01/12/2008. Contributed by Rod MacDonald
pub: Macmillan Audio. 25.5 hours 20 CDs Price: $69.95 (US). ISBN: 978-1-4272-0429-5. Read by Oliver Wyman.
check out website: http://us.macmillan.com/Book.aspx?isbn=9781427204295
David Weber has a meticulous mind. When he writes a description of a scene involving action, you are left in no doubt as to what is happening. Within the scene, it's possible to move amongst the characters to see what each one is doing then follow the trajectory of the shot or projectile moving towards its target. In a field of play, awareness of every player's position keeps you in the picture.
Similarly with dialogue, every nuance and accent becomes clear so that you know how they are speaking and in what frame of mind the words are delivered. Characters contemplating future events, plans of action or brooding over dilemmas come presented with all exhibited, exposed and neatly laid out for the reader to experience. David Weber wants to be understood and in this he is successful.
'Off Armageddon Reef' was the first book of the 'Safehold' series...this is the second. 'By Schism Rent Asunder', the subject of this review, continues the story but quite honestly, it would be very difficult to listen to this on its own without the knowledge gained from the first book. Similarly, I would hazard a guess that subsequent novels will be the same. If you read one you've got to read them all is the marketing ploy for not only this series but probably for the multitude of others on the market. Writing a good run that people will want to read gives assured income for the future and is an easier task than constructing lots of individual unconnected novels.
This isn't as massive as the first but at 20 discs involving over 25 hours of listening, it's still a long haul. I wasn't terribly impressed by the first book but must confess that this is a bit better and once involved in the complexities of the plots (and there are many of them), it's easy to get into the habit of addiction. However, I feel it is still a bit long and had problems in trying to remember characters and names. In essence, there were too many players for me to comprehend, complete with an idiosyncratic nomenclature which didn't help.
David Weber would make an excellent historian. Nevertheless, not being content with real history he has invented his own. By Schism Rent Asunder! Sounds dramatic, doesn't it? This is basically a schism in the church that governs Safehold. The old order with its inquisition and strict ways, fundamentalist in every respect, is fighting for its existence against the Reformation led by Merlin and King Cayleb of the kingdom of Charis. This is 16th century intrigue, politics, personalities and power struggle with 17th century technology to fight the battles.
Forget about the aliens, the Gbaba, because they haven't been seen for almost 1000 years or, by the end of this audio book, for well over 50 hours. Forget the fact that religion has been programmed into these people, making it unlikely for any interference by Merlin or otherwise to change their opinions. Don't question too much about Merlin when he dabbles in Safehold society, trying to advance it to a stage where it will eventually be able to fight the Gbaba and, not only that, to defeat the Gbaba. At the present progress of about one century per book, allowing for projected advances in science and warp technology, there are about another 10 books to go before we can even think about a conflict with the aliens. In the meantime, it's plain old alternative history.
Merlin is a strange character and David Weber has portrayed him really well. He isn't totally human but is one nevertheless. He is outside of the society at yet within it. Never growing old, he has centuries to look back on and must anticipate the centuries of the future to ensure humanity's survival. Almost godlike in his actions, he is the only one on the Safehold planet possessing the entire picture. The rest are merely playing their parts and the world of Safehold is David Weber's stage.
You've got to hand it to the narrator. Oliver Wyman is without doubt very good at conveying the multitude of characters to the attention of the listener. This is no mean feat when considering the actual number of characters he has to perform but it actually all comes across very well. Making distinctions between The Gang of Four couldn't have been easy. Bad enough with a triumvirate you would think but distinguishing between them and all the rest can't have been an easy task.
There's been many gangs of four in the past, China to name but one and the Orthodox Church on Safehold has its own reactionary and miserable gang of four, intent in purpose on bringing down King Cayleb and his heretics. Despite the fact that Cayleb gave them a good hammering at sea, he doesn't have much of an army and is vastly under-powered in this department. Not to be outdone, he forms an alliance with a couple of other kingdoms and tries to marry himself off to some princess with plenty of clout. Seems to me they did the same sort of thing in the 16th and 17th centuries.
The four stooges, which is pretty much what they are, have a go at anything connected to Cayleb and his alliance. This involves destruction, torture and murder all in a good cause. Of course, with God on their side how could they lose? Once again, Cayleb's fleet sets sail to sort out the enemy. Once again, Merlin interferes with history and tries to give them the edge. The outcome of the battles doesn't really resolve the underlying question about releasing humans from the evil clutches of the aliens. In fact, the battles don't really sort out the immediate problem of religious stagnation on the planet of Safehold. You'll have to wait for the next book to find out what happens...and then the book after that...and the one after that and so on.
'By Schism' was actually quite an enjoyable book. Leaving the criticisms about plot aside, it makes a good read and is certainly one which many people will enjoy. I can well understand that this series will encourage a vast number of followers and if this stops them from worrying about sub-prime mortgages, collapsing banks and a stock market going up and down like a yo-yo then so much the better.
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