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Safehold is a science fiction book series by David Weber, which currently consists of seven titles, the latest of which will be published in February 2014. The series is mostly set around the 31st century, on a distant world dubbed "Safehold" where a group of humans has hidden themselves from an alien race known as the Gbaba. When first contact was made between the humans and the Gbaba, the aliens began an extermination campaign which nearly succeeded in destroying all known humans in the galaxy, including the entire population of Earth. The humans on Safehold managed to avoid detection by reverting to a pre-electrical and pre-industrial technology base and incorporating that into a religious belief system which discouraged scientific curiosity and forbade any higher technology on penalty of death.
Every book after the first have had their names taken from hymns.
Off Armageddon Reef begins with a prologue where the humans are making a last-ditch effort to preserve at least some humans from the genocidal Gbaba. The Gbaba, however, are found to have located all of the colony ships sent out by the humans up to that point, and the humans make one more attempt to relocate a colony to a new location, eventually dubbed "Safehold" by the leaders of the colonial expedition. Once they arrive there, there is a disagreement between different factions in the leadership of the colonists, and one of the factions murders the others after brainwashing all of the colonists in cryogenic sleep. The brainwashing leads the colonists to believe they were suddenly created by the "Archangel Langhorne" (who was the original commander of the colony, Erik Langhorne) and his likeminded faction. Langhorne gives the colonists a religious book, known as the Writ. One chapter of the book, known as the Proscriptions of Jwo Jeng, specifically forbade certain types of technological advances in an attempt to keep the Gbaba from detecting this last colony. He and his faction create a religion—Church of God Awaiting—centered around themselves as archangels, along with strict punishment for anyone who steps outside the rules they have given.
Unbeknownst to Langhorne and his group, the other faction in the colonial leadership was able to secretly stow away an android and a vast store of high technology weapons, devices, vehicles, and information before they were all murdered by Langhorne. Eight hundred years after Langhorne seized control, the android wakes up and finds it has the memories of Nimue Alban, an ally of many of those in the faction who opposed Langhorne. She creates a new persona in the guise of a man named "Merlin" and—after rescuing its Crown Prince from an assassination attempt—begins to help the Kingdom of Charis by introducing technology in a manner which avoids the proscriptions set down by Langhorne and enforced by the Church of God Awaiting. The Church of God Awaiting orders navies from several other countries on Safehold to destroy the Charisian Royal Navy, but the Charisians gain the upper hand due to information provided by Nimue/Merlin as well as the technology they have achieved due to his assistance. The king of Charis is killed in the climactic battle, and the Crown Prince, Cayleb, is crowned king. He then begins a reformation movement aimed at removing the corruption he sees in the Church of God Awaiting.
By Schism Rent Asunder picks up a few months after the point where the previous book left off, with Nimue/Merlin continuing to encourage technological advancement by hinting at things to Charisian craftsmen, which causes them to begin making advances of their own. Archbishop Maikel Staynair of Charis, who has become the effective Martin Luther of Safehold, declares a schism between the Church of God Awaiting and his see on Charis, accusing the Group of Four which controls the Church of being responsible for the massive sneak attack that was launched on Charis during the events of Off Armageddon Reef. Merlin barely manages to prevent the assassination of Archbishop Staynair at the hands of Templeland Church loyalists, though he is unable to prevent them from burning the Royal College of Charis.
The Group of Four urge all of the nations loyal to the Church to close their ports to Charisian shipping in an attempt to attack Charis via economic means. In the nearby Kingdom of Delferahk, the Church's Office of Inquisition orders Delferahkian soldiers to seize Charisian mechant vessels. The merchants resist and at the urging of accompanying Inquisitors, the soldiers proceed to massacre nearly all the merchants, including women and children aboard.
Cayleb, on the advice of Merlin, proposes a political marriage to Queen Sharleyan of Chisholm. Knowing that Chisholm will inevitably be the Church's next target if Charis is defeated, she accepts. Merlin discovers a secret order which has known of at least some of the truth about the arrival of humans on Safehold, as well as the falsehoods propagated by the Church. As Cayleb is of a similar mindset as his father, and because his father was a member of the Order, they decide to induct him into the order and let him know the truth about Merlin.
Cayleb meets Sharleyan for the first time and falls in love with her over the course of the next few weeks before the wedding. After they are married and the Empire of Charis is formed, Cayleb reaches out with terms of peace to Prince Nahrmahn of Emerald, offering fair terms to allow him to become part of the Empire and become his master of espionage. He also betroths his younger brother to Nahrmahn's daughter in order to show his sincerity. Cayleb and Sharleyan decide that the nearby belligerent League of Corisande must be subdued. Leaving Empress Sharleyan to rule in his stead, Cayleb leaves with 50,000 Charisian Marines to rendezvous with additional troops in Chisholm before embarking to Corisande.
