“Dying gloriously sounds good in bad historical novels. Speaking for myself, I think doing it in real life when you don’t have to is fucking stupid, and it irritates the hell out of me that we don’t appear to have any choice.” (Page 244)
Woot! Last mandatory review! Woooot! It’s about a book I really like that I was already reading! Good stuff.
For my final book review I chose to read David Weber‘s 782 page book At All Costs, which I was already in the process of reading, having started going through the series again midway through this semester. This is book number 11 in the mainline series, so I will not be able to discuss anything remotely detailed without giving substantial spoilers for earlier books. As such, I intend to keep my discussion as abstract as possible, so you shouldn’t need to worry about spoilers. That said, on to the book!
For those of you who have not read my IMWAYR on this book (which can be found here), At All Costs is a part of David Weber’s Honorverse, a relatively hard military science fiction series. As the series has evolved since the release of it’s first entry (On Basilisk Station) it’s scope has grown tremendously. What started as the relatively compact tale of a naval officer in the space-fairing navy of a relatively small (if economically powerful) Star Kingdom of Manticore has expanded to be about the entirety of humanity. The book before At All Costs had a tighter focus, being more (though certainly not exclusively) concerned with the issues of internal Manticoran politics, and those of the, to use the term loosely, “neighboring” (space is big) Republic of Haven . At All Costs pulls the focus out with abandon, focusing on the growing conflicts between the titans of this universe, including some which the universe as a whole has been unaware of. This proves to be something of a double edged sword.
This broader focus makes for more interesting reading if interstellar politics are your thing. Additionally, in conjunction with the rise of politics is a rise in things happening in the plot. If those sorts of politics aren’t something you like, you might not enjoy this entry (or the one before it) so much. But if you can’t enjoy, or at least tolerate, these sorts of politics and lengthy details, then it is unlikely you will have read this far into the series to begin with. Another way that the expansion of scope cuts both ways is in background. Honorverse is a vast universe, with a great deal of additional writings which were not part of the main story. But around At All Costs, or potentially the book before it, War of Honor, these sides stories become extremely important, and it becomes necessary to read a staggering amount of background material. Several of the short stories from the Worlds of Honor anthologies become useful background for the Crown of Slaves subseries, which contains 3 additional lengthy books. This alone is about 2000 pages of additional reading, which is important to understanding the changing focus of the main line series.
To make things worse, further entries in the subseries have been published since At All Costs, meaning that if you are not careful, it is possible to read too far ahead, though Crown of Slaves is mostly self-contained in its plot. And that doesn’t even count the Saganami Island subseries, which is equally important to understanding the current focus of the main series, and adds an additional 2500+ pages of reading. On the upsides, the most recent book in the series synchronized all of the disparate timelines, so henceforth this should not be an issue. I realize that this assessment of the background reading may be discouraging, but it shouldn’t be. It only becomes relevant at this late stage in the series. If you make it this far, there is a decent chance that you will be delighted at the additional 4500+ pages of Honorverse to read. Either way, I encourage you to try the series without worrying about it’s length or background.
Returning to the topic of the book itself, it is more action heavy than many of the previous books. In earlier entries, the majority of the book is build-up to a substantial naval battle at the end. However, At All Costs has it’s naval battles sprinkled throughout the book, and caps it all with one immense battle at the end. And as with many of the previous Honorverse books, it sometimes puts us in the heads of some very frustrating characters, who make some extremely poor choices. This is balanced by also putting us in the heads of some very sympathetic characters, with the result that the lines between “Bad Guys” and “Good Guys” become much weaker, or at the very least shift to divide different people. This is one of the things that Weber does very well in his series, starting in book number 2.
Overall, I like At All Costs. I like it quite a bit, though I would not say it is my favorite in the series. For it’s niche, it is a good book, but for those outside its niece it is likely to be a frustrating read.
Also, I feel a need to air my pet peevees about the cover. So if you are only interested in the review of the book itself, you don’t need to read this part.
- All of the starships pictured have ridiculously tight intervals. Most of them are probably under ten kilometers apart, which is stupidly, ridiculously close together for Honorverse.
- None of the starships have impeller wedges. In Honorverse, an impeller wedges are “a pair of stressed gravity bands above and below a ship”. They are used primarily for propulsion, but they also represent an impenetrable shield above and below a warship. This means that ships have their wedges activated almost any time they are moving, and certainly whenever they are in actual combat.
- Because the ships are so close together, it would be impossible for them to use their impeller wedges. The wedges measure hundred of kilometers on a side, and it is lethal for a starship to make contact with one, either directly, or through their own wedges.
- All of the missiles appear to be contact weapons. In Honorverse, the majority of missiles have stand off ranges of above 20,000 Kilometers. While contact missiles do exist, they are notoriously hard to generate hits with.
- None of the people on the bridge are in skinsuits, and none of them have their shock frames engaged. This is a bad thing. When humans go into space without a skinsuit, bad things happen. Hull breaches during combat are routine. This means that if the bridge, as depicted, where to suffer even a brief pressure loss, it is likely that everyone on the bridge would die. That is also a bad thing.
That’s about all I have to say on this book. I like it; I recognize that it’s not for everyone.