Oh, how I really wanted to love this book.
After The Crimson Shadow
and A Ceremony of Losses
, the bar seemed to be set incredibly high. Even The Poisoned Chalice
left me with high hopes for the finale [even if I did not care as much for that particular book].
But, jeez. Just didn’t quite do it for me.
Two things underwhelmed me.
First, the writing. I’ll be curious how I feel about this on my eventual re-read, but, in this round, the book was a slog to get through. I lost count of how many times the current situation was restated from the perspective of a new character, even though we, the readers, knew everything that was said. I suppose it was useful to be reminded which particular pieces of the puzzle each character had, but the solution seems inelegant at best.
Beyond that, the writing itself felt rather turgid. A lot was said that did not advance the story, and didn’t really deepen the depiction of the universe either. (The Poisoned Chalice
had a fair amount of verbiage that wasn’t story-advancing, but at least it was world-building.)
The pacing of the story, too, felt off. With such a big build-up, four whole novels, brought to a boiling point at the end of The Poisoned Chalice
, I thought that beginning with a flashback that wasn’t immediately relevant (or clear in its relevance, at least) was a bad choice. I had a lot of trouble caring about the characters introduced in that first chapter, not in the least because it was hard to put them in a context. Mystery is one thing, but mystery must have some attraction to it; the opening did not feel mysterious, it just felt confusing. I was super excited for this book, so I knew that I was in trouble when I had trouble staying interested through the first chapter.
Not to harp on the flashbacks, but they just felt like they were choppily interspersed with the present-day narratives, which contributed to the book’s pacing issues. I don’t think the book really grabbed me until the Enterprise
began its pursuit of the small craft that was running away from the Andorian freighter (ie. halfway through the novel).
There also seemed to be a number of “Chekhov’s Gun” problems– things Ward would introduce but never really follow up on. The whole flashback with Kadohata, Crusher and Data, for example, felt unnecessary; we didn’t get any particular new insight into those characters or the history of Federation-Cardassian relations, and it took a nontrivial amount of time to read. And while I realize that the Enterprise
’s diversion to Ferenginar was not Ward’s doing alone, he seemed to do so little with it, which was a great disappointment. I’ve been wanting to see what’s going on on Ferenginar for years now, and it’s quite a shame that the opportunity was by-and-large wasted.
The second thing which underwhelmed me was the story itself. I came away asking myself what message the authors were trying to convey with this series– what was the theme?
The revelation that Ishan was behind Bacco’s death just felt so predictable, and frankly stretched credibility past the breaking point. For such a complicated story, it was a painfully simplistic conclusion. (I was also frustrated to have Ishan’s role explicitly revealed in Velk’s internal monologue. It turned narrative suspense into frustration that our heroes were still in the dark.) I mean, really. The story boils down to:
*sigh* You know, after writing it all out like that, I realize just how plausible and realistic it actually sounds. How depressing is that?
(I think I am getting hung up on the assassination part. It still seems somewhat implausible from an in-universe perspective, but God only knows how believable it is from a real-world perspective.)
I do still think that the conclusion of the overall story was simplistic and I wish the finale had had the same amount of nuance and complexity we saw in the earlier stories. But I think I now see what the authors were trying to get at.
[EDIT: Some more thoughts on this after the review.]
Some other thoughts:
I was not keen on reading the second book in a row that features a large part of the action on a distant barren world that no one cares about, in which our heroes must engage in covert ops struggle against amoral foes.
I was happy to finally see Picard interacting with his son, something I’ve felt was sorely lacking in past books.
Was surprised at the ultimate winner of the Federation presidential election. I think it stretches credibility a bit, given the recent secession, but oh well.
Was very happy to see Picard so unequivocally turn down an admiral- or ambassadorship, and was glad to see that future 24th century stories will likely be exploration tales.
In the A Ceremony of Losses
thread, I speculated that this book would mark the end of the current Grand Epic of the 24th century, in which most of the stories tie together to form an overarching narrative (and have an especially political focus). I may still be wrong, but this book certainly felt like a finale (and the entire series overall, now that I think about it). Getting in one last scene with each of the regulars. Having flashbacks to incorporate Kadohata and even Data briefly. Bringing back Sonya Gomez and Philippa Louvois. Tying off a number of loose ends, including Ezri Dax (indirectly) and Geordi’s romance with Tamala Harstad. It reminded me of a combination between “All Good Things” and “What You Leave Behind.”
And, of course, the last chapter ended with a callback to “Encounter At Farpoint” (Picard: “Let’s see what’s out there.”) and “All Good Things” (Q: “See you… out there!”), with Riker saying, “Go see what’s out there.” Sure as hell felt like a finale to me.
A focus on exploration tales would definitely lend itself to a focus on standalone stories– which is what I think we are going to get for the foreseeable future in the 24th century. And frankly, that’s fine by me.