This week I decided to review Safehold: Hell's Foundations Quiver by David Weber.
In the future humanity expands into space and forms the Terran Federation. However, they encountered the Gbaba, an extremely xenophobic species that attacked the Federation plunging it into a long interstellar war which humanity lost. Seeking to avoid extinction, Operation Ark set out to form a hidden human colony on the distant world of Safehold. However some of the leaders of Operation Ark wished to hide from the Gbaba for all eternity. They seized control of the mission, wiped the memories of almost all the colonists, who were in stasis, and set up a society ruled by the Church of God Awaiting which taught that technological and scientific advancement was evil in order to prevent Safehold's population from advancing to the level where they might be noticed by the Gbaba. Eventually the Church formed an Inquisition to put down those who opposed its edicts and over the centuries the Church grew crueler and more corrupt. Around seven centuries after the colony was founded, a Terran Federation AI, based on the personalities of dead humans and named Merlin, awoke and began planning to overthrow the Church and set Safehold back on the path to reclaim humanity's place among the stars. Merlin allied with the island nation of Charis and encouraged them to rise against the Church, beginning a long war.
When the book begins Charis has achieved a number of victories against the Church and its allied nations due to their rapidly advancing technological base, roughly equivalent to Earth's in the mid to late nineteenth-century AD. The Group of Four, The church's unofficial leadership, consisting of the leader's of the army, treasury, inquisition, and the chancellor of the Council of Vicars, who has basically decided to stay out of decision making related to the war, is torn. They have begun to grudgingly adopt a number of technological innovations but the grand inquisitor insists on being involved in military matters often leading to conflict with the military's commander and the treasurer as they wish to pull back their forces to shorten supply lines and concentrate their strength while he insists on holding their ground, in particular defending a number of inquisition-run concentration camps in occupied regions of the Charis-allied Republic of Siddarmark.
The Charsian troops and their allies use their superior mobility during the winter and vastly superior artillery to inflict a number of defeats on the church's forces and entrap some of the church's armies, while in the concentration camps many of the church's troops and one at least one inquisitor begin to question the morality of how the prisoners are being treated.
And when the Grand Inquisitor orders the execution of the inmates in the camps that can't be evacuated before the advancing Charsian armies reach them, this sparks rebellions among one of the camp garrisons. Meanwhile Merlin has allied with a secret order, once part of the church, but long ago banned and begun using her intelligence assets to aid the order's assassins in strikes against the Inquisition, leading to increased paranoia among the church's leadership and the Grand Inquisitor assuming direct control of all military force in the capital city of Zion.
On the seas the Charsian ironclads have given their forces a massive advantage despite having to commit many of their ships to commerce protection. But the church's allies are preparing to counter with armored vessels of their own armed with spar torpedoes, and after one massive battle the Charsian ironclad HMS Dreadnought is captured along with part of her crew. As the captured sailors begin the journey to Zion for execution, the Charsians plan a desperate rescue while the Grand Inquisitor begins plans to better control the jihad's most successful naval commander until he is no longer needed...
The book also includes a detailed list of characters and information on them as well as a glossary of Chasian terms.
I give this book 9 out of 10. It does a great job of providing enough detail on the setting and what has happened in the previous books that a new reader won't be completely lost, and both the battlefront and rear area sequences are interesting. However, there are a few parts I think could have been trimmed without harming the story. Also, I feel there are two main plotlines in the book and that it might have been better to spit them into two smaller novels and add some more details to them rather then have them both in a single massive novel.