A lot of people have delivered more "coherent" summaries of their thoughts of the novel, with some hitting on points I would have covered myself if they weren't already. So, I'm going to offer this more in fragments.
Overall, as a novel, I thought this held up much better than Sword of Damocles
, where only the B-plot involving Dakal held my attention. Like Orion's Hounds
, the worldbuilding was half the joy of the story...though I do have to admit there were occasions where I scanned just to get the basic gist of it.
I would say, though, that the amount of imagination behind it was excellent, as was the obvious thought put into what a nonhumanoid perspective might be like. The Cethente scene was wonderfully executed, and though I still have a special first-place award in that for Diane Duane that will not be dislodged, this is probably the best other-author attempt I've seen at capturing truly disparate, non-humanoid mindsets that I've ever seen in Trek lit.
Regarding the squales...this is just my personal preference, but I would have liked to see a native name--or even a literal translation of a native name--of the squales take over as Lavena and the Titan
crew learned more about their culture. Heck...even if they just called themselves "the People," even that, or if it's necessary to translate it, a Selkie term equating to that would've been fine to use. At least to me, there's a lot of power in names and I think that once they established communications, the most polite thing would've been to default to whatever name the squales had chosen for themselves.
Or maybe Dakal's accidental foot-in-mouth episode was revealing of more than just Dakal's
upbringing and biases?
That is to say...maybe they didn't ask for a name, even when non-humanoids aboard their ship like Cethente of Syrath had names that I presume they had input in choosing, because they were on some level thinking of the squales as non-civilized? Not that I think that mentality was there by the end, but the habit remained and no one questioned it.
And Dakal...oh my, I felt SO bad for my favorite Cardassian cadet! I know he didn't mean any harm by what he said, but I just wanted to crawl under the table on his behalf. After all, I'm sure Eviku's response to him just had to make him feel awful, especially with the burden of "Cardassian guilt" Dakal seems to carry with him. But I don't think Dakal's problem is speciesism. If anything, he's just "naive" in a certain sense, because he was raised in a society that was very closed to new and unusual ideas, and so when things like this are raised, it's not any particular malice that caused it--it's that he's literally having to assimilate a new idea for the first time. Maybe I'm reading between the lines a bit, but I think that in addition to the snappishness we later found out Eviku was carrying around for a much more understandable reason, there just might, might
have been a little bit of a chip on his shoulder about Cardassians and the reputation they have for xenophobia and arrogance. I think that ironically enough, Eviku's own racial prejudices may have made him leap to that conclusion very quickly even about someone he's known for quite some time. That said, I'm very glad Dakal checked Eviku on that. Even in that little exchange, that reflects a bit more self-confidence on Dakal's part than he had in some of the earlier books.
Wish I could've seen more Dakal! I do understand why the plot didn't call for his specialty so much, though, considering the sensors weren't all that useful in the Droplet system...so to future authors--next time? Pretty pleeeeeease?
As for Eviku...I totally understand where he's coming from about his pet. They're members of the family, and no doubt feeling like his loss wasn't as "worthy" just ate at him...and as I said before, probably reduced his forbearance for others, like Dakal, to zero.
The Dr. Ree subplot...I know some people here have said it felt contrived. And it WAS very out-of-the-blue. Yet...maybe it's just me, but I felt like Ree did deserve some sort of penance for not accepting Troi's wishes during Destiny. Even in the 21st century, if someone refuses medical assistance, it is not permitted to intervene, and I saw no evidence presented in any of the debate threads about that issue that Troi was not in sound mind when giving said refusal. Plus, I am glad to see that, whether or not you agree with the idea of having an abortion, that it is acknowledged what a major impact it has on the mother, even in a case where it's not followed through on.
One last note on plot. I really liked the description of the squales' beliefs, AND that Lavena responded to Riker's Biblical quote without condemnation. That was a very moving passage and with its placement, I felt the intro to the Book of John really...resonated, for lack of a better word. I think that was a gutsy thing to write, especially seeing the way anything related to Christianity tends to be received by some Trek fans. I did, though, note the way Lavena referred to Riker's breadth of knowledge, that he would quote from the Bible. It gave the feeling that in the 24th century, that's considered somewhat arcane and not a part of normal culture. If that's the case...then go, Riker! Glad he felt able to say that without shame.
The last note I have is stylistic. There were times where parentheses were used where I really didn't care for it. That's the typographical equivalent of mumbling and kind of says "not important, not important," about whatever's between them. And sometimes the information between them either WAS important or was quite funny and deserved to have more of an impact than the way it was typed allowed it to have.
Again, I say an overall good effort and I'm glad to see the Titan
series get back on its feet again after Book 4!