Title: A Beautiful Friendship
Author: David Weber
Release Date: October 2011
Buy from: Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com
Stephanie Harrington absolutely hates being confined inside her family's compound on the pioneer planet of Sphinx, a frontier wilderness world populated by dangerous native animals that could easily tear a human to bits and pieces. Yet Stephanie is a young woman determined to make discoveries—and the biggest discovery of all awaits her: an intelligent alien species.I've read a fair amount of David Weber's stuff this year set in his Honorverse and following Honor Harrington, the heroine of the main series. Now we have the release of A Beautiful Friendship, the first in a new prequel teen series that focuses on one of Honor's ancestors, Stephanie Harrington. I'd heard about this a while back, but I hadn't read any of the Honorverse books at that time so I didn't pay it much attention. A bit of a mistake! Once I knew how much I enjoyed Weber's novels I got my order in for this straight away. My only real concern was whether or not I would be able to fully enjoy it knowing that it's the latest book written in such a large setting despite the prequel nature of the story. As is usually the case when I have these concerns there was no need at all. In fact, this is just about the perfect starting point...
Treecats are creatures that resemble a cross between a bobcat and a lemur (but with six legs and much more deadly claws). Not only are they fully sentient, they are also telepathic, and able to bond with certain gifted humans such as the genetically-enhanced Stephanie. But Stephanie's find, and her first-of-its-kind bond with a treecat, brings on a new torrent of danger. An assortment of highly placed enemies with galactic-sized wealth at stake is determined to make sure that the planet of Sphinx remains entirely in human hands—even if this means the extermination of another thinking species.
The first entry in a new teen series and the origin saga for the incredibly popular, multiple New York Times and USA Today bestselling Honor Harrington adult science fiction adventures. Young Stephanie Harrington is none other than the founder of a pioneering family dynasty that is destined to lead the fight for humanity's freedom in a dangerous galaxy.
Stephanie Harrington and her parents have recently moved to the Star Kingdom of Manticore, specifically the planet Sphinx within the binary system. Already the recipient of some genetic altering to live on a heavier gravity world, the Harrington family settles their homestead on the low populated frontier world. With a keen interest in the outdoors Stephanie is desperate to get out and about, but with Sphinx's native deadly species, such as the massive Hexapuma, her parents are not very keen on her venturing out on her own. Knowing that Stephanie won't disobey them, and trying to keep her mind active, they set her on the problem of the disappearing celery from human settlements around the planet. It isn't long before Stephanie discovers the mysterious thieves, and the possibility that Sphinx may already have its own sentient species in the treecats...
A Beautiful Friendship is partly based on the short story of the same name that appeared in one of the Honorverse anthologies and, while slightly amended, forms the first part of this new novel. I've not read the original story so I really didn't know what to expect other than a planet-based story focusing on a young main character. What struck me within the first few chapters was just how well it worked, how strong and interesting a character Stephanie is, and just how much I didn't know about the treecats!
Climbs Quickly is the main treecat character and it's through his eyes that we learn much about the history of human settlement on Sphinx and the way the treecats avoid and spy on the humans. We learn about their society, just how intelligent they are and, more importantly, just what they think of the humans, but this is an aspect that Climbs Quickly doesn't entirely agree with. Tasked to watch the two-legs we know as the Harrington’s, he ponders many things while in discussion with his clan mates and while alone, and it helps the story immensely. It's when, after a trap set by Stephanie, he is caught trying to take celery that the story really gets into gear.
The treecats of Sphinx are telepathic, and while they can talk to each other in this manner they can't do so with humans, although a strong bond can form between two of them, much like it does between mated treecats. It's interesting because it is a two-way bond, the human can also feel the treecat, although this does increase with time and is never full telepathy, more like empathy. The climax of the first part of the novel is down to this aspect and is thoroughly enjoyable, setting the scene for all that is to come.
While the human/treecat relationship is one of the larger focuses of the story, so is the possibility, from the humans point of view, of them being sentient. But it's an aspect that Stephanie, her parents, and the others close to treecats wish to take slowly and carefully, not wanting a repeat of the mass-slaughter that occurred when another human-settled planet discovered they may not be the rightful owners.
It's during these aspects of the story that I found it was confused with just what it wanted to be. A Beautiful Friendship is marketed as a teen series, and while having the lead character a young female lends itself to that area, the writing is not really suited. Sometimes it works well and flows nicely, but at other times Weber shows his usual style of info-dumping and getting into more adult and complex themes. Stephanie herself seems a little too old for her age because of this, and it does effect the overall enjoyment of the novel. Had it simply been marketed as a prequel to the Honorverse there would have been little issue, although the uneven pacing does stand out.
Overall I did thoroughly enjoy A Beautiful Friendship, but it's not without its faults. I've only read a few of the Honorverse books so I felt relatively comfortable with both the setting and Weber's style, although this is a clear departure from the military themes of the Honor Harrington novels. I think it's a perfect starting point for anyone new to the Honorverse, but is it representational of the other books? No. However, if you know this going in I can't see any reason why A Beautiful Friendship shouldn't be enjoyed to the maximum!