Published by Tor
Author Web site: www.davidweber.net
Note: This review contains spoilers for Off Armageddon Reef
After the bittersweet conclusion to Off Armageddon Reef, Weber picks up his far-future saga with the kingdom of Charis still playing the outcast and rebel nation from the Church of God Awaiting. If the previous volume can be likened to the turning of the key of the car that is the Safehold saga, then By Schism Rent Asunder can be likened to revving the engine.
With Cayleb now the king of Charis, one of the things he needs to do is further secure his rule and one of the best ways to do this is by marrying a woman and uniting Charis with her land. In this case, the woman is Queen Sharleyan of Chisholm. Though she was not exactly an ally in the previous novel, Cayleb is smart enough to know that if he can convince her that joining him will strengthen her nation, it will also strengthen Charis. You see, the battle at the end of the previous novel was only the beginning of the enmity between Charis and the church. Or rather, Charis and the Group of Four – the puppet masters who are pulling the strings of the Church to their own will.
Merlin continues to be an intriguing character, with Weber nicely balancing the seemingly all-knowing being with the trepidation he (she?) must be under whenever making suggestions or presenting knowledge to the people of Safehold. Merlin is somewhere between a living god and an intelligent advisor. Weber is nicely showing this character’s evolution and self awareness thus far in the two books of the series.
The primary antagonist of the book is indeed the Group of Four. They have all the similarities of a Big Brother, but Weber adds a depth that fully fleshes them out. In many ways, they are an extension of the Archangel Langhorne, especially in their duplicitous abuse of power. Unfortunately for Cayleb, the Group of Four and by extension, the Church, controls an overwhelming majority of the globe and has brought many of the other nations together in an attempt to put down the Charisan uprising.
One thing the Church doesn’t know is just how much of an advantage Merlin provides Charis. Slight hints of lost technology give the Charisan’s a leg up on the battle. Merlin also has spybots placed in strategic locations that allow Merlin to have an idea of what the enemies of Charis are planning.
As with the previous novel, Weber envisages his story on a wide, epic scale. Although the feel of the novel is that of a nautical/historical fantasy, he provides timely reminders about the true nature of the series – that these humans are alive in the far future and have the looming threat of racial extinction from aliens.
A strength Weber is known for, and on full display here, is his ability to paint larger than life characters in a believable fashion. Cayleb is a figure who could draw comparisons to some of ‘real’ history’s greatest leaders – Abraham Lincoln, Alexander the Great, or even Charlemagne. If such leaders did not once exist, it might otherwise be difficult to believe in a person such as Cayleb.
The Church isn’t the only organization with a secret group behind the scenes who hold knowledge – those in the Charis who have ruled and advised rulers are members of the Brethren of Saint Zherneau. They know many things the majority of the Safehodians do not and guard that knowledge very closely. The scenes involving the Brethren provided real authenticity as well as certain declarations.
By Schism Rent Asunder continues the compelling and grand story of humanity’s survival in the future. Though writ large and vast in scope, Weber balances that scope with the humanity of the characters who populate Safehold. This is a thoroughly enjoyable novel and is helping to build a great saga.
© 2010 Rob H. Bedford
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