After far, far too long a hiatus, the Deep Space Nine saga has come roaring back to the forefront of the Star Trek literary universe with David R. George’s magnificent, epic duo of novels: Star Trek: Typhon Pact Plagues of Night and Raise the Dawn.
It was the post-DS9 finale series of Star Trek novels that drew me back into the world of Star Trek novels well over a decade ago. I have written many words on this site praising the extraordinary series of post-finale novels that picked up on the many story-threads and character arcs left hanging by the end of the television series (in my opinion the greatest of the Trek television series). I have also written about how frustrated I have been by the way the DS9 series of novels has floundered in the years after David Mack’s fantastic 2006 novel Warpath. We got a few short, sub-par DS9 novels (Fearful Symmetry and The Soul Key — click here for my review), a great DS9 novel that was fairly disconnected by the main stories of the post-finale series (Una McCormack’s The Never-Ending Sacrifice – click here for my review), and several novels set years later that featured some DS9 characters but felt separate from the main DS9 storyline (I’m thinking of Ezri Dax’s story-line in the Destiny three-parter — click here for my review — and the two recent Typhon Pact novels Zero Sum Game — click here for my review — and Rough Beasts of Empire — click here for my review). Rough Beasts, in particular, was a great novel and featured several meaty DS9-centric story-lines, but because all of those novels were set several years after where the DS9 series of books had left off, they felt weirdly disconnected from the DS9 saga I’d been following for so many years. It was cool seeing DS9 characters involved in this new major series-spanning Star Trek story-line (the emergence of the Typhon Pact as a major new interstellar alliance threatening the Federation), but still somehow unsatisfying to me as a fan of Deep Space Nine.
Finally, though, FINALLY, the DS9 saga has returned in full force. David R. George’s duology isn’t given the Deep Space Nine sub-header — the two books are instead both labeled as Star Trek: Typhon Pact novels. This is appropriate, as these two novels connect and move forward the stories begun in last summer’s four-book Typhon Pact series. Just like those novels, this duology features characters from many of the Star Trek series, both the different TV shows and the various series of novels from the past decade-or-so. But make no mistake, Plagues of Night and Raise the Dawn represent the first great, fully-DS9-focused novels that Pocket Books has published in nearly a decade. It’s been a long wait.
Last summer’s four-novel Typhon Pact series was a far more loosely connected series of stories than I had expected. There was some continuity between the books, but for the most part each of the four novels told it’s own, separate, story. To my delight, the first hundred-or-so pages of Plagues of Night weaves in and out of the events of those four Typhon Pact novels, connecting the events of those different stories into an over-all tapestry. This at once elevates the four previous novels (because now we see how those events fit into a larger story being told), and also serve as a tense prologue for Mr. George’s new story as we see the tremendous raising-of-the-stakes taking place across the galaxy, as the tensions between the Federation and the Typhon Pact escalate.
From there, the vast story spreads out in many directions. We spend time with a tremendous array of characters. Some are familiar faces from the Trek TV series: we catch up with Captain Picard and the crew of the Enterprise E, Doctor Bashir and the now-Captain Ro on Deep Space Nine, Benjamin Sisko (now the Captain of the starship Robinson), Vedek Kira (that’s right, VEDEK Kira) and Kassidy Yates on Bajor, and more. We follow created-for-the-novels characters like Federation President Nanietta Bacco, Romulan Praetor Gell Kamemor, and Prynn Tenmei. Many other familiar faces pop up in this vast story: the half-Romulan Sela, the genetically-engineered Sarina Douglas, the treacherous Romulan Tomalak, even Ambassador Spock. There are also, in the second novel Raise the Dawn, the long-awaited return of several absent-from-the-DS9-novels-for-far-too long characters that I won’t dare reveal here. One return, in particular, was especially enjoyed by me, as this character was one of my favorites on DS9 and was sorely missed from the post-finale books. When this character arrived in Captain Ro’s office, I was delighted.
As I wrote above, while these novels feature a score of characters, in my mind the focus, and the heart of these novels, is on DS9. Once more, galactic history turns on events in the Bajoran system. The wormhole, the Gamma Quadrant, and the Dominion all play key roles in the story. If there is a main character in this duology, I’d argue it is Benjamin Sisko.
I made no secret of my unhappiness with Sisko’s story-line in Rough Beasts of Empire, also written by David R. George. It was wrenching to see this beloved character in such dire straits, but more than that I disliked seeing what felt like his seven-season-long character journey (in which he learned to love again and found himself a home in the most unlikely of places: on Bajor) completely unwritten, and I felt the actions taken by Sisko in that book (abandoning his wife and young daughter) didn’t feel like actions that the character Sisko would have done, even under the direst of circumstances. It didn’t help, of course, that the events that prompted Sisko’s extreme actions are as-yet untold (falling in the multi-year period between the last previous DS9 novel, The Soul Key, and the events of the current Trek novels set after the events of Star Trek: Nemesis).
I was pleased that, following Rough Beasts of Empire, Sisko wasn’t left hanging too long, and this new duology moves his story forward dramatically. For the bulk of these two novels, I was totally engaged with Sisko’s story though still unhappy with the character’s over-all situation (since his actions still didn’t feel right to me). I was very satisfied with the way this story-line was resolved in the end (I’m glad it’s not still hanging for future novels to wrap up), though I will confess that Sisko’s ultimate revelation felt pretty thuddingly obvious to me, since that thought had pretty immediately occurred to me while reading Rough Beasts of Empire. Oh well.
But I haven’t even mentioned my favorite part of the Sisko story-line in this duology, and one more reason why it’s clear to me that the heart of these novels lies in the DS9 universe — the return (in the best possible way, at the best possible moment) of Benny Russell! That was a brilliant turn of the story.
As much as Plagues of Night and Raise the Dawn represent a return to the universe of Deep Space Nine, the dramatic events of these novels also mark a significant ending to the DS9 saga. An event of extraordinary magnitude occurs in the final pages of Plagues of Night. It’s a dramatic turning point, and while I can see how the saga of Deep Space Nine can continue from this point (actually, the final three pages of Raise the Dawn make very clear what the face of future DS9 novels will look like), it’s an event that can’t ever be walked back. In some respects, it’s more centrally changing than the universe-shaking events of the Star Trek: Destiny series. I’m somewhat saddened by the way that event marks a solid ending to the DS9 saga, though also impressed and excited by the boldness of the move. The authors of the Star Trek literary universe don’t feel any need to maintain the status quo, and that’s hugely exciting as a reader.
Other than some lingering dissatisfaction with the recent story-line given to Benjamin Sisko (though, as I wrote above, I was pleased with the resolution), my only other quibble with this duology (and here again, this complaint isn’t just towards these two novels but to the plot-turns of the last several Trek novels) is the storyline given to Elias Vaughn. Vaughn was a key new character introduced in Avatar, the first of the post-finale DS9 relaunch novels. Right away, I thought he was a great character, and the way he was introduced (sharing an orb vision with Sisko, even though the two men were half a universe apart) seemed to indicate that the character had a greater destiny ahead of him. (This also seemed to be indicated in the DS9 novel The Soul Key, in which we were briefly lead to believe that Vaughn would become the Emissary of the Alternate Universe.) Then the character was terribly injured, almost off-panel, in the Destiny series, and in the past