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The Safehold series
Off Armageddon Reef cover.jpg
Author David Weber
Country United States
Language English
Genre Science Fiction
Publisher Tor Books
Media type Print

Safehold is a science fiction book series by David Weber, which currently consists of eight titles, the latest of which was released in October 2015. 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 enemy responsible for the end of all other human civilization, the Gbaba.

The humans on Safehold avoided 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. The threat of the Gbaba is barely mentioned in the books so far; the main issue is the divergence of the official church from its original aims versus the outlying areas which deny the leadership of the corrupt vicars.

Every book after the first has a name taken from a hymn.


"Earth is dead"[edit]

In the 24th century, as told in Off Armageddon Reef, the Terran Federation of Earth and its colonies discover that a terrible foe once exterminated another alien civilization. It prepared for war, but the inevitable confrontation arrived 10 years later. As humanity's leaders had feared, the "Gbaba" were far more advanced than the Federation and immediately launched a genocidal campaign.

The Federation Navy successfully counterattacked, but the situation became hopeless when the enemy mobilized its full strength of capital ships. One by one, the Gbaba snuffed out all life on each colony world. The Navy succeeded in forestalling the end for several decades; the Federation began new colonies on faraway worlds to preserve the species, but enemy scouts found and destroyed them all.

When the enemy arrived at Sol, the Navy managed to trick the Gbaba's scouts. It precisely switched one fleet for another before the destruction of Earth. This was meant to convince the Gbaba that humankind is extinct. The hidden fleet deliberately lost itself in hyperspace for ten years. Then, it encountered a world that the mission's leaders named Safehold. A smaller, cooler analogue of Earth, it proved suitable as a permanent home after years of terraforming directed by Chinese scientist Pei Shan-Wei.

War against the fallen[edit]

Because signs of advanced civilization had led the Gbaba to Earth's previous emergency colonies, Safehold needed to ban any kind of industrialization that could be detected from space. In secret, mission leaders Eric Langhorne and Adorée Bédard implemented a plan of their own. While in suspended animation, Safehold's 8 million colonists had their minds wiped and new memories implanted. Only mission command staff under administrator Eric Langhorne retained knowledge of humanity's past. A divide arose between Langhorne's followers, who believed that the permanent end of industrialized society would be required to survive, and Shan-Wei's team, who believed that eventually mankind must rise again and prepare to confront the Gbaba.

Shan-Wei discovered that Langhorne had surreptitiously created a scheme using religion and the erasure of the colonists' memories to enforce his view on Safehold. The colonists awakened with the implanted memory of having just been created by God as the first humans. They were programmed to regard the command staff as "angels" and "Archangel Langhorne" as second only to God. Shan-Wei's faction tried to block Langhorne, but were forced to found a separate colony, Alexandria, that would preserve the memory of the past.

Unknown to Shan-Wei and her estranged husband, Admiral Pei Kau-yung, Langhorne had installed a space platform in Safehold's orbit that had the ability to destroy any target on the surface. When Shan-Wei defied Langhorne, he used this weapon on Alexandria, killing her and most of her followers. Kau-yung sacrificed himself to avenge his wife, smuggling a nuke into a meeting with Langhorne.

The kinetic bombardment sank the Alexandria continent beneath sea level. Langhorne's surviving supporters, who ultimately prevailed in the "War Against the Fallen," labeled the area Armageddon Reef and forbade any colonist from venturing to the "cursed" site of the "final battle" between good and evil. The Church of God Awaiting arose as Langhorne intended, founded as a permanent worldwide constraint on innovation. Yet Shan-Wei had a backup plan.

Her group managed to hide an android, with the personality and memories of Nimue Alban, a Terran Federation Navy tactical officer, deep within a secret mountain base. "Nimue's Cave" was stocked with an AI military computer and a room full of technology. When Nimue awoke some 800 years later, she was offered the mission to prepare humanity for the Gbaba's inevitable return.

Off Armageddon Reef[edit]

Main article: Off Armageddon Reef

Having determined that Safehold must be uplifted by organic means, and that using the advanced technology at her disposal to impress the colonists would only repeat the errors of the "Archangels," Nimue creates a new persona in the guise of a man named "Merlin."

