It’s a Mystery

After spending almost all of my November reading Safehold, I needed something shorter, easier, and not brand new.  I greatly enjoy Weber’s epic, but every one of the books is on the longer side and, coupled with my being relatively busy, it took me longer than it should have to read almost all of them.  It’s no surprise that the next book I picked would be one I could finish in a day.

Enter Children of the Night, the first of the Diana Tregarde Mysteries.  This series consists of three books, one novella, and multiple short stories featuring our protagonist.  She lives in New York City and works as a romance writer.  (Why is there a trend of supernatural heroes working as romance writers in urban fantasies?)  Diana’s also a practicing witch but, far more importantly, she is a Guardian.  I may have discussed Guardians when I talked about the Eric Banyon books, but they’re front and center here, whereas it’s the Bardic magic Eric mostly deals with.

Guardians are the magical Big Guns.  They take some pretty serious oaths and responsibilities towards helping the people around them and the force that makes them Guardians will sometimes give them the whammy necessary to take out their opponents.  That force seems to have something of a low-level intent of its own, and doesn’t always kick in, forcing the Guardian to find another solution.  Please note that I said “opponents” and not “enemies” – Guardians may be the enemies of the Forces of Evil, but it seems to me that they generally just want every to live together in peace and tolerance.

Back to Children of the Night.  As mentioned, this is the first book, from 1990, and it takes place as Watergate is wrapping up.  I have to wonder if a teenager finding it for the first time would have questions about the pay phones used in the last quarter of the book, but that’s my mind wandering again.  After Halloween, Di notices some nasty stuff and, of course, it’s her job to deal with it.  We’ve got something that eats souls, and something else that likes to hurt and kill.  The plot is basic enough, with a bit of mystery as we have to figure out what the creatures are, how to take them out, and where they are.  There’s some jockeying in the early chapters as we’re shown various players and left to wonder how they’ll fit together, but it wraps up quite nicely in the end, if a bit sorrowfully.

Children of the Night was one of the first Mercedes Lackey books I picked up on my own, based solely on the author’s name.  The title’s not quite as corny as Bride of the Rat God, but really, few things are on that level.  I am pretty sure I found it before I found Werehunter in the used bookstore, because I distinctly recall getting excited about the short story “Satanic, Versus” being another adventure of Di’s.

I enjoy the Diana Tregarde Mysteries because they give me the mysteries I can’t otherwise read by covering it in a fantasy skin.  We’ve already established how much I love fantasy and the fact that I can endure quite a lot in the genre that is mediocre at best because of it.  Mysteries, on the other hand, are more difficult.  General mysteries tend to not have a lot of reread value for me, and it’s hard enough getting me to read them the first time.  I amanged to burn myself out on mysteries years ago.

Let me explain.  When I was in first and second grade, I dove headfirst into mysteries.  I loved them, couldn’t get enough of them.  And I touched on so very many of the classics: Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, Clue, Clue Jr., Encyclopedia Brown, Two Minute Mysteries, The Boxcar Children, The Babysitter’s Club Mysteries and more.  I read so many of these books within a two year span, and I have had so little interest since then.  The only unskinned mysteries I’ve read and enjoyed since then are And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie, and Stieg Larsson’s Girl Who… books.  I haven’t read more than the three, though I heard the continuation isn’t bad.

I guess you can say putting a fantasy skin on things – from mystery to horror and so much more – makes it easier for me to swallow them.  Like a sugar coating on a pill.  Which makes me sound pretty childish.  But I’m not about to argue with the results.  Especially not when there’s a world of difference between a book that’s become a chore to read and a book that is a genuine pleasure to read.

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Books Beyond Bedtime

I find it appropriate that I have, at least, managed to finish reading Safehold during the month of November.  That it was both started and ended this month.  That it may end up being the only series I read this month, depending on what I choose for tomorrow.  I might have to pick something light and short because…damn.  That was…wow.  At the Sign of Triumph is 738 pages of story.  There is no cast of characters.  In fact, there is a note following the last page of the novel explaining that David Weber had a few issues and delays and that such a list will be up on his website within a month or so of the release date (election day, if you’d forgotten).  This goes along with the map at the front – only the world map is shown, followed by a page with a web address offering downloads of any and all maps a reader could desire.

