1/09/2010. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts
pub: TOR/Forge. 718 page hardback. Price: $27.99 (US), $33.99 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-7653-1505-2.
check out website: www.tor-forge.com
David Weber's fourth book, 'A Mighty Fortress', in as yet unnamed series where the remnant surviving humans are slowly getting to grips with learning technology after hiding out from the aliens who hunted them down after many generations continues. The Charisians that Merlin Athrawes has sided with against the Church Of God Waiting is developing their military might by granulating gunpowder so it needs less charge to boost cannonballs and developing matches. Some of the inner circle are benefiting from some things that are definitely advanced like contact lenses and radio communication. I do think it's odd that for such a people stuck somewhere around Tutor England development-wise that they accept some technology so easily and without question, let alone not think it was magic. These aren't first generation who could readily slip back into the technology pattern but generations who have had no contact with machinery. Yes, I can see it recognised by results but if you were from that time, would you readily stick a couple plastic discs on your eyes to see better?
It is nearly half-way through the book when trouble really happens when a moderate reformation priest called Father Tymahn is kidnapped, tortured and killed that Athrawes decides he cannot stand by and in disguise goes into sort things out. As the only android on the planet, he assumes a different identity so that he appears not to be the only seijin or holy man around as he sorts out some dissent in the Church side. In the meantime, the naval forces on both sides are gearing up for another major battle. The Church, aware that their plans are always in the hands of the enemy, hardly surprising considering Athrawes has bugged most places are playing divisionary tactics and hopefully catch the Charisians on the hop. They are really because it takes time to build their better fleet let alone produce the new weapons and ammunition. Interestingly, Weber tends to ignore the difference in ballistics that they need to know, especially as the ammo is lighter though more powerful.
I make that point because the story is spread over a single year and so there would be plenty of time to cover all points. A lot of the time there is more talk than action, although the ending is quite graphic. With so many characters, the glossary at the back lists them in twenty-one pages, there is little development in any of their personalities to make them, other than Athrawes, stand out. Mirroring reality where different people contribute to different events is one thing but it gets to the point where you can't really tell even whose side they are on, even from their potted histories. I'm not exactly prone to speed reading but there really is a lot of chaff here to pick out who is doing what to who when really the plot can be broken down into a couple paragraphs. If Athrawes is getting them ready for a technological upgrade so humanity can re-gain their space-faring ways, it's going to take many books to get there.
It was also a bit weird finding in the distant future that Fahrenheit had not been displaced by Centigrade for temperature scale, let alone anything more relevant to the Safehold planet. Then again, so was describing a 'walrus moustache' based on an old Earth name. Surely, a similar label could have been derived from a species based on the colonised planet or even based on the head of a broom.
The problem with having so much talking instead of a balance of action going on all the time is it tends to allow intuitive readers like me to ponder on the ramifications that Charis or Charisians is another name for Christians. It's pretty obvious that the Church was always pre-Tudor Catholic but it's making the parallels all too obvious and we know where it will lead. Considering that Athrawes intent is to get humanity back to the stars, you would have thought it would make more sense to unite both sides.
If you like ponderous stories then this one is really for you. As I've commented before, events only come to life when Merlin Athrawes and his technology is working which is a shame because otherwise the series is getting bogged down too much in early history events.
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Stephen Hunt's novels - USA