Victor Cachat and Anton Zilwicki have been traveling incognito on the most unused shipping lanes of the space trade, ushering their guest, Herlander Simoes, to the Republic of Haven, hoping to bring his report on Mesa and Manpower, the organization that runs it, to the attention of both the President of the Republic of Haven, Eloise Pritchart, and Queen Elizabeth Winston III, Empress of the Star Empire of Manticore, who, unbeknownst to both their peoples, are even now brokering peace between their nations, secretly, feeling that the Solarian League, better known as the Sollies, is going to use the late attack on the Manticorean Star System itself, as a prelude to taking down Manticore, and then the Republic of Haven, seeing both as little better than jumped up "Neobarbs" who should clear the way for "civilized" Sol to take them over, especially considering that there have been two battles already between Manticore and Sol, and in both cases, Manticore won handily against larger numbers of ships, and larger tonnages of ships.
Though Star Nations have been hesitant to go to war with Sol and the Solarian League, the truth is that after so many years of war between the Manties and the Havenites, both of their technologies, and their ships, far outclass what the Solarians can bring to the battle, And while the Solarians have yet to shed their innate feelings of superiority because of their previous advantage in being able to field the best ships with many crews to fill them, they will soon be disabused of that notion in spades- if not their leadership, then the people who make up their Star League.
But while they still feel that they can win the day, the Sollies send out a fleet of aggression to take the Manticorans in their own star system. Reports of what happened there were so horrific that the Sollies feel that by directing an attack on the Manty home system, they can simply wipe out Manticore and win the day. Operation "Raging Vengeance" is formed with over 430 Sollie ships of the line, and they make their way to the Manticoran home system by roundabout ways to sneak in through the back door and take the Manties by surprise. At the same time, though, Cachat and Zilwicki end up in the system where Elizabeth and Eloise Pritchart are discussing terms of Peace, and what they here from Simoes is enough to pull them both up short and make them agree to the best peace terms they can get on both sides. His explanation of what Manpower is doing, and what it has done, makes them take him very seriously. In fact, beyond just the notion of peace, both sides agree to ally with each other, and all their allies, against both Sol and the Manpower/Mesa group. This means not only Haven and Manticore, but the Graysons and Beowulfans, of whom Honor Harrington's mother is the sister of the man closest to the Emperor.
The Manticorans also withdraw all their merchant shipping from the Solarian League, as well as closing all the wormhole termini between Manticore and the Solarian League, and since they are responsible for a great deal of that shipping in the League, this means that the Sollies bottom line is going to take a massive beating. It could mean the same for the Manties, but their new alliance with the Havenites gives them a completely new, untouched market, meaning that the financial fallout will not be as bad, and might mean they will actually do better over the long term. Empress Elizabeth and Eloise Pritchart try to warn the Sollies about what Mesa and Manpower's plans are, but they aren't believed, and are believed still less when they try to warn the Sollies that Manpower has developed Nanites that can take over someone's body and make them act in a way totally foreign to how they would normally.
But when "Raging Vengeance" finally makes it to Manticore, the fleet, led by Honor Harrington, who has made it clear that she doesn't want to kill anyone else unless she absolutely has to, the Manties convince its leader, Massimo Filareta, to surrender to their combined force. But a Mesan-controlled officer fires off all the missiles in their pods rather than making them self-destruct, and Manticore wipes out most of the Solarian force in consequence. However, evidence of the Mesan conspiracy to do so is wiped out along with Filareta's command vessel. At the same time, forces in Beowulf prevent even more Sollies from joining the massive battle fleet gathered at Manticore, not liking where all this is going. The officer in charge of the fleet tells them that if they do so, she will open fire on Beowulf and its people, but she is stopped by the appearance of a fleet of Manticoran starships and is allowed to leave for the Solarian League without further incident. However, her inciteful words have been recorded, along with the actions of Filareta and Honor Harrington, and are released to the Sollies soon after the incident.
