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How Firm a Foundation (Safehold Series #5)

How Firm a Foundation (Safehold Series #5)

4.3 87
by David Weber

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In David Weber's How Firm a Foundation, the fifth book in the Safehold series, the Charisian Empire, born in war, has always known it must fight for its very survival. What most of its subjects don't know even now, however, is how much more it's fighting for. Emperor Cayleb, Empress Sharleyan, Merlin Athrawes, and their innermost circle of most trusted


In David Weber's How Firm a Foundation, the fifth book in the Safehold series, the Charisian Empire, born in war, has always known it must fight for its very survival. What most of its subjects don't know even now, however, is how much more it's fighting for. Emperor Cayleb, Empress Sharleyan, Merlin Athrawes, and their innermost circle of most trusted advisers do know. And because they do, they know the penalty if they lose will be far worse than their own deaths and the destruction of all they know and love.

For five years, Charis has survived all the Church of God Awaiting and the corrupt men who control it have thrown at the island empire. The price has been high and paid in blood. Despite its chain of hard-fought naval victories, Charis is still on the defensive. It can hold its own at sea, but if it is to survive, it must defeat the Church upon its own ground. Yet how does it invade the mainland and take the war to a foe whose population outnumbers its own fifteen to one? How does it prevent that massive opponent from rebuilding its fleets and attacking yet again?

Charis has no answer to those questions, but needs to find one...quickly. The Inquisition's brutal torture and hideous executions are claiming more and more innocent lives. Its agents are fomenting rebellion against the only mainland realms sympathetic to Charis. Religious terrorists have been dispatched to wreak havoc against the Empire's subjects. Assassins stalk the Emperor and Empress, their allies and advisers, and an innocent young boy, not yet eleven years old, whose father has already been murdered. And Merlin Athrawes, the cybernetic avatar of a young woman a thousand years dead, has finally learned what sleeps beneath the far-off Temple in the Church of God Awaiting's city of Zion.

The men and women fighting for human freedom and tolerance have built a foundation for their struggle in the Empire of Charis with their own blood, but will that foundation be firm enough to survive?

At the Publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“Combines superb action SF elements and (surprise!) homage to the great novels of the Age of Fighting Sail (by C. S. Forester, Patrick O'Brian, and their ilk). Weber has an enormous audience that welcomes each enormous book. ” —Booklist, starred review on A Mighty Fortress

“Highly recommended. ” —Library Journal, starred review on By Schism Rent Asunder

“Gripping... Shifting effortlessly between battles among warp-speed starships and among oar-powered galleys, Weber brings the political maneuvering, past and future technologies, and vigorous protagonists together for a cohesive, engrossing whole.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review on Of Armageddon Reef

Library Journal
The island empire of Charis struggles for survival against the powerful Church of God Awaiting, unable to gain ground against the church's superior numbers. At the heart of Charis's effort is a secret known only to the Emperor Cayleb, the Empress Sharleyan, and Merlin Athrawes, the avatar of a woman killed a thousand years ago in a hopeless galactic war against an alien race intent on exterminating humans. Though the world of Safehold has remained hidden from the aliens by forswearing most forms of high technology, Cayleb and his companions know that the only way to survive their inevitable discovery is to acquire the technology necessary to defeat their enemy, despite the church's brutal punishments for what they consider heresy. When Merlin finally makes a shattering discovery about what lies beneath the distant Temple in the church's city of Zion, the war takes on an even more desperate significance. VERDICT With each installment in this epic sf/fantasy blend, Weber sharpens his storytelling skills. The sixth volume (after Out of the Dark) creates a unique world in which medieval trappings serve as a buffer against an alien threat and generations live in blissful ignorance of the danger than lurks beyond the stars. Series readers and the author's wide fan base will want this.

