Book Review: The Honor Harrington series, by David Weber
The Honor Harrington series is a space opera currently spanning over 10 books, two spin off series, and several anthologies. It is, indeed, an insane amount of reading that is entirely worth it.
The series follows the title character, Honor Harrington, through her naval career, starting as a Commander on her first faster-then-light command, and most recently as an Admiral in two different navies, as well as several other titles that get pinned on in the mean time.
Weber has openly said that the story was inspired by the Napoleonic wars, with Harrington standing in for Duke Wellington in the storyline. Throughout the story, Weber introduces multiple fully developed societies and worlds. In the tradition of Isaac Asimov, he uses these societies to explore questions of what makes a society work.
In his second book, he introduces the world of Grayson, a theocracy where due to a combination of belief and biological aberration (for reasons Weber explains much later in the series, the world has a birth ratio of 1 male for every 3 females), polygyny is the only expected form of relationship. Grayson remains a pivotal part of the series, and Weber shows intimate details of how even in a patriarchal society, polygyny can be a healthy and welcome family style, with sister wives who support and care for each other, and husbands who cherish all of their large families.
He contrasts Grayson with Masada, another patriarchal theocracy, but this one embodying all the negative aspects of such societies. Forced child marriage, routine abuse, women who are chattel and property of the man who ‘owns’ them.
And, slowly, over the course of several books, he brings it home. To the main society of his series, Honor Harrington’s home, the Star Kingdom of Manticore, loosely based on England of the 18th and 19th centuries. Here, there are several suggestions through out the series that monogamy is not the only option (mention that Honor’s mother could acquire a drooling harem any time she wanted, that a secondary character had deliberately chosen to marry monogamously, etc), but throughout most of the series, this is behind the scenes, and only suggested.
Until, that is, Honor falls in love. The romance, if such it can be called, unfolds over several books, as Honor has fallen in love with a monogamously married man, and truly does live up to her namesake. The two star-crossed lovers spend a few books fighting their attraction to each other, until the man’s wife invites Honor over, and tells both of them to stop being idiots. Ultimately this leads to a very satisfactory relationship, two children, and a (legal) marriage to which the bride is the last one to be invited!
Given where this review is going, I’ve deliberately focused on the series as it relates to poly relationships, but that is far from all it has going for it. I promise I wouldn’t have followed this series for over 10 years and multiple spinoffs (and am currently waiting the date of the next book to be announced) if all it had going for it was a good portrayal of non-monogamy. Hell, I started reading before I knew what polyamory was, and this series has a lot to do with why I was able to accept the idea so easily! But expect great characters, fascinating worlds, epic space battles, duels, politics, culture clash and everything anyone could possibly want from a well done space opera.
Several of the early books in the Honor Harrington series, as well as some of the spin offs, are available as eBooks through Baen’s free library, and the entire series is available as eBooks through Baen’s Webscriptions program. The series is also available on Amazon. The first book in the series is On Basilisk Station, followed by Honor of the Queen.