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By Schism Rent Asunder by David Weber
Review by Mel Jacob
Tor Books Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765315014
Date: 22 July 2008 List Price $25.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

Prolific author David Weber's Safehold epic begun in Off Armageddon Reef continues in By Schism Rent Asunder. A slow start with plenty of background and politics eventually leads to an action adventure. A master of military action and technology especially that of sailing ships, Weber provides more than most readers will care about. Citizens of Safehold are forbidden any but minimal technology. However, internal and external sources demand more and technology begins to stir and develop.

The prologue establishes the novel as science fiction as opposed to fantasy and opens with Merlin Athrawes, an android with the memories of a dead rebel, Nimue Alban, and a mission to help the Safehold colony regain technology and prepare to face the Gbaba, the race that destroyed Earth and humans with the exception of the hidden Safehold colony. However, the strictures against technology placed upon the colonist by those charged with saving and concealing them and now taken up by the Church of God Awaiting complicate his task.

Power corrupts. The Group of Four within the Church wants to crush all opposition. They earlier ordered the destruction of the island nation of Charis, but that nation's navy defeated the foes sent against them and took control of Safehold seas. Now tiny Charis finds itself pitted against the wealth and power of the Church controlled by the vicious Group of Four. Lies and manipulation abound. Luckily for Charis, the advice and support of the android Merlin forewarns the King of Charis of continuing plots and helps key Charisian individuals as they struggle to develop new technology to defeat their enemies.

Lush descriptions and detail draw the reader into the narrative. A heavy emphasis on political maneuvering and developing technology fill this complex tale. Weber's heroes resemble saints while his villains represent misguided, corrupt individuals with the exception of some who recognize the foolishness of the strategies employed, but still believe in the Church. The stupidity of Charis' enemies provides plenty of opportunity for Charis. Those who root for the underdog will enjoy the struggles.

Weber's use of so many characters, some appear only to die, makes the action difficult to follow at times. Names are complex, but often represent variant spellings of familiar ones. An appendix of names helps some.

Some reviewers of Off Armageddon Reef accused Weber of being anti-religious. However, in By Schism Split Asunder, men and women of good will and faith fight on both sides. He deplores unthinking adherence to stupid orders and castigates most members of the Church Inquisition, but also shows some who strive to maintain their faith and do God's will. He explores complex universal themes.

By Schism Split Asunder doesn't end in a stirring climax, but rather leaves Charis soon to face a major battle against a formidable enemy. The next volume in the Safehold series has a tentative title By Heresies Distressed. David Weber fans and readers who enjoy a complex plot, political machinations, and naval warfare will follow the series with interest. Those seeking a fast-paced action novel should look elsewhere.

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