Book Review: A Call to Duty by David Weber & Timothy Zahn

Posted January 5, 2015 by Kathy Davie in Book Reviews / 2 Comments

Book Review: A Call to Duty by David Weber & Timothy Zahn

I received this book for free from the library in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

A Call to Duty by David Weber, Timothy Zahn
Genres: Action, Adventure, Military, Science Fiction
Published by Baen on October 7, 2014
Pages: 384
Format: Hardcover
Source: the library


Growing up, Travis Uriah Long yearned for order and discipline in his life... the two things his neglectful mother couldn't or wouldn't provide. So when Travis enlisted in the Royal Manticoran Navy, he thought he'd finally found the structure he'd always wanted so desperately.

But life in the RMN isn't exactly what he expected. Boot camp is rough and frustrating; his first ship assignment lax and disorderly; and with the Star Kingdom of Manticore still recovering from a devastating plague, the Navy is possibly on the edge of budgetary extinction.

The Star Kingdom is a minor nation among the worlds of the Diaspora, its closest neighbors weeks or months away, with little in the way of resources. With only modest interstellar trade, no foreign contacts to speak of, a plague-ravaged economy to rebuild, and no enemies looming at the hyper limit, there are factions in Parliament who want nothing more than to scrap the Navy and shift its resources and manpower elsewhere.

But those factions are mistaken. The universe is not a safe place.

Travis Long is about to find that out.

Also by this author: Cauldron of Ghosts, Treecat Wars, Hell's Foundations Quiver, At the Sign of Triumph, A Call to Vengeance, Uncompromising Honor, Through Fiery Trials, The Shadow of Saganami, Cobra Outlaw, Cobra Traitor

First in the Manticore Ascendant series in the overall Honorverse and revolving around a poor, isolated Manticore. It’s the year of 1529 PD and well before Honor’s time period.

My Take

The “4” is more for my enjoying the back history, as it took some 230 pages before we FINALLY got into some action. It was “weird” getting that perspective on Manticore and Haven being friends and allies, and it simply feels too odd. The Republic of Haven is rich, powerful, and generous to its friends and allies. And it’s terrifying to think of where it will descend. You can’t help but feel for what is ahead for its people. The horrors. Meanwhile, Manticore is the poor cousin and with almost no influence in their universe.

That said, I do wish that Weber & company had provided more of a sense of when this took place within Manticore history. I know it’s before events in House of Steel: The Honorverse Companion. And I suspect you should put off reading House of Steel before you read this; it’ll help keep your sense of time from skewing too badly. If you’ve already read it, no biggie. Ooh, and the Andermani Empire is not yet, for Anderman is just beginning to build it.

Oh, it gets your heart rate up, mostly because (if you’ve read any of the Honor Harrington stories) you get so angry with shortsighted politicians more interested in feathering their own nest than in protecting their planet or their people. Nothing ever changes, does it? Then there’s the slack discipline at the training school. Cheating? Who cares. Nobody really knows anything because of the cheating? Who cares.

That perfect proving ground for the Chancellor’s big plan for his own aggrandizement that results in the Phobos disaster and then events onboard the Vanguard simply prove that Travis’ concerns are legitimate.

It’s a rough period for Manticore. They aren’t building any ships, in fact the Royal Manticoran fleet is being dismantled! Their king is heading toward the end of his kingship, although he has planned, quite brilliantly it seems, to give his son a chance to bring their navy back to life. One of a number of small hooks to encourage us to pick up the next in the series.

There is a bigger hook at the end of the story: the discovery of the wormhole that will change everything for Manticore, except it looks as if someone else will benefit from it! I can’t wait to see how Manticore will lay its claim!

Most of A Call to Duty is laying the background for this new sub series, introducing us to the very few officers who will help project Manticore into the future that lies ahead of it. One important sub theme is the cheating, the lack of discipline, the lack of caring with Travis as the counterpoint who does care. It’s through Travis that the story is told, a spacer who believes it’s important to really know how things work. It’s lucky for Travis when he gets assigned to HMS Guardian where the difference between how Davison runs his ship and how Eigen runs Guardian is like night and day. It’s a belief, a way of doing, that is carried through in the Honor Harrington series. Knowing that eventually Travis’ beliefs will come true and be enforced is encouraging as you read through this muck of lazy sods. It all makes you appreciate Honor’s way of doing business.

I do feel for Travis. That mother of his…she shouldn’t have bred herself, that’s for sure. Although I’m sure the Kingdom of Manticore is quite grateful she did! We can also be grateful for Lieutenant Blackstone! She had some good questions for Travis, and she’s a stand-up officer.

