In By Schism Rent Asunder, Weber continues the Safehold series that he started with Off Armageddon Reef. He returns to his burgeoning Age of Sail adventure that pits a lovable and clearly heroic pseudo-England against a corrupt and controlling Mother Church, in what will soon become a holy war. This recipe has been tried before, and it turns out that it tastes just fine.
The balance of the action of this second book is very different from that of the first. Where the first book placed the climax to the action almost at the very end, this second book in the series has its climactic hump in the middle. I think it is able to get away with this because it is clearly setting up for the next book in the series by establishing the future challenges that will face our heroes, but the change in format just serves to underline the oddity of its structure. I have become so used to seeing the standard three act format (brief introduction, trouble & tension rise, trouble & tension come to a head in time for last minute success), that getting something else is almost disorienting.
That said, the story told by the second book is still quite good. With a little more thought, I would consider the second book in the series to function as the opening to the second act of the larger story. There are a number of unexpected revelations and other interesting developments that push the story along, and you can see where more trouble will be coming later down the line.
That character that I wrote about last time, the one whose story arc I was interested in seeing completed? He did it. He did it a lot faster than I had thought he would. And then he died horribly. Of course, then Weber also began hinting at wider internal opposition to the corruption of the Mother Church and several ways in which members of the villain-gang were no longer fully cooperating with each other.
There’s a somewhat unfortunate development in terms of the difficulties facing the character Merlin: I had thought that his trouble with deciding whether or not to reveal himself was worth more attention and would continue to be a central focus of the story, but it’s been somewhat resolved in By Schism Rent Asunder. The people closest to him mostly know the truth, and they’re ok with it. I don’t know whether to be happy that Weber decided to resolve that before it dragged on for too long and became uninteresting, or be disappointed that he didn’t get at least a little more mileage out of it. I suspect that he’ll manage to squeeze more from it as the cast of central characters broadens, since by then Merlin’s secret will be less closely kept and therefore more difficult to maintain even though his closest allies are already ok with the truth. We’ll see.
I worry a little that Weber has made things too easy on the heroes over the course of this book. I don’t think that will remain the case in the next few books, but I’m not sure that Weber has dropped enough anvils on the heroes to make things appropriately intriguing. I could just be misreading where we are in the story: if this second book really is the opening of the second act in a three act structure, this is just the beginning of the trouble which our heroes will face. There should be plenty of chaos and difficulty still en route for our protagonists to overcome.