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.
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.