Yes, I know this is a half-answer for my own personal prayer from several books ago.  However, I’d still love a nice, full color Safeholdian atlas!

The other reference pages in the back, such as the glossary and guide to religious orders among others, are still present and take up twenty-three pages.  I assume this is fairly consistent with the previous books, though I’m not going to check.  The most that would be added is vocabulary and, frankly, anyone who can’t mentally translate “land-bombs” into “landmines” probably shouldn’t be reading these books.

As far as content goes…this has not at all been a slog, even though it is one of the thickest books in the series, though that may be more of a formatting decision, given the varying sizes.  Since I should definitely be asleep, I’m not going to go snap a picture for you at this time, but at some point I will, I promise!  Definitely before I decide to get rid of my current copy of Hell’s Foundations Quiver – since some of the pages have fallen out of the binding and I had to hold them in place while I read it.

THE REST OF THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS.  YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.
Okay.  So.  Let’s talk content.

This is the final book in this particular saga.  The same note explaining the lack of a character list also hints that there are more Safeholdian stories to be told.  I would guess that dealing with the bombardment platform in orbit around the planet is part of that, since it appears to be set to detect emissions of a certain energy level.  Steam power’s no threat, but electricity on a large scale would probably trigger an attack.  But that’s for the future.

Earlier this month I mentioned that Safehold is a religious war, a war for freedom, for the individual’s right to stand up and make their own decision.  We have the Charisian Empire, which means to ensure that freedom for the entire world, and we have the Church of God Awaiting, most specifically Zhaspahr Clyntahn’s Inquisition, working to suppress that freedom and rule the world.  Yes, that is the Grand Inquisitor’s goal, even if he won’t admit it aloud.

I felt a frission of excitment down my spine early on in At the Sign of Triumph when a decisive naval battle against the Royal Dohlaran Navy was referred to using the word “final.”  I suspected that there would be some fallout and setup, but that the decisive land battle would take place in the next book.  Of course, since I was expecting the last hundred pages and more to be reference material, I grossly underestimated the length of this book, particularly because I refused to spoil anything myself by looking up where it would end.

Perhaps a hundred pages from the end is where I finally realized that yes, this is the last book in this particular series.  Or at least, this era of this series, as previously noted.  Not every loose end is tied up, but my goodness did we get some surprises and satisfaction!

The biggest surprise for me personally was Major Phandys being a double-agent.  I will admit that took me completely by surprise, though it probably shouldn’t have.  He was the only Temple Guard tapped by the Inquisition whose name came up more than twice, so when the mystery person approached Arhloh, it should’ve been obvious who it was.  In my defense, I refer you to the obscene numbers of named characters in these books and the fact that I was a bit too excited to overanalyze the story I was enjoying.

My ongoing subtle amusement at Merlin and Nynian being a pair is…just that.  Though it does raise a lot of interesting questions, which Merlin himself ponders at some points, about the definitions of sexuality and gender.  After all, a PICA of a young woman named Nimue Alban opted to become the male Merlin Athrawes because her height would’ve made a woman incredibly unsual in Safeholdian society.  It would also give him a greater say in a more patriarchal group and raise fewer questions about his prowess as a warrior.  Merlin still finds men to be very attractive, but is also able to function sexually with women.  This doesn’t even cover Nimue Chwaeriau, who is a second PICA built several years after Merlin first awoke, but with the same copy of Nimue Alban’s personality that had been downloaded long before Operation Ark broke away from the Gbaba.  Needless to say, there’s some very bizarre things you can theorize with those two.

At the end of the night, I think I would say that yes, I am satisfied with this ending to the tale.  Yes, I am pleased with how it went.  Would my reading have been different if I had known ahead of time that this was the final book in this saga?  Probably.  I thought that the land war was going to have one final book of defense around the Temple Lands, and very probably around Zion itself.  But I underestimated how much our heroes had been undercutting confidence in the Church and Inquisition for the past several years/books, each book containing roughly a year’s worth of events.