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Tom Doherty Associates
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Safehold Series , #5
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How Firm a Foundation

By David Weber

Tom Doherty Associates

Copyright © 2011 David Weber
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-8300-6


Castaway Islands, Great Western Ocean; Imperial Palace, City of Cherayth, Kingdom of Chisholm; and Ehdwyrd Howsmyn's Study, Delthak, Kingdom of Old Charis

Nights didn't come much darker, Merlin Athrawes reflected as he stood gazing up at the cloud-choked, stormy sky. There were no stars, and no moon, through those clouds, and although it was summer in Safehold's southern hemisphere, the Castaway Islands were almost four thousand miles below the equator on a planet whose average temperature was rather lower than Old Terra's to begin with. That made "summer" a purely relative term, and he wondered again how the islands had come to be named.

There were four of them, none of which had ever been individually named. The largest was just under two hundred and fifty miles in its longest dimension; the smallest was barely twenty-seven miles long; and aside from a few species of arctic wyverns and the seals (which actually resembled the Terran species of the same name) which used their limited beaches, he'd seen no sign of life anywhere on any of them. He could well believe that any ship which had ever approached the barren, steep-sided volcanic peaks rising from the depths of the Great Western Ocean had managed to wreck themselves. What he couldn't figure out was why anyone would have been in the vicinity in the first place, and how there could have been any surviving castaways to name the islands afterward.

He knew they hadn't been named by the terraforming crews which had first prepared Safehold for human habitation. He had access to Pei Shan-wei's original maps, and these miserable hunks of weather and wind-lashed igneous rock, sand, and shingle bore no name on them. There were still quite a few unnamed bits and pieces of real estate scattered around the planet, actually, despite the detailed atlases which were part of the Holy Writ of the Church of God Awaiting. There were far fewer than there'd been when Shan-wei and the rest of the Alexandria Enclave were murdered, though, and he found it fascinating (in a historical sort of way) to see which of them had been christened only after dispersion had started shifting the colonists' descendants' Standard English into Safehold's present dialects.

He wasn't here to do etiological research on planetary linguistics, however, and he turned his back to the howling wind and examined the last of the emitters once more.

The device was about half his own height and four feet across, a mostly featureless box with a couple of closed access panels, one on each side. There were quite a few other similar devices — some quite a bit larger; most about the same size or smaller — scattered around the four islands, and he opened one of the panels to study the glowing LEDs.

He didn't really have to do it, of course. He could have used his built-in com to consult the artificial intelligence known as Owl who was actually going to be conducting most of this experiment anyway. And he didn't really need the LEDs, either; the storm-lashed gloom was daylight clear to his artificial eyes. There were some advantages to having been dead for a thousand standard years or so, including the fact that his PICA body was immune to little things like hypothermia. He'd come to appreciate those advantages more deeply, in many ways, than he ever had when a living, breathing young woman named Nimue Alban had used her PICA only occasionally, which didn't keep him from sometimes missing that young woman with an aching, empty need.

He brushed that thought aside — not easily, but with practiced skill — and closed the panel with a nod of satisfaction. Then he crunched back across the rocky flat to his recon skimmer, climbed the short ladder, and settled into the cockpit. A moment later, he was rising on counter-grav, turbines compensating for the battering wind as he climbed quickly to twenty thousand feet. He broke through the overcast and climbed another four thousand feet, then leveled out in the thinner, far calmer air.

There was plenty of moonlight up here, above the storm wrack, and he gazed down, drinking in the beauty of the black and silver-struck cloud summits. Then he drew a deep breath — purely out of habit, not out of need — and spoke.

"All right, Owl. Activate phase one."

"Activating, Lieutenant Commander," the computer said from its hidden cavern at the base of Safehold's tallest mountain, almost thirteen thousand miles from Merlin's present location. The signal between the recon skimmer and the computer was bounced off one of the Self-Navigating Autonomous Reconnaissance and Communications platforms Merlin had deployed in orbit around the planet. Those heavily stealthed, fusion-powered SNARCs were the most deadly weapons in Merlin's arsenal. He relied on them heavily, and they provided him and the handful of human beings who knew his secret with communications and recon capabilities no one else on the planet could match.

Unfortunately, that didn't necessarily mean someone — or something — off the planet couldn't match or even exceed them. Which was, after all, pretty much the point of this evening's experiment.

