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Off Armageddon Reef
by David Weber
Series: Safehold #1
Other books by this author that I've reviewed include Mission of Honor, Insurrection, Worlds of Honor, Empire from the Ashes, Changer of Worlds, Torch of Freedom, Hell’s Gate, Hell Hath No Fury, In Fire Forged, In Fury Born, By Schism Rent Asunder, Mission of Honor, By Heresies Distressed, A Rising Thunder, A Mighty Fortress, How Firm a Foundation, Fire Season, Midst Toil and Tribulation, Shadow of Freedom, House of Steel, Worlds of Weber: Ms. Midshipwoman Harrington and Other Stories, Beginnings, Like a Mighty Army, Cauldron of Ghosts, Treecat Wars, A Call to Duty, Hell's Foundations Quiver, At the Sign of Triumph.
First in the Safehold military science fiction series revolving around a god-like being and the path he prefers for what remains of mankind.
Personally, I give it a “7”.
Oh, wow!! Damn it, it’s a David Weber. I simply could not put it down once I got into it. Weber really knows how to create a cast of characters you cheer on and boo. For those of you who enjoy Bernard Cornwell’s Richard Sharpe series or naval histories like Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin series, you will pick this up now!
It began as a difference of opinion over how man was safest: evolving or remaining static. What it has become is a very corrupt society in which priests take bribes or pay them out to get the results that benefit the individual priest or the upper ranks of the priesthood.
The names crack me up. Weber took normal names and then substituted “y”s for “a”s, “i”s, “o”s, and “u”s at times. Check ’em out. Read it quickly and you’ll find the standard name we’re accustomed to, lying within. Toss in the odd “h” and it really throws things off. Okay, I do appreciate the effort to accomplish this, and it does add to the atmosphere, but personally, I’d rather have the normal name as it would make it easier to keep track of who’s who. And I wouldn’t spend so much time stumbling over the odd spellings as I read! I am curious as to the why of “Nimue” and “Merlin”. I rather expected the primary good guy to be named “Arthur”! (We do get an Excalibur!)
Okay, here’s an e-reader function I want…a way to replace names in the story on your own personal version…!
If you are particularly religious and believe in the sanctity of Church, don’t read this. You’ll hate it. If you acknowledge that a Church is made up of fallible men and can handle most of the Church being presented as the bad guy, you’ll at least enjoy the story. I’m agnostic so…
Fortunately, Weber provides a quick synopsis of the Books of the bible as written by the different archangels of Langhorne and Bédard’s side with most of them practical guides to life, although it doesn’t appear until late in the story.
The push behind all the innovation in Charis is a result of the Church’s political machinations and envy but the best part of the story is the progress we are involved in with the improvements in foundries, shipbuilding, designing sail layouts, the introduction of the abacus — can you imagine trying to add and subtract using Roman numerals!?!?! Arghhhh!!! Merlin introduces other hand-operated machines as well.
It’s a very busy story with all but two countries actively against Charis. Thanks to Merlin’s SNARCs, we get to listen in on the plotting and planning of Charis’ enemies. Do not however think that Weber doesn’t throw in the tension. Hah! My heart was in my mouth and my eyes were racing across the pages desperate to know what would happen next. And Weber doesn’t make it easy. There are plenty of action sequences that leave you wondering in fear if this character or that will survive. There isn’t any romance; the closest is the mention of a couple of wives (I suspect that Nahrmahn’s daughter Princess Mahrya (Moira??) will end up betrothed to Cayleb in a future installment) and some issues Merlin has with body reactions…well, hey, it’s still the female Nimue underneath that male sculpting, and she is definitely reacting to all those nude men playing rugby in the water!
Oh, I do love Cayleb’s words to Thirsk after the battle at Crag Reach!!