Merlin selects the island Kingdom of Charis as his base of operations, as it is the most socially and technologically advanced Safeholdian realm and is also out of the Church's immediate reach. Merlin saves Crown Prince Cayleb from assassins and stops a dangerous traitor to the crown, earning the trust of the ruling Ahrmahk dynasty of Charis. He shows several new ideas and techniques to the kingdom's military, science and economic leaders, while trying to avoid the limelight and to comply with the Church's proscriptions.

Merlin's advice brings great benefits, but this outburst of innovation alarms the ruling cabal of prelates in the faraway Temple Lands, the Group of Four. The Church eventually orders every naval power of Safehold to league against Charis. Merlin's space-age information net allows the new-model Royal Charisian Navy to win devastating victories, but King Haarahld falls in battle. King Cayleb II buries his father and becomes the first Safeholdian monarch in open rebellion against the Temple, as a titanic struggle looms on the horizon.

By Schism Rent Asunder[edit]

Charis names its own archbishop, Maikel Staynair. The new prelate declares a schism between the "Church of Charis" and the Temple in Zion. He is supported by most Charisians, but not all; some "Temple Loyalists" turn to violence. Assassins barely fail to kill Staynair in his cathedral as Merlin intervenes. His legend as a seijin grows after he saves a key scientist from arson, though the Royal College is lost.

The Group of Four are shocked by the collapse of their plot, but use the schism as "proof" of Charis' ill intentions. Charis rules the waves and wipes out hostile maritime trade. The Temple closes all ports to the kingdom and impounds all Charisian merchantmen. The Republic of Siddarmark honors its economic alliance by warning off the Charisians there. In Ferayd, Kingdom of Delferahk, the Inquisition provokes a massacre. Charis later settles the score by razing every structure in Ferayd within two miles of the shore.

Staynair takes Merlin to the monastery where his career began. Merlin discovers that the monastery is actually the home of the ancient Brethren of Saint Zherneau, keepers of humanity's true history. Merlin is recognized as Pei Shan-Wei's prophesied agent. Merlin creates the "Inner Circle" by informing King Cayleb of the truth. A select few are given devices to enable global communication with Merlin.

Cayleb marries Queen Sharleyan of Chisholm. They fall in love, but Sharleyan is kept out of the Inner Circle. Sharleyan becomes co-ruler of a new Empire of Charis. Prince Nahrmahn of Emerald capitulates and becomes imperial spymaster. Emperor Cayleb plans to conquer every realm in the region before attacking the Temple itself. He takes charge of a massive fleet with 50,000 Marines bound to invade Corisande.

By Heresies Distressed[edit]

In Ferayd, Kingdom of Delferahk, the Imperial Charisian Navy proves that the Inquisition murdered innocents. Charis hangs the priests responsible, an unprecedented action. Emperor Cayleb gets a warm welcome in Chisholm during a stop to rally forces and supplies. He continues on to Zebediah, a League of Corisande vassal state. There, he warily accepts the fealty of its governor, who is known for treachery.

The elite Imperial Marines secure a crushing victory in Corisande, but the talented enemy commander retreats to a strategic redoubt. With Merlin's guidance, Charis finds a way around it and forces his surrender. Victory seems inevitable, but the Inquisition assassinates Prince Hektor and Cayleb is blamed. The Charisians prepare for a difficult occupation. Hektor's children are smuggled to Delferahk.

Merlin fails to detect a plot on Empress Sharleyan back in Charis. His spy drones alert him to the assassins at the last moment, forcing him to unleash his full abilities to fly back and wipe them out. Even so, he nearly fails. This forces him to reveal his "impossible" presence to Sharleyan. She and her lone surviving guard accept the truth and join the Inner Circle.

In Zion, Grand Inquisitor Zaspahr Clyntahn learns that the Temple's military buildup is obsolete. He performs a minor public penance to control the outrage over the Ferayd massacre. Clyntahn is visited by a fearful member of a secret faction of his political opponents, The Circle, who tells the Inquisition everything. Clyntahn nearly has enough support to declare Holy War, so he bides his time.