Merlin had chosen the Castaway Islands with care. They were eleven thousand miles from the Temple, eighty-seven hundred miles from the city of Tellesberg, seventy-five hundred miles from the city of Cherayth, and just over twenty- six hundred miles from the Barren Lands, the closest putatively inhabited real estate on the entire planet. No one was going to see anything that happened here. And no one (aside from those arctic wyverns and seals) was going to get killed if things turned out ... badly.

Not that it looked that way to the recon skimmer's sensors at the moment. Indeed, according to them, there were thousands of moving, human-sized thermal signatures scattered around the islands in half a dozen "towns" and "villages." One of those towns was centered on the device he'd just examined twenty-four thousand feet below the skimmer, which had just come to life as Owl obeyed his instructions. No one looking at it would have noticed anything, but the skimmer's sensors picked up the new heat source immediately.

Merlin sat back, watching the thermal signature as its temperature rose to approximately five hundred degrees on the Fahrenheit scale Eric Langhorne had imposed upon the brainwashed colonists almost nine hundred Safeholdian years ago. It held steady at that point, and if there'd still been any human (or PICA) eyes to watch, they would have noticed it was beginning to vent steam. Not a lot of it, and the wind snatched the steam plume to bits almost more quickly than it could appear. But the sensors saw it clearly, noted its cyclic nature. Only an artificial source could have emitted it in such a steady pattern, and Merlin waited another five minutes, simply watching his instruments.

"Have we detected any response from the kinetic platforms, Owl?" he asked then.

"Negative, Lieutenant Commander," the AI replied calmly.

"Initiate phase two, then."

"Initiating, Lieutenant Commander."

A moment later, additional heat sources began to appear. One or two of them, at first, then half a dozen. Two dozen. Then still more, scattered around the islands as individuals and in clusters, all in around the same temperature range, but registering in several different sizes, and all of them "leaking" those cyclical puffs of steam. The cycles weren't all identical and the steam plumes came in several different sizes and durations, but all of them were clearly artificial in origin.

Merlin sat very still, watching his instruments, waiting. Five more minutes crept past. Then ten. Fifteen.

"Any response from the kinetic platforms now, Owl?"

"Negative, Lieutenant Commander."

"Good. That's good, Owl."

There was no response from the computer this time. Merlin hadn't really expected one, although Owl did seem to be at least starting to develop the personality the operator's manual promised he would ... eventually. The AI had actually offered spontaneous responses and interpolations on a handful of occasions, although seldom to Merlin. In fact, now that he thought about it, the majority of those spontaneous responses had been directed to Empress Sharleyan, and Merlin wondered why that was. Not that he expected he'd ever find out. Even back when there'd been a Terran Federation, AIs — even Class I AIs (which Owl most emphatically was not) — had often had quirky personalities that responded better to some humans than to others.

"Activate phase three," he said now.

"Activating, Lieutenant Commander."

This time, if Merlin had still been a flesh-and-blood human being, he would have held his breath as two-thirds or so of the steam signatures on his sensors began to move. Most of them moved fairly slowly, their paths marked by twists and turns, stopping and starting, turning sharply, then going straight for short distances. Several others, though, were not only larger and more powerful but moved much more rapidly and smoothly ... almost as if they'd been on rails.

Merlin watched the slower moving heat signatures tracing out the skeletal outlines of what could have been street grids in the "towns" and "villages" while the larger, faster-moving ones moved steadily between the clusters of their slower brethren. Nothing else seemed to be happening, and he made himself wait for another half hour before he spoke again.

"Still nothing from the platforms, Owl?"

"Negative, Lieutenant Commander."

"Are we picking up any signal traffic between the platforms and the Temple?"

"Negative, Lieutenant Commander."

"Good." Merlin's one-word response was even more enthusiastic this time, and he felt himself smiling. He leaned back in the flight couch, clasping his hands behind his head, and gazed up at the moon that never looked quite right to his Earth-born memories and the starscape no Terrestrial astronomer had ever seen. "We'll give it another hour or so," he decided. "Tell me if you pick up anything — anything at all — from the platforms, from the Temple, or between them."

