Timothy Zahn breathes new life into the stumbling Honor Harrington universe with A Call to Duty, the first novel in a series of books called Manticore Ascendant, and no one should be surprised.
Timothy Zahn is the creative genius who took the rough plans for the last three Star Wars films (Episodes 7, 8, and 9) and turned them into the Heir of the Empire book trilogy. Those books were so successful they launched an entire sub-genre of fiction that has carried the story decades beyond what we could have imagined back in the late seventies.
Now that same ability to breathe life into an established universe has combined with David Weber’s other super-power: a technically obsessive and professional fan base chock full of military experts. The result is a new level of verisimilitude in a military sci-fi series.
Live three centuries before Honor Harrington, queen of the Treecats is simultaneously familiar and alien. Manticore is only a generation or two past the Plague that nearly wiped the colony out. The economy is rebuilding and the culture is a melting pot as new immigrants with vital skills and a freshly-minted nobility sort out a balance of sorts. The second king ever sits in power, but his time is waning and the third Winston monarch certainly has his work cut out for him.
From the initial point of view of a high school graduate seeking order and discipline in the military, a tidy handful of main characters covers the range of Manticoran (think British with American touches, also, Britain back when it had a spine) society.
The old is new in many ways. The wormhole junction has not yet been discovered, so Manticore is not too far from where Grayson stood in the original book series, only barely important enough for its neighbors to bother with. The Andermani Empire is two or three planets big, and Haven is a kindly older brother a few week’s travel away.
The technical fundamentals of the largely coherent space-faring culture are present, but antique in a way that made me feel nostalgic. The political struggle continues, but without the operatic villains of earlier series. Domestic politics at this point lacks the vitriol of the first book, which is a nice breath of fresh air as contemporary American culture grows ever more polarized.
I devoured the book in a single day, because the intellectually stimulating environment of Weber’s Honorverse does away with Weber’s increasingly plodding lack of plot. Zahn has none of that! Things happen relatively quickly, with import and a pace that I haven’t seen since the first two HH books ever, back when Weber still had to prove himself and earn his readership. Weber’s work has always shined brightest in collaboration, and this is no exception. If the next book carries through with the promise of the first, this may replace the March Upcountry books as my favorite Weber works yet!