I am disappointed that the cliffhanger with Thirsk didn’t go where I had hoped – I’d hoped that he’d somehow magically come over to Charis’ side and become part of the inner circle.  It wasn’t logical, but it was the payoff I wanted.  Still, he’s in a very good position after all, so I guess that’s no bad thing.

Most importantly, I don’t have a huge number of unanswered questions.  Some, like how to deal with the millenial return of the Archangeles that Scheuler foretold to his descendants or how to get rid of the bombartment platform, are likely to be answered in future stories.  Others, like whether or not Cayleb and Sharleyan were more discreet about using the coms to talk to each other as Alanah got older, are purely irrelevant and a sign that I may or may not be thinking about these books too hard.

So, that was Safehold.  For now.  Dear gods was it epic and encompassing and…I just don’t have any more words.  It may not have brought me to tears the way the Symphony of Ages’ conclusion did, but that could change in the future.  Maybe Weber will write humanity’s return to space and the continuation of the war against the Gbaba.  And maybe I’ll cry when we win.

The Slog

Did I mention that book eight is a slog?  Hell’s Foundations Quiver is one of the books where Weber makes it perfectly clear that we’re dealing with an entire planet’s worth of things.  And by “clear” I mean “I am having a difficult time keeping track of who is who and where they are.”  I’m usually quite good at remember all of these things, especially when it’s all fresh in my mind.  But this book is just laughing at me.  It’s saying “you think you don’t need the cast of characters?  HAH!  I will prove to you that you do, like all other meatbags!”

For the record, the cast of characters is now over eighty pages long.  We’re operating on two continents and all the major islands (or in the bays associated with coastal regions).  Not to mention that our heroes have suffered some major defeats and setbacks in this volume, which is disheartening to read and adds to the slog.  Of course heroes can’t always have things their way, but it’s kind of a one-two punch here.

At least the ending may make up for that.  This, as with Like a Mighty Army is another cliffhanger.  But this particular cliffhanger is one that fans may have been hoping for since Off Armageddon Reef.  That’s right, the first book.  And actually off the actual Reef too, as it were.

I have been fighting my way through this book for four days now and yet, despite the slog, I really want to start the new book just so I can see how that scene continues.  Good job David Weber.  Of course, I also have the near-decade of investment in this series and these characters going for me.  But I will have you know that I gave up watching Kubo and the Two Strings tonight just to finish this book!  I was very tempted to put off finishing Hell’s Foundations Quiver until tomorrow or Sunday, but the thought of having to return to the slog was simply too much.

Besides, it’s not like I won’t have time to watch Kubo this weekend.  Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Moving Forward

Well, it hasn’t been a week this time.  Not that four days isn’t longer than Like a Mighty Army should’ve taken, but it’s less bad.  I blame the strange phenomenon known as “having a life.”  This unusual occurence also resulted in my toting the single  heaviest physical book in the series around downtown Chicago for a day.  I suppose I should be grateful it wasn’t one of the larger books, like the one I’m now working through, because I’d’ve had to take a different backpack to fit that one.  But still, for some reason they used a much heavier paper for book seven.

I will take some pictures soon for you guys to get a good idea of the various sizes of these things – and I do mean “various” quite literally.  At first I chalked the different sizes up to my acquiring the books through different sources – amazon and the SciFi Book Club are not going to have identical books because the latter will have their special logo on there.  But time went on and nope, still got a wide range of sizes.  As for the different paper, I can’t even begin to guess why.  Maybe someone decided that every Safehold book needs to have a minimum weight so that they all qualify as bricks?

Not that I refer to this series as bricks most of the time.  Given that these books tend to be in the 550-800 page range, that’s not really a brick.  That’s just a long book.  And the chunk at the back for the cast of characters and glossary and other information just keeps getting longer.  Like a Mighty Army‘s character list is about 65 pages long, so you can see how there’s the better part of a hundred pages of reference material in this single volume.  In this book they’ve also started adding abbreviations to each character entry, indicating in which volume that character first appeared.  I haven’t necessarily found that useful as of yet, but I will admit that when I’m not in the middle of rereading the series, I find many of the volumes tend to blend together in my mind.  Not necessarily a bad thing, since I am unlikely to ever read this series without going from start to finish.