When it comes down to the excitement of the story finally beginning…whoa. Guzarwan plays it well. He’s got almost all the eventualities figured out, except he doesn’t expect competent officers or dedicated men. Heart-stopping moments here! It’s possible that this is where the seeds of discontent are sown, waiting for bad guys to fan it into a bonfire.

The Story

It’s a scattered trail of Travis Long’s reports of negligence and cheating that ends with him aboard the Guardian and the battle of his life. It’s a battle that will do him well in the eyes of those who truly count.

The Characters

Travis Uriah “Rule-Stickler” Long is a one of those rule-abiding types who doesn’t get along socially with anyone. Even his mother, Melisande Vellacott Long, ignores him. Well, she has her own issues and prefers breeding her dogs to remembering she even has a family. Gavin Vellacott, Second Baron Winterfall, is Travis’ older half-brother.


Casey-Rosewood Instructional Center is…
…the RMN’s training base for enlisted and non-commissioned officers: boot camp to training school. Gunner’s Mate First Class Johnny Funk is Travis’ platoon commander. His boot camp mates include Charlie “Chomps” Townsend is from Sphinx and has the appetite to prove it; Elaine “Whistler” Dunharrow; “Shofar” Liebowitz; “Professor” Cyrene; and, “Betcha” Johnson.

Lieutenant William Cyrus is the Impeller Tech Division’s senior officer to whom Travis reports the cheating. Again and again. He’s not the only instructor tired of Long’s being a stickler for the rules or practicality. There’s also Stockmann. Senior Chief Dierken (Eleanor is his wife) and Funk try to save Travis.

Fire Control Specialist First Class Matayoshi and his assistant is Fire Control Tech Third Class Lorelei Osterman are leery about an outsider in their fire control class. Students in the class include Smith, Kelderman, and Townsend. Lieutenant Krauss teaches gravitics.

Colonel Jean Massingill is the CO at Casey-Rosewood, and she’s hating it more and more. Alvis “Gill” Massingill is her husband and a very capable engineer with extensive engineering and yard-dog experience; and, both are retirees from the Solarian League. Manticore had promised great things if the Massingills would come to the Star Kingdom and train the Royal Marines and work on ambitious projects. Those promises aren’t coming through.

Captain Alexander Caldecott is an idiot, to use Massingill’s words, a “staff weenie”. He has no experience, but because of his “exalted” family, he thinks he knows it all.

Travis’ small circle of friends in high school
Bassit Corcoran leads the group that includes Pinker, Jammy, and Travis.

The Royal Manticoran Navy
Captain Horace “Race” Kiselev has been keeping watch over the mothballed fleet that includes the HMS Mars, and is being named to be Casey-Rosewood’s new commanding officer and promoted to commodore. Juliana is his wife. Admiral Carlton Locatelli is the commanding officer of the Star Kingdom’s System Command. First Lord of the Admiralty Admiral Thomas P. Caznestro. Lieutenant Anne Blackstone was the Royal Manticoran Navy recruiter that night.

HMS Vanguard is…
…where Travis will be assigned under the command of Captain Robert Davison, a waste of space. There’s no good hoping that Spacer Second Class Tully Atherton‘s experience will slow Travis down. Master Chief Dovnar is the bosun. Commander Bertinelli is ticked off with Travis’ saving Esterle. Spacer Second Class Suzanne Marx is in Communications. Lieutenant Lisa Donnelly is the officer who listens to Travis. Grillo. Lieutenant Commander Allegra Metzger. Lieutenant Elmajian is the assistant tactical officer.

Chief Gravitics Tech Randall Craddock is Travis’ new boss. Senior Chief Gravitics Specializ Inzinga. Spacers First Class Bonnie Esterle and Amber Bowen are also in gravitics as are Yarrow, Benson, and Kilgore.

HMS Phobos, her sister ship is the Deimos, and both…
…were made from the Mars. Commander Sophia Ouvrard is in chargel; her XO is Lieutenant Commander Armand Creutz. Dinks.

HMS Diactoros and her escort Perseus are…
…one of the Navy’s fast courier ships and her escort, respectively, and the king has sneakily dispatched them to offer passage to interested governments in Ueshiba and Minorca and then on to the Secours sale in Haven.

HMS Casey is a…
…light cruiser that will be quickly refurbished to use as advertising for the shipyard Prince Edward wants to start up. She’ll then be sent to the Secours sale.

