I really liked this one, which isn’t surprising since I like stories about the various races and nations and their interactions, and I like big developments and change with consequences. Having seven heads of state in a room together was delightful, and so many character arcs and plot threads were moved forward that I was more than satisfied. The earlier Typhon Pact books were enjoyable, but I think it's only now that the full potential of the series is being realized.
I guess I should talk about the most controversial developments, namely the continuation of Sisko’s new story arc. I can understand the dissatisfaction at seeing Sisko like this, and I share it; it's just that I don't think it's a mistake from a storytelling perspective. In a sense, his dilemma here is very familiar to me, and I think it has potential to really delve into the Sisko character to productive ends (though I'm not entirely sure this novel takes us to the depths it could - then again, we already know this is a character arc that's going to thread through multiple novels, and this is only part one of a two-book story). I comprehend Sisko's problem very well; being caught between the fear of negative consequences if you connect with others and the guilt of staying away, not contributing - either way, you lose, and either way you do harm. And if every choice leads to guilt and hurt, you risk forgetting the point of making choices in the first place. It's not a good place to be at all, and I find myself very sympathetic. That said, Sisko still seems distanced from me as a reader as well as from the other characters. I liked the portrayal of Kasidy here. There are times when I haven’t been entirely comfortable with the character, for reasons I can’t necessarily explain, but here she came across very well. The state of the relationship between she and Sisko is sad, truly, and it helps that Kasidy’s perspective is so like my own and (I assume?) that of other readers. We can’t really comprehend Sisko’s non-linear perspective any more than she can. We're torn between our regard for the character, along with our understanding of what we can't comprehend about him and how different he is, and frustrated anger at his decisions. I don’t know if the novel's making me align so well with Kasidy and not with Sisko enhances the sense of Sisko’s isolation or detracts from the success of his new story arc - or if that uncertainty regarding him is the whole point.
Onto happier matters: Gell Kamemor was enjoyable, and I hope she sticks around. She’s a welcome addition to the recurring cast, not just because she avoids the cliché of Romulan leaders being power-mad and suspicious but because having her reflect on that cliché sets her in relation to what we’ve come to expect, which leads automatically to a richer character, one who illuminates the established setting and builds on it, rather than simply existing within it. To be honest, with Sisko crippled by his doubts, fears and vague if unquestioned awareness that we can't be made to share, Kamemor’s pretty much the hero of the book, and it’s refreshing to have the Romulan Praetor be a positive force within the Trekverse (and without having to be nudged in that direction, like Neral in his final days).
My favourite scene in the book was the scene on Cardassia, unsurprisingly. It featured what’s now one of my favourite exchanges in Trek lit:
“You are indefatigable, Madam President”
“I am tired, Castellan”.
Absolutely wonderful. The relationship between Cardassia and the Federation – indeed, perhaps between Cardassia and the galaxy - crystalizes there. That little exchange was so weighted with history and understated emotion and the quiet, subtle sense that this is a moment that will have consequences and repercussions that will spread out to affect so much and so many, that it conveyed the sense that Cardassia has been forced to a transitional moment better than any multi-page discussion could have. Time is running out, in a sense finally has run out, or threatens to, and Cardassia needs to find the courage to choose something better. I found myself thinking of the Eagles song "Desperado", a favourite of mine. It really helps give a sense of what I felt over this scene.
It was nice to finally meet the new Castellan, by the way. Somebody earlier in the thread suggested that she hadn’t learned very much from recent history, but I disagree. It looks to me like she has, but her new awareness of what Cardassia lost has made her cautious of risking anything. It's the backwash from the progress they've made on "the end of the never-ending sacrifice", and all the more painful for that. The Castellan's fears make sense. After all, look what happened last time a Cardassian leader decided to join up with a military superpower in response to an ongoing political crisis. For that matter, while it’s not yet confirmed how it unfolded in the mainstream, in The Calling it claimed Ghemor was assassinated for getting too close to the Federation (plus Losing the Peace established that it nearly happened to Garan too). It’s not that the Cardassians are heading backwards. They risked so much (and lost so much) for poor or regrettable reasons; now they’re not going to be so quick to risk again, even if it’s a sensible risk. They’re paralyzed. It’s frustrating for Bacco and for the readers, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable. This was another part of the book I related to emotionally, and which very much worked for me. And it's not too dissimilar to Sisko’s current crisis; like I said, paralyzed. Things will unfold beyond your control (the Castellan must know Bacco is speaking true when she says Cardassia will be affected by the political fallout regardless), but the degree of responsibility the Castellan holds for what happens...what does she do? Commit or remain distanced? Which is wiser? Which is harder? I’ve always counted the Cardassians as one of my favourite alien races, and I’m glad they’re now getting some “screentime” in the post-Destiny stories, and that the choices Cardassia wrestles with are linked thematically to the character work elsewhere.
