An Honorable Stand

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H. Paul Honsinger’s To Honor You Call Us was rough around the edges in several places, but it had enough potential to drive me to check out For Honor We Stand as a recent Audible purchase, and I am glad that I did!

Honsinger’s sophomore effort is one of those rare sequels that carries the wonder and energy of the first book at the same time that it addresses its weaknesses and continues forward.  The Cumberland is back in action once more, with super-soldier Max Robicheaux in command and all-scholar Dr. Ibrahim Sahin at his side for some civilian-esque contrast.  The space opera continues onto its second movement of their war against the Krang (those dirty rats, literally) like a symphony revising its theme.

In case you can’t tell, Honsinger’s improvements wowed me, and I’m a relatively tough sell as a critic.

The adolescent chest-thumpings of To Honor You Call Us have been largely toned down without losing Honsinger’s crackling pace and admittedly good plotting.  When I say pace, I mean pace!  The second novel picks up right where the first left off, which was a gutsy move for an author because it doesn’t take advantage of an “off-screen” time period to change characters.  All development and advancement has to take place under the same rugged pace requirements as the story that is actually shown.

This  very element addressed my harshest criticisms of the first book with some rewarding narrative courage.  Robicheaux’s seemingly effortless transformation of his crew is not complete, which would have been quicker and easier as part of the story.  Dealing with issues such as courage, criminality in the military (sort of a third rail in American military fiction right now), drug addiction, Honsinger takes some surprisingly nuanced stances between compassion for the reasons people are driven to fail in certain lights, and the way that justice and mercy must be balanced in a wartime naval vessel.  These subplots add a great amount of humanity to characters so bold they risked cartoonish proportions in the original story.

Honsinger’s second offering gives me one of my favorite treats in fiction series; He carefully and deliberately shows the consequences, both good and bad, of the heroes’ choices in the first book.  This essential characteristic is one of the markers that distinguish the genre of epic (Odyssey, Honor Harrington) from merely serial fiction (Simon R Green’s latest few series have fallen into this mire).  Robicheaux and Sahin’s larger-than-life status is more acceptable when the fate of entire worlds rest in their hands.

The cast of supporting characters steps up in this second series in ever-more-pleasing fashion.  Superior officers play a much larger role as Cumberland has more direct contact with the navy.  Honsinger uses a matched set of foils in the upper and middle ranks of the military to cut his lines of heroism and duty like a Ginsu Knife infomercial.

Honsinger’s pace and plotting were already tight, and he has refined his technique so that the 14.5-hour audio book flew by.  By the time the story ended, I was already planning how to juggle my budget to buy the net book.

If we were in a literary criticism class I could go into more depth, but for the sake of spoilers I will end with this: I recommended the first book as filler between better science fiction and fantasy author’s leavings, but For Honor We Stand has changed my opinion.  The series may have started with a lurch or two, but by the second book the Man of War series has hit its stride and it’s off to the races we go.

If you have already picked up To Honor You Call Us, your next installment will be a treat.  If you haven’t, the first two books in this series promise great things to come.  I’m revising my recommendation.  Grab your imaginary cutlass and sidearm and join an away team to the Cumberland, where adventure awaits.


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