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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

"How Firm a Foundation" by David Weber (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

Official David Weber Website
Order "How Firm a Foundation" HERE or as an Audiobook HERE
Read FBC Review of By Schism Rent Asunder
Read FBC Review of By Heresies Distressed
Read FBC Review of A Mighty Fortress
Read FBC Interview with David Weber

Listen to a Clip of the Audiobook of How Firm a Foundation

INTRODUCTION: "How Firm a Foundation" is the fifth installment in the Safehold Saga of David Weber and after finishing it I have to say that while Safehold has remained one of my top four ongoing sff series, it slipped a little down since this book while a solid David Weber offering is the weakest of the series for several reasons I will describe later, most notably the ratio depth/number of pages getting towards "extremely successful author needs to tell all details" levels.

While technically science fiction and indeed quite sf-nal in ethos, "Safehold" is much closer to epic fantasy in theme and world building. If Off Armageddon Reef had as main focus adventure and naval battles, By Schism Rent Asunder intrigue and revelations, By Heresies Distressed land war and consolidation, A Mighty Fortress faith and the second round of all-out naval battles, How Firm a Foundation is mostly a "lull in the action/setup" with a bit of "Empire Strikes Back" in it.

Since I talked at length about the setting and characters in my reviews of volumes 2 and 3 linked above, while the author talked at length about the series in my interview with him, here I will assume familiarity with the context and the main characters, so be aware of massive spoilers for volumes 1-4 below, volumes which will be referred by initials (OAR, BSRA, BHD, AMF) as is the usual when discussing a hugely popular author like David Weber.

ANALYSIS: "How Firm a Foundation" has an interesting structure in the series and while things happen I found it the least satisfying novel to date because almost all the great moments - and it has a lot of putative such - are repeats from the earlier four novels - for example we find out what the key is and it is not as mind blowing as Merlin visiting Saint Zherneau in BSRA, or the martyrdoms/Charisian retaliation, wrenching and satisfying respectively still do not compare with Eryk Dynnis and the Delferak hangings to which they are also very similar.

"How Firm a Foundation" has a high major characters body count, and I was shocked at least at one of the main character deaths which was really unexpected, though again in emotionality it did not reach Harahld's death in OAR. As series placement, the book is a clear first of the next stage of the series, so despite all, not much is decided in the end and we are left with a huge "to be continued" sign.

I think the main problem with the novel lies in its structure - OAR had a clear arc and ended at the best point possible with the invasion of Charis shattered, the schism opening and Cayleb taking over; BSRA + BHD are one huge novel split in two and again they solve their arc - the Charisian imperial reach is achieved with the alliance with Chisolhm, the defection of Emerald and the defeat of Corisande, while the Church is preparing their counterattack, which is of course the topic of A Mighty Fortress another one book story arc like OAR dealing with the second naval war between Charis and The Temple and the Charisians' overwhelming victory.

But at the end of AMF we had reached a lull and the first 200 pages of How Firm a Foundation reflect that and the book is very slow there. Things get going of course but due to the military realities, it is mostly intrigue, terrorism and mop-up on the seas until of course the last part where the proverbial **** starts hitting the fan and we get to the next stage and total war, however the novel stops there since it is already over 600 pages. So cutting the first 200 pages to 50 condensed pages of the same and expanding the last part would have done wonders.

This being said I still turned the pages and stayed way too late to read the novel and I still loved it a lot. As scenes go, as mentioned lots of great moments but we've seen them before so their impact is more muted, though there is one that truly stands out with Merlin at his inimitable cool deep in enemy territory. And Anzhelyk still rocks!

Overall How Firm a Foundation is still an A+ for the sweep of the storyline and its great characters - or if you want its epic-ness which is still there at the highest levels of sff -though a little short of the awesome novel I expected when A Mighty Fortress seemed to conclude the first part of the series. However the next novel should finally clear up the scene and move Safehold towards the decisive resolution we all expect with bathed breath!


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