Field of Dishonor by David Weber
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I thoroughly enjoyed this Honor Harrington book, the fourth in the series. It’s very different from the first three, where she was the standout star ship captain who battled the Republic of Haven’s numerically superior ships and won. In this book, she’s home on Manticore while her ship is undergoing time consuming repairs. And Pavel Young, her nemesis, is being court martialed for desertion and cowardice, as well as several other things. Two of the charges would result in execution if he is found guilty. The problem is … politics. Manticore wants to press the war with Haven while it has the upper hand, but the liberals in their version of Parliament are completely opposed and they hate Honor with a passion. They think she’s trying to “get” Young, one of their own highly born aristocrats, truth be damned. The other half back Honor and have seen the video truth of Young fleeing in his ship as he is told to return to the fleet to fight Haven. Honor is told that if he is found guilty, it could hurt the war effort, badly, and she’s shocked. She doesn’t understand politics.
We’re spared the trial, but we see the jury deliberate, if you can call it that. There are six, and they are deadlocked and one of them, in favor of Young, is a total asshole. He wants to get Young off on a technicality, even though the others appeal to him by telling him he KNOWS Young fled, he KNOWS, Young disobeyed a direct command, and he still wants to do this? Yes he does. Honor is in the courtroom when the jury returns with their verdict. Young is found guilty on the first three minor counts, but on the two major counts, the jury is deadlocked and his life is spared. However, he is kicked out of the Navy and stripped of his medals and income. Fortune calls, however. His father, an earl, dies in the courtroom. Pavel immediately finds himself an earl in the House of Lords. Is there no justice? Honor is devastated.
She decides to go visit her new estate on Grayson, a backwards world trying to work itself into the present. Women take a backseat to men on this planet, but because Honor saved the planet from destruction in a previous book, she’s given their highest award and the title of homesteader, I think, which entitles her to an estate. But it also includes obligations, because now she would be responsible for the people in her area, her own government, her budget, her military — everything. First, she has to be officially invited in by the sitting homesteaders. No woman has ever worn this medal and there has never been a woman homesteader on this planet and some people are very opposed to Honor’s doing this, but she passes their judgment and begins her rule. Then something very bad happens. Her old pal, Mike, now a star ship captain shows up and tells her that Paul, Honor’s lover, is dead. Has been killed. In a duel. Honor goes ice cold and can think of nothing but justice. She immediately leaves Grayson with her own guard from her “province” and practices her shooting skills on the star ship while going back to Manticore.
What has happened is that Young has hired a professional duelist/hitman to kill Paul, and then goad Honor into a duel so he can kill her too. Young holds Honor responsible for his ills, when it was really his own fault. When she returns, she goes to a bar, finds this man, and goads him into challenging her for a duel. And he smirks because he knows he’s going to kill her. Meanwhile, she’s calm, even as her friends and colleagues are freaking out. One of these men, a mentor of sorts, tells her if she kills him, she’ll be out of the Navy, and if she prepares to duel Young, which is her goal, she’ll be a pariah and will lose everything. She doesn’t care. She just wants justice.
On the assigned day, the duelist and Honor meet on a field, complete with the media there in a frenzy, and they are to fire at the drop of a hanky. It flutters in the wind and before the duelist can even get a shot off, she hits him five times, blowing his head off. It’s sweet. I loved it. The Lords go nuts. The media go nuts. But while there, while speaking to the media, she challenges Young to a duel to the death for his murder and another attempted murder of her by some hired assassins that her Grayson team stopped. He freaks out and hides in his mansion. He only leaves to go to the House of Lords. She realizes she can’t get to him, so she does something rather clever. Some time back, she was given a title and admitted to the House of Lords, but she’s never gone. One day, she shows up and invokes a little used rule that a new member can address the group immediately and she is given permission. She throws off her cloak, Young sees her and freaks out. She re-issues her challenge and he has no option but to accept it. They meet on the assigned day, stand back to back and walk forward. When they reach thirty paces, they are to turn and fire on command. One shot at a time. After just a few steps, Honor hears the word, “Down,” and dives, only to be shot in her left shoulder. She rolls to evade the other shots and sees Young standing there with an empty gun staring at her. She puts three bullets in his heart and he is finally, finally, finally dead and out of her life. Sweet, sweet justice. Unfortunately, as she knew would be the case, she is stripped of her captaincy, but not kicked out of the Navy. Just put on half pay and kind of retired. She decides to return to Grayson. As she’s preparing to leave, her mentor comes to visit her and tells her after the furor is over, there will be the war with Haven and they’ll need competent captains and he basically promises her she’ll be back. So there’s hope.
One of the things I loved about this book was Honor’s character development, which was so much more detailed than in previous books. You really get to see her grow and expand, learn and lead, make mistakes, show she’s human, while still performing at a superhuman level. It’s good to know she’s not just a robot. Sometimes the politics got to be a bit much, but as it was integral to the story, I can forgive Weber that. It was odd, however, not to see Honor in any space ship battle scenes. Unusual. I kind of liked it. I don’t know if this is my favorite Honor book — it’s so different — but to me, it’s worth five stars and I won’t hesitate to recommend it at all.