A Beautiful Friendship by David Weber
A Star Kingdom Novel/Honorverse/Stephanie Harrington #1
Baen, October 2011
Cover Art by Daniel Dos Santos
Review by Kathryn A. Ryan
“Twelve-year-old Stephanie Harrington, a genetically-enhanced girl on the pioneer planet of Sphinx, bonds with a treecat, a telepathic and fully sentient animal, putting her in danger from highly placed enemies that want to ensure that the planet remains entirely in human hands.”
A Beautiful Friendship is the first in a young adult science-fiction series written by David Weber, best known for his Honorverse books and his more recent Safehold series. It’s heavily based on a short story of the same name, which can be found in Worlds of Weber, and serves as a prequel to most of the Honorverse titles. It concerns a rather stubborn twelve-year old girl by the name of Stephanie Harrington, an ancestor of Honor Harrington. She is very clever and advanced for her age, but more importantly, she’s frustrated. At the age of ten and a half, her parents moved from Meyerdahl to Sphinx, going from a populated and advanced world to one which is no more than a small colony.
Whilst on Sphinx, Stephanie unwittingly sets into motion something no-one else has done before. She is one of the few humans to have discovered a sentient, tool-using species, and she is the first human to become adopted by a treecat. Her discovery attracts xeno-biologists and xeno-anthropologists from the Star Kingdom of Manticore, but also less honest people with their own goals in mind. Whilst Stephanie is struggling to comprehend Climbs Quickly, her adoptive treecat, and the rest of his clan, she is also ever-conscious of how dangerous her fellow humans could be to Sphinx’s native treecat population.
It is divided into two parts; the first is a revisit of the original short story, and the second is original. The first part will be familiar to anyone who has read the earlier piece, and whilst it often draws parallels with the tale, it has been heavily reworked and reordered to fit its new audience. Some parts seem to be carbon-copies from the original short story, but at other times it’s clear just how much work David Weber has put into altering the story. The second half takes place around 18 months after the first, and it concerns the impact of Stephanie finding and bonding with Climbs Quickly.
As a read, it’s enjoyable. There are moments where I found myself laughing at something a character (usually Stephanie) said, and moments where I was concerned that something terrible would happen to one of the characters. Stephanie and Climbs Quickly are good protagonists and drive the book well, and they interact with other characters in a fairly natural and organic manner. The main plot itself is also interesting and is arguably relevant to what is happening with our own planet and the harm we may be causing to the creatures with which we share the world.
The last quarter of the book is the strongest, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was compelling and well-paced, but it seemed that the treecats jumped to correct conclusions too often in an almost deus ex machina manner. It didn’t detract from the story too much, however, and the book ended on a high note, leaving it open to sequels but also allowing it to work as a standalone.
Despite the fun I had with this book, I feel as if it’s confused as to what it wants to be. On the one hand, the prose is written in a fitting style and it’s centred around a twelve-to-fourteen year old girl. On the other, Weber spends considerable time explaining things to readers, such as scientific principles and legal rights, which seem unnecessarily over-complex for a young-adult novel. At one point there was a discussion relating to planetary land rights, the details of which seemed largely unnecessary to the plot whereas a more simplistic explanation would have sufficed. Weber also leaves a lot of the terminology unexplained, although a glossary at the back attempts to explain details such as the dates, but I felt it did so poorly and left me with no greater understanding.
The characterisation was moderately well done, but largely felt lacking. Many characters felt as if they spoke in the same manner, and if you removed their names from the text it would be unclear as to which person said which lines. Climbs Quickly spoke largely like any other treecat in his dialogue, and even Stephanie seemed to speak in the same language style as the adult characters despite being half their age at the very least.
As the first entry in a new series, A Beautiful Friendship is ideally placed to introduce new readers to Weber’s well-loved Honorverse. It is a fun read, but it is also uneven. On the one hand, its writing seems too simplistic for a YA novel at times, but at others it seems too complex and akin to Weber’s adult works in that it forgoes simple explanations and discussions, instead attempting to explain them as a textbook or a lecturer would.
For existing Honorverse readers, many of the issues I had will not be a problem. For new readers, especially those of lower confidence, this book may cause a few problems. I recommend it with a resounding “Bleek!” to existing fans of Weber, but with some degree of hesitation to those who are new to him or the Honorverse, or those who may be less confident readers.
Kathryn A. Ryan, October 2011