You may have noticed that I’m not really talking about the content of the book.  We’re in the middle of the land war still, the tech level hasn’t substantially increased yet, etc.  There is a new major player though, and the book itself ends on a cliffhanger.  This is the first time Weber has used that particular technique in Safehold – earlier books end with “sequel beg” scenes that set the stage for where the next book will go. Like a Mighty Army ends on a legitimate shock and Hell’s Foundations Quiver picks up right where we leave off.

Doesn’t that title get you excited for book eight?  Seriously.  Hell’s Foundations Quiver.  Obviously I should get back to rereading that.  After all, this is the last book before I am reading entirely new material!

Finally!

If you’re disappointed in how long it’s taken me to read Midst Toil and Tribuilation, you have to stand behind me myself.  It’s been a week since I finished the fifth book, and this sixth is not one of the ones I personally categorize as a slog.  However, real life has had a bit to say about that.  Between the convention, recovering from the convention, investigation of my loot from the convention, dinner with my family, and overtime, it’s taken me ’til now to finally finish a book that’s less than five hundred and fifty pages long.  That does not include the forty-page cast of characters.  I did mention how that section would continue to grow, right?

Tech-wise, our land battles are just about to the point of WWI, and they fill this book.  Also atrocities.  David Weber doesn’t get into gory detail, but this is a holy war after all.  Shit has gotten real, and it’s only going to get worse.  We’re also seeing how our main characters are becoming harder, more inured to the violence.  The protagonists don’t want to see themselves and their soldiers turn into heartless bastards, but they can see it happening, especially in the most hotly contested regions.

You could give this book a subtitle: War Stinks.  Midst Toil and Tribulation is the interim book of a war that seems to go on forever; you want it to be over so that people can get back to normal life, but you can’t just stop fighting because the moment you do, the enemy will roll right over you.  The enemy is merciless and because of that, they will force you to either sink to their level, or allow yourself weaknesses they’ve avoided.  It’s a desperate battle that neither side can truly see the end of, even though they’re both weary of it all.

Weber loves military fiction, a fact that’s only become more evident as the series goes on.  In fact, there’s a nod to one of his favorite series in this book: Bolos, created by Keith Laumer.  And yes, I know for a fact Weber is a big fan because there is an entire book – Bolo! – of Weber’s own short fiction set in that universe.

Hopefully it won’t take me quite as long to get through the seventh book, though I already know the eighth is one of the aforementioned slogs.  Regardless, we shall see!

Why

Memory is a funny thing. Earlier this year I reread my Dear America books in order to determine which should be kept and which should be sold. I found that those books I remembered something from were worth keeping, and those that were a blur were…not.

Last Chance for Magic is an old book for me personally. I got it from the Scholastic Book Fair way back in grade school. I think I may have only read it once, but was compelled to hang onto it for the better part of two decades. But when I’m at a convention and need shorter books to read, it seems like an opportune time to figure out if my memory is correct or nostalgic.

Frankly, my hopes were dashed when I opened the book and saw how large the font size was. Still, I persevered and ran into the problem of “real kids don’t talk like that.” Not to mention that there should be a language barrier.

Last Chance for Magic is the story of Max and Terry, a brother and sister in New York who crawl through a mysterious tunnel in their backyard that takes them back in time to before Europeans came to the New World. They are informally adopted by the local tribe and live therefore for a season before magically being transported back home. Even though they spent months in the past, they return home mere hours after they left.

And that’s where the book ends. We don’t know what happened to the tribesmen, whether it was truly the past or another world, etc. I suppose it’s fine for nine year olds or younger, but I’m not finding enough here to justify hanging onto it any longer.

I Want Maps

I finished How Firm a Foundation today, the fifth Safehold novel.  We’re onto the start of year 896, and the cast of characters has reached twenty-eight pages long.  There’s also a glossary which, in addition to Safeholdian terms, includes a thorough listing of the different religious orders as based on the Archangels.  I don’t read through it (or even glance at it) often, but it is a nice resource to have.

