I was very much looking forward to this book having enjoyed all of Una McCormack's other contributions to Trek Lit, and I wasn't disappointed!
I thought the whole story was very well executed; especially the part involving the undercover operatives on Ab-Tzenketh. Efheny and Alex were both interesting characters, moving in their own ways; her quiet desperation to submerge herself within Tzenkethi society contrasted with his obvious fear and disgust with the world he had found himself trapped on. Plus the complicating factor of Cory who found herself mixed up in a situation she had no hope of comprehending and yet still daring to betray the fact that she had imagined there was something more out there than her lowly position in society would ever naturally reveal. Efheny and Alex both came across as unlikeable at times and yet I found myself feeling extremely sympathetic toward them and could understand why they acted the way they did. The numb relief Efheny felt at the end as she submitted herself to her fate was palpable; as if she was the embodiment of the weariness everyone in the Federation, the Pact and other involved worlds must feel after years of assorted conflicts, wars, subterfuge and uncertainty for the future.
Meanwhile on the Aventine
... I wasn't sure what to make of Peter Alden at first; he could quite easily have become just a random character from Ezri's past, there to provide a little Tzenkethi flavoured intrigue before disappearing off into the night. But he definitely grew on me the further I read; his impending (ongoing?) mental breakdown was disconcerting especially the way Starfleet seemed quite content to allow him to actively serve regardless of whether this was any good for him or not, and the way his initially affable manner disguised a very much changed man from the person Ezri was expecting to work with on the mission. As I got to the final pages of the book I realised that I knew almost nothing more about Peter than when he was introduced at the beginning of the story, which didn't really bother me although I would like him to show up again at some point in the future. Not least because I'm interested about what will happen to Cory now and how Peter will go about helping her to adjust to the new world she has found herself in.
As for the Venette Convention; they puzzled me a little. I struggled to understand how such an old civilisation has managed to remain isolated from interstellar politics to the extent that they seemed to have done. I enjoyed them for what they were and I thought it was an unusual take on an alien race but I'm not quite sure whether I can buy the fact that the lead diplomats of their world were so shocked and appalled at the way the rest of the galaxy conducts itself. But I admit that as we only got a small glimpse of their society there may be much more to them than meets the eye and I'd be very happy to see the Convention featured again so that we can learn more about them. Having said that, I did enjoy the fact that 'high level' meetings were held quite openly in public spaces and it made me wonder as to whether that sort of thing could be made to work in the real world. So from that perspective the Venetans were a success.
I was glad Picard took something of a backseat for this novel and was happy that Crusher moved to the fore of the story from time to time; she rarely seems to get enough focus in the novels. Her tentative friendship with Ilka was very nicely drawn and I thought there was an interesting and rather sad parallel between their respective positions within the hierarchies they belonged to; Crusher's realisation that Ilka was prevented from acting freely in her profession because there was always more at stake for her than just the negotiations at hand and then the revelation of Beverley's own relative lack of self-determination, the horrible feeling of having been used by something far more powerful than herself. I think it was important that she cut Picard off and didn't let him offer meaningless platitudes because in truth there was nothing that could be said that would make it better.
Overall, I thought Brinkmanship
was a great addition to the Typhon Pact run of novels. It's a book that spoke to me of 'the little people', the cogs in the machine that keep the whole going despite having no true control of their ultimate destiny, also those who do have a modicum of power but are tempered by the society or organisation they find themselves operating in whether because of internal or external reasons, and finally how the different systems we put in place to try and stop things from spiralling apart can never work perfectly in an imperfect galaxy filled with imperfect people all trying to unsuccessfully control their fears.
tl;dr - Thanks for the excellent book Una, I'll look forward to your next one.