2013 is a big year for fans of the Honorverse series of military space opera novels. Earlier this year came Shadow of Freedom (link); already out at the time of this writing (and in fact I've already started reading it) is the sixth volume of short stories and novellas written by David Weber and friends, entitled Beginnings; and with autumn will come the third of the new “Young Adult” Star Kingdom novels, Treecat Wars. This present volume, House of Steel, was, according to an afterword, conceived in conjunction with the twenty-year anniversary of the first appearance of Honor Harrington, On Basilisk Station in 1992, and contains as about a third of its length a substantial novella featuring the father of the current Manticoran Queen Elizabeth III, King Roger III, with the balance comprising a long-awaited in-universe guide to the Star Empire of Manticore, its staunch ally the Protectorate of Grayson, and their respective militaries that figure so prominently in the series.
While the Companion portion has already given me hours of browsing enjoyment – and doubtless will be a handy reference in the future as the series continues, this post is mainly based upon the novella, entitled I Will Build My House of Steel, words spoken by Crown Prince and Royal Manticoran Navy Lieutenant Roger Winton early in his career as with great foresight he set about preparing the kingdom he would inherit and rule for 26 years to face the inevitable war with the expansionist People's Republic of Haven. Knowing that Manticore could never hope to withstand the sheer weight of the huge and growing People's Republic with anywhere near comparable numbers, Roger and his ally and brother-in-law Jonas Adcock determined to overcome quantity with quality, instituting a secret but intensive weapons development program that ultimately, in the last chapter which is set three decades after Roger's untimely death, would indeed turn the tide of the war which did ultimately come and until recently has dominated the books. With his typical mix of strong character development and detailed technological description (that seldom if ever gets boring, which is a neat trick that could not be accomplished by a lesser writer), David Weber adds considerable depth to the universe he has created, giving us insight into the earlier lives and careers of a number of characters who figure prominently in the main series, not least Elizabeth herself, but also Hamish Alexander, Sonya Hemphill, and, to a lesser degree, Edward Janacek and others. Due attention is devoted to the political wrangling necessary even in the somewhat more royally-centered parliamentarian monarchy of Manticore, and even some insight into upheavals accompanying the advent of the life-span extending medical technology of Prolong which arrived in Manticore just in time for Roger (but not the several years older Jonas) to benefit from. As with most everything Weber has written that I have read, it is excellent and draws you into his deeply and believably crafted world.
And the balance of the volume is, as I've indicated, a treat as well. After a fairly extensive section of color illustrations showing the vexillology as well as military apparel and insignia, starships, and technology of Manticore and Grayson, detailed prose sections describe the two star nations in detail, from astrography to history, government, ethnography, and military structure and doctrine. This section is the product of many years collaborative design by David Weber himself and a group of enthusiastic fans who bring many different areas of expertise to the table, from political science to military history, computer programming to international law and “comma wrangl[ing]” (p. 563). Their name, “BuNine,” “is short for 'Bureau Nine,' and … both a play on the Royal Manticoran Navy's bureau structure as well as an indication of the number of founding members” (p. 555). To adequately summarize The Honorverse Companion is impossible, and I must fall back on repeating what I wrote above, that it has given me hours of browsing enjoyment thus far and I expect it to be an oft-consulted reference in the future.
Cheers! – and Thanks for reading!