A Mighty Fortress by David Weber (Safehold 4)

After reading the snippets since January my most anticipated book of the year arrived. I am a long time fan of David Weber and the Safehold series. Genocidal aliens, a Humanity that hides on the planet Safehold ruled by the Corrupt Church of God Awakening and an android with the mind of a long dead starship captain with a mission to restore civilization.

Title: A Mighty Fortress
Author: David Weber
Series: Safehold 4
Hardback: 720 pages
Publisher: Tor, April 13, 2010
Maps: Ellisa Mitchell
Jacket Art: Stephen Youll
Order: Tor | Amazon US | UK | B&N | Sfbok

Background

This is the fourth book in a series that started with Off Armagedon Reef where Niume Alban wakes up, asses the situation decide to back the kingdom of Charis for their enlightened royal family and general inventiveness. After a sex changing morph she dons the identity of Merlin a Sejin warrior, save prince Cayleb from assassins, becomes his bodyguard and start to change the way they think.

The Church lead by the greedy and power blind Group of Four conspire to send a fleet to destroy Charis. They are defeated by the new and improved fleet of Charis Off Armagedon Reef.

In By Schism Rent Asunder the church retaliate and massacre Charis’ unarmed civilian traders and their families. Cayleb now king, retaliates by sending a fleet half way around the planet. He also makes peace with Chrisholm, falls in love with their queen Sharleyan and in their Marriage create the New Empire of Charis, united against the rest of the world.

In By Hersies Distressed it is Charis turn to go on the offensive, invading the island princedom of Corisade. Charis get to show up their new and improved army and artillery before they defeat prince Hektor’s army. Hektor is killed by church assassins. His son and daugther flees to exile with thoughts of revenge on Cayleb who they believe killed their father.

We have also learned that there is an Order inside the church that knows the truth about Safehold, that their religion is a fake and that suppression of scientific methods and innovation have been built into their society by the former colony founders. Now Cayleb, his wife and a few others know the truth. The brothers have an elaborate procedure before approving any new member and they are frankly scared of the rapid changes.

There is yet another group, the Circle, inside the Church that doesn’t know the truth, but they oppose greed and corruption inside the church. But they have been betrayed by one of their own when A Mighty Fortress starts. The only question is when the Inquisition will strike

World building

This is the kind of story David Weber does well, take a backward planet and introduce modern science and technology. You notice his extensive knowledge in the details. You get the world by short narratives with local points of views that makes the world come alive with people you care for and understand.

The Church of God Awakening didn’t exist at first on Safehold, it came after a schism where part of the crew of the colony ships decided to create a technological enclave only to be exterminated by orbital strikes, in retaliation they set off a nuke at a meeting of the colony leadership, that had set up themselves as God’s Angles. The Church was created in the following years and it took it’s seat in the city of Zion and it’s mysterious Church complex made out of battle steel. It gives off mysterious energy readings so Merlin keeps his spying remotes out of it. Thats about the only place of power on the planet he keeps them out of.

Plot

The church is building an armada using the lessons learned from previous failures. This time they have almost the same technological level as Charis, at least until Charis new explosive projectiles enter production. The Charisian’s are hard pressed but their experience and training still gives them a significant advantage, that might not help if they are outnumbered three to one.

Charis also have to deal with attempted insurrection in Corisade, the princedom they defeated in book three. One of the leaders of the underground is the silversmith Paitryk Hainree (Patrick Henry, Give me Liberty, or give me Death).

There are also people inside Chrisholm that are not happy about the New Church of Charis some of them might even betray them.

The group of four tightens their grip on the church and a wave of arrest sweeps through Zion, while Merlin attempts to save as many family members and sympathizers as he can.

In an attempt to avoid fighting the combined fleet of the church, Cayleb sends off one of his best commanders on a mission to intercept one of the fleets before it can unite with the others.

The Navy really have to show their color here, they are the wooden walls of the fortress defending Charis, and A Mighty Fortress it is. But the big clash still lays ahead.

Characters

This is very much a character driven story. At the back of the book there is a 22 pages list of characters you might find useful if you are new to Safehold or need to catch up, My first thoughts at that was wow, this is like one of those old Russian classics, but don’t worry the main characters are not that hard to keep track on.

