I read the latest Safehold novel by David Weber last night. About 700 pages that really needed a good editor to sit the author down and say, “No.”
Oh, don’t get me wrong. It’s still an interesting story, and a pretty good read, but with some judicious editing, I imagine it could have been told just as well in 400-500 pages. And the roadblocks to enjoyment Weber–and his editors–throw up are completely unnecessary, IMO. Imagine a cast of thousands to keep track of. Well, it’s not quite that bad, but there are 22 pages of dramatis personae in the back of the book.
And then there are the, urm, less than useful plot threads. Take for example the one where a central (as in “hub”) character travels thousands of miles clandestinely to “enemy central” to… do weather reports. *sigh* Wasted those pages’ reading. Or the constant rehashing of the same social arguments over and over and over to the point where a reader could, I imagine, say, “Oh, THAT again,” close his eyes and “read” the next few pages by memory.
Then there are the infelicitous word choices that ANY literate editor should have caught. One of the ones that makes me grind my teeth EVERY TIME WEBER USES IT (and he’s done it in other books published by other publishers, so I have to imagine a widespread illiteracy among editors *sigh*) is the phrase, “Lords temporal and secular” to refer to a gathering of religious and secular leaders. *argghhh!!!* “Temporal” in such a context MEANS “secular” so what he’s saying is “Lords secular and secular,” and he and his editors apparently just don’t have a clue, because this is at least fourth different book (released by two different publishers) that includes the phrase–sometimes more than once in a book. There are other baffling word choices (“I do not think that word means what you think it means,” as Inigo Montoya famously said), and those also mar the narrative.
Speaking of “marring the narrative,” remember that “cast of thousands”? They all have names like, Zhaspahr Clyntain (Jasper Clinton), Ahnzelyk Phonda (Angelique Fonda), Zhon Pawl (John Paul–predictably enough a naval officer; could as easily have been “Zhon Pawl Zhones” *heh*)–and those are the easy ones to decipher. Weber might as well just say, “Stop Reading NOW and Decode This Name So You Can Keep My Cast of Thousands Straight” every single timea new character is introduced–about 2-3 times per scene, at least, it seems. *feh* Why are only personal (and sometimes place) names treated this way, whileall the rest of the narrative is in ordinary English? Heck, why didn’t Weber just write the whole series in Old English? It’s wouldn’t be that much more cumbersome to decode.
But, despite these flaws that approach being major issues, I still read the thing for the story, because it’s pretty interesting*. And I’ll likely buy the next book in this series, despite the fact that every one’s at least a wee tad cliff-hanger-ish (like the Honor Harrington books have become), and it irritates me to wait a year or so for the next installment, when twice as much story could be told in half the pages, were judicious editing to enter the fray. (Just tell the frickin story!)
Next time, I’ll probably buy it in two formats: hardcopy and ebook, but only if I can get the ebook in a format I can at least convert to html. Why? Well, one of the good things about an html ebook is that if I run across a term I’m unfamiliar with (frankly a rare occurrence in my normal reading experience but pretty common in this series with all the sailing terminology), I can just right-click on the term and choose the appropriate search for enlightenment. I like that. Or sometimes it’s a “Hmm, this sounds familiar. Let’s see what a review of Jan Sobieski turns up… ” or some other such gem.
Then there’s the Biggie with me and html ebooks: when I find poor editing, I have a tendency to correct the errors in my copy. 😉 Thus, for example, Weber’s “Lords temporal and secular,” referring to a gathering of religious and government leaders would, in my copy, be corrected to, “Lords sacred and secular.” *heh*
*pretty interesting: The whole series hangs on a moderately stale plot device, very nearly a “deus ex machina”/superman thing, but remains interesting nevertheless. Oh, all the characters are from Central Casting in the David Weber political/religious/military multiverse stable, so that’s notsomuch the appeal, either. The intricate political/military/church plots, counterplots and *WTF?!?* plots are all pretty much standard Weber as well. So what, apart from the really, really interesting exploration of archaic naval technology, strategy and tactics (which are very interesting, BTW) makes the Safehold series interesting enough to get me to keep on buying the books when our local library won’t?
Maybe it’s because, with all the flaws, all the “central casting–of thousands!” *heh* and moderately-to-oh-so-predictable plot wists and slow, slow pace, Weber still manages to sell the people and events as at least plausible enough to suspend disbelief… for at least 400 of the 700 pages. 🙂