By Heresies Distressed begins immediately after events in the second book, following Emperor Cayleb and his taskforce as they begin their journey to Chisholm. Another Charisian task force enters Ferayd where they seize Inquisition records proving the Group of Four—or, more specifically, Zhaspahr Clyntahn—instructed the inquisitors to take whatever measures necessary to purge the "heretics". After executing the inquisitors directly and provably responsible for the massacre of the Charisians there, they released the records to the public. Cayleb arrives in Chisholm for the first time and is greeted warmly by most of the populace and his mother-in-law. After setting things in order there, he sets sails for Zebediah, a duchy that was conquered by Corisande, but whose duke had been in contact with Prince Nahrmahn and voiced a willingness to ally with Cayleb against Corisande.
Cayleb then sails for Corisande, where his advance guard armed with rifles defeats a much larger Corisandian force armed with muskets. The remaining Corisandian forces fortify a mountain pass on the route to the capital of Manchyr. With the help of Merlin's technological advantages in locating numerous coastal lookout points, Cayleb manages to land a substantial force near the other side of the pass, and forces the surrender of the main Corisandian army. Due to being distracted by the Corisandian campaign, Merlin fails to notice an assassination plot brewing against Sharleyan, who is on a spiritual retreat at a monastery. He also fails to realize in time that Prince Hektor has managed to smuggle his youngest son and daughter, along with his first councilor, out of the country. Though Cayleb and Merlin can't do anything about Hektor's children escaping without revealing Merlin's true nature, Merlin manages to thwart the assassination attempt just in time. Sharleyan is then brought into the "inner circle" and told the truth about Merlin.
Just as Hektor is about to begin negotiating peace with Cayleb, agents of the Church assassinate him and his eldest son in order to lay the blame on Cayleb and sow unrest within Corisande, where Hektor was fairly popular among his people. Corisande is defeated and Cayleb imposes fairly generous terms under which it will be ruled. He appoints a regency council of Corisandian nobles to act as regent for the absent heir. The Group of Four realize they have wasted a lot of time and money building oar-powered galleys which are now obsolete due to the much more heavily armed galleons being used by the Charisian Royal Navy. They also begin consolidating their power and plotting to destroy anyone who even appears to oppose them. They also learn about a secret reform movement—The Circle—among various priests and people in the Temple Lands, the seat of their power, but they decide to watch and wait for now.
In A Mighty Fortress, the people of Corisande are still restless due mainly to two resistance movements which are working to undermine the efforts of Charis to win over the hearts of the people. Merlin, Cayleb, and Sharleyan decide to watch these groups and not move against them immediately in order to learn more about who is in the groups and what they plan to do. Sharleyan is pregnant with her first child, and Merlin takes her to Nimue's Cave to use the advanced equipment there to make sure everything is progressing well and that there are no medical issues with the child. He also tells Sharleyan and Cayleb that he injected them (and several others) with nanites which will prevent them from ever getting sick again, as well as provide quicker healing for anything but the most severe wounds.
In Dohlar, the Earl of Thirsk begins implementing changes in how the navy works there, including changes not popular with the Church. However, his changes begin to have a positive effect, so the Church allows him to continue for the time being. Staynair, before leaving on his journey to Corisande, passes some documents and information to Baron Wave Thunder which implicate the Group of Four and others in the Temple Lands of varying degrees of corruption. In Corisande, Father Tymahn Hahskans draws attention to himself with his sermons on corruption within the church, and his sermons begin to pose a threat to the Temple Loyalists who are attempting to encourage public unrest and civil disobedience in the capital. As a result, Hahskans is abducted from his home and brutally tortured to death before being left in a public place upon the orders of the former Intendant of Corisande (the representative of the Inquisition). Merlin does not review his intelligence reports in time to save Hahskins, but sends an anonymous message to the Earl of Anvil Rock, who proceeds to arrest the conspirators, including the former Intendant who is later defrocked, tried for murder and conspiracy, and executed along with most of his fellow conspirators in Manchyr.
Nahrmahn and his wife, Olyvya, are brought into the inner circle, and both begin to take a lot of weight off Merlin as far as the processing and reviewing of intelligence reports. Merlin then makes use of his extra time and travels in disguise to the Temple Lands to meet with Madam Ahnzhelyk, a close ally of The Circle, where he tells her she needs to get out of the Temple Lands as soon as possible. She arranges for over 200 people connected with The Circle to escape from the minions of the Group of Four, though Clyntahn has over 2000 people arrested and tortured—including over 30 vicars—with many of them being executed in very brutal ways.
