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.