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By Heresies Distressed by David Weber

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By Heresies Distressed by David Weber
Tor, 2010, 640 pages

I reviewed the first two volumes of the Safehold series here and at that time I was quite excited about it. It has a fairly original idea and lots of potential for exciting stories. The first two volumes gave me a lot of hope for the rest of the series. With By Heresies Distressed, though, the series might have hit a sophomore slump (at least I’m hoping that’s the case).

The Safehold series tells the story of mankind’s future. Earth and almost the entire human race has been destroyed by the Gbaba. A small remnant escaped and has settled itself on the planet of Safehold. In order to keep the Gbaba from detecting their presence, the founders of Safehold created a culture whose religion rejects any forms of advanced technology. The controlling church has a set of precepts whose violation results in excommunication. Of course, for this to be effective, the church has control of the planet’s governments, keeping the rulers under their thumb.

At the time of Safehold’s establishment, however, a number of the founders were against the course that was taken, believing that mankind should not be hampered by being kept technologically ignorant. The faction was defeated, but not before they were able to save the mental template of one of their own. Now, nearly a millennium later, Nimue Alban has been reborn in an android body (reminiscent of Nick Fury’s Life Model Decoys) as the sage Merlin Anthrawes. It is Merlin’s mission to bring Safehold out of the Luddite medievalism in which it is trapped before the Gbaba return.

In this, the third volume, Weber shows how the (now) Emperor Cayleb of Charis and his new bride, the Empress Sharleyan, build the Empire of Charis in revolt against the church and its ruling clique, the Group of Four. Because there is a large map that is being redrawn through political clashes, most of the 600 pages of this novel are spent with members of the large cast of characters doing nothing more than talking about what’s going on around the world and discussing how to proceed. Then, the next chapter is more of the same after the events forecast in the previous chapter have come about. And so on, and so on.

Isaac Asimov was famous for this maneuver in his early writings. (Foundation is almost nothing but such discussions), but By Heresies Distressed is a much longer book than any of the early Asimov, and the cast is much larger and the plot more complex, and so it quickly becomes tiring. There are two battles in the entire book to help alleviate the incessant talking, but even those are not enough to keep one’s attention.

If the premise and the original two books in the series were not as well done as they are, then I would give up now, but because of that early promise, I think I’ll give this another book or two to see how it works out. Stay tuned.

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