Like a Mighty Army is the latest in the incredibly epic Safehold series by David Weber. As the war on Safehold rages on, Weber keeps up the intensity of combat, with fantastic characters, and just the right balance of battle and narrative. When a war has been going on for over 4000 pages, the ability to keep it fresh and interesting, while keeping the perspective of both sides intact is really difficult, and Weber pulls it off with aplomb. A fantastic continuation of one of the best long series I’ve read.
For centuries, the world of Safehold, last redoubt of the human race, lay under the unchallenged rule of the Church of God Awaiting. The Church permitted nothing new—no new inventions, no new understandings of the world.
What no one knew was that the Church was an elaborate fraud—a high-tech system established by a rebel faction of Safehold’s founders, meant to keep humanity hidden from the powerful alien race that had destroyed old Earth.
Then awoke Merlin Athrawes, cybernetic avatar of a warrior a thousand years dead, felled in the war in which Earth was lost. Monk, warrior, counsellor to princes and kings, Merlyn has one purpose: to restart the history of the too-long-hidden human race.
And now the fight is thoroughly underway. The island empire of Charis has declared its independence from the Church, and with Merlyn’s help has vaulted forward into a new age of steam-powered efficiency. Fending off the wounded Church, Charis has drawn more and more of the countries of Safehold to the cause of independence and self-determination. But at a heavy cost in bloodshed and loss—a cost felt by nobody more keenly that Merlin Athrawes.
The wounded Church is regrouping. Its armies and resources are vast. The fight for humanity’s future isn’t over, and won’t be over soon…
We’re so far into the series now that reviewing it becomes somewhat difficult. Obviously I’d like to avoid spoilers, but there’s almost nothing going on in Like a Mighty Army which doesn’t end up spoiling previous content. Even naming major characters which are still alive after this long might end up making a great dramatic scene four books ago lose its lustre. But we shall endeavour to communicate how great these books are, and this book is, without ruining too many things.
I feel like the best thing about telling the story of a war over such a long stretch of writing is that you have an opportunity to both delve very deeply into the major characters, and still spend a lot of time with little slice-of-life bits and the ancillary characters. This actually can make them a little hard to read because there are just So. Many. Characters. In fact, while Weber helpfully provides a glossary of characters and terms at the end of the book, that glossary is currently up to 88 whole pages. Yes, that’s right, there are EIGHTY EIGHT pages of character names, place names, and terms at this point in the book. Add into that the fact that the world’s linguistic drift from English has lead to every single person’s name being spelled funny (Yes, Ahrain Mahrlow and Zhaspahr Clyntahn are actual character names) The fact that I end up having to pause almost every time I come across a name to give myself a second to translate Zhan to John and the degree to which that gives me a nudge away from immersion is virtually my only criticism of the novel and series.
The rest is all good. The entire concept for this world and story is one which I have only found both novel and extremely well told. While it might be slightly on the nose if you assume Weber is making any sort of implication about our own world’s religious belief, nothing in any element of the series has come across as preachy to me. The fact that many of the people from Safehold who have learned the truth about their history and their religion actually stay religious and aren’t mocked for it suggests to me instead that Weber is doing his utmost to keep Safehold ‘greater commentary’ free. That you still end up with a lot to think about while he does so is a mark in his favour.
I also have a history background, and have spent some time studying the equivalent era to Safehold’s level of technology, and Weber’s handling of warfare and battles of this type, where rifles are just starting to appear, and people are still occasionally sending cavalry with sabres up against fortifications really feels like he’s done some research. While it would be tempting to assume that the ‘good guys’ with their superior technology and social freedom and dedication to their cause would mean they just win through any challenge, there is always an element of danger that keeps the battles engaging. Superior firepower can’t always win when the enemy has twenty times the manpower. And both sides are equally zealous, and just because one side has better tech doesn’t mean the other side are all morons. Weber’s sides aren’t so much grey as they are acknowledging that there are always people who truly believe they are doing the right thing, and that not everybody on the ‘bad’ side is necessarily a bad person. It makes the people populating this world feel so much more real.
I suppose what I’m trying to get at is that I’ve stuck with this series (in hardcover no less, which is a lot for me!) through seven rather lengthy novels, and I’m very excited for the next instalment tentatively titled Hell’s Foundations Quiver (And can I delve into brackets yet again to say that I really really like the title scheme Weber has gone for here) which could release in the summer of 2015. If you enjoy big sweeping stories with great action, deep characters and a real sense of place, Like a Mighty Army as a continuation of the series which begins with Off Armageddon Reef is a great place to look.