Friday, June 11, 2010

A Mighty Fortress, by David Weber

A Mighty Fortress (Safehold Book 4)
This book is the fourth in the Safehold series by Weber, which begins with Off Armageddon Reef and continues with By Heresies Distressed and By Schism Rent Asunder. The premise is that there are a group of colonists on a world far away from Earth who have been deliberately kept in a pre-technological state by the early leaders of that colony. The mechanism used was The Church of God Awaiting, and its proscriptions against new ways of doing things.
This colony may also be the last surviving pocket of humanity, since Earth was destroyed after they left by hostile and powerful aliens. The only "person" who knows this is a biological construct who has wakened from suspended animation after nine centuries, who calls himself Merlin. He has the advantage of being able to use very advanced technology that was hidden away with him as he slept,  to help him get the citizens of this world into the technological age before the aliens find and destroy them, too.
The central authority Church, unfortunately, has become corrupt, its leaders jealous of their power and forgetful of their mission to love, guide, and educate their flocks. When the kingdom of Charis begins to flirt with the edges of the proscriptions on technology and develops a very strong navy, those leaders feel threatened and attempt to destroy them, declaring them heretics and traitors.
So, in the first few books, the war between the church and Charis has been building, and other nations have been taking sides. In A Mighty Fortress, a couple of crisis points are reached. First, the top leaders of the church, The Group of Four (any resemblence to the Gang of Four is purely coincidental, I'm sure) decide to crack down on the reformist movement within its own clergy. Its Inquisition has the power to arrest and interrogate and punish heretics, and their families. Much of the novel deals with the actions of folks attached to that movement getting ready for the coming purge and trying to get their families away from the grasp of the Inquisition before it comes.
Second, the church finally officially declares Holy War against Charis and its allies. The church and those kingdoms still loyal to it have been working hard to achieve naval superiority to the Charisian fleet, and we have a series of battles fought as those new capabilities are tested.
In the meantime, the Emperor and Emperess of the Charisian Empire, Caleb and Sharleyan, are expecting the arrival of their first child and heir to the throne, conspiracies are brewing in the conquered kingdoms, and new allies are being cautiously wooed.
This is a huge, complicated, book. It's nearly 700 pages long, jumps between multiple locations and points of view frequently to present simultaneous views of all its subplots, and requires a list of characters twenty-two pages long at the end of the book. At the same time, it manages to be suspenseful and exciting. A must-read for Weber fans who've been following this series.
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