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By Schism Rent Asunder    by David Weber order for
By Schism Rent Asunder
by David Weber
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 2008 (2008)
Hardcover, CD

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

By Schism Rent Asunder follows Off Armageddon Reef as the second in David Weber's absorbing new series, in which an immortal Personality-Integrated Cybernetic Avatar (PICA) guides the survival of a colony on a planet called Safehold after the ruthless alien Gbaba have left humanity teetering on the brink of extinction.

Since the Gbaba would seek energy emissions, settlers' memories were altered to make them believe in the Church of God Awaiting which forbids innovation. Unfortunately, colony leaders (established as archangels) violently disagreed on approach, leading to war in the heavens. In the first episode, Lieutenant Commander Nimue Alban of the Federation Navy awakened to find herself a PICA, tasked with the guidance of societal evolution on Safehold. Modifying to a male form, s(he) became involved in the affairs of liberal seafaring kingdom Charis as the Prince's companion, Merlin Athrawes; carefully introduced innovations; and assisted Charis with satellite-informed visions in its sea battles against Church-led annihilation.

As By Schism Rent Asunder opens, Crown Prince Cayleb has ascended the throne after the death of his father. Throughout the episode, Weber develops his story on multiple fronts and with an impressive array of characters that at times are hard to track. The corrupt Group of Four continue to plot against Charis. Emerald and Corisande make plans for an anticipated Charisian invasion of their kingdoms, while young Queen Sharleyan of Chisholm ponders her next steps after King Cayleb's unexpected return of her surrendered warships. On Charis, innovations continue and Archbishop Staynair sends a strongly worded message in defiance of his Church superiors, while they in turn encourage sabotage by those faithful to them.

In parallel with these developments, Merlin learns of a resistance group in longstanding opposition to the Church, the Brethren of Saint Zherneau. And high level envoys are sent between kingdoms so that alliances gradually reform. By Schism Rent Asunder is a fascinating and richly layered read. Though not quite as enthralling as Off Armageddon Reef, it will hold readers' interest in the series and leave them anxious for resolution.

Audiobook Review by Hilary Williamson:

The audiobook version of By Schism Rent Asunder includes twenty CDs and is expertly narrated - in a nice range of tones and accents that do a fine job distinguishing sex, age, and nationality - by Oliver Wyman. He handles the voices of the Charis nobility - in particular Cayleb's - in cool, upper class, rather English accents, while Emerald's wily prince and his close associates make their points in strong Celtic voices that delighted me and brought home their differences.

Though the story is, of course, the same, whether taken in by eye or ear, I find that the media emphasize different aspects. Reading, I tended to focus most on the politics, the action - by saboteurs and assassins on land, and in exciting sea battles - and the discovery that Merlin's knowledge of Safehold's true origins is shared with a sect within the Church itself, that has cannily kept, and carefully passed down, a secret history through the centuries. Listening to the audiobook, I found myself dwelling more on Cayleb's and Sharleyan's brief courtship, her journey to Charis, and the true romance that quickly developed between them after their betrothal.

One flaw that the audiobook unfortunately accentuates is the author's frequent use of long, tangled sentences - which works better in text format, but is confusing to a listener. A degree of repetition is also more easily skimmed in written format. Those minor caveats aside, I very much enjoyed hearing Oliver Wyman's vocal rendition of By Schism Rent Asunder (which happily whiled away the hours of a very long car trip for me) even after reading the book.

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