Staynair arrives in Corisande and manages to begin winning over their hearts by showing them that he really cares about them. Meanwhile, a traitor in Chisholm arranges for some of the more advanced rifles to be sent to the treasonous Grand Duke of Zebediah, and Merlin moves to decapitate the resistance once and for all by having the leadership arrested, including the former bishop-executor of the Church in Corisande. Craftsmen in Charis begin development on an exploding shell, and secret negotiations begin with King Gorjah of Tarot. After leading the first decisive victory against the new Charisian Navy, Earl Thirsk and the Church move to defeat the Charisian Navy once and for all. The Church tricks Charis into thinking it is sending ships one way, leaving most of Charis' ships too far away from the actual route. However, using a few of the new explosive shells and cannons, coupled with a daring nighttime attack, 25 Charisian Navy ships are able to destroy a column of over 60 Church ships, allowing only 9 to escape. The battle was costly, though, and over half of the Charisian ships are destroyed or mostly so, and Earl Lock Island, High Admiral of the Charisian Navy–who is also Emperor Cayleb's cousin–is killed in the engagement.
Empress Sharleyen travels to Zebediah and then Corisande to stand over the trials of those accused of treason after the conspiracies of the last novel. Her firmness, fairness and judicious exercise of mercy continue to win over the hearts and minds of the newest subjects of the Empire of Charis, especially when she is undeterred after an attempted assassination that is thwarted by Merlin.
For his part, Merlin has been experimenting with steam technology, and gets no response from the orbital platforms. In Charis, technological developments are still developing water power, using deep reservoirs to control the flow of water, and also by replacing water wheels with turbines. On the artillery front, the Charisians have developed angle guns that allow them to shoot over walls, and are working on more breech-loading devices. Merlin takes these advances a little further and has Owl construct him a pair of percussion cap revolvers.
Father Paityr Wylsynn has some doubts about all these developments until he is inducted into the secrets of the Brethren of Saint Zherneau. After this, he reveals to the inner circle that his family was trusted with a message from the archangels. The message says that the archangels themselves are sleeping under the temple, and will return after 1000 years (30 years in the future at this time). Merlin is uncertain whether it is the actual archangels, or perhaps PICA versions of them. As a precaution, he begins looking at ways he can continue his own awareness in case his own PICA form is lost.
The situation in Siddarmark is becoming strained. Siddarkmark and Silkiah are continuing trade with Charis in spite of embargoes imposed by the Church of God Awaiting, and there are large Charisian expatriate communities in these areas. Grand Inquisitor Clyntahn stokes resentment of the Charisians in the Siddarmarkian population, finally inciting them to mob violence. His nemesis Ahnzhelyk, now known as Aivah Pahrsahn, has secretly bought up thousands of rifled muskets and trained a militia to use them, which she calls on to protect the Charisian Quarter and to keep the government of Siddarmark from falling.
Grand Inquisitor Zhaspyr Clyntahn convinces the other members of the Council of Four that the Charisians taken as Prisoners of War by Admiral Thirsk at a previous engagement should be turned over to the Inquisition. Thirsk is against this, but can do nothing to stop it, so the prisoners are all taken to the temple and put to the question, leading to outrage in Charis.
Clyntahn also begins working differently inside of Charis, keeping his agents from contacting one another or attempting to recruit, which makes it impossible for Merlin's SNARCs to find them. They manage to steal some gunpowder and distribute it. By loading it onto wagons and driving them into major centers, they manage to kill thousands of people, and assassinate several targets. Earl Grey Harbour is killed, as well as Prince Nahrman of Emerald. Baron Green Mountain of Chisholm is badly injured.
Princess Irys and Prince Daivyn of Corisande are in Delferahk under the protection of King Zhames, and the guardianship of the Earl of Coris, who had once been their father Prince Hektor's spymaster, and who escaped with them following Hektor's death at the hands of assassins sent by Clyntahn, though this was not known at the time. Coris receives orders from Clyntahn to allow the assassination of prince Daivyn so that it can be blamed on Charisians, but he has no plans to comply. He contacts Earl Grey Harbour (before his death) and asks for asylum. The assassins arrive sooner than anticipated, but Irys and Daivyn manage to escape with the help of Merlin and Hektor Aplyn-Ahrmahk, Caleb's adopted son.
The sixth book in the series, Midst Toil and Tribulation was released on September 18, 2012.
The story begins shortly after Clyntahn's "Sword of Schueler" plan succeeds, putting most of the Siddarmark Republic into the chaos of civil war. Some provinces are controlled by Temple Loyalists who try to reach Old Siddar, the capital province of the country, which is still loyal to the Lord Protector. In Charis the decision to send a humanitarian aid mission to Siddarmark is made and huge transports of food leave the Empire capital cities.