This is a space opera, so the characters are competent, they are not invincible and they are all easy to love. For example Queen Sharleyan is pregnant so Merlin brings her up in space on their way to a medical exam in his base in The Mountains of Light. She is the first human in space for centuries and her marvel is a delight to read. Another highlight is when they tell their Spy master and his wife the truth.

Weber has a thing for good persons doing evils bidding out of duty like Thirsk, the enemy fleet commander or Hektor’s daughter who believe she has to revenge her father.

Merlin gets to shift around a bit more in this book, he takes on the identity of other ‘friends’ of his to help with the evacuation in Zion and to visit other rulers in their bedrooms and chat a bit. It is all done with a great deal of humor. I also like that Merlin doesn’t solve all the problems himself, he can’t. In fact it can kill.

Extras

  • One big map and four one page maps
  • 22 pages of Characters
  • A Glossary with 5 pages
  • A Note on Safeholdian Timekeeping

My View

A Mighty Fortress is a magnificent military science fiction saga and I like it a lot. But there is much back story, meetings and character development is this book, that might not be for anyone, I like it quite well though. If you are looking for an action packed military action kind of novel this is not it. We are still waiting for the big fight here, that will probably be in the next book, expected 2011.

If you are new to Safehold you should start with the other books, the back story is quite extensive so you should read it first. Otherwise I would recommend it to any lover of Weber or Space Opera, as long as you don’t expect fast and action packed.

  • Morganstrause

    It pains and distresses me to read a book where the only humans left in a far flung future are all Caucasians. What happened to the rest of humanity? Oh right, earth was destroyed by aliens and somehow the only humans that escaped their wrath happened to be Caucasians? Wow, give me a break! This is not only to David Weber but to all science fiction writers… a little advice. The majority of humanity is dark skinned. So please, have some foresight. In the future, as the world gets smaller and smaller people will end up having brown skin.

  • I can’t remember that David Weber ever touches on skin color in the Safehold series. I read the books as if color doesn’t matter to the people so they don’t talk about it. We all read a lot into stories that was never the authors intention. That’s one of the good things with reading you get to use your imagination.

    As David himself say in this interview: http://www.davidweber.net/posts/288-author-hour.html

    Matthew Peterson: And one of the traits that you’re really known for is putting your lead female characters in traditionally male roles.
    David Weber: I think part of it actually is… somebody once called me a post-feminist science fiction writer.
    Matthew Peterson: [laughs]
    David Weber: And I really do think that part of it is that my judgement is that if we’re on the right track with notions of equality, whether they’re gender oriented or race oriented or whatever, that by the time we reach Honor Harrington’s period in the 40th Century, it’s going to be a done deal.

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  • Lmcmahon

    I have really enjoyed the safehold series and find the wait for the next book full of anticipation and impatience. I speculate on what actions the proponents could take to bring the planet up to a rennaisance and high technology.
    Producing toy microscopes (telescopes are allowed by the church) ostensibly for children could start to provide foundations for biology and medicine and allow the animals and plants on Safehold to be categorised as native or exotic (terran), steam toys without reciprocating parts like Hero’s spinner could lead to machines like steam turbines, hot air balloons and dirigibles are essentially simple so should pass the Inquisition (the Questions) , geological observations can form the basis for Darwinian hypothesis and so on. The power of the press to inform and educate would help as well. In fiction many issues can be canvassed that otherwise would be heresy.
    There is a natural break in the church history that occurs with the so called rebellion of some of the angels. Books of the bible written after this could be challenged on the basis that the victors manipulated the truth of the conflict and wrote the harsh books of prohibition in error. This would lead to a doctrinal split between the churches more fundamental then the present schism.
    I must say that the accounts of battles and the hypothetical industrial development with social constraints have been most enjoyable.
    Can’t wait for the next instalment–let it be soon.
    Leo

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  • John Schmuke

    You need to read more closely, in the Harrington series, the Royal House of Winton is black, and Honor has asian blood in her ancestry. In Safehold, races are mixed, with a lot of asian and apparently celtic mixed in. Merlin’s bright blue eyes(last page of Schism Rent Asunder), are considered VERY unusual. Brown eyes, olive features, black hair, appear the norm.

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