BOOK REVIEW: Flag In Exile, by David Weber

-Major spoilers abound for previous books in the Honorverse. Click here for a full index of reviews-

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Publisher: Baen

Series: Honor Harrington (#5)

Genre: Space Opera/Military SF

Pages: 442

Publication Date: 1995

Verdict: 4/5

Disgraced and in mourning, Honor Harrington has retreated to her estate on Grayson, where she is content to manage more civilian affairs. But even here Honor has enemies. Enemies that will do anything to see her ruined . . .  

Like Field of Dishonor before it, Flag In Exile builds directly on what has come before. Following the death of her beloved Paul, and her subsequent killing of Pavel Young, Honor has been forcibly removed from the navy, and is now living as a steadholder on Grayson. unfortunately, Grayson is still a little backward in its thinking. There’s a lot of resentment to Honor based purely on her gender. While the majority of the patriarchal planet has, begrudgingly or otherwise, accepted her, there remains a strong element who’d like nothing so much as to see her dead.

With political manoeuvres, honour duels and Honor herself fighting extreme elements with the implicit support of the nobility, this book covers much of the same ground as its predecessor. As such, there’s a slight feeling of deja vu –  a sense that we’ve been through all of this before. I can sit through endless space battles, fleet tactics and political debates, but the similarity is too close here. Coming straight off the back of a near-identical plotline, this is just a little too repetitious.

In my previous review, I commented on Weber’s black-and-white approach to morality, and that I hoped for more nuance. After having read Flag In Exile, I realise this criticism may have been a little premature. While Weber’s human villains are still very much of the moustache-twirling variety, going to some pretty extreme measures in their attempts to discredit and destroy Honor Harrington,  but it’s always the individual that is to blame. Unlike many of his military SF contemporaries, Weber has a balanced approach to wider politics and philosophy.

Take Grayson for example, it’s a staunchly patriarchal planet, ruled by a state and church that are essentially one and the same. Yet while Weber shows us that Honor’s arrival is slowly triggering reforms – that is, after all, why she makes so many enemies – the system itself is not the enemy. Honor is at pains to balance the needs of the locals with her own secular upbringing.

Similarly, we get more glimpses into Chairman Pierre’s somewhat-reformed People’s Republic of Haven. His well-intentioned attempts to bring change to the system has been scuppered by political rivalries. The policies of the previous administration have left their legacy, and it will take some time to recover from the damage they caused. While the Havenites are clearly the villains, it’s hard not to emphasise to Pierre. Here is man who understands that the best way to approach a broken system is to fix it from within, not to tear it down from without.

With a slower pace than previous books, Flag In Exile is something of a stumbling block in the forward momentum of the series. But it’s a minor one at that, and I have confidence in Weber’s ability to kick the action up a notch in the next installment.

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