The Shadow of Saganami is an Honorverse spinoff of the brilliant Honor Harrington series that I really didn’t want to start reading, but I had been reading so much about the several sub-series’ spinoffs and how they elaborate on key plot elements, that I decided to go ahead. And I’m glad I did. Of course, the book didn’t feature Honor and I missed her, and it’s a whole new cast of characters, but you quickly get to know them and care about them and, as it’s a long, long, comprehensive David Weber book, you end up feeling a connection with a number of them by the end of the book.
Saganami Island is Mantictore’s version of the US Naval Academy and this book follows the careers of several recent graduates, most in their first post-graduate assignments as midshipmen. They are assigned to the heavy cruiser HMS Hexapuma, headed by Captain Aivars Terekhov, a mysterious, intense man who is suffering from PTSD due to a terrible battle he survived with a Haven fleet some time before. No one knows if he’s recovered and everyone wonders how he’ll react under pressure.
They are assigned to the Talbot Cluster, a cluster of planetary systems on the verge of the Solarian League near Manticore’s newly discovered Lynx Junction. The planets of the Talbot Cluster have just overwhelming voted in favor of being annexed by the Star Kingdom of Manticore and are drafting a constitution. However, there are some dissidents and some Solly-related planets and corporations willing to arm and aid these dissidents in rebellion in attempts to destabilize their governments and destroy the constitutional convention and the annexation. Of course, if this happens, the Solarian Frontier Security will move in and take over the Cluster and those worlds will be doomed.
The plot of this book is too detailed and far too complex to go into in a significant review of this type. The Hexapuma joins the few Manticoran ships in the area for patrol and support of the cluster’s systems and meanwhile terrorists are blowing up people and planets, aided by mysterious strangers with modern weapons. Terekhov ultimately discovers the secret behind the plot and moves a squad he has called together against a star system to engage in a typical Weber space battle, which is handled pretty well, if a little subdued for Weber. There’s a great deal of tension in this novel and that makes it engaging and interesting. Some of the interesting new characters include Lt Abigail Hearns and Midshipwoman Helen Zilwicki, among others. We’ll see them again in other Honorverse books.
Even though this is a good book and rather enjoyable, I do have a complaint and it’s not unique to Weber. There are, per usual with this author, way too many characters to keep up with. Not only are there a ton of naval officers to try and remember, but there are a ton of system politicians to try and keep track of and it’s virtually impossible to do so. To make matters worse, the Talbot Cluster is larger than I ever imagined and we’re introduced to what seems like a ton of planetary systems. Somehow, we’re supposed to keep track of worlds like Spindle, Pontifex, Split, San Miguel, Montana, Rembrandt, Kornatia, Nuncio, Mesa, Dresden, Monica, Torch, and of course, Grayson and Manticore, among others, and there are also scenes featuring Manpower, the Jessyk Combine, and Technodyne Corp., the “evil” corporations behind all that’s wrong with the picture in this puzzle. It’s just too much. And of course, all of these planets and corporations have presidents, vice presidents, admirals, boards of directors, police chiefs, various naval ships, most of which are obsolete by Manticoran standards, and so on. It’s damned annoying and stupid!
Whatever the case, this is a good book. It’s got a good plot, introduces an interesting new cast of characters, has a couple of decent naval battles, has some ground battles, has some political intrigue, if that’s your game, and fills in a lot that’s left out in the main Honor books. However, it’s typically long, at times it drags, the plot can be a little convoluted and somewhat scattered, the names of characters and planets are just too much and too many to make the book enjoyable, and it’s a little galling to think that this is the first book in an Honor sub-series, one of several, information that can’t actually be told in a real Honor book, which is annoying. Worthy of five stars? Not quite. But certainly worthy of four stars. A solid four star effort. And definitely recommended.