Friday, August 19, 2016

James Review -- Manticore Ascendant: A Call to Arms

This week I decided to review Manticore Ascendant: A Call to Arms By David Weber and Timothy Zahn with Thomas Pope.

The story begins five years after the previous book ends. Traviss Long has completed Officer's Candidate School and is a Lieutenant Junior Grade posted to a recruiting station when the story opens. Meanwhile, his old training buddy Chomps and his former shipmate Lisa Donnelly have both been posted to the HMS Damocles that is going to the Casca system on a showing the flag mission.

But they arrive at the same time that Llyn, an agent of the Axelrod corporation, is on the planet. Axelrod believes that the Manticore system contains an undiscovered and highly valuable wormhole junction and is plotting to conquer the system, with Llyn on Casca seeking contact information for a mercenary group willing to handle the invasion for Axelrod. Llyn makes contact with General Khetha, the disposed former ruler of the planet Canaan and, after killing Khetha and his associates, Llyn gains the contact information for the Volsung mercenary fleet.

Chomp stumbles onto the gang Llyn hired to clean up after the killings after hearing a gunshot and only some swift talking and help from Donnelly stalls the gang from killing Chomps long enough for him to knock out the attackers. Llyn steals Khetha's courier ship and flees, only evading Damocles by pushing the ship past its standard safety limits. And a surprise for the entire Star Kingdom comes soon after Damocles returns to Manticore...

The story then shifts to around two years later. Axelrod has secretly sent a team equipped with high grade sensors aboard the freighter Izbica to confirm the existence of the suspected wormhole junction, using the claim that the freighter's hyperdrive is damaged to justify hanging around outside the limit where a ship can safely transition to hyperspace. But when HMS Salamander moves to assist the freighter, the Axelrod agents seize the ship, pretending to be pirates to divert any suspicions from their true purpose.

The Salmander tries to intercept an disable the ship but fails due to issues cause by the spare parts shortages that plague the Manticoran navy due to budget shortages. Meanwhile, Lieutenant Long, who is serving on the HMS Phoenix along with his old buddy Chomps, catches Chomps accessing data he doesn't have authorization for and reports his old friend which leads to Chomps being demoted and their friendship being ruined.

In the aftermath of the Izbica incident, Ensign Fenton Locatelli--who inadvertently issued the orders that set the chain of events leading to the malfuncton that hindered Salamander's efforts to capture Izbica in motion--who is the nephew of the admiral in charge of the Manticoran Navy's system command, and Senior Chief Lorelei Osterman, an old friend of the Locatelli asked to watch over the ensign are transferred to the Phoenix.

Back in Manticore's parliament, the struggle between the pro-navy and pro-Manticore Search and Rescue Service factions, with the latter including Traviss Long's half-brother, continues. In response to the Izbica incident the Navy begins reactivating a pair of mothballed battle cruisers while giving the Search and Rescue service a number of sublight corvettes along with personnel to man their weapons, including Chomps.

On the Phoenix Long repeatedly reprimands Ensign Locatelli over infractions that most of the crew consider minor at wosrt and, after Long ignores a suggestion from the captain to back off, the captain decides to teach him a lesson by putting Long in command of the ship during a wargame against Admiral Locatelli's flagship, a battle that goes very badly for Long. In an effort to save him from future problems, some of Long's allies arrange for him to be posted to the light cruiser HMS Casey, the newest ship in the fleet, as Assistant Tactical Officer.

But when the Casey respond to a distress call instead of a crippled passenger ship, they find the first wave of the Volsung invasion fleet. And while Casey discovers the deception in time to avoid sailing straight into the trap, it still leaves a light cruiser, a destroyer, and two corvette, short on personnel and ammunition, facing a much stronger force and seeking to gather desperately needed data as Manticore scrambles all its forces to repel the assault.

I give this book 9.5 out of 10. The climatic battle is among my favorite in the setting so far and, while much of Casey's role in it was covered in the novel's namesake short story, there was enough added to the Casey sections and enough scenes showing what was happening on other ships and Manticore that the part I had read before was just a small portion of the tale with pretty much all of the major military characters having a role to play. Also, the political scenes, though much less focused on then the previous book, I feel was more interesting. In prior works in the setting most of the political figures opposing the protagonists (or in this case the Royal Manticoran Navy) are doing so for some malevolent goal. Travis Long's brother, who is no angel, does seem to believe, especially later in the story, that his plans are truly what is best for his nation, which makes for an interesting viewpoint. Also, I found the fact that Long, who was the main focus of the first book, played so little role in the early portions of this book, was interesting, though I wish we had gotten to see whatever he had been working on during his time with the Bureau of Ships. Finally, I feel that much of the action in the Caca system was little more then padding to lengthen the story.

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