HMS Guardian is…
…going to the Secours sale with Commodore Kiselev in overall command of the mission and leaving Captain Eigen in command of the ship. Kiselev takes on Metzger as XO; Massingill will be onboard as the Marine commander with Sergeants Holderlin and Pohjola; Gill will come aboard as well; Donnelly and Long are assigned too; Lieutenant Ioanna Kountouriote is in gravitics. Aflonze Joyce is on com. Ensign Joji Yanagi. Commander Calkin keeps a wish-list of missiles. Gravitics Specialist First Class Jan Vyland is considered a cold fish. Com Specialist Second Class Patty Boysenko is cool with helping out with communications or with her sharpshooting skills; Lieutenant Grace Burns, Officer of the Watch — and daughter of Baron White Springs, I’ll have you know — is not. It doesn’t help that she’s letting personal animosity get in the way of making that call. Carlyle.

The government of Manticore
King Michael is nearing the end of his kingship, and he’s most grateful for that. Mary is his second wife. His son, Commander Prince Edward Winton, will succeed him. Cynthia is Edward’s wife. Prime Minister Davis Harper, Duke Burgundy, is a perpetual conciliator, a long-term plan between himself and the king.

First Lord of Law Deborah Scannabecchi, Duchess New Bern, doesn’t seem to belong to any particular party. Clara Sumner, Countess Calvingdell, sits on the Appropriations Committee and has faith in Winterfall. Earl Broken Cliff is the Secretary of Education also has faith in him.

Pro-Navy Party
Seems that Burgundy has been biding his time until Edward can come on board and they can revamp the Navy. James Mantegna, Earl Dapplelake, is the Defense Minister and has authority over the Royal Manticoran Navy.

Anti-Navy Party is…
…more interested in promoting their personal interests and power in the MPARS (Manticoran Patrol & Rescue Service; pronounced Em-Pars) fleet which patrols the spacelanes around the twin suns of the Manticore System.
Earl Breakwater is the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Baroness Castle Rock, Earl Chillon, and Baroness Tweenriver are some of his allies.

Martin Ashkenazy designs mining ships and has a “brilliant” plan to tear battlecruisers apart and make baby ships.

The pirates and the Fenris, a.k.a., the Wanderer
I’m a little confused in this. I think the ambitious Captain Wolfe “Moss” Guzarwan is “leading” the fake delegation from Ueshiba while Captain Oberon Jalla claims to be part of the Concordia Shipping Company of Third Brunswick. Dhotrumi is Guzarwan’s computer geek. Vacahli is in command of the boarding parties. Shora; Mota; and Labroo, his second-in-command, are part of the plan. Seems Canaan is Guzarwan’s client.

The Secours sale at Marienbad in Haven

Haven ship RHNS Saintonge is hosting…
…the Secours sale. Commodore Jason Flanders commands the Saintonge. Ambassador Boulanger is the head of the Havenite delegation. Lieutenant Riley pilots a shuttle. Crevillan is the shuttle’s coxswain; Prevost is the co-pilot.

General Chu is in command of the land forces on Marienbad.

Other systems interested in the sale include…
Micah, Zuckerman, the ravaged Ramon, Suchien, Yalta, and Casca.

Captain Gordon Henderson is with the Cascan Defense Force and brings their pirate problem to everyone’s attention. He is also the new commander of the former RHNS Péridot. Kanth Padua is the chief Yaltan delegate. Petrov Nahnawa is Ramon’s chief delegate.


Axelrod of Terra is…
…a star-spanning megacorporation. Karen Wamocha is a manager. Luther Luangpraseut is an analyst working under Wamocha who believes he’s found a new wormhole near Manticore. Carnahiba and Oehm are other analysts.

The mining ship
Rafe Hanford is an asteroid miner and now commands his own small ship, the Rafe’s Scavenger. Katerina Shankweiler seems to be his engineer. Gratz is the pilot. Pickering, Chou, and Juarez are part of the crew.

Gustav Anderman is a mercenary. Acton and Samuel Tilliotson each own a single-ship freight company in Manticore. Countess Acton has built one merchantman and wants to build two more.

Genies are humans who have been genetically altered to better survive particular planets. The Brotherhood sounds as if they were a very, very powerful group of pirates who were able to terrify whole planets.

The Cover and Title

It s a Baen cover with its cartoonish graphics. The background is a black space with the Saintonge filling most of it as that shuttle is about to blow up on top of it, and a spacesuited Massingill is blasting out into space away from the eruption to come.

The title is all about Travis, it’s A Call to Duty for him and others like him.

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2 responses to “Book Review: A Call to Duty by David Weber & Timothy Zahn

    • I have to confess that I am passionate about the Honor Harrington story, and I do love a history. Weber has created such an incredible universe with HH, and anything I can learn about it does make me stupid, lol.

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