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Earth and her colonies are now smoldering ruins, and the few survivors have fled to distant, Earth-like Safehold, to try to rebuild. But the Gbaba can detect the emissions of an industrial civilization, so the human rulers of Safehold have taken extraordinary measures: with mind control and hidden high technology, they've built a religion in which everySafeholdian believes, a religion designed to keep Safehold society medieval forever.
800 years pass. In a hidden chamber on Safehold, an android from the far human past awakens. This "rebirth" was set in motion centuries before, by a faction that opposed shackling humanity with a concocted religion. Via automated recordings, "Nimue" - or, rather, the android with the memories of Lieutenant Commander Nimue Alban - is told her fate: she will emerge into Safeholdian society, suitably disguised, and begin the process of provoking the technological progress which the Church of God Awaiting has worked for centuries to prevent.
Nothing about this will be easy. To better deal with a medieval society, "Nimue" takes a new gender and a new name, "Merlin." His formidable powers and access to caches of hidden high technology will need to be carefully concealed. And he'll need to find a base of operations, a Safeholdian country that's just a little more freewheeling, a little less orthodox, a little more open to the new.
And thus Merlin comes to Charis, a mid-sized kingdom with a talent for naval warfare. He plans to make the acquaintance of King Haarahld and Crown Prince Cayleb, and maybe, just maybe, kick off a new era of invention. Which is bound to draw the attention of the Church…and, inevitably, lead to war.
Review by Travis Starnes
Low-tech meets high-tech science fiction. This is not the first time we have seen this from David Weber, he used a somewhat similar idea in Heirs of the Empire. That being said it is a good concept, worked in Heirs of the Empire and it works here. I am glad Weber has taken that nugget of an idea and expanded it to epic proportions.
In Off Armageddon Reef we have an advance human society pushed to the brink of extinction and forced to live without the benefits of modern technology in a last ditch effort to survive. Not only do they draw the line at pre-industrial revolution levels of technology but this idea of technological stagnation is culturally programmed to ever person on the planet. When a holdover from the past gets dropped into the equation the entire world is turned upside down. It is an amazing premise and really gives Weber a lot to work with. You have all the benefits of a solid sci-fi story mixed with a kind of historical fiction that just works.
Following the plot is a real joy and hits both the sci-fi lover and history lover in me. We get to watch the industrial revolution and age of sail happen in fast forward and set against the backdrop of a well-researched and thought out conflict. Add to that the building world war that is bound to happen when Nimue brings forgotten human knowledge into a world that does not want it.
And speaking of Nimue, she is as interesting of a main character as Weber has ever given us. The fence she has to sit on between being a hero and advisor really works and helps give the character some depth, you can’t always predict which direction Nimue might go. She is backed up by a very interesting and well-conceived supporting cast, some of whom seem very closely modeled on interesting figures from history. Even the villains are interesting in their own right and less one dimensional then we sometimes get in the sci-fi genre.
While the writing of the book is as top notch as always the pacing is where some problems start to creep in. The pacing of this book is somewhat different then Weber’s other works. While there is a good deal of very exciting action, including an amazingly epic finale, the book at times grinds to a very long winded halt. The political landscape that Weber has built is extremely complex and he spends a lot of time on the politics. There are large sections of the book that it feels more like a political thriller then sci-fi novel. Not that it makes the book bad as it does add an interesting level to the conflict, but if you prefer action packed science fiction then this is not the book for you.
While I recognize the slower than normal pace of Off Armageddon Reef might off-put some people it didn’t bother me too much, but I also enjoy political thrillers. The other complaint however did get to me. Weber had some interesting ideas about language drift during the hundreds of years people were living prior to Nimue’s return. The problem is this doesn’t work well for the reader. Weber has Nimue and the reader compensate for the language throughout the book except for peoples name. So you get fully understandable and readable dialog told by people with names like Bryahan (Brian) and Nahrmahn (Norman). It is fairly distracting and I was never able to cope with it.
That being said, I loved this book. The age of sail navel battles, the political intrigue, the meshing of sci-fi and classical technology, it all worked for me. This is a series I cannot get enough of and I hope Weber keeps it going for some time.