Needless to say, rather than being grateful, the Sollies immediately blame the Manties for everything, and while their Supreme Admiral, Rajampet Rajani, is assassinated by the Mesans nanites ina way that makes him seem like he committed suicide. Meanwhile the five "Ruling Mandarins" of the Sollies decide to blame the people of Beowulf for the failure of their Revenge fleet and also say the Manticorans were responsible for blowing up Filareta after he had decided to surrender. The Solly people, long used to being lied to by their leaders, swallow the lies hook, line and sinker, and the Solly senate aims to place blame on the "traitors" of Beowulf. In response, Beowulf says they will put in motion a plebiscite to withdraw from the League- something allowed by the League's constitution, but which will put the League in even greater trouble if they happen to allow it- as other systems, angry with the League's inability to win the war, will leave as well, causing the disintegration of the League as a political entity, which the League cannot allow. As the Sollies make plans to harass the systems of Manticore with pirates (itself a suggestion of a Solly officer in the pay of the Mesans, they also plan to destroy the Beowulf system by attacking Beowulf, itself unprotected by the Manties during the plebiscite due to political considerations. But even as a Solly military officer is looking into the truth of the Manties claims about the nanite assassination plot, due to the seeming suicide of Rajampet Rajani, the Manticorans are contacted by the Sphynxian Treecats, who have decided to support their humans by helping them in the war, and they say they can detect the nanite control of the human body if they are close enough. Some treecats leave Sphynx for Grayson and Haven so that they can protect their humans, now including Thomas Theismann and Eloise Pritchart.
Well, in some ways, I loved this story, and in some ways, it was a bit of a disappointment. Those who are used to Honor Harrington novels being about battles between spaceships and ships of the line are going to be disappointed. There is one rather major battle in the book, the battle against Raging Vengeance, and it ends up as a non-starter, as we get to the confrontation, Filareta is about to surrender, his subordinate fires the missiles, we cut away to Honor being forced to fire back, and... that's it. We never see the battle. We are told about its aftermath, and that's really all we get to see. The major battles fought in this book are political ones. Which means that the Battles are fought with words, not sword, gun or laser-headed missile.
Because of this, the book ends up seeming like endless convocations of talking heads. First we see discussions between our allies, the Manticorans and Havenites. Then we see our enemies- the five Mandarins of the Solarian League and the heads of Manpower and the Masans. When we do finally get to see some conflict in space, the lead-up to the battle is described in detail, but not the battle itself, presumably because we already know the outcome of that battle is a foregone conclusion- the Sollies will lose, disastrously, and the Manties are going to win with a tiny number of casualties on their own side- and they do.
It may just be the realities of writing the series, but what disappointed me about this book was how much the Sollies get bashed, and it ends up making them a lot like the Havenites under the Legislaturist government- the Havenites were an example of a Welfare state gone awry and yet the government was depicted as pretty much corrupt and evil, and now the Sollies get painted with the same brush, except the roots of their government are different, but it's pretty much the same sort of thing- the haves (here, the core worlds) are the ones given favorable treatment and which have the attention of the government while the have nots (every other system besides the core worlds) are given short shrift and expected to fall into line when the government barks. And in the guy investigating the Mesan conspiracy, we see that not everyone in the government bureaucracy is corrupt and power-loving, and who suspects that he, one of the people on his team, or someone very much like him will end up in control of the Sollies at the end of the war?
It's the very sameness of it that annoyed me. I'd love to see a mix-up, to do something different, but it's just... all the same all over again. Yes, at this point I will read it, but I'd love to see Manticore and its allies taking on the Mesans and blowing them to Kingdom Come before dealing with the Sollies, and to maybe cut short this war when the Solarians realize how they have been tricked. I realize it probably won't happen, but that's what I'd like.
I didn't mind the talking heads, because that is still a sort of conflict, but of a different sort than in previous novels, and political infighting can be at least as page-turning as the other kind of war. But the sameness of the conflict just wore on me, and that's what made me like this novel less than others in the series. Even if this sort of thing is exactly what you like, this is not a good place to start reading this series- so much has gone before that you will very quickly be out of your depth as so many characters from earlier novels return. But it's still a strong novel that I did happen to enjoy. I just want to see more depth in the enemies of Manticore, because that leads to a stronger story than if they are just evil with no hope of redemption like St. Just in the People's Republic of Haven. Recommended, but not highly. DO NOT START WITH THIS BOOK if you want to read the series.