A Call to Vengeance, David Weber, Timothy Zahn & Thomas Pope (Baen 978-1476782102, $26.00, 480pp, hc) March 2018.
A Call to Vengeance by David Weber, Timothy Zahn & Thomas Pope is the third and latest novel in the Manticore Ascendant series, which began with A Call to Duty and continued in A Call to Arms. Set several hundred years prior to the events of Weber’s Honor Harrington novels, the series takes place at a time when the Star Kingdom of Manticore has not yet become a significant naval or economic power in their region – when they’re a small state with a tiny, underfunded navy, before they discovered the wormhole that is a central part of Manticore’s economic and military concerns in the Honor Harrington books.
While the government of Manticore doesn’t know about the wormhole at this point, other actors do: representatives from the unscrupulous Axelrod corporation have been manoeuvring to take over Manticore by force for quite some time, and by working through proxies, they’ve successfully kept their interest and their reasons secret. The government of Manticore is itself struggling to put in place the makings of a strong navy and the economic growth that would support such a thing, while contending with political factionalism and personal empire-building among the elected opposition.
Once again, the main characters are naval officers Travis Long and Lisa Donnelly, with Travis’s elder half-brother (a seated peer in the House of Lords, and a follower of the opposition leader who’s invested the most personal prestige in the defunding of the navy) and Elizabeth Winton, sister to the current monarch, as other significant viewpoint characters on the Manticoran side. Jeremiah Llyn, scheming and effective Axelrod corporation agent, provides the major viewpoint character for the “bad guys.” (As usual in a book written or co-written by David Weber, the villains are straightforwardly villainous: an empathy-free agent from an utterly corrupt corporation and a collection of mercenaries who’re only in it for the money. If you’re looking for nuanced antagonists, you won’t find many of them here.)
A Call to Vengeance opens with Travis summoned to testify before a parliamentary inquiry. His ability to stick his foot in his mouth is curtailed, however, when an unknown hostile force arrives in the Manticore system. Recalled aboard ship, Travis finds himself in the middle of a tense standoff for Manticore’s future. But that’s only the first test. His superiors want to find out more about the threats facing Manticore, so Travis is transferred into a special intelligence service and, along with an old friend, given a special mission brief aboard a naval vessel showing the flag outside Manticoran space. His captain is none too happy that her orders subordinate her judgement to a junior officer under certain circumstances….
Meanwhile, Lisa Donnelly is part of another Manticoran mission, this time to consult with Manticore’s allies in Havenite space, but this mission runs into a military confrontation with Axelrod’s pet pirate mercenaries. At home in Manticore, Elizabeth Winton watches her brother the king and his daughter die in a tragic accident, and succeeds unprepared to the throne – where she’s faced not only with threats to the security of her nation, but a potential constitutional crisis in the making, due to the constitutional provisions governing the monarch’s marriage and the lack of a clear heir should Elizabeth, too, die.
This is a fun and entertaining space opera, refreshingly lacking in the interminable technobabble and talking-head political exposition that has bedevilled Weber’s solo work in the last decade or so. It’s lively and offers an action-packed storyline involving space battles, espionage, and political manoeuvring. Its tension builds around questions of who knows what, and who is going to find what out when: a cunning set of nested dolls. And it’s very easy to read, with characters who’re largely appealing, albeit sketched in broad strokes.
Unfortunately, A Call to Vengeance does suffer from at least one of the problems that have come to characterise the later Honor Harrington novels: the lack of a narrative arc that’s contained within one volume. A Call to Vengeance is the third book in a series, but it wraps up very few existing narrative threads from its predecessors. Nor does it have what one could consider a self-contained storyline itself. Instead, it feels a lot like a middle episode in a television show with a 22-episode season-long arc, revealing just enough – and moving along just enough – to keep the audience invested, without ever quite paying off in catharsis.
There’s only so long a reader can put up with that sort of thing – but I’m a sucker for semi-decent space opera, so I’ll probably be reading the further adventures of Travis and company in the future, too.
Liz Bourke is a cranky queer person who reads books. She holds a Ph.D in Classics from Trinity College, Dublin. Her first book, Sleeping With Monsters, a collection of reviews and criticism, is out now from Aqueduct Press. Find her at her blog, her Patreon, or Twitter. She supports the work of the Irish Refugee Council and the Abortion Rights Campaign.
This review and more like it in the May 2018 issue of Locus.
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