After revealing that it's the Grand Inquisitor who unleashed the "Sword of Schueler" operation, Clyntahn remains a hugely powerful figure within the Church. Despite his bitter hatred of Clynthan, Vicar Rhobair Duchairn is unable to do anything other than gently criticize him and remind his fellows that the destruction of Siddarmark as a stable political entity has dealt additional harm to the Temple's revenue stream. At the same meeting, plans to deploy the Dolahran-Desnairan-Zionian Army of God are made.
Rescued Corisandians arrive at Tellesberg, where Irys and Daivyn are put in archbishop Maikel's custody. The Emperor and empress recognize Daivyn as the legitimate prince of Corisande, despite Charisian occupation of the island. Due to Staynair's annual trip to all of the Empire's domains, the siblings travel with him to Chisholm. During the trip, Irys joins the Reformist's cause. She also falls in love with Cayleb's adopted son, prince Hektor Aplyn-Ahmahrk. Steam machines are reinvented, leading to rapid re-development of the new technology, with steam ironclads and prototypical railways among others. Meanwhile, on Helen Island, new weapon systems are developed, such as recoil absorption mechanisms for guns or prototypical firearms. cartridges
Merlin leaves Cayleb's ship en route to Siddarmark without telling anybody where he's going. It is revealed that the Class I VR module he built now hosts the consciousness of killed Prince Nahrmahn in the same way a PICA holds Nimue Alban. After finding out he's in fact dead, Nahrmahn decides to stay in VR, despite the impossibility to connect with anybody in a physical way. He spends more and more time talking to Owl, Merlin's AI, leading to the tactical computer's awakening of self-awareness and sentience.
In Siddarmark, Emperor Cayleb arrives in Siddar City with Charisian contingent of Imperial Army, while Duke Eastshare and Chisholmian contingent are passing Raven Land to reach Siddarmark faster. Meanwhile, Army of God has already reached the Republic and runs the offense against the Lord Protector's loyalists. Cayleb and Lord Protector with help of Reformists' leader Aivah Parsahn begin to deploy Imperial Army's forces to protect critical parts of Republic and - in foreseeable future - retake Temple Loyalist's provinces. However, allied forces are heavily outnumbered by Army of God and Harchongese Army, consisting of one million soldiers, is slowly moving towards Republic to aid Temple.
Back in Chisholm, Empress Sharleyan meets with Prince Daivyn and his protector, Earl of Coris. She proposes a new treaty, making the Corisande part of Charisian Empire instead of occupied territory. Daivyn would hold the position similar to the one Prince Nahrmahn kept in his domain and to seal the treaty, Irys would have to marry Hektor Aplyn-Ahrmahrk. As it was expected, both Earl Coris and Irys are satisfied with the treaty, though each of them for different reasons. The decision to send all three to Corisande is made.
In Siddarmark Merlin proposes the plan that might hold Army of God from further advance and give allied forces time to build their own strength. Three of newly created river ironclads proceed up the canals to destroy locks while Merlin secretly destroys the semaphore station to prevent them from warning anybody upriver. The plan succeeds, ending up with destruction of Church's supply lines. This, combined with Eastshare's arrival and new Charisian tactics leave Temple no choice but to hold the offensive operations. However, Loyalists manage to capture Charisian breech-loading guns, allowing them to duplicate this weapon.
Despite that, after finding out about what happened to locks, Clyntahn is furious with Army of God general. Much to other's surprise, Army Commander Magwair finds the temerity to independently stand up to him for the first time, and the Grand Inquisitor is briefly taken aback. Duchairn promises that the Church's new tax policies will allow for a slow recovery from the financial crisis the jihad has driven Church into, while the Temple forces adjust to the new Charisian tactics.
Three of the books in the series debuted on the New York Times Hardcover Fiction Best Seller List. Off Armageddon Reef was a cumulative bestseller, entering the New York Times Best Seller list at number 33. It was listed by Booklist as one of the top ten SF audiobooks of 2008 and was nominated in 2009 for the Arthur C. Clarke Award for best science fiction novel published in the United Kingdom. The Guardian found Off Armageddon Reef to have a predictable ending and called the character development "perfunctory", but applauded Weber's pacing and vision.
By Heresies Distressed debuted at number 11 on the July 17, 2009 New York Times best selling hardcover fiction list, number 25 on the July 24, 2009 list, and number 30 on the July 30, 2009 list.
A Mighty Fortress debuted at #9 on the New York Times hardcover fiction best seller list, dropped to #24 in the second week, then to #29 in week three before dropping off the list, for a total of three weeks on the list.