A species humans named the Gbaba are intent on erasing mankind from existence, and humanity is damned if they’ll go gently. There are not many humans left, and they have concocted an elaborate ruse to gain mankind time to reestablish themselves on a planet as far away beyond possible from any Gbaba detection. Using what they’ve learned from past Gbaba destructive raids, they design a new past for man. One in which there is no technology beyond muscle, no desire to innovate.
The dividing factor was Langhorne, Bédard and their clique’s choosing to make themselves out as archangels who were revered as messengers of the god and who refused to permit mankind to ever realize what they had managed to achieve. Unfortunately for Pei Kau-yung, Langhorne and his won and Pei Shan-wei and her colony were wiped off the planet Safehold and the “bible” was re-written to showcase Shan-wei as evil.
Over 800 years later, the AI secreted by Pei Kau-yung, Pei Shan-wei, and their sect revives a PICA, a Personality-Integrated Cybernetic Avatar, using Nimue’s personality. A recording by Pei explains the founding and history of why Safehold was established as well as the reasons for the infighting. The PICA’s mission is to decide if she should interfere with mankind’s current existence. An existence in which the Temple of God, Mother Church, rules the entire planet. Enough time has passed, 890 years, that corruption has settled deeply into the Church as they manipulate kings and countries to the Church’s benefit.
Today they are threatened by Haarald VII of Charis whose father established a Royal College dedicated to finding new ways to combine current knowledge to enhance efficiency — terrifying, for it promotes change. Charis is far enough away from the Temple of God in Zion that there is less Church oversight. It’s not really the Charisians’ innovations that are the problem. It’s more that their Navy and their merchant fleet makes Charis a powerful nation. A threat to Mother Church’s autonomy. A threat that builds up the Church’s fears and sets change in motion.
Events are already in motion in Charis for Merlin Athrawes, a.k.a., the PICA Nimue, erupts into their lives when he saves Cayleb from an assassination attempt. Bringing with him all the knowledge and his interface abilities with OWL (Ordoñes-Westinghouse-Lytton RAPIER tactical computer) which will aid the Charisians in their coming fight against those who envy them.
There is a cast of thousands, so I’ll only relate the more important names.
Merlin Athrawes (?) is the male version of Nimue the PICA. Quite conveniently, the PICA can affect minor physical changes and since Safehold is male-oriented, Nimue has chosen a male physique. Cayleb is the Crown Prince of Charis. Young, but brought up in his forefathers’ shadow of kindness, decency, and responsibility to his people. Ahrnahld Falkhan (Arnold Falcon), a Charisian Marine, is in charge of the prince’s security.
King Haarahld VII (Harold) of Charis is Cayleb’s father — you’ll absolutely love him and wish more rulers could be like him. Rayjhis Yowance (Regis ??), Earl of Gray Harbor, is his first councillor. Bynzhamyn Raice (Benjamin Race), Baron Wave Thunder, is his spymaster. Sir Rhyzhard Seafarmer (Richard) is Wave Thunder’s second-in-command. Kahlvyn Ahrmahk (Calvin Armac??), Duke of Tirian, is Gray Harbor’s beloved son-in-law, raised as a brother with the king and Haarahld’s staunch supporter, fourth in the succession, and a much-loved cousin of Cayleb’s. And a traitor. Bishop Maikel Staynair (Michael) is a Charisian and appointed by the king much to Mother Church’s dismay; he is also an honest man with a Christian interpretation of Writ. Um, the original definition of “Christian”.
High Admiral Bryahn Lock Island (Brian), Earl of Lock Island, commands key fortifications at Tellesberg’s harbor mouth in Charis. Doctor Rahzhyr Mahklyn (Roger Maclin?) is the Dean of the Royal College of Charis. Ehdwyrd Howsmyn (Edward Houseman) “owns two of the kingdom’s three largest foundries and one of the largest shipyards and a small fleet of merchant ships”. Raiyan Mychail (Ryan Michael) is the Royal Navy’s primary sailmaker. Sir Dustyn Olyvyr (Dustin Oliver) is one of the top ship designers and the “chief naval constructor of the Royal Charisian Navy”. Sir Ahlfryd Hyndryk (Alfred Hendrick), Baron Seamount, is a Navy captain and the gunnery expert of Safehold.
