Cauldron of Ghosts (Crown of Slaves)
by David Weber and Eric Flint
Cover Artist: David Mattingly
Review by Bill Lawhorn
Baen Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9781476736334
Date: 08 April 2014 List Price $25.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK
The Galaxy is falling into war. The once all powerful Solarian League has been tricked into war with The Maticorian Empire and her allies. Victor Cachat and Anton Zilwicki discover that the group behind the plan is the Mesan Alignment. To learn more about this group, Cachat and Zilwicki need to go back to Mesa. They plan to make contact with some of their assets on planet.
Mesa isn't as expected. There are killings and the planet is on the brink of a civil war as the slaves and second class citizens are mistreated. Into this superspies Cachat and Zilwicki try to find out what is going on without being caught or killed. They use cutting edge genetic disguises to get in, but getting out will be a bigger issue. They have a deus ex machina planned, but they don't know if it will make it in time.
This is another in the side stories that are being developed in parallel to the main Honor Harrington novels. As part of the Honorverse it isn't the best starting point for new readers. Newcomers should start with On Basilisk Station, otherwise the characters and galaxy will be fairly confusing. Even for long time readers the change in scenery can be a bit confusing. Individual loyalties to a group and what is their relationship to the other groups can be a bit confusing.
The focus is more on espionage and less on the battle action that usually follow Honor or Michelle Henke. As fleet officers, they tend to have more naval engagements and less individual actions. The battle scenes in Cauldron of Ghosts are in your face and personal. Although I prefer the larger scale naval engagements, the fights are well written.
The series started with a small scale and a simple retelling of an old story. It has grown well beyond its roots. Baen Books does a nice job of allowing certain stories to grow. The expansion of the universe is similar to the growth of the Ring of Fire series. This allows fans to learn more about the universes and become more vested in the major and minor characters. The growth of the series led to the problem of finding direction after you achieve the basic story. The Mesan Alignment subplot developed to create a new enemy to face. I am not exactly satisfied with the Alignment secret plot. I am a true believer of the difficulty of any group maintaining a secret, even when extreme measures are used to keep it secret.
For fans of the series there is always more to come. This fall there is a new prequel series starting called Manticore Ascendant. That series starts before the Manticore junction is discovered. An in depth look into the development of the Star Kingdom. There is also information about the founding of the Alignment, which hopefully will clear up some of the nagging questions that were developed when the cabal was introduced.