BooksReviews

Book Review: TOLL OF HONOR Pays Off, Nicely Fills In Some Blanks

Toll Of Honor
(Expanded Honorverse #1)

Written by David Weber
Published by Baen
April 2, 2024
Hardcover, 528 pages

In the midst of events detailed in the book Field of Dishonor, we have a few points that apparently David Weber wanted to revisit and “fill in the blanks” with regard to Paul Tankersley and the showdown between Honor Harrington and Pavel Young.

Toll of Honor fills in those gaps, and it also delivers the story of how Chief Petty Officer Horace Harkness won the attention of Sergeant Major Iris Babcock. I mean, come on, a Navy chief and a Marine? Inside the Honorverse, a lot of people had a tough time believing it. Now we get to see how it came about. We also get more detail on the friendship that forms between Lieutenant Brandy Bolgeo and Major Clint Hendren, a relationship first seen in the novella “A Travesty of Nature” from the anthology Onward Libertycon (Brandy’s father, Tim, is named in honor of Timothy Bolgeo, the founder of LibertyCon).

When this book was first announced, the initial selling point was “see how Harkness and Babcock got together!” and that sold me right away. But this book is more than that. In fact, the Harkness-Babcock courtship really is more the C-story thread that weaves in and out of the A-story, which is the slow burn building up to the duel between Harrington and Earl North Hollow.

Starting with his court-martial after his cowardice at the Battle of Hancock, the “filling in the blanks” begins right away, as we now get to see the discussions that center on the delay in getting a formal declaration of war and how it affects the operations of the Royal Manticoran Navy (short answer: not well). The delays caused by politics have the Navy brass sweating bullets at the notion that more time gives Haven a chance to consolidate and actually train up officers after the purge leaves their Navy in the hands of a bunch of wet-behind-the-ears tyros with no experience and political officers breathing down their necks. Sir Thomas Caparelli knows that the longer it takes to get a declaration, the less chance he has to make this a short war.

And Young’s trial lies at the center of it, with a final compromise that leaves everyone dissatisfied.

The court-martial is too much for the elder North Hollow, and Pavel Young finds himself now the Earl of North Hollow after the death of his father. This gives him access to the dreaded North Hollow Files and his father’s assistant/fixer, Georgia Sakristos. And he starts to wield his influence right away, all the while trying to figure out how to finally have his revenge on one Honor Harrington.

The bulk of the first part covers territory we visited in Field of Dishonor: Paul Tankersley’s death at the hands of Denver Summervale, the confrontation that leads to Summervale’s confession, Honor’s subsequent duels with Summervale and North Hollow, and her banishment to Grayson in the aftermath of killing a peer. But in between all of that, we finally get a few pieces that have been cause for speculation: the actual duel between Paul and Summervale, North Hollow’s machinations behind the scenes to get revenge on Honor, the lead-up to the formal declaration of war and the operations Admiral White Haven leads in the opening rounds.

And, of course, the courtship of Iris Babcock.

There’s also the first meeting between Steadholder Harrington and her personal guard, and given that we’ve already seen how that goes, it was a bit of a kick to see everyone in the very early stages of figuring each other out — including Honor realizing just what she’s gotten herself into as a newly christened head of state.

That’s the first half. The second half gives us a look at Honor’s crew and what they were doing while she was becoming a Very Important Person on Grayson during Flag in Exile. The Royal Manticoran Navy finally gets their formal declaration of war, Admiral White Haven and 6th Fleet get to start pressing the attack against the People’s Republic of Haven. Captain Alistair McKeon is right there in the middle of it with HMS Prince Adrian, where Brandy Bolgeo in the newly minted Chief Engineer having to deal with the new Marine detachment commander, Major Hendren.

I’ve always admired the way Weber and his co-conspirators co-authors have always been able to tell stories within stories. Whether it’s a novel like Storm From the Shadows — Weber telling the tale of Michelle Henke’s capture — or Torch of Freedom with Eric Flint, giving us a new side-story series that weaves in and out of the main line of books, the Honorverse is one of the best and most tightly-woven narratives I’ve run across. While it’s not perfect — Weber has admitted as much — it’s probably the closest thing we’re going to get in terms of maintaining continuity and cohesion throughout the near-forty novels and anthologies that have been published since 2012.

This is the kind of book you don’t realize you were missing until it sits on the shelf as part of your growing personal library. While I never needed to revisit these events, I have (on occasion) felt a little shortchanged by the fact that Paul Tankersley died off-screen in Field of Dishonor. I understood at the time — that story was about Honor and how events were pulling her inexorably toward a final confrontation. This time around, with the focus being on the supporting cast, we finally get that first duel as well as the reactions of the crew as events spiral out of control.

And even though it’s not the main plot, the scenes between Harkness and Babcock are absolute comfort food. The banter between these two remind me of another couple — yes, it’s me and Mrs Boss — and given that they’re not spring chickens falling all over each other in luuuuuurrrvvvve, the relationship actually feels inevitable instead of “because plot said so” like we get in other stories.

All in all, an excellent entry into the Honorverse, one I didn’t mind at all reading while I wait for the sequel to Uncompromising Honor, which needs to be out sooner rather than later.

 

Jason P. Hunt

Jason P. Hunt (founder/EIC) is the author of the sci-fi novella "The Hero At the End Of His Rope". His short film "Species Felis Dominarus" was a finalist in the Sci Fi Channel's 2007 Exposure competition.

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