It was great to finally see the Dominion again, and learn that it’s still intact and functional. I also liked the (regrettably brief) insights into Laas’ “I hate all of you” approach to leadership.
Another thing I liked was the frequent description of the rooms. The Tzenkethi Ministerial Chamber, the Praetor’s office, the Castellan’s office, the Boslic Assembly Chamber. In a novel with so many political players and such diverse settings, it’s useful to craft a sense of identity around each, to give some depth to what might otherwise seem a throwaway scene. It helps convey the sense that these are significant locations and influential bodies, deciding policy for whole stretches of inhabited space, and the relative brevity of the time we spend there shouldn't be taken as a sign that they're not important. On top of that, it really helped me visualize the settings. It helped me enhance my sense of what makes each culture and species tick.
Moving randomly to another point of interest, I’m still a little torn on Kira. Not the fact that she’s now a vedek (while in the past I was wary, I’ve been perfectly pleased with what we’ve got) just that I think I need to hear more of her reasoning and understand what happened to push her onto that path. I can accept that it happened and that it makes sense for the character, but she still feels like she’s being held in limbo, that we won’t be fully engaged with her again until we’re shown what propelled her into her new role. Kira’s still a great character, but I do feel more distanced from her than I’m used to or fully comfortable with.
Her scene with Prynn was very good, I must say.
On the Prynn/Vaughn angle, I’m hoping Vaughn isn’t going to have some miraculous recovery. I’ve enjoyed the Vaughn-Prynn relationship arc immensely and I think this is shaping up to be a very appropriate conclusion. That said, given how Vaughn and Sisko have been intertwined in the past, there might be room for a final twist, letting Vaughn in some way aid Sisko in working through his current uncertainties. Whether Vaughn has a final flourish or just slides away as he has been, I’m quite satisfied with all his character has given us; let’s let him go.
I’m enjoying the new, less severe, less austere Picard. As someone who holds parenthood and mating in the highest esteem, I’m really pleased at the authors’ continuing commitment to portraying a Picard who’s grown and changed as a result of his new family life. His scene with Ro was another favourite of mine.
Nice soothing over of the Tomalak issue; two proconsuls, why not? Indeed, I’d already assumed that Kamemor might have recalled him to the role to provide some philosophical variety within her inner circle, so the explanation was easily accepted here. An elegant "retcon".
The fact that the Breen operative’s box emitted a series of trills gave me the amusing image of spotted humanoids emerging one after the other, as if from a clown car.
Speaking of Breen, I notice there’s a continuation of Zero Sum Game’s tendency to thumb its nose at the Breen=cold idea; we have a Breen character grumbling because it’s cold outside and his suit isn’t keeping him as warm as he’d like.
The Tzenkethi remain interesting, one of the better antagonists introduced of late (well, they’ve existed for some time, of course, but were only sketched out in the most basic manner until recently). I can picture them very well now; I don’t know if I can describe it, but I suppose they’re sort of a cross between a human and a cheesestring.
I suppose the Boslics would
have a triumvirate given their three-pronged bird-print foreheads.
And on that randon note, I've said enough for now. I look forward eagerly to Raise the Dawn.
I'm hoping the seemingly hopeful title proves prophetic. (Although I guess from a Breen point of view it's a depressing title instead
...unless that's also part of the point. It's time those scheming militant elements among the Breen and Romulans are exposed, especially since the Praetor and Domo are open to improved relations with their rivals). Anyway, as I say, I look forward to it.