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A Mighty Fortress: Safehold Book 4    by David Weber order for
Mighty Fortress
by David Weber
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 2010 (2010)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

A Mighty Fortress is the fourth (following Off Armageddon Reef, By Schism Rent Asunder, and By Heresies Distressed) in David Weber's outstanding Safehold series. In it, an immortal Personality-Integrated Cybernetic Avatar (PICA) named Merlin has shepherded the evolution of the Safehold colony after the alien Gbaba exterminated most of humanity. To prevent detection by the aliens, the colony was established at a primitive level and the Church of God Awaiting given the mandate to control its development.

In Off Armageddon Reef, Federation Navy Lieutenant Commander Nimue Alban awakened as a PICA, tasked with steering the colony. In the male form of Merlin Athrawes, he manipulated the affairs of liberal Charis, assisting the island kingdom with satellite-informed visions against Church-led annihilation. In By Schism Rent Asunder, Charis's Crown Prince Cayleb ascended the throne after his father's death, and wed Queen Sharleyan of Chisholm, sharing power in their new Empire. In By Heresies Distressed, Cayleb went to war on Corisande and defeated Prince Hektor (for whose assassination he was unjustly blamed), while Merlin foiled a plot to kill the pregnant Sharleyan.

Now as A Mighty Fortress opens, the Group of Four prepares to arrest members of the dissident clergy Circle and is on the brink of declaring Holy War against Cayleb's new Empire. Macchiavellian political dealings are interspersed with exciting sea battles (worthy of C.S. Forester), a round-up of Church-led dissidents on Corisande, and daring escapes managed by a brilliant spymaster who runs a thriving bordello in Zion. At the same time, Merlin, Cayleb and Sharleyan slowly and carefully add to those in their inner circle who know the true history of Safehold and can use OWL's resources and SNARCs. The acceleration of technological development continues on Charis, resulting in powerful new ship cannons - but will they be in time for a sea battle against seemingly insurmountable odds?

Good people continue to die in terrible ways in A Mighty Fortress, and Merlin puts a new seijin into play to save those he can. The episode ends with an infant heir for the new Empire, whose survival hangs in the balance, the Group of Four's Holy War - backed by massive Church resources - fully launched (and with competent leadership this time) against the Charisian heretics and their allies. But the good guys, as Merlin muses, have a mighty fortress to protect them, built from 'Duty. Responsibility. Love.' They will need it to face the challenging battles ahead.

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