Field of Dishonor
Field of Dishonor is a transitional novel in the fictional life of Honor Harrington, part of a complex series of science fiction works, by David Weber, which also draws on historical fiction. The Harrington character, in many respects, is modeled on C.S. Forester's series about Horatio Hornblower, with the minor details of a change of gender and moving the context more than two millennia into the future.
This book is the sequel to The Short Victorious War, and the prequel to Flag in Exile. At the start of the book, Harrington has established a brilliant reputation as a warship captain, and also acquits herself well when command of a task force falls to her in desperate battle circumstances. During the course of the book, she finds herself becoming more deeply enmeshed in the politics of her home Star Kingdom of Manticore and her adopted co-home of Grayson, learning lessons that are lessons that most naval officers must learn before moving from captain to admiral. It has the least in-space action of any of the books.
It is always a bad thing when political matters are allowed to affect . . . the planning of operations Field Marshal Erwin Rommel 160 Ante-Diaspora (1943 C.E.) (from the front matter)
Harrington has had a long enmity, since naval cadet days, with another officer, Lord Pavel Young, who is an archetype of everything wrong with the aristocracy of the Star Kingdom. When they were both midshipmen, he tried to rape her, but, using her skill at martial arts and her strengh from growing up on a high-gravity planet, is beaten badly. Harrington lacks the confidence to accuse him, and, even though the Academy staff is suspicious and sympathetic, gives him trivial punishment.
Young's reaction is to develop a festering hate for Harrington, who refused the attention of her betters. Throughout the series, he shows little skill as a naval officer, but much cowardice and irresponsibility, always self-justified either on his "position", or, as in On Basilisk Station, an opportuntity to strike at Harrington.
In an earlier book, Harrington, who, like Horatio Hornblower, thought of herself as unattractive and unlovable, has her first serious, caring romance, with another naval officer who also has reason to dislike Young.
It opens to a naval review board reviewing testimony and recordings from a desperate battle that took place at the end of The Short Victorious War. Honor's competent is manifest, the cowardice and incompetence of Captain Lord Pavel Young is equally apparent, and the political ramifications of punishing a member of the aristocracy are introduced.
Discussion among the members of the court-martial illustrate Young's political influence, the traditions of the Navy, and some of the factions within the Navy. Rather than convict him for the capital crimes they all agree he committed, they reach a compromise, which dishonorably discharges him from the service. This further increases his rage at Harrington as the source of all his troubles.
Growing political power of her opponent
At the end of the court-martial, unexpected events have Young succeeding his father as Lord North Hollow, now a man of much hate, little courage, and great power. He takes the reins of his father's power, including his "dirty tricks" specialist and his confidential files for blackmail.
Harrington and Grayson
She takes command of a heavy cruiser of Manticore's close ally and her second world, Grayson. Grayson has been a patriarchical culture, and, while she is individually accepted as the one true female officer, there are stresses to be explored and reduced.
Beyond ship command, however, she gains much greater status. In recognition of her saving the planet in The Honor of the Queen, she has been named a Steadholder, essentially a feudal prince. She accepts entry into the Steadholder Council, not only as a peer, but as the Champion of the Monarch. The role of Champion came when she received the Star of Grayson, the planet's highest award for valor.
For valor in the past, she was knighted and entered the lowest rank of the Manticore aristocracy. The diplomatic conventions between the two kingdoms, however, is such that her Steadholdership now gives her an extremely high precedence.
The new Lord Young takes his first revenge by secretly hiring a professional duellist, to kill someone close to Harrington. Her best friend, Commander Michelle Henke, must bring the news to her, on Grayson. Harrington is devastated. As she rises out of the deepest depression, she spends hours on the pistol range; her friends are concerned that she will commit suicide, but she has a goal more specific than her death.
Harrington's Manticore crew conducts a highly unauthorized reconnaissance and obtains evidence, not admissible in court but certain, as to Young's involvement with the duellist inflicting pain on Harrington. She challenges the duellist, humiliating him and also putting him into a rage based on his self-identification as a member of the upper classes. When he looks forward to killing her on the duelling field, things do not turn out as expected; Harrington's decades of martial arts training and enhanced reflexes make her the victor.
Young is now terrified, having seen his sure revenge collapse. Ignoring the advice of his covert action expert, he launches a clumsy assassination attempt against Harrington. After it fails, he desperately avoids her, hoping not to be challenged, himself, to a duel.
Her commanding officer and mentor, Lord White Haven, orders her not to challenge Young. He has complex reasons; it will be politically destructive to the government,and it will end her career and deprive the Navy of an extremely promising officer. White Haven violates a principle that is a key plot device in much military fiction, and also in real command: never give an order you know will not be followed.
Harrington cuts through his defenses by going to the one place where he has no immunity and no protectors: the House of Lords, to which she has equal access. She manipulates procedure to gain the floor for a maiden speech, in which she challenges Young.
A duel, under these circumstances, will ruin her Manticore naval career if she survives. There is a poignant scene in which she silently bids farewell to her ship, crew, and life as she knew it.
Political impact in Manticore
Young is terrified as he arrives at the Field of Honor, and has a brief insight about his self-worth as his brother, acting as his second, coldly prepares the pistol for him. Faced with the actual duel, Young violates the code; while he injures Harrington, it is never clear if the referee or Harrington's fire kills him.
Banished from the House of Lords and put on Navy half-pay, she decides to go to Grayson, where she can still contribute to the society. White Haven sees her off, saying "...no one ever said life was fair. But don't think this is the end. The scandal will die down eventually, the Navy will know it needs you, and, in time, even the House of Lords will realize it."