, too, must embrace the forbidden technology which has carried Charis so far.
In the end, it is simple, for only one can survive. The lines are drawn, the navies and armies have been raised, and all of Safehold is poised for the final battle between those who believe in freedom and those who would crush it forever.
I DID IT! I finished this series! It’s been an adventure getting my hands on the books and getting through them, but I managed it.
First and foremost, let me say that this book would have greatly benefited from a dedicated copy editor. There were more spelling errors (particularly when talking about inserting one name in place of another, similar name), sentences that made no sense, extraneous sentence fragments, and so on than I’ve seen in a published book EVER. I’m not sure if the copy editor skimmed it or if there wasn’t time for one since this book was late to the publisher’s and then rushed (according to the author’s note at the back), but either way there were times when this was a struggle to read because of those mistakes.
With that out of the way, let’s get down to the novel itself. I remarked in my review for the previous novel (Hell’s Foundations Quiver) that you could argue that Weber is being far too ambitious in the scope of this series and I think that really shows in some of the throwaway remarks in this novel, such as the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it comment about assassination attempts directed at the various Charisian generals – none of which have been shown on screen or mentioned in any of the previous novels, as far as I can recall, other than the more general terrorist attacks.
Personally, I think that the entire Chisholmian-based sub-plot in this book, started in the last one, could have been completely eliminated, getting rid of at least a hundred pages, and the novel would still have been more than fine. I think it was left in there to keep Chisholm and its characters in the novel, but I could be wrong.
Other than that, I really enjoyed this novel. I liked a majority of the characters on all sides and I liked seeing not just how people were growing but what they did. There was a major reveal in this book, only half – at best – of which I saw coming, and it changed SO MUCH of what I thought I knew in a good way. It answered a couple of questions I’d had since book two and filled in so much more. There are still some unanswered questions but that’s the best way to do it, I think, especially since the unanswered questions are unimportant ones and this leaves me free to make my own decisions about characters. The best novels are those where there is some interpretation for the reader, IMHO, because reading is a dialogue with the author – or narrator, depending on how you look at it – and it’s always fun to draw your own conclusions.
I do still have a problem with Merlin, unfortunately. And that problem is his identity. We’re told in the early books that he’s Nimue but in a male body. The problem is, we never really got to MEET Nimue, so we don’t get to see how Merlin’s changed from Nimue to Merlin, we only get to see the changes in his personality. And that’s fine, because character growth is a good thing. But I feel like Weber didn’t fully think through some of the consequences of what he did with Nimue/Merlin, especially since basically none of them were addressed, ever, especially in these last two books when they really could have been due to [redacted for spoilers]. And my main complaint is probably the way Merlin’s sexual orientation was treated. In the first few books, he’s attracted to men (and comments on it several times) because he’s Nimue and she is/was attracted to men. But now he’s attracted to women – and in a sexual and romantic relationship with a woman – without any explanation or exploration. Now I don’t have a problem with fluidity in sexual attraction, but only when we’re shown or at least told of it. We didn’t get that here. And it’s bothering me a lot more than I thought it would.
Overall, the final section – the epilogue, even though that’s not how it’s labelled – felt a bit too pat and explanatory after all of the in-depth views the reader is given throughout the series. I’m not entirely happy with certain decisions that were made given how horribly they could have backfired, but they did serve as they were intended to by the characters making them. But I liked that we had an ‘outsider’s’ POV for the majority of that final part because it gave it a more complete finish than if one of the ‘inner circle’ had been stewing about how this was actually a much-less-than-optimal outcome.
As a whole, this series suffers mostly from the spelling of names; the lack of a good copy editor (who, being fair, might have struggled with the names); and the scope of the content. Some of these bothered me less than others and some of them felt necessary given the background and the end goal (not yet reached). But I still feel that this is one of Weber’s weakest series and it is not one that I anticipate rereading over and over again.
3.5 stars for the final installment in the Safehold series.