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Flag in Exile
by David Weber
If you're not yet familiar with Honor Harrington, the heroine of David Weber's very enjoyable, very addictive space opera series, you should run out right now and read the first book, On Basilisk Station. If you're already a fan, you're probably already haunting the bookstore in search of the next book. Flag in Exile, the latest installment, is still tremendously fun, but it suffers from too little space and too much opera.
Honor has been on Grayson for several months, brooding about Paul Tankersley's death, running her steading, and enduring public protests and verbal abuse from Grayson's more conservative element. A tremendous amount of this book seems to be devoted to people calling Honor a harlot, infidel, and whore. This is hardly unexpected, but it gets dull; at one point I started keeping a running tally of appearances of each epithet. ("Infidel" was narrowly beating out "harlot" with "fornicator" coming up fast before the book became interesting again and I stopped.)
Meanwhile, the Peep navy has gotten its act together and has gone on the offense again in its war with Manticore. The RMN is nervous enough about this that it has begun pulling its ships out of "safe" systems like Grayson to send to more contested areas. The Grayson navy, with plenty of lethal hardware and few experienced officers, offers Lady Harrington flag rank. Fans of the series can fill in the blanks from here.
Too much of this book is spent on Good Guys (Grayson division) worrying about Honor, Bad Guys (Grayson division) bitching about Honor, and Bad Guys (Haven division) plotting against everybody. Short, cryptic passages would be more tolerable than long, dull chapters, and would have created suspense instead of dissipating it. This has annoyed me in every book in the series, however, so I don't expect Weber to improve in this regard.
The story vastly improves whenever Honor's in space. The angst gets shoved to one side, and character interaction resumes. As usual, there are a few surprises among her officers, including a particularly well- chosen flag captain. (Go on, guess. Wrong.)
Flag in Exile certainly isn't as good as the preceding books in the series, but I enjoyed it. The angst, melodrama, and sermonizing are redeemed by the last 100 whirlwind pages, in which Honor repeatedly and improbably fails to die. Hopefully the next book will include less politics and more explosions.
I will now commence whining for book 6.
-- Christina Schulman.
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