"Acknowledged, Lieutenant Commander."

"And I suppose while we're waiting, you might as well start giving me my share of the flagged take from the SNARCs."

"Yes, Lieutenant Commander."

* * *

"Well," Merlin said, several hours later as his skimmer headed northwest across the eastern reaches of Carter's Ocean towards the city of Cherayth, "I have to say, it looks promising so far, at least."

"You could've told us when you started your little test."

Cayleb Ahrmahk, Emperor of Charis and King of Old Charis, sounded more than a little testy himself, Merlin thought with a smile. At the moment, he and Empress Sharleyan sat across a table from one another. The breakfast plates had been taken away, although Cayleb continued to nurse a cup of chocolate. Another cup sat in front of Sharleyan, but she was too busy breast-feeding their daughter, Princess Alahnah, to do anything with it at the moment. Depressingly early morning sunlight came through the frost-rimed window behind Cayleb's chair, and Sergeant Edwyrd Seahamper stood outside the small dining chamber's door, ensuring their privacy.

Like them, Seahamper was listening to Merlin over the invisible, transparent plug in his right ear. Unlike them, the sergeant was unable to participate in the conversation, since (also unlike them) he didn't have any convenient sentries making sure no one was going to wander by and hear him talking to thin air.

"I did tell you I intended to initiate the test as soon as Owl and I had the last of the EW emitters in place, Cayleb," Merlin said now, mildly. "And if I recall, you and Sharleyan knew 'Seijin Merlin' was going to be 'meditating' for the next couple of days. In fact, that was part of the cover plan to free me up to conduct the test in the first place, unless memory fails me. And in regard to that last observation, I might point out that my memory is no longer dependent on fallible organic components."

"Very funny, Merlin," Cayleb said.

"Oh, don't be such a fussbudget, Cayleb!" Sharleyan scolded with a smile. "Alahnah was actually letting us sleep last night, and if Merlin was prepared to let us go on sleeping, I'm not going to complain. And frankly, dear, I don't think any of our councilors are going to complain if you got a bit more rest last night, either. You have been a little grumpy lately."

Cayleb gave her a moderately betrayed look, but she only shook her head at him.

"Go on with your report, Merlin. Please," she said. "Before Cayleb says something else we'll all regret, whether he does or not."

There was the sound of something suspiciously like a muffled laugh from the fifth and final party to their conversation.

"I heard that, Ehdwyrd!" Cayleb said.

"I'm sure I don't know what you're referring to, Your Majesty. Or, I suppose, I should say 'Your Grace' since you and Her Majesty are currently in Chisholm," Ehdwyrd Howsmyn replied innocently from his study in far-off Old Charis.

"Oh, of course you don't."

"Oh, hush, Cayleb!" Sharleyan kicked him under the breakfast table. "Go on, Merlin. Quick!"

"Your wish is my command, Your Majesty," Merlin assured her while Cayleb rubbed his kneecap with his right hand and waved a mock-threatening fist with his left.

"As I was saying," Merlin continued, his tone considerably more serious than it had been, "things are looking good so far. Everything I could see on the skimmer's sensors, and everything Owl can see using the SNARCs, looks exactly like a whole batch of steam engines either sitting in place and working or chugging around the landscape. They've been doing it for better than seven hours now, and so far neither the kinetic bombardment platform nor whatever the hell those energy sources under the Temple are seem to have been taking any notice at all. So if the 'Archangels' did set up any kind of automatic technology-killing surveillance program, it doesn't look like simple steam engines are high enough tech to break through the filters."

"I almost wish we'd gotten some reaction out of them, though," Cayleb said in a far more thoughtful tone, forgetting to glower at his beloved wife. "In a lot of ways, I would've been happier if the platforms had sent some kind of 'Look, I see some steam engines!' message to the Temple and nothing had happened. At least then I'd feel more confident that if there is some command loop to anything under the damned place, whatever the anything was, it wasn't going to tell the platforms to kill the engines. As it is, we can't be sure something's not going to cause whatever the anything might be to change its mind and start issuing kill orders at a later date about something else."

