The concept is fascinating: the last refuge of humanity, bred to forget and to live under a religion that proscribes technology, in order to hide from those who would destroy them. The tough heroine is the only one who remembers the past and can stop this experiment gone horribly wrong. And the book’s compulsively readable despite being military SF, which I’m not always keen on.

So why am I saying that David Weber’s Off Armageddon Reef is so bloody flawed?

Cut is for spoilers.
Clearly Weber, for starters, always wanted to be Patrick O’Brian, because the majority of this book is made up of naval warfare with tech circa 1500-1800 CE. This would be fine. Except for the fact that our heroine, Nimue Alban (who is Welsh and therefore in my head looks something like Eve Myles from Torchwood except more buff) has a massively unfair advantage that she’s granted to the Good Guys–and that’s twenty-fifth century technology. She just explains it as visions. AND NO ONE FREAKS OUT MUCH AT ALL, because it’s to their advantage and they think she’s a good person. And none of the Bad Guys can figure out that this is all her.

Not to mention that despite the colonization being clearly a multi-racial effort, and this being clear in the planet Safehold’s place names, everyone has bastardized white people names. And speak some form of a standard language. And we never really know what they look like anyway. And there’s only one secondary female character. Okay.

Oh yeah, did I forget to mention that Nimue’s not a she anymore? Because she’s not. Apparently since Weber can’t turn Honor Harrington into a man, he’s turned his latest heroine into one.

Literally.

Because she’s not really human, she’s a human’s memories in an android body, and that body can change sex. And since the society of the humans’ last stand has gone back to something patriarchal, she has to turn into a guy.

This would be fine, might even be an interesting premise, except for the fact that we have maybe seven pages total of the six hundred page book devoted to the transformation and any issues she might have with it. And then she’s just a he, and that’s cool, except for the fact that she (who is now the he Merlin Athrawes–get it?), only has issues with this when it comes to running around naked with guys. Weber gets a few points for implying that sexual orientation is not a choice and hard-wired, but really, it’s just thrown in for the titillation and maybe a vague sense of romance, and he never really has Nimue/Merlin needing to cope in other ways. I get the feeling Merlin’s falling for the Prince he’s sworn to protect…but that’s just me. And I’m sure it’ll be dealt with in a heavy-handed manner in the future.

It’s like emo manpain, only…you know, he’s actually a woman so it’s okay, right?

So yeah. If you’re looking for something character-driven, this ain’t your kinda thing, though it is, as I said, compulsively readable, and the Church of God Awaiting is the best malevolent sociopolitical religious force I’ve seen since Dan Simmons’ Hyperion novels.

It’s just that problematic seems to be spelled W-E-B-E-R.

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