Do you like Arthurian legend, religious war motivated by politics, and the burgeoning Age of Sail? If yes, then try Off Armageddon Reef. This book will feel abundantly familiar to anyone who has read a moderate number of David Weber‘s other works. Not only is he recognizable by his language (and especially by his descriptions of violence in naval combat, which bear a striking resemblance to those used in the Honor Harrington series), but the story itself is often assembled from elements which he has already used in other books. It speaks well for him that he’s found another way to combine those pieces, and used them to explore new topics and themes. With naval battles and wonderful Arthurian parallels, I’m sold on this series. Maybe I’ll change my mind six books from now, but I suspect that much like with the Honor Harrington series I’ll continue to be drawn in by the story being told here. I happily anticipate gorging myself on the next book posthaste.
Off Armageddon Reef is actually very similar in concept and background to Heirs of Empire, but while they both feature high technology people trying to bootstrap their allies into a better position, this book follows what I feel is a far more interesting course. Rather than trying to conquer a sufficient part of the world to gain access to an ancient and forgotten computer, the main character of Off Armageddon Reef is trying to cultivate the regrowth of humanity; she must counteract centuries of propaganda and false religion used to establish a “safe” society that will prevent humanity from being detected by its ancient space-going foes, and instead lead people towards a future in which they will be able to defeat those same foes.
I’m perfectly happy to have an incredibly powerful protagonist, provided that the choices they must make are interesting ones. David Weber delivers on that front, as our heroine must weigh the value of openly using her superior abilities against the near certain risk of starting a holy war and being proclaimed a demon. More to the point, there are plenty of other people whom this story also follows, and watching their gradual development is fascinating to me. I’m very curious to see where a number of the smaller characters end up, since they seem like they are set on potentially very interesting plot arcs. More on that with the spoilers.
I wasn’t sure whether to put this here or earlier, but I’ve erred on the side of caution. You’ll quickly learn to recognize a few basic characteristics of nations in Weber’s books. And any time that you have a nation described as being small, commercially focused, and essentially maritime (space navies count too, Manticore), you’re looking at England and therefore the good guys. Maybe Weber recognizes this and is just waiting to subvert my expectations, but I suspect that pseudo-England will continue to be the good guys in his stories.
As I mentioned above, I’m especially interested in finding out what happens to a particular churchman, by the name of Dynnys. It looks like he’s either being set up to become a deeply dedicated enemy or he’s on track to move into apostasy and possibly heresy. Both of those would be fun to follow, but I’m hoping that he becomes a heretical ally and is somehow redeemed. I think he’d make a fabulous addition to the cast of heroes, and I’d be excited to see where that took him as a character.
One last note: I was able to call an important character’s death a good while before it happened, at the moment when Haarahld thinks about letting “Merlin” know that he accepts him. I know that playing up the tension by leaving this sort of acceptance and understanding unresolved is classic storytelling, but I almost feel like it was telegraphed too strongly. Maybe that’s just a reflection of my being able to anticipate plot twists, but it seemed really obvious. I acknowledge that it was entirely appropriate and completely within the expectations of the book (you knew it had to happen sooner or later anyways), but I wonder what the actual event would have been like for me if it hadn’t been so blatantly foreshadowed.