Cauldron of Ghosts, by David Weber and Eric Flint, is the third novel in the Crown of Slaves series set in the “Honorverse”, the world of Honor Harrington. Books in all the Honorverse series have been building up to events which happen in this volume, though this book doesn’t wrap up all of them.
Victor Cachat and Anton Zilwicki, two of the main characters in the Crown of Slaves series, decide they need to go back to Mesa and try to find out more about what is happening with the newly-discovered Mesan Alignment and how it ties into events and situations all over the known universe. In order to do this, they adopt new personas and new skins (literally) through the wonders of modern genetic and medical engineering. They are accompanied by Thandi Palane and Yana Tretiakovna, who were both introduced in Crown of Slaves.
In the past, Weber has been known for producing very large volumes in this series, but the more recent books in each of the three series (the main Honorverse series, the Crown of Slaves series, and the Saganami Island series) have been mostly under 600 pages, with a few being about 400 pages. Now, I’m one of those readers who likes a good hefty book, so this has left me somewhat disappointed. Cauldron of Ghosts has started changing around that disappointment.
I don’t mind the long explanations of the technology Weber often includes in his novels, but I also like how this book is fairly lean in that respect. Instead of including all of that interesting-but-not-necessarily-necessary information, Weber and Flint instead focused on moving the story along, and that is a good thing. Several of the recent books in the Honorverse seem to be only setup, with very little resolution and payoff at the end. This is very frustrating, so I am pleased that this volume actually resolves some of those dangling plot threads reasonably well.
That said, there were still several things introduced which (at least to me) seem to introduce several more plot threads to be tied up at a later point. We are introduced to a couple members of the Mesan Alignment who seem at least a little unhappy with how things are happening within the Alignment, but they are then whisked away to parts unknown. We never really find out what happened to the Detweilers (the masterminds behind the Alignment), which is frustrating since they play a fairly large role in several of the recent books in the series.
It was nice to see Honor playing any part at all in the series, especially since she seems to be fading into the background more and more despite everything coming to a rolling boil (and even boiling over, in many cases). I understand that telling a story from the point of view of a fleet admiral isn’t always the most interesting way to proceed, but Weber has yet to tie things up in such a way as to be able to move Honor into the background and focus on several of the more recent characters. I’m sure he has various things planned which will eventually accomplish this, but even with all the various books weaving the story together, the amount of time being covered is very short. I guess I’m just impatient.
Even with the frustrations mentioned above, Cauldron of Ghosts is a fun ride and kept my interest the whole way through. If you have been reading this series, I strongly recommend it. If you haven’t, and you’re looking for a very good epic space opera / military science fiction series, I recommend starting with On Basilisk Station and proceeding through the series as outlined here. The series is very popular for a good reason.
Release Date: April 8, 2014 (USA)
ISBNs: 1476736332 (9781476736334)
Publisher: Baen Books
Alcohol/Drugs: 1 (minor usage)
Language: 3 (somewhat liberal use of all levels of expletives)
Sexuality: 1 (innuendo mostly, some mentions of rape in the past)
Violence: 4 (mass murder (mostly with WMDs), descriptions of battles and wounding, torture)