Review of THE SHADOW OF SAGANAMI by David Weber (see his website)
Baen, October 2004
While it is deeply committed to its war against Haven, Manticore has other troubles--and opportunities. A cluster of backward planets has voted to join Manticore and Manticore's Queen would very much like the merger to move forward, but not everyone favors the merge. Some fear becoming swallowed by the vastly more powerful Manticore. Within the Solarian League, there are those who see Manticore's reach as something that must be stopped. In particular, Manpower, a vast genetic slave-trading company, will do anything it can to limit Manticore and it's fierce anti-slavery practices. Unfortunately for Manticore, its leading officers and ships are busy with Haven. That leaves a small squadron of antiquated Manticore ships, along with a new arrival--a modern heavy cruiser--to patrol the peace and to deal with Manpower-inspired terrorism and the threat of invasion.
Captain Terekhov, with his nightmares and history of defeat, makes an intriguing character and the set of midshipmen from Sagamani Academy gives a human interest (and a touch of romance) to the story.
Author David Weber (see more BooksForABuck.com reviews of novels by Weber) brings his Honor Harrington Universe into the post-9/11 era with a story dealing with terrorism, moral complexity, and difficult decisions. In particular, I enjoyed the way he gave us some characters who weren't perfect, who made bad decisions, who tried to do the right thing but failed--in addition to practically perfect heroes and heroines.
When Weber is writing space action, he's at the top of his game--and one of the best. Although the arithmetic of missiles getting through various layers of defense can get old, in general the military aspects are fast-paced and thrilling. Unfortunately, things slow down when Weber gets his characters together to talk (and talk). I could have done with many fewer scenes where characters brief one another on what they should already know, presumably to make sure the reader doesn't miss anything. Weber's prose is sometimes clunky as well. It took me a while to stop thinking about the writing and start thinking about the story.
Still, readers don't buy David Weber for his prose but for his space action. THE SHADOW OF SAGANAMI takes a while to bring us the space action we crave (possibly this is why we get a movie of the original Captain Saganami, several simulator sequences and a dream sequence to fill our need for action), but the final battle scenes are great--as is the emotional ending. A couple of hundred pages of bloat-trimming and SHADOW would be a masterpiece. As it is, it's still enjoyable.
Too generous? Too stingy. Or did I miss the whole point? Send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. I'll publish the best letters I get so let me know if I can use your name.
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