This was my favourite Trek book since ... The Never-Ending Sacrifice
. I loved the playfulness of the prose, the strength of the three central characters (Garak, the investigator and Dygal). I loved the subtle
suggestions of this world - Cardassia - that lives, breathes and carries on outside the novel, from the red red to the geographies and communities to the continuity of identities established before but not necessarily focused on (the Tragar, HARP, etc). All this world building was so skillfully done! Oh, to be able to write like this!
Thematically, this was a complex novel. Several themes stand out. One is age, of which Garak was the most immediately apparent figure (but for whom the middle aged police officer and the younger Dygal provided the chorus of different generations). Another is that idea of self- and societal-control. The tensions of Garak's desire for control with his more progressive views, the sense of the old guard liberal caught out by the chaotic potential of a slowly free-growing society was very interesting. Though our hero, Garak is always a challenging antihero, and people's revulsion and fear of him and the Order he was a leading light of - in the media centre, in the police station, the gelata bar, and also reflected in his own thoughts - was an excellent innovation in the writing of the character. The final letter by Bashir, the main character's reaction (anger and careful study), was an excellent capstone to this tension in Garak - he is a man who thrives on control, he is indeed a son of Tain, but also with a 'greater' potential.
Carrying on with control, also very well done was the idea of information-control that came up throughout the novel. The biggest plot moments were the leak of the treaty agreement, and Garak's angry call to the media, the reveal that the Castallen's government had sat on the information about the assassination, and Picard & Akaar's own silence. But other moments equally played with the idea of perspective - the off-camera viewpoints of the reporters, the flawed view point of the more conservative youth movement (including the opponent politician), the hidden truth (forgotten even by itself) behind the Obsidian Order and the True Way.
All this added to that cental tension in the book, the twinned dangers of freedom and of control: neither position was quite comdemned or condoned in the text, authorially. Also, I liked the lack of actual villains: the novel was without a specific nemesis (the North Torr thugs notwithstanding). More of this please!
Also, the novel was so powerful, and so like NES
, in that it made more complicated the world of Cardassia and also the Federation. For me, as with NES and Brinkmanship, this was the complification of the classes, sexualities and religions of Cardassia: all these nods to ideas that don't need to be laboured over, be it the two women living together in East Torr (whether a couple or not), the ideas of accents and haircuts, the use of but not focus on the Oralian Way and Paladine's daughter, Kel, the physicality and fondness of Garak and Parmak's relationship, etc. This wealth of unlaboured detail reminded one of (and indeed deliberately alluded to) the grandfather Garak/Cardassia text, of course, A Stitch in Time
, but far further developed.
Most of all, when reading this, I couldn't help wishing that this more subtle depiction of a divided society was what The Path of Disharmony
had been. But I loved that the Andorians were mentioned, and the contrast between the narrative outcomes noted, in that section of Picard's narrative. Looking forward to next month and whatever happens with the blue skins.