The Little Corporal’s Legacy: A Review of A Call to Insurrection by David Weber, Timothy Zahn, and Thomas Pope

Our reviews section spilled over and we didn’t have enough space to review all of the books Baen sent us in the magazine, so we’re running a couple of them here! Be sure to pick up the Fall Issue out now in Softcover, Hardcover, and eBook! The issue currently out has J. Comer’s review of Pournelle’s Janissaries series.

     One hundred and eighty-six years after his death on St Helena, Napoleon Bonaparte, Emperor of the French, is still a household name. While the Duke of Wellington defeated Napoleon at Waterloo, Horatio Nelson remains a more distant romantic figure.[1]  It was a veteran of the Napoleonic Wars, Frederic Marryat, who pioneered the genre of nautical fiction.[2] In later years, meticulous research alternated with sheer melodrama in the works of numerous nautical writers.[3] One favorite is the “Horatio Hornblower” series by Cecil Smith (“C.S. Forester”), later made into movies and a TV series about the Nelson-like hero. Numerous SF authors have paid homage to Hornblower, including Leo Frankowski and David Feintuch, but perhaps the best-known of these Hornblower-in-space series is David Weber’s Honor Harrington. Honor, a gal from the kingdom of Manticore (space Britain), enlists in the Navy, has many adventures with her alien treecat, and ends up a stateswoman, admiral, and diplomat. Harrington proved so successful (fourteen novels and counting) that Weber expanded the series, including novels about Honor’s ancestor Stephanie Harrington and her colleagues. Call to Insurrection is in this latter series.[4]

     And it’s hard to follow without having read the rest of the series (which this reviewer has not done). A nobleman’s family dies in a horrific drunken “accident,” and a character investigates. There is a succession crisis among space Germans (who speak twentieth-century German in the forty-first century[5]) and rebellion which threatens worlds. Someone is killing people in graphic detail aboard the space-German ship. There is a missing heir…or is there? The Germans fight a well-written space battle which was a real pleasure to read. They win, and the Emperor of the space-Germans gets married. It’s obvious that there will be a sequel…

     …and the reviewer scratches his head.  The writing is good, and the storylines are well-drawn, though they don’t really converge.  The characters are not striking, save for Chomps the detective, whom this reviewer liked.  The huge battle at the end is finely-drawn action, but… it’s a Napoleonic sea battle.  And there, the heir of Marryat took this reader out of the story. This was surprising, since the silly rollicking action of Grossman and Frankowski was simply fun.  The present reviewer could merely scratch his head and go huh?

     The reviewer really wanted to like this book, since Weber aided Alex Pournelle in finishing the Janissaries series after Jerry Pournelle’s death.  It’s not a bad novel, honestly, and its authors are professionals.  Its problem is that it’s not a good one.  It’s a shame that its action could not keep this reader’s attention.  The reviewer would be willing to read other work by these authors.    


[1] A readable introduction to this man and his most important battle is Nelson’s Trafalgar by Roy Adkins.

[2] The ur-tale is the Odyssey, of course, but Marryat’s Mr Midshipman Easy contains all the elements of modern nautical fiction: the young middie and his adventures in the Napoleonic era, his rise through the navy and through society’s ranks, a dark-eyed lass whom he woos and weds. Midshipman Easy, and the dark horse of the novel, Mesty the prince-turned-slave, continue to inspire writers even today. Easy rises through the ranks with the help of his pal, and ends up a landed gentleman; Marryat’s humor and wordplay make the novel a pleasant read despite stereotypes and dialect writing.  The curious can find this neglected work at https://gutenberg.org/files/21553/21553-h/21553-h.htm

[3] This reviewer considers the novels of Richard Russ (“Patrick O’Brian”) to be examples of how to write nautical fiction and the work of Dudley Pope to be examples of how not to do so.

[4] Yes, it’s a novel about a friend of the ancestor of the main character.

[5] I may simply be persnickety about this, but Weber has got to know that the Spanish of Borges was Silver Age Latin, two thousand years back.

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