A Mighty Fortress[edit]

Occupied Corisande is restless after Hektor's murder. Several Temple Loyalists work to win the hearts of the people. Cayleb vows to avoid repression, but Merlin monitors the resistance. Sharleyan is pregnant and Merlin takes her to "Nimue's Cave" for prenatal care. Merlin reveals he injected her and several others with nanotech; they will never again be sick and will quickly recover from non-fatal injury.

In Corisande, a popular reformist priest denounces the Temple's corruption, helping to quell the resistance. Frustrated Temple Loyalists abduct and torture him to death. Merlin cannot save him, but enables the killers to be caught and executed. Archbishop Staynair makes a visit to Corisande and does much to encourage ecumenism across the Empire of Charis. Merlin breaks up a vast conspiracy that includes Temple Loyalist prelates, Corisandian nobles and the Grand Duke of Zebediah. All are attainted for treason.

In Zion, Clyntahn wins support for Holy War and begins a great purge of reformists from the Temple. Merlin adopts the guise of "Ahbraim Zhevons" of Silkiah to help Madam Ahnzhelyk Fonda get as many to safety as possible. Even so, more than 2,000 people are brutally tortured and murdered by the Inquisition. Clyntahn becomes the dominant member of the Group of Four.

The Earl of Thirsk, the Dohlaran admiral who Cayleb defeated in Off Armageddon Reef, rebuilds his fleet from what he learned. Thirsk wins the first Temple Loyalist naval victory, forcing Admiral Gwylym Manthyr's fleet near Dohlar to surrender. Zion orders its own rebuilt fleet to join with Thirsk and attack Charis. An emergency force of Charisian ships forever ends the Navy of God's threat to Charis in a daring night attack, at great cost. High Admiral Lock Island, Inner Circle member and beloved cousin to Cayleb, is killed in battle.

How Firm a Foundation [edit]

Merlin experiments with steam technology. His tests prove that Langhorne's orbital weapon will not automatically target basic industrialization. Charis continues to advance; by this time it is innovating largely without Merlin's help. Father Paityr Wylsynn is inducted into the Inner Circle. He reveals that "Archangel Schueler" trusted his ancient ancestors with a promise that the Archangels will return in 1000 years (30 years in the future at this time). Merlin prepares contingency plans.

Empress Sharleyan presides at treason trials in the League of Corisande. She orders the execution of nearly all defendants but shows mercy when justified. A Temple Loyalist tries to assassinate her in court. He fails only because of high-tech clothing provided by Merlin. Sharleyan's actions bring the empire's territories closer together. Grand Inquisitor Clyntahn reacts by unleashing Operation Rakurai: Lone operatives commit devastating terror bombings in Charisian lands, killing Prince Nahrmahn, several other important imperial officials, and many innocents.

Earl Thirsk is forced to turn over Admiral Manthyr and his men to the Inquisition. The prisoners are conveyed to Zion, where most die at the hands of Clyntahn's torturers. Back in Charis, Emperor Cayleb retaliates by ordering the summary execution of captured Inquisition agents. In Delferahk, Earl Coris and the children of the late Prince Hektor escape Inquisition custody with Merlin's help. Lieutenant Hektor Aplyn-Ahrmahk, Duke of Darcos, and his men meet up with the fugitives. He enforces Staynair's decree on their Inquisition pursuers.

In Siddarmark, Clyntahn deploys his "Sword of Schueler," a coup stoked by Temple Loyalist propaganda. A pogrom against Siddar City's Charisian Quarter kills thousands, but the mob is stopped by Aivah Pahrsahn, aka Madam Ahnzhelyk of Zion. Secretly trained and equipped militia in her service save Lord Protect Greyghor Stohnar. Yet the coup does great damage to the republic's resources. A terrible winter sets in as the Temple's vast Army of God prepares to march, leaving the future in doubt.

