Ever since it was announced that Timothy Zahn’s short story “A Call to Arms” was going to be expanded into a series, I have been waiting to read this book. A Call to Duty tells the story of Travis Long, who decides to join the Royal Manticoran Navy to get out of a bad situation.
Problem is, Long is an extreme stickler for the rules, which tends to get him in trouble and make everyone hate him. He is by the book or nothing, and extremely inflexible on that point. His is also really good at his job, and has a knack for figuring out how to get out of tough situations. However, the RMN is not a great place to serve in this time period (almost 400 years before the events in On Basilisk Station). It barely scrapes by on its funding, the ships it has are understaffed and under-maintained, and the morale of those in the RMN is generally very low.
I generally enjoyed A Call to Duty. I found it very interesting to see the Star Kingdom of Manticore prior to the discovery of the wormhole junction that turned Manticore into a big player in the human-settled universe. This book is set just a few years before that discovery, and those who are trying to find it are doing everything they can to keep Manticore from discovering what they are doing. Manticore is struggling and dealing with a lot of infighting within its various governmental and military branches, and its resources are stretched to the breaking point.
There is a fair amount of build-up in this book, so the story doesn’t really get going until over 200 pages in. That’s not to say those pages were boring, because they weren’t. However, I felt the main story didn’t really get going until after those pages. Since A Call to Duty is only 384 pages long, that didn’t leave a lot for the main events.
Long seemed really dense in many ways. I’ve known my fair share of Navy people, and even those who are sticklers for the rules learn there are situations where the rules are more like guidelines and can be bent a little. Long kept having that hammered into his head over and over and over again, but just didn’t seem to get it. To me, it seemed as if that trait was being kept unchanged simply to make things harder for Long rather than as a legitimate plot point.
However, even with that, I really enjoyed the book. Lisa Donnelly, a Lieutenant in the RMN, was a sparkling gem in the story. She was interesting and really helped whip Long into shape. By the end of A Call to Duty, Donnelly was my favorite character, and there are hints at some possible romance in future books (nothing to noticeable, but its there). I look forward to seeing her more in the next books.
For those unfamiliar with the Honorverse, this book requires no prior knowledge of anything in the series. It’s set before almost everything in the series, so those who want to start near the beginning can do so here (the only books before this one, at least at this point, are the Star Kingdom young adult novels). While not quite as good as many of the other Honorverse books, I still recommend A Call to Duty as a fun read.
Release Date: October 7, 2014 (USA)
ISBNs: 1476736847 (9781476736846)
Publisher: Baen Books
Alcohol/Drugs: 1 (occasional drinking, mostly social)
Language: 1 (occasional, mostly minor)
Violence: 2 (some fisticuffs, space battles, death)