The one I complain about is the maps.  You know how you play Mario and at the end of the level you find out your princess is in another tower?  No matter which book I’m reading, the map I want is in another.  And some of the maps make it very difficult to figure out which part is land and which is water.  What I don’t understand is why we just keep adding character names to a giant list, but we only show 1-3 maps in each book?  I’m really wishing for a nice, full color Safeholdian atlas at this point.  A big, oversized book where I can really get a good look at each and every map, not just the regional ones.

One of the games I play as I read through this series is to figure out what the name would have been in today’s world.  You may have noticed that the spellings get a bit odd, and the pronunciations are certainly stranger, but that’s because we’re talking about centuries of shifting away from standard English as a language.  So everything is recognizable…somehow.  So…Kornylys Harpahr would be Cornelius Harper, Styvyn Graivyr is Steven Graver, Dailohrs Hahskans is Dolores Hoskins, etc.  I always find it fascinating to study shifts in language and viewpoints over time.

As far as content goes, How Firm a Foundation is another volume of building tension.  A Mighty Fotress was the climax of an arc in some ways, leading up to another epic naval battle near the end of the book.  In this one, the final confrontation was much more political than epic.  That doesn’t make it any less important of course, just less tense and insane and dramatic.  The stakes are being raised again and we’re setting the stage for a shift to the mainland.  Remember, David Weber may have a fetish for naval battles, but that doesn’t mean he won’t also write more conventional land conflicts!

I mentioned last post that I won’t be doing any reading in Safehold this weekend, and that will hold true.  These books are hardcover and heavy, and not worth the back pain along with the rest of the crap I’m taking with me to the convention.  I do hope to finish at least one book this weekend though.  Amazon also came through and I have book nine making my Pile significantly taller than it has been.  I’m a bit concerned, because it’s the same size as A Mighty Fortress and Hell’s Foundations Quiver.  You can see them up there in the header – they’re the very large ones.

Anyway, we’ll see how long the remaining four books take me.  I’ve passed the halfway point!

Many Ships and People

A Mighty Fortress is the first real slog, as far as I’m concerned.  It’s not quite as long as Off Armageddon Reef, but in the first book of any series everything is shiny and new and we’re not bored of it.  Also this volume contains naval battles in which it becomes difficult to tell which ship is on which side, and who captains each ship.  It’s here that I tend to start saying “David Weber, I understand that you like ships.  I can appreciate them too, but seriously, I don’t know what the halyards and clew lines are, and I’m not really sure that I care.”  (The man likes his nautical vocabulary.  I am quite indifferent.)

I also mentioned that we’d be seeing a jump in characters.  Instead of a mere ten pages, the cast of characters in A Mighty Fortress takes up twenty-one pages.  Again, we’re tracking a planet here, but that becomes more and more relevant as we go on.  New characters appear, and those who got a mere scene or two before get fleshed out.  Oh, and a number of people die, but that’s what happens when the focus of the series is a religiously-based war.

You can almost see a montage of decades going by, in our historical timeline, as the Safeholdian Industrial Revolution continues to advance.  Sure, it’s being pushed in some ways, but at this point the avalanche has begun and outside pressure isn’t truly necessary anymore.  Innovation is starting to run free, as we’ll see in the next few volumes.

Book four represents a turning point of sorts.  Up ’til now, Charis has led the arms race by a considerable margin, but here is where the forces of the Church and its subjects begin to make up ground.  Charis may have ruled the seas while no one else’s navy existed, but those forces are being rebuilt and they will contest the Charisian claim.  It’s interesting that no Charisian quotes the truism saying you can learn far more from defeat than from victory.  Then again, we can think of it like the recent World Series: if the team which ended up winning (Go Cubs!) had dominated from the start, it wouldn’t have been nearly as intense, as nerve-wrecking, and as exciting!

