In many respects, David Weber’s ‘Midst Toll And Tribulation’ has Merlin Athrawes moving up the schedule and teaching a select few industrial revolutionary techniques in Charis, including mass production and ballistics, at least in the form of which shaped bullets shoot best. This is probably the most significant differences in the ‘Safehold’ books because Merlin is getting past the trail and error aspect which slowed down technology development on old Earth. That and having the religious aspects on Safehold kept well away that is. In fact, that is the main conflict of this book, much of which is devoted to the land skirmishes between the two sides. Charis might have the superior weaponry but the Church had plenty of soldiers and faith that they would go to heaven when they died on their side.
In many respects, between March 896 July 896, the Church is on a hiding for nothing and takes heavy casualties. This isn’t Islamic though, at most it looks like a Catholic variant and there are many similarities between this with the British/Spanish conflicts of 1585-1604 in the Elizabethan period. You would have thought with all the advance technology that Merlin has at his disposal that he could have neatly gone in and assassinated the heads of the Church and take the wind out of these battles so it’s hardly surprising that he ends up being troubled at the end.
As usual, Weber has a massive list of characters at the end and although I cross-referenced a few, I was hoping that he would be putting up gravestones to account for those who were killed off. It could hardly be seen as a spoiler because I’m sure the reader would still read to find out.
Despite their length, Weber’s books are easy to read, the pacing is the same for the debates as well as the battles which tends to take the edge off the emotional impact and it’s only at the end that you realise how many people are killed. Maybe this is a reflection of how wars are played when we see numbers and not realise that these are people. However, so many of Weber’s characters are cannon-fodder so it doesn’t leave much care to their fates. Oh, I’ve also realised that the best way to read the various characters names is phonetically. A lesson to bear in mind when recognising familiar names. One can only hope the next book, ‘Like A Mighty Army’, to be reviewed will move things along a bit.
(pub: TOR/Forge. 607 page hardback. Price: $27.99 (US), $31.99 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-7653-2155-8)
check out website: www.tor-forge.com