Thursday, October 6, 2011

How Firm a Foundation by David Weber

  This book is the fifth in the Safehold series by Weber, and it continues in the grand tradition. When I picked up the first book in this series, I had no idea I was in for a saga of this length. It will probably rival his Honor Harrington stuff when it reaches its conclusion...if ever.

Emperor Caleb and Sharleyan continue to oppose the infamous leaders of the Church of God Awakening, based in the city of Zion, who have declared their countries and their faith apostasy and declared a jihad against them. Merlin's pupils continue to introduce new innovations to the Charisian Empire's war machine, such as exploding shells for their cannons, rifled barrels and breech loading for their muskets, and more reliable fuses for both. They've continued improving their ship designs, as well, and are just approaching the point where their mines and forges will be able to provide sufficient metals to start going the ironclad route, as well. The steam engine is on the near horizon, and will soon provide motive power for their heavy industry, their transportation needs, and probably will drive their ships soon.

Sharleyan journeys to the recently conquered kingdom of Corisande, where she takes the responsibility of dispensing high justice against those caught and convicted of treason against the Empire. She manages to win the hearts of the Corisandians, for the most part, after surviving an assassination attempt (stopped by some of Merlin's special body armor) and continuing on with the trials as if nothing had happened. The true heir to the throne of Corisande is still staying with relations near the Church Lands, and his life will be worth little if the head of the Church ever decides it would be more advantageous to have him killed and blame it on Charis, as he did with the boy's father.

The Scheulerite order (secret police of sorts) decide that, since the conventional war isn't going all that well - Charis just destroys every fleet sent their way - it is time to resort to guerrilla methods. One of the church loyalists in Tellesburg arranges to divert a large amount of gunpowder from its proper destination and into the hands of agents of the Church. Those agents mount a series of suicide bombing missions which murder a number of Caleb and Sharleyan's nobles and allies, as well as hundreds of innocent civilians. No correspondence with current world events is intended, I am sure.

Weber weaves a lot of commentary about the nature of "proper" religion into this tale, with conversations between Archbishop Mikhael Staynair and his fellow clergy, and others between members of the Gang of Four in Zion. Some rather interesting philosophical points here, from a theist or deist outlook.

There's a lot of interesting intrigue going on in the land of Siddermark, as well, where the local merchants and nobles are basically ignoring the embargo against Charis, and therefore are one of the few provinces of the Church lands who are able to afford their tithe in these desperate times. Vicar Clyntahn has finally decided to move against them, and his undercover agents foment a rebellion against that land's Lord Protector. But Madame Anjelyka, formerly of Zion - instrumental in helping many of the innocent families of clergy accused of heresy to escape when Clyntahn began his purge - has been doing some plotting of her own, and things don't turn out quite the way the Church expected after all.

More great adventure in the inimitable Weber style.

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