“Shadow of Freedom” is the latest installment in a series begun by science-fiction writer David Weber in 1993. The novels take place 2,000 years in the future when a diaspora from Earth has led to the colonization of more than a 1,000 planets and the founding of numerous “star nations.”
The three most important of these to the story are the Star Empire of Manticore, the Republic of Haven and the Solarian League. The first two are situated hundreds of light-years away, while the latter is centered around Earth and her colony worlds. The majority of the series focuses on the war between Manticore and Haven before moving on to other, more ominous events. Readers knowledgeable in European history will see the parallels between this conflict and the Napoleonic Wars with Manticore taking the role of Great Britain and Haven the part of France (with some characteristics of the Soviet Union). The Solarian League is the crumbling Hapsburg Empire.
The central character of the series is Admiral Honor Harrington of the Royal Manticoran Navy. She is a female naval officer modeled on Horatio Nelson or Horatio Hornblower. The main Honor Harrington series consists of thirteen books to date and has expanded into a six-book collection of anthology stories, a two-book sub-series and another sub-series of which “Shadow of Freedom” is the third book. All of the novels involving Weber’s creation have become known as the “Honorverse.”
If you have not read the earlier books in the various series, and plan to, skip down six paragraphs so it is not spoiled for you.
The main character of “Shadow of Freedom” is Admiral Michelle “Mike” Henke, the Manticoran Queen’s cousin, Honor Harrington’s best friend and the commander of the 10th Fleet. The novel continues the ongoing conflict with the Solarian League in the Talbott Quadrant, which has turned to outright war.
Henke has just handed the Solarian League its most devastating, one-sided defeat in its 1,000-year history. Following her victory, she receives a message from the Mobius System informing her the Mobius Liberation Front is rising up against the Solarian-backed system president. While she sympathizes with their goal, she is also faced with a life or death struggle against the largest, richest and most powerful political entity in human history.
The communication from the MLF puts her in an awkward position since she has never heard of them and her resources are stretched thin with the situation facing her. Equally chilling, the messenger tells her the rebels have been coordinating with Manticoran agents and are now ready to strike.
Mike knows it is a trap set by the Star Empire’s true enemy, the insidious and shadowy Mesan Alignment. This group has had a massive conspiracy in play for the last 600-years, something involving the destabilization of the interstellar superpowers, the rise of a genetically superior race and the deaths of billions of people.
If the planned uprising is brutally crushed because the Manticorans are not there to support the rebels as promised, then the Star Empire’s reputation, as a champion of freedom will be ruined. No star nation will ever trust them again.
Mike knows it is a trap. She also knows she cannot allow patriots, who believed in her nation, no matter that they were lied to, to go to their certain deaths. She must act.
Once again, David Weber has written a great book.
While this novel does little to advance the overall storyline, it does detail the events happening in the Talbott Quadrant at the same time the main action involving Harrington is occurring (think of the two-front war in World War II as a real life example).
There is more action and less conversation than the last two books but more forward movement would have been nice. To be fair, an important decision is made that will have wide-ranging effects but it happens toward the end.
The book had a great moment when a supporting Manticoran character asks a fairly unpleasant villain, “Why is it that people like you always think you’re more ruthless than people like me?”
He then proceeds to deal with her in pretty dramatic fashion. Despite the lack of progress from this latest entry in the Honorverse, it is technically a solid piece of work. David Weber writes well and creates characters that are three-dimensional and interesting. The cultures and technology are realistic, at least to this non-scientist.
As the entire series is imaginative and complex but not to the extent you cannot follow along, I would recommend this book as an important part of the overall storyline.
Darren Ivey is a Manhattan fire figher and a Manhattan resident.