David Weber is a good author who understands that if our heroes have too easy a time of things, there’s no real investment for the reader.  Not to mention the “Joe must die” rule of books – killing off characters will hit your readers hard, but it will also make for a better story in the end.  I saw a movie some years back titled Stranger than Fiction, about a man who wakes up one day with a woman narrating his life.  (Yes, I’m going to spoil this entirely.)  He grows and develops as he tries to figure out what’s going on, and becomes a much more interesting person as he does so.  Unfortunately, this particular author is known for taking the blandest most boring characters, making them likable and fascinating, then killing them off.  So he’s doomed to die.  He meets the author finally and reads the manuscript (for the events are only occuring as they are typed up properly from the handwritten draft) and he, and everyone else, agrees that the story will be strongest if he dies.  Thus, when the author changes the ending to allow him to live, the movie itself suffers and doesn’t live up to its potential.  It’s kind of twisted, but aslo fascinating.

On an unrelated note, I’m also slightly upset with amazon.  For a month or more now, they’ve been telling me to expect the newest Safehold book between November 14th and 17th.  Then I get an email today – it’s coming on the 10th.  I won’t be ready!  I should be on the sixth book that day!  And I won’t be getting much reading done in Safehold this weekend – large hardcovers do not mix very well with conventions.  I will, however, take two or three other books with me, and will hopefully finish at least one while there.  But after I finish Safehold, it’ll be over to Elantra so I can read the other shiny new release coming on Thursday.

Time Moves Forward

I think I mentioned David Weber’s interst in naval battles before.  In fact, that’s the very reason that don’t (can’t) read his Honor Harrington series.  I’m sorry, but I just don’t view space battles the same way that I do ocean battles and trying to make one into the other just annoys me and makes my head hurt.  So that’s a series I avoid.

However, Weber also knows how to write land battles.  By Heresies Distressed is the first time we see this particular skill in Safehold, but it certainly won’t be the last.  Charis may be an island nation (and yes, there are many parallels to Great Britain), but some chunks of land are larger than others, requiring different techniques to conquer.

The cast of characters in this book is still only ten pages long, but if I recall correctly, we’ll be seeing a jump in the next volume, A Mighty Fortress.  To clarify why there are so very many names: Safehold is a planet.  A planet that was planned and initially ruled by people with highly advanced technology accustomed to global communications.  It may be time-consuming for their descendants to interact across the vast distances, but it can and will be done, as it always has.

That’s another point to mention about Safehold – the timing.  Each book is divided into sections by month.  For the record, Safehold has ten months (February through November), each divided into thirty days.  Their weeks are five days long (Monday – Friday) and their holy day is Wednesday.  There’s a few other peculiarities involved in breaking up the planetary year into easily divisible increments, but those are the major ones.  My point is that when communiques require some two months of transit time in the more distant instances, there is a greatly delayed reaction time to any and all events.  Plus the Industrial Revolution I mentioned is not instantaneous, requiring months and years of development for many advances.  By Heresies Distressed begins in October 892 and ends in September 893, which is a fairly typical span for these books.  For reference, the “present day” part of Off Armageddon Reef begins in May 890.

The other thing to note about this gradually advancing timeline is that it gives time for characters to develop and grow in every sense.  Minor characters who get a scene or two in the early books become fleshed out and important players as time goes on, and not just heads of state and others in positions of power.  Children grow up and become adults, and those adults take their places on the stage of the world.  Enemies have time to rethink their positions and become allies, allies have time to discover they never truly knew their friends and become enemies.  It’s quite fascinating.

Lastly, I want to make it clear how much I appreciate the strong female characters Weber writes.  There’s a conception in our Western society that we default to a patriarchal culture.  I have no idea how many cultures this is true for, but the concept recurs again and again.  But into this mix on Safehold we do have some women who stand tall.  Sharleyan, Queen of Chisholm, is one of the main characters.  She gained the throne upon her father’s death at the age of twelve, and many of her own countrymen assumed she would go the way of Queen Ysbell, the last reigning Chisholmian Queen, whose rule lasted a mere four years.  Instead, Sharleyan held the throne for more than a decade before the series began.

