Archive for February 25th, 2014

David Weber – In Enemy Hands

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014

After a break of almost a year I have continued with the Honor Harrington series by David Weber. As the series is military science fiction and having read six novels in a row attrition had crept in. Weber had managed to improve the stories and the general plot development up until Flag In Exile, the fifth book, but here the sequence ended somewhat, with the sixth, Honor Among Enemies, being a drop in quality and a break of the flow of the general narrative. There were few sparks and a reading the novels so close after each other had generated a feeling of repetition. That is the risk of the subgenre, especially regarding military novels which often provide a lack of variation to the general setup of the novel.

To be honest, it was a good thing to take a break. If I had continued with the seventh novel, In Enemy Hands (1997), that feeling would have been even stronger with the risk of a much longer period not continuing the series. This is because the novels suffers from a few weaknesses.

The first and alas most obvious weakness is that the title gives away the theme of the plot away. The earlier titles were generic enough only to provide a hint. Even worse was the description on the backcover of the novel. As I did not need to read it to get me to read the novel I was very fortunate because, as I read it after I finished the book, it gave away pretty much all of the plot. Of course some details were missing, but not much.

One might ask how they could give that much away of the plot on the backcover also provides the second weakness. The plot itself is rather simple and straightforward. That is not a problem normally, but there was pretty much only one storyline. Weber added a few secondary characters that he followed around the storyline. This was mainly done to provide some insights into the behavior of the characters in the course of the events.

Actually, the plot itself is so shallow that more than before Weber spent a lot of time inside the heads of a number of characters, letting them drift in extensive sequences of inner thoughts. It is okay to do so occasionally, in my opinion, as it provides some moments of retrospection and breaks from action scenes and the like. One should avoid however to make them too long. In my view there was a lot of filler. Besides that a good author should not require that many words to express the emotions and thoughts of a character.

The aforementioned sequences take up most of the first half of the novel, in which virtually nothing of consequence happens. It is more of a buildup of the situation in different places. The second half holds pretty much all of the actual plot of the novel and even that feels like an extended play to give the book more body.

Although the novel ends in a good and entertaining way it is rather clear that the whole novel is written to provide the setup for the next stage in the series. As the first five novels provided a sort of cycle of a greater plot, the sixth and this seventh novel look to be part of a second cycle. The titles are a bit of a giveaway, at least for the initial stage. The sixth book provided a kind of transition while In Enemy Hands provides the setup. It may seem that Weber could not cut the plot of the cycle in usable chunks. In Enemy Hands thus looks more like an extended prologue that has been expanded to the size of a regular novel. It has me excited for the next novel and the conclusion was good enough to satisfy me to hide the earlier feelings towards the long and mildly less interesting first half.

Compared to the other novels of the series In Enemy Hands is somewhat poor. It has it qualities as Weber knows how to handle his characters and his prose makes it an easy read. There are still some of elements of lazy writing, especially in the dialogues and inner thoughts, where there is also less to distinguish the different characters. He does know his military science fiction so that remains of good quality. The singlesided plot which is several ways is predictable besides being a giveaway. It is only in the details where one finds most to enjoy. Of the series this novel will not be one of the memorable ones.