Review of STRENGTH AND HONOR by R. M. Meluch (see her website)
A NOVEL OF THE USS MERRIMACK
Daw, November 2008
The enemy of all life, the Hive, is still undefeated, but Rome decides that the Hive is far enough from its own region and disowns its surrender to the United States, declaring war on the US while the US attempts to eliminate the last of the Hive. The Caesar who surrendered to the US is dead, murdered by his son who replaces him and pushes his system into war. In a surprise attack launched months before war was declared, Rome assaults the Shotgun, the US instalation that makes it possible to to quickly travel from near-space to far-space, then launches an attack on the US on Earth itself.
Captain John Farragut, of the USS Merrimack, fails in his first assignment of the war--the execution of Roman patterner Augustus. It wasn't an assignment he relished, but he'd been prepared to do his duty, except that Augustus beat him to the punch. But Augustus is something of a wild card. Although he's Roman through and through, he regards the new Caesar as illegitimate. And the new Caesar is a large part of the problem facing the US. Of course, the Hive isn't going to do nothing while Rome and the US go to war among themselves. A problem that was near a solution is about to become a far more deadly menace.
Author R. M. Meluch starts with an interesting conspiracy theory--that Rome never completely fell but preserved itself in the form of a secret society (at times owning the Catholic Church, as well as being behind the colonization of the new world). With the coming of space travel, Rome left Earth to found a new empire in space--an empire that's been at war with the US until the Hive forced it to surrender and cooperate.
Meluch combines space opera action with a bit of emotional depth and some clever dialogue in an enjoyable story. I would have liked Romulus (the new Roman Caesar) to be a bit more clever--he really isn't a worthy opponent for Farragut, let alone Augustus. And I think we needed an explanation for why Rome couldn't replace the remote pilots Farragut captured as well as why Augustus chose to let himself be defeated in the way he was. Also, I found Col. Steele's antics in the coloseum to be a bit extreme. These, though, are mostly minor details. Overall, STRENGTH AND HONOR is an enjoyable and well-written tale. I'll definitely look for more by this author.
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