Enemies of Charis
Oskahr Mhulvayn (Oscar Mulvayne?) is a spy for Prince Hektor in Tellesberg. His boss is Zhaspahr Maysahn (Jasper Mason). Zhames Makferzahn (James MacPherson) replaces Mhulvayn after the purge. Communication is through Captain Whaite (Wait? White?), a.k.a., Lieutenant Robyrt Bradlai (Robert Bradley) of the League Navy. Braidee Lahang (Brady Lang) is another spy.
Prince Nahrmahn (Norman) of Emerald is a greedy jerk without a longterm view; he spies and plots against Charis. Baron Hahl Shandyr (Hal Sander?) is his spymaster. Trahvys Ohlsyn (Travis Olson), Earl of Pine Hollow, is his chief councillor while Gharth Rahlstahn (Garth Ralston), Earl of Mahndyr, is the commander of the Emerald Navy.
Prince Hektor of Corisande hates the Charisians. Phylyp Ahzgood (Phillip Osgood) is his spymaster. King Rahnyld (Ronald) of Dohlar. Samyl Cahkrayn (Samuel Cochrane), Duke of Fern, is Rahnyld’s chief councillor. Admiral Lywys Gardynyr (Lewis Gardener), Earl of Thirsk, is second-in-command of the Dohlar Navy sent out to ravage Charis. Good thing he’s not in charge! That honor goes to the very incompetent Admiral General Duke Malikai (gads, you can almost tell how incompetent he is by the number of titles!). King Gorjah of Tarot (?) has an alliance with Charis against which he chafes. Queen Sharleyan of Chisholm is one of the few rulers very reluctant to war against Charis. Mahrak Sandyrs (Mark Sanders), Baron Green Mountain, is First Councillor in Chisholm. Sir Lewk Cohlmyn (Luke Colman) is the Earl of Sharpfield and the senior admiral for the Chisholm Navy. Together, they come up with their best plan to “comply” with Mother Church with the least damage to Charis.
Father Paityr Wylsynn (Peter Wilson) is the intendant (inquisitor) in Charis; the Church’s problem is that he’s honest. Erayk Dynnys (Eric Dennis) is the Archbishop of Charis spending the majority of his year in Zion and a month in Tellesberg. Bishop Executor Zherald Ahdymsyn (A French “Gerald”?? Adamson) is Dynnys’ representative in Charis year-round. Father Symyn (Simon) is Dynnys’ new secretary — and a zealous spy for Clyntahn.
There are four priests who form a Council of Vicars, the Church’s rulers: Zhaspyr Clyntahn (Jasper Clinton) is the Grand Inquisitor as well as a glutton and has a major hate on against Father Paityr and his family; Zahsyn Trynair (Jason Trainer??) is the true power of the Council, the Chancellor; Rhobair Duchairn (a French “Robert”? ??), the Treasurer General; and, Allayn Magwair (Allan ??) is the Captain General. Erek XVII is the Grand Vicar, but a figurehead (it’s said that Erek “demonstrates his independence by choosing which pair of shoes he would wear”)
“Archangels” Langhorne and Bédard prevailed and created a society which follows the Langhorne Bible religiously and forbids any innovations that may create emissions.
The Cover and Title
The cover is split horizontally in three sections with a deep gunmetal gray as top and bottom containing the author’s name and the title while the middle band is a yellow-bordered window into the world of Safehold with its castle-like buildings with a space skimmer flying through its sky.
The title refers to a reef created by the winners in a philosophical fight over man’s evolution when they obliterated the city located in Armageddon, specifically it refers to a sea battle lost Off Armageddon Reef.