Midst Toil and Tribulation[edit]

Grand Inquisitor Clyntahn is master of the Church, but its foundations are cracking. Civil war rages in Siddarmark amid a terrible winter. Treasurer General Rhobair Duchairn must deal with the Temple's greatly depreciated tithes; rich Charis and Siddarmark no longer contribute any revenue, and Charis has brought economic havoc to all Temple Loyalist realms. The Army of God marches on Siddarmark, as Charis races to get its own military to the field with Emperor Cayleb in command.

The surviving royal family of Corisande travel home with Archbishop Staynair, where Princess Irys falls in love with her rescuer Duke Hektor Aplyn-Ahrmahk. Over time, Charis integrates Corisande as a constituent kingdom of its empire with Irys' brother Daivyn on the throne. Irys is betrothed to Hektor to seal the deal. Empress Sharleyan's leadership further unifies the people of Charis, Chisholm, Corisande, Emerald and recently absorbed Tarot under a rapidly industrializing imperial state.

Merlin "resurrects" Prince Nahrmahn in Owl's virtual world, though just as Merlin is uncertain that he is truly a reborn version of Nimue Alban, Nahrmahn has doubts about his existence. A meeting with his "widow" Ohlyvya enabled by Merlin makes him resolve to go on while she lives. As time passes differently in the virtual world, Nahrmahn is able to spend a great deal of it with Owl, helping the AI become self-aware. The two prove to be a mental asset to an increasingly weary Merlin.

Siddarmark survives the winter and Cayleb's forces arrive. The Temple's brutal tactics start to backfire as its forces lose popular support in the Republic. Advanced Charisian weapons and tactics turn the tide on the battlefield, but the Temple and its allies still greatly outnumber the Reformists. Charis deploys new steam-powered ironclads, shutting down the Army of God's supply lines, but not in time to save a forward-deployed force of Imperial Marines who are surrounded and killed to a man. Yet, amid the tragedy, success in the war becomes possible.

Like a Mighty Army[edit]

Main article: Like a Mighty Army

The Temple struggles to adapt to Charisian economic warfare, but the Group of Four determine to use their overwhelming numbers to try to win out before a sustained offense becomes impossible to support. Duke Eastshare of the Imperial Charisian Army weathers the Army of God's assault. The situation appears more dire for the Earl of Hanth in the south, but incompetent Temple Loyalist commanders play into his hands. With the help of Merlin and his various guises providing key information, the Reformists gain the upper hand throughout Siddarmark.

Princess Irys' wedding in Corisande is interrupted by a suicide bomber in Clyntahn's service. Her new husband Duke Hektor is severely wounded; Merlin barely manages to save his life. This need to be in several places at once places an incredible strain on the seijin, but Nahrmahn and Owl figure out how to construct a new cybernetic avatar like Merlin. "Nimue Chwaerieau" awakens as Merlin did some years before. She becomes the first female member of the Imperial Guard, eroding gender barriers throughout the empire by example.

The desperate Group of Four authorize a broad adoption of Charisian innovations and tactics, unwittingly playing into Merlin's ultimate goal to uplift all of Safehold. The cost is high; every Charisian victory prompts brutal pogroms against nearby settlements to weed out "heretics." Enraged, Merlin slips behind enemy lines under the guise of "Dialydd Mab" (Welsh for "Avenging Son"), slaying many agents of the Inquisition.

Charisian success causes divisions among the Temple Loyalist forces, allowing the Reformists to begin routing them in detail; one battle with the army of the Empire of Desnair causes 90 percent enemy casualties. The Empire of Harchong's massive serf army becomes modernized and remains a grave threat, but Charisian commanders express confidence that total victory is within reach.

Hell's Foundations Quiver[edit]

Merlin learns of a secret monastic order that maintains the tomb and journal of Cody Cortazar, aka Seijin Kohdy. A Safeholdian legend formerly thought fictional, Kohdy fought for the Temple during the War Against the Fallen. His residual memories of life during the last days of the Terran Federation caused him to seek answers from the "Archangels," who tried to erase him from history. Mother Superior Nynian Rychtair — the savior of the Siddarmarkian state at the start of the "Jihad" — is admitted to the Inner Circle.

