On Basilisk Station is the first book in the Honor Harrington series, a series set in the ‘Honorverse’ that currently runs to over a dozen books that include the main series, spin off series and short collections, as well as a forthcoming young adult novel. David Weber is the author behind these books and writes at an astonishing pace. I’ve had On Basilisk Station sitting on my to-read stack for a while but after attending Eastercon in April and hearing Weber talk so enthusiastically about everything, and the fact that he came across as such a genuinely nice guy, I really wanted to read one of his books, and this was the one I choose.
I have read a previous novel by Weber, Out of the Dark, but it’s the Honor Harrington books and the Safehold series that he is the most well known for and I wanted to see exactly what all the fuss was about. I was expecting a pretty standard military SF romp with a notable lead character, but I found a novel that was so much more than the normal offerings of the genre and had hints of Space Opera mixed in with the Military SF. In short, I very much enjoyed On Basilisk Station!
Honor Harrington is about to take command of her new ship, the HMS Fearless, but as she arrives she finds that the higher ranks of the Royal Manticoran Navy have decided that Fearless is going to be stripped of the majority of her standard weaponry to be replaced with new technology in order to test its effectiveness. With a new ship and crew to command Harrington shows that, during the RMN war games, the light cruiser can destroy even a big ship if they are unaware of the weaponry, but once discovered Fearless suffers defeat after defeat and is unable to employ her weaponry at all. With the disgrace of loss affecting the morale of the crew Fearless and Honor are sent to Basilisk Station, an assignment viewed as banishment, the worst thing they could possibly receive. And when they arrive Honor discovers an old academy foe as the officer in command, one quick to set her up for a fall by dumping the contradictory orders on her and her ship before returning to Manticore for an ‘urgent refit’.
Honor Harrington is left in an awkward situation, one where she is alone to protect a vital junction system for the RMN, although this is not the way many look at Basilisk Station. With Medusa, the system’s inhabited planet, and the very busy trade routes through the system to check, Honor refuses to take the fall and instead follows all orders to the letter becoming extremely effective at what needs to be done. Gone are the days that Basilisk Station and Medusa are left to their own devices with a token guard, and this can only mean that trouble is stirring…
One of the first things that comes across in On Basilisk Station is the setting that Weber has created. He’s effectively built a galaxy from scratch, populated it with differing societies each with their own ideals and governments. What’s more impressive is that he’s then switched the focus to one of these societies, that of Manticore, and built it from the ground up to include pretty much everything you would expect. It’s a marvellous feeling to start reading a novel to find the setting so vividly realised, so thoroughly detailed, and just so damn real. Of course, this does mean some info-dumping is present, but the end result is more than worth these sections and, in truth, I rather enjoyed them!
Character-wise there are really no issues to report. Honor is a very good leading protagonist, one that is well fleshed out during this story and a very interesting character to read about. At times she does come across as a little bit of a know-it-all, but it’s all part of the tale and her character, although I would have liked to have seen a few more examples of her struggling with decisions and actions. One of my favourite parts of On Basilisk Station was the interaction between Honor and her First Office, McKeon. There’s tension from the beginning between these two due to Honor receiving command of Fearless, something McKeon believes he should have had, and it’s from this initial encounter that their relationship plays out. Weber does a great job at portraying the tension and lack of action that arises from McKeon’s feelings towards Honor, but it plays out plausibly and is resolved in an excellent fashion. There are a myriad of other characters to enjoy following throughout the story too, and Weber brings even the smallest of parts to life which adds much to the novel.
As far as the story goes, I found that very entertaining. While the initial chapters were all about introducing the characters and showing Fearless taking part in the military games, once the set up was done and the events switched to Basilisk Station and the Medusa system things got a lot more interesting. Weber manages to do a lot in a relatively short amount of pages, but the events are interesting and the way that Honor and those around her react to them even more so. I must admit that I was starting to wonder where exactly the story was going, but little hints and tips scattered throughout the novel suddenly came together and I went from scratching my head to having a big smile on my face. Weber manages to string you along with his story-telling prowess and before you know it you’re knee deep in action and grinning from ear to ear.
I’ll be honest – I didn’t really know what to expect from On Basilisk Station so I headed in with no expectations and was completely blown away. My worry now is whether or not the next book in the series can live up to the expectations I now have because of this novel. Here’s crossing my fingers…