The Great Honor Harrington Read Along is a read along led by me with critical analysis and SPOILER FILLED looks at the Honor Harrington series and related works by David Weber and collaborators. I’ve read the whole main series and the overwhelming majority of the offshoots, but some of these will still be first time reads. However, spoilers will be abundant throughout these posts, including for much later books in the series.
Flag in Exile by David Weber
Honor Harrington is “exiled” politically and from the military after killing Pavel Young. She makes the most of what she can with it, returning to Grayson and dedicating herself to building up its infrastructure and military as she uses her clout as Steadholder to bring about societal change. She is, however, still emotionally bereft and so at least some of the planning and plotting about Grayson is being done by those close to her. There’s a lot to love in this book, which starts to truly blow open the world of the series in a bigger way than before.
Mayhew gets some character development early on, including the fact that he’s a horticulturalist and loves arranging flowers–something that he intentionally does to jab societal gender norms. We also briefly see Miranda LaFollet, the sister of Andrew LaFollet, one of Honor’s Steadholder’s Guardsmen, show up as Honor’s maid.
A major theme through this book is challenging cultural norms about men and women, largely through religious lenses. We see this, for example, in chapter 5, where Honor is confronted by a clergyman, Marchant, who tries to condemn her from the Grayson books of scripture. Honor herself has been studying up, though, and quotes back to him other portions of the same scripture which seem to suggest that learning of new ways and new ideas is a good thing, and should not be resisted at all costs. This interchange is of great interest to me, because Weber is using an interesting tactic to engage in debate with very real world notions within Christianity of women and men’s places in the church and home. By placing the conversation one step removed from the Bible–with a different set of Scriptures–he makes it safer to discuss for whatever readers might be deeply involved in one side or the other. The fact remains there are people who believe women shouldn’t teach men, that women shouldn’t be pastors, or that women shouldn’t hold other positions of authority over men due to various readings of Scripture. This back and forth with Honor and Marchant illustrates how that can go, but inevitably puts the reader on the side of Honor, and for me personally, as someone who stood on Marchant’s side many years ago, it was a stunning reversal that made me think more about the issue. It’s so well done.
In this book we do run into one of the biggest issues I have with Honor Harrington as a character, though. Namely, she’s apparently good at everything. While there are occasional asides about her not being great at math, for example, the bottom line is that she’s nearly omni-competent and has so many interests and things she does that it becomes difficult to believe she could do them all. For example, in chapter 6 we discover she’s been learning how to duel with swords, but we also know she’s an expert marksman, loves hang gliding, swims a lot, loves going on boats that she knows how to sail, obviously is a great tactician, and the list continues to grow as we go through the books. How does she really have time for it all? I don’t know. I can suspend my disbelief, but it’s good that Weber starts to introduce more side characters to fill in the (very few) gaps in Honor’s ability later, as she’d otherwise grow to be too good at everything. It is a testament to Weber’s ability to write a strong character, though, that we care about her and love her as a person even though it’s sometimes hard to believe she could be what she is.
We get more politicking on the Republic of Haven side, too, as there’s discussion about the dole system and some tilting against universal basic income. Weber’s politics show through at times, and this is definitely one aspect. While it seems to make sense in-universe that a universal basic income could bankrupt a country repeatedly and/or cause them to turn into a kind of pirate state, robbing other nations to pay the dole, the implication is this would be a necessary following from the concept, and I’m highly skeptical of that. Along with this, we also get some insight into Grayson’s own constitutional crises that might be looming as Mayhew and the Steadholders vie for power.
Baseball makes a funny appearance here as Honor believes a bunch of baseball players are trying to start a riot because they’re wielding “clubs.” I love when sci-fi and baseball get combined, as these are two things I absolutely love. We get additional characters showing up throughout this novel who are of high importance later: Captain Yu and Mercedes Bingham reappear, Theisman, Shannon Foraker (who will be a massive thorn in the side later), and more make cameos and more. It’s an exciting read for longtime fans of the series doing a re-read.
Then the big events start to happen in a kaleidoscope of intrigue, action, and reprisal. One of the Sky Domes Honor Harrington helped fund collapses, but then it turns out to be a terrorist act to discredit her as a person, and it killed children. Haven launches a number of attacks, ultimately maneuvering to try to take out Grayson system, which is now a keystone of Manticore’s Alliance. Meanwhile, Honor et al. are dealing with the crisis of the Sky Dome fallout, only to uncover that it was another Steadholder who did it. Honor survives an assassination attempt, ultimately showing up at the Steadholder’s meeting in a super epic scene to then strike down another Steadholder in a duel. But the real brains behind the operation, Mueller, survives.
Here we have another several scenes in which actions are ascribed either to Satan or God depending upon whether one agrees with them. It’s a telling scene that shows how easily religious violence can erupt, and also how easily we can justify our own actions with a religious veneer.
The battle in space, led by an exhausted Honor, is deeply satisfying. Weber always delivers the goods on action scenes like this, and while it’s not super long, the battle here is decisive. I especially loved how Honor (maybe) thinks he fooled Theisman, but we know Theisman was instead fooling the Citizen Commissioner on board his ship, in part, because he wanted to live to fight another day.
Ultimately, Flag in Exile is a thrilling read that opens the world up into many broader possibilities than we’ve seen before. Whether it’s societal upheaval on Grayson, looming problems in Haven, or the broader war opening up, Weber introduces a number of threads here that are of great importance later. This is one of my favorite reads in the series, and every time I read it I discover more to like.
The Great Honor Harrington Read Along– Follow along as I read through and review all the books and offshoots in this series!
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