Charis deploys technology equivalent to the late 19th/early 20th century. Bolt-action rifles, grenades, massed artillery and corps-level tactics prove decisive against Temple forces. Charis shatters the starving, demoralized Army of God. Eventually, the Reformists liberate nearly all of Siddarmark. The Temple kills or deports Siddarmarkian "heretics" to date held in concentration camps. Efforts by Merlin (as "Dialydd Mab") rescue many, but the offensive cannot continue while they are cared for.

Although the Kingdom of Dohlar is defeated on land, its navy under Admiral Thirsk remains a threat. The loss in battle of HMS Dreadnought, a state-of-the-art oceangoing ironclad, and delays in the introduction of the King Haarahld class of battleship set back the plan to regain total control of the seas. Charisian prisoners from Dreadnought are rescued from Gwylym Manthyr's fate by a daring nighttime raid, but Dreadnought is captured almost intact for study by the enemy.

Grand Inquisitor Clyntahn blames Thirsk for losing the prisoners and plans to have him killed as soon as his services as a naval strategist are no longer needed. One of Thirsk's aides is caught trying to smuggle Thirsk's family to safety. Clyntahn orders the family taken to Zion by a Navy of God vessel. They are rescued by Merlin and Nimue, who destroy the ship and all witnesses. A mournful and withdrawn Thirsk turns to drink, but is then visited in secret by Merlin.


Five of the books in the series debuted on the New York Times Hardcover Fiction Best Seller List. Off Armageddon Reef was a cumulative bestseller,[1] entering the New York Times Best Seller list at number 33.[2] It was listed by Booklist as one of the top ten SF audiobooks of 2008[3] and was nominated in 2009 for the Arthur C. Clarke Award for best science fiction novel published in the United Kingdom.[4] The Guardian found Off Armageddon Reef to have a predictable ending and called the character development "perfunctory", but applauded Weber's pacing and vision.[5]

By Heresies Distressed debuted at number 11 on the July 17, 2009 New York Times best selling hardcover fiction list,[6] number 25 on the July 24, 2009 list,[7] and number 30 on the July 30, 2009 list.[8]

A Mighty Fortress debuted at #9 on the New York Times hardcover fiction best seller list,[9] dropped to #24 in the second week,[10] then to #29 in week three before dropping off the list,[11] for a total of three weeks on the list.

Like A Mighty Army debuted at #5 on the New York Times hardcover fiction best seller list.[12]

Hell's Foundations Quiver debuted at #16 on the New York Times hardcover fiction best seller list.[13]


  1. ^ "Cumulative SFFH Books on 2007 General Bestseller Lists". Locus. 12 February 2008. 
  2. ^ "Best Sellers: Hardcover Fiction". The New York Times. February 11, 2007. Retrieved July 6, 2009. 
  3. ^ Moyer, Jessica (May 15, 2008). "Top 10 SF/Fantasy Audiobooks: 2008". Booklist. 
  4. ^ "ACCA 2009 - the long list". The London international festival of science fiction and fantastic film. April 2009. 
  5. ^ Brown, Eric (2 February 2008). "Virtual heist". The Guardian. 
  6. ^ "Hardcover Fiction". The New York Times. 2009-07-17. Retrieved 2009-08-05. 
  7. ^ "Hardcover Fiction". The New York Times. 2009-07-24. Retrieved 2009-08-05. 
  8. ^ "Hardcover Fiction". The New York Times. 2009-07-30. Retrieved 2009-08-05. 
  9. ^ "Best Sellers: Hardcover Fiction". The New York Times. April 23, 2010. Retrieved April 26, 2010. 
  10. ^ "Best Sellers: Hardcover Fiction". The New York Times. April 30, 2010. Retrieved June 8, 2010. 
  11. ^ "Best Sellers: Hardcover Fiction". The New York Times. May 7, 2010. Retrieved June 8, 2010. 
  12. ^ "Best Sellers: Hardcover Fiction". The New York Times. March 9, 2014. Retrieved April 15, 2014. 
  13. ^ "Best Sellers: Hardcover Fiction". The New York Times. November 1, 2015. Retrieved October 23, 2015. 

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