We also have Ahnzhelyk Phonda, a brothel-mistress in Zion, the city outside the Temple of God Awaiting.  She hasn’t shown up too much thus far, but we know she’s been working with those who would bring down the Church’s corruption.

In this book we’re also introduced to Princess Irys Dakyn, daughter of Prince Hektor of Corisande, who has been one of the “bad guys” up to now, though in By Heresies Distressed we come to see another side of the man.  Irys is Hektor’s oldest child and if not for Corisande’s own laws against being headed by a woman, she would be his heir.  The eighteen year old is bright, and likely to become a major player given time.

This isn’t the first time I’ve seen Weber write powerful women, but they shine more brightly against the backdrop of traditional patriarchal power seen almost everywhere in Safehold.  It also likely dates these books a bit – after all, many older books just try to shrug women off and don’t make a huge point of bringing them to the forefront.  I’m not at all complaining about the trend though, just pleased to see it.

Who’s in Charge

Okay, so, here’s the Safehold.  Damn, that is a sweet planet you might say.  WRONG!

Safehold may have a number of countries of varying size, most with their own Emperor, King, Prince, Duke, etc. in charge, but for many practical purposes the world is ruled by the Church of God Awaiting.  The Church enjoys nigh absolute authority and tends to mistrust those lands which reside furthest from its own.

Namely Charis.

Charis and its struggle against the might of the world as one individual works to bring about the Industrial Revolution is, of course, the focus of the series.  Because of how these books are written, if I want to discuss any real details, I’m going to have to put it between spoiler warnings.  I remember hearing once that Robert Jordan’s character lists were always a book or more behind, in order to avoid giving anything away, and I can truly appreciate that when reading Safehold.  As a note, the cast of characters in By Schism Rent Asunder is ten pages long, and this is just book two.

As you may guess from the title, one of the foci of this particular volume is the formal split between what will become known as the Church of Charis from the Church of God Awaiting.  The Safeholdian Reformation begins, and it is going to be a long, bloody affair.  Truly, this is the War of the Known World, though there’s no real battles in this book.  Not the way there were battles in Off Armageddon Reef or what we’ll see in successive volumes.

Just as we have our core of heroes, we also have a core of villains and one of them in particular is somewhat topical.  The Church may be headed by the Grand Vicar, but it is ruled by the Group of Four, four individually powerful Vicars who work together to formulate policy.  Zahmsyn Trynair is the Chancellor of the Council of Vicars.  He’s the one who selected Grand Vicar Erek XVII to be his mouthpiece, and is the most politically astute of the Four.  Allayn Maigwair holds the position of Captain General of the Church of God Awaiting, and the military forces of the Church and the Temple Lands answer to him.  He isn’t the most developed character at this point, but he’s also likely the least intelligent of the Four.  The Treasurer General is Rhobair Duchairn and in this book we see him as the most sympathetic of the Group, having rediscovered his personal faith in G-d.

The last person, and the true driving force of the conflict that defines Safehold as a series, is the Grand Inquisitor Zhaspahr Clyntahn.  He is the sole authority recognized by the agents of the Inquisition (yes, based on the Spanish one) and he is utterly ruthless on those who are seen to defy G-d’s (and therefore Clyntahn’s) authority.  Zhaspahr is a zealot, and one of those people who can convince himself of the truth of anything he chooses, regardless of how much it resembles what actually happened.  His hatred knows no bounds, and he does not forgive or forget.  He has voracious appetites for food, drink, women, and destroying his enemies, and he will mouth all the mealy-mouthed pithy phrases necessary at the appropriate times while his anger smolders within.

Do I think Clyntahn resembles a certain personage in the news?  Not really.  Rather, I see the character as an indicator of what may happen in the future, should some things come to pass.  As one character said in By Schism Rent Asunder: “the Group of Four isn’t the problem – it’s the symptom.”

And, for the people in these books, it’s only going to get worse before it gets better.  But I know it will because David Weber, unlike many contemporary authors, does not paint a picture of a bleak future in which we are doomed.  We may be outmanned, outgunned, and up against the wall, but there is still hope!  We only have to reach out and grasp it.