"My head hurts trying to follow that," Sharleyan complained. He gave her a look, and she shrugged. "Oh, I understood what you were saying, it's just a bit ... twisty for this early in the morning."

"I understand what you're saying, too, Cayleb," Merlin said. "For myself, though, I'm just as glad it didn't happen that way. Sure, it'd be a relief in some ways, but it wouldn't actually prove anything one way or the other about the decision-making processes we're up against. And, to be honest, I'm just delighted we didn't wake up anything under the Temple with our little test. The last thing we need is to throw anything else into the equation — especially anything that might decide to take the Group of Four's side!" "There's something to that," Cayleb agreed, and Sharleyan nodded feelingly.

None of them felt the least bit happy about the energy signatures Merlin had detected under the Temple. The native-born Safeholdians' familiarity with technology remained largely theoretical and vastly incomplete, but they were more than willing to take Merlin's and Owl's word that the signatures they were seeing seemed to indicate something more than just the heating and cooling plant and maintenance equipment necessary to keep the "mystic" Temple environment up and running. As Cayleb had said, it would be nice to know that whatever those additional signatures represented wasn't going to instruct the orbital kinetic platforms which had transformed the Alexandria Enclave into Armageddon Reef nine hundred years before to start killing the first steam engines they saw even after it had been told about them. On the other hand, if whatever was under the Temple (assuming there really was something and they weren't all just being constructively paranoid) was "asleep," keeping it that way as long as possible seemed like a very good idea.

"I agree with you, Merlin," Howsmyn said. "Still, as the person most likely to catch a kinetic bombardment if it turns out we're wrong about this, I have to admit I'm a little worried about how persistence might play into this from the platforms' side."


Excerpted from How Firm a Foundation by David Weber. Copyright © 2011 David Weber. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

David Weber is a science fiction phenomenon. His popular Honor Harrington and Honorverse novels—including Mission of Honor, At All Costs, and Torch of Freedom—are New York Times bestsellers and can't come out fast enough for his devoted readers. He is also the author of the Safehold series, including Off Armageddon Reef, By Schism Rent Asunder, By Heresies Distressed and A Mighty Fortress. His other top-selling science fiction novels include Out of the Dark, the Dahak books and the Multiverse books, written with Linda Evans. He has also created an epic SF adventure series in collaboration with John Ringo, including We Few. His novels have regularly been Main Selections of the Science Fiction Book Club. Weber has a bachelor's degree from Warren Wilson College, and attended graduate school in history at Appalachian State University. He lives in South Carolina.
David Weber is a science fiction phenomenon. His popular Honor Harrington and Honorverse novels—including Mission of Honor, At All Costs, and Torch of Freedom—are New York Times bestsellers and can't come out fast enough for his devoted readers. He is also the author of the Safehold series, including Off Armageddon Reef, By Schism Rent Asunder, By Heresies Distressed and A Mighty Fortress. His other top-selling science fiction novels include Out of the Dark, the Dahak books and the Multiverse books, written with Linda Evans. He has also created an epic SF adventure series in collaboration with John Ringo, including We Few. His novels have regularly been Main Selections of the Science Fiction Book Club. Weber has a bachelor’s degree from Warren Wilson College, and attended graduate school in history at Appalachian State University. He lives in South Carolina.

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How Firm a Foundation 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 87 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I always enjoy David Weber's writing. This book, however, was disappointing (to say the least) in this series. It plodded along in many spots -- way too much detail about the technical aspects and not enough about the personal aspects. I do understand that yyou need the technical to explain the progess of the science and why that progress is affecting the war and the personal areas of people's lives. I just think it's too emphasized., I would recommend it to those who are reading the series, but not to those who haven't read the previous books in this series. Mr. Weber's fans will know what to expect and, thus, not be surprised.
Bifrost More than 1 year ago
The pace is better than the last book, which I think has been aptly described elsewhere as "600 pages of meeting notes". Some of that tendency is still present in this book but in the main, the plot twists and sea faring action keep things rolling along. The concept is still interesting and the plot is developing well, I look forward to the next installment.
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RCBMO More than 1 year ago
While the story is interesting I found page after page of meaningless detail like who is wearing what, or some meaningless family trivia. Is someone getting paid by the word? I will state that this is the only Safeholder book I have read and I am trying to decide if I want to purchase the others. I most likely will as the story line is interesting.
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Hdyo . ?p
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Like it im hooked on the story needs more action though
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GWFrog More than 1 year ago
Superbly original series. Can't wait for the next installation.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have just completed David Weber's "How Firm A Foundation," the fifth book in his Safehold series.  It is an incredibly good read -- a masterpiece!  I would even call it (and all the books in this series) modern classic of literature.  They really are that good.  I loved Weber's Honor Harington series, but Weber has risen to a whole new level with this Safehold series.  Weber's creative mind devises story lots so engossing and so rich in imagination, insight pathos, humor and detail that the reader does not want the book to end, --and because you can't put it down once you've started it will end much too soon.  No author I know has the rapscallion with or the ability to turn a phrase that Weber has. Few, if any, writers can match Weber's ability to make his characters so real, be they the villains and tyrants, or the heroes and heroines or just the ordinary folk that make his writing so rich.  In this book you will love to hate the "Gang of Four" (and all their flunkies) especially the Grand Inquisitor Zhaspahr Clyntahn the leader of the "Gang."  You will cheer for the indomitable Captain Merlin Athrawes - cybernetic avatar and personal body guard to the king and queen who has the memories of a pre-Safehold woman a thousand years dead.  You will love and be impressed by young king and queen Calab and Sharleyan and root for them as they fight against tyranny and oppression in their struggle to ensure the survival of their empire.  You will pull for young Lieutenant Aplyn (14 year old adoptive brother of king Calabd) as he unexpectedly ends up in command of a rescue mission to save a beautiful princesses and her younger brother from assassins. But this series, and especially this book, are more than an engaging story lin, exciting action and captivating characters -- though no one does military action and intrigue better than Weber.  No, this is much much more!  There is good reason why the evil, the courage and the characters seem so real in the Safehold series.  This series is historical truth/fiction as well as good space opera.  Weber has accurately, described a very desperate and dangerous time in the history of western civilization.  He has cleverly woven into his narrative a portrayal of the policies, positions, thinking and events that actually happened in  our own history -- though you won't recognize this if all you have been exposed to is the watered down version of history now taught in schools.  The narrative is painfully real, except only a hundredth part  is  told.  Often the very words of the real participants (on both sides) are used in Weber's narrative, and in accaurate context.  Look up the words Queen Sharleyan uses to end her declaration  to stand for the right; "Here I stand, I can do no other" and see who spoke them as well as when and why.  Get a good history on the Inquisition or of the Waldenses of northern Italy and see just how accurate Weber has been.  What Weber is describing are the very policies, politics, ideologies, fanaticisms and socio-economic pressures that forced a small group of refugees toleave everything they had ever now and set sail for a new land, there to establish a new country gbased on the principles of freedom and honest enterprise.  This same struggle (here presented in a very engaging story) led to the founding of a new country, on we know today as the "United States of America."  For those who enjoy insightful and thought provoking --as well as engaging and imaginative -- reading, this is the series for you.  As I said at the beginning, this is a masterpiece, and it takes a master author to write this kind of literature.
Rilbur_Skryler More than 1 year ago
If you like David Weber, you'll like this book. If you don't know who David Weber is, you might like this book. David Weber has created an entire universe to help explore the conceit of a society that has discarded it's technology, and a stranger who has come in with limited access to high tech and the ability to teach at least some of it. It's a brilliant series, and by the time you're done reading this book you'll be ready to tear down the facade of the 'Church of Humanity Unchained' -- and eager for the next book.
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JackmanJS More than 1 year ago
This is not a novel that will make a lot of sense if you have not read the preceding 3 novels. Weber somewhat overdoes the navy sailing jargon, especially in the first chapter. But overall the novel was a page turner for me.
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