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By Schism Rent Asunder

by David Weber

Published by TOR

Print edition July 2008

Reviewed by Dale Arnold
Review posted 7/24/08

This is the second book in a series founded by last years Off Armageddon Reef. Off Armageddon Reef was an amazing novel creating a fascinating universe filled with plot twists and story elements illuminating fundamental metaphysical questions about human nature and the will to survive. Yes, it is military SF and contains all of the traditional elements of a “hell ride” found in other David Weber works, yet it goes a little deeper into his standard themes and just plain glows as a fun read. I suggest before reading By Schism Rent Asunder you find a copy of Off Armageddon Reef and read it first. You will have a hard time putting it down, so schedule some time--it is that good.

By Schism Rent Asunder does not stand alone as a great novel, just a good one. The situations in the story are far too dependant for their interest on the continuing story of the characters one develops a relationship to in the first book. I grant David Weber’s skill in telling the continuing story very well and it is enjoyable as a continuation, but if this is your first introduction to this series you may be disappointed. Hence, read the first book first because as a set they are great.

In By Schism Rent Asunder the political and religious ramifications of the rebellion against the universal church are discussed in great detail. Several critical players on the planet Safehold learn about the true history of their world and take on the cause of promoting a more positive future. The story does not focus as much on the protagonist from the first book and the near John W. Campbell, Jr. loved one-person-against-the-odds aspect that made many of the first books passages read like a clever evolution of the Gunpowder God motif. Hence, by letting more of the Safehold characters in on the Earth origin aspects the humor elements of Lieutenant Commander Nimue giving items like a sword named Excalibur to the local ruler become less poignant. It dilutes the stranger-in-a-strange land outsider aspects of the story as well when the locals understand why one person is special. The loneliness felt by Lieutenant Commander Nimue as she/he pursued a completely covert mission is also removed as a motivator in the story. We do enjoy introduction of other positive story elements and plot twists like old enemies being recruited into the growing sea power empire and the dramatic aspects of dynastic weddings and oaths of fealty being established without the need-to-know aspects being fully shared to ramp up dynamic tension in the story.

Still, at some point the locals would have to be brought into the truth. In an open ended series the story needs to expand to a broader plot and character base, so this novel serves well as the central act. As in most trilogies, and longer works, a central story element needs to set up the situation for a glorious complex future storyline. In trilogies this almost always results on a weaker second novel and that is exactly what we have in this instance. Of course this problem disappears if you have read the first book, and or, in the future if you read the series as a set when the third book arrives.

The author's voice and mechanical plot development, including subtle foreshadowing, are as competent and enjoyable as David Weber's experience would lead one to expect. Sea battles are believably rendered and military technology is integrated into the plot with great skill. It seems David Weber can not write a bad book regardless of the curse of second acts...

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