What Price Victory? (Worlds of Honor #7)
Written by David Weber
Written by Timothy Zahn and Thomas Pope
Written by Jane Lindskold
Written by Jan Kotouč
Written by Joelle Presby
Published by Baen
February 7, 2023
Hardcover, 400 pages
Over the past few years especially, there are those of us in fandom who have declared quite a few times, that we don’t need prequels to everything. We don’t need a backstory to explain every villain’s motive. We don’t need movies to fill in every gap in a character’s story. And no one asked for Solo. (Go read Ann Crispin’s trilogy for that. It’s so much better.)
But there’s something to be said for the occasional short story that drills down and focuses on one particular aspect of a story, or fills in some nuance, context, or just a bit of whimsical “extra” for fans of a story universe. When it’s done correctly, it enhances rather than distracts. What Price Victory? gives us just such a set of stories. The anthology, featuring five stories from throughout the long timeline of the Honor Harrington universe, gives us a set of stories that nicely deliver moments that add a little depth to some of the stories we’ve already read. Some are bigger than others, and some are stronger than others, but overall it’s a good mix of tales.
Timothy Zahn and Thomas Pope kick things off with “Traitor,” a story set at the beginning of the Andermani Empire, with Emperor Gustav facing a cadre of his military who have decided the head of state has lost his head with his fascination with King Frederick the Great. And for some reason, while I read this I pictured Joel Grey in his performance as Chiun in Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins. Gustav has that same energy, and I’d like to see more of him in future stories. Perhaps even a full-length novel telling us how the crafty mercenary decided to pretend he was the reincarnation of Frederick and carve out an empire for himself in the back end of nowhere.
Jane Lindskold’s “Deception on Gryphon” delivers a small murder mystery that’s not quite paint-by-numbers. Stephanie Harrington and Karl Zivonik find themselves investigating the death of a geologist who turns up dead after telling them he has a secret he needs to share with them. As Stephanie’s parents are attending a conference on Gryphon, she and Karl get caught up in figuring out why the geologist’s death isn’t actually suicide. The actual culprit is slightly easy to determine for the reader, but the story mainly serves to establish the relationship between Stephanie and Karl, who would go on to get married and found the Harrington Clan on Sphinx.
“The Silesian Command” by Jan Kotouč, lets us catch up with Eve Chandler, recently promoted to Commodore. (Chandler served as Harrington’s tactical officer during The Short Victorious War.) Now serving in Silesia, Chandler’s working through the loss of her daughter, killed in action after only days in the Army, while tracking down a renegade State Security officer who’s gone rogue with his superdreadnought in a run of piracy. It’s a story of finding a renewed sense of purpose in the wake of a devastating loss, which resonated with me especially because of my own history. I know how crippling it can be to lose a child; while Eve’s coping process was different, I understand her starting point in this story.
Joelle Presby’s “If Wishes We Space Cutters” is the weakest of the set. It’s a “slice of life” story set on Grayson, and I have to say I’m glad I read this collection twice through, because the second time I hit this story in particular, there were pieces that I caught that I hadn’t before. I’m not sure if it was just too subtle or if I wasn’t paying attention, but the setup feels a little too long for the ultimate payoff. It’s a “meet-cute” with two people who are polar opposites, so of course they’re going to be interested in each other without admitting they’re interested in each other. She’s a pain, he’s emotionally detached, so of course they get stuck in the asteroid belt with a crippled ship…
Finally, there’s “First Victory” by David Weber, who delivers the story of Alfred and Allison Harrington just before and just after their wedding. Allison and her mother are on the outs because of Alfred’s yeoman status and how it doesn’t fit with the Benton-Ramirez y Chou matriarch’s plans for her daughter. For Allison to choose monogamy and move to the Manticore system, leaving behind her entire family legacy on Beowulf, well that’s just unheard of and surely Allison isn’t thinking straight. So we have Allison’s brother Jacques and Alfred trying to figure out how to heal the breach between the two women after years of estrangement.
Overall, it’s a very good collection of stories. And while Weber is the master of his craft and the ultimate best at telling stories in his universe, the other authors certainly demonstrate a high level of facility to play in the sandbox. Weber is well past the point where he’s the only one to do everything in this universe, which gives others a chance to contribute some interesting pieces and parts. Such is the price he pays for success, but the investment pays off here with a group of authors who can handle the material.
Plus, this anthology of stories about characters other than Honor Harrington fits into the side story threads such as the Torch set, and it leaves me primed for the forthcoming tale of how one Marine named Babcock turned the head of a certain grizzled rough-around-the-edges Senior Chief Harkness… and while you may be familiar with some of those names, you don’t have to be familiar with any of them to enjoy the stories in this collection. They quite easily stand on their own, and they deliver solid self-contained narratives that can be read singly or within the context of the overall Honorverse.
Plus, I like the fact that we have a good mix of story types. They’re not all set on a Manticoran Navy vessel with imminent combat as part of the story. We have political machinations, pirates, grief and loss, economic hardship, family drama, and a murder mystery — along with said requisite space combat. This definitely scratches the short story itch while at the same time giving us brief stories that efficiently tell the tale without being too drawn out and cumbersome. None of them feel unnecessary, and they each deliver solid characters and plots that both move forward with their own momentum and fit into the overall Honorverse tapestry.
So whether you’re an Honorverse completist, or you just enjoy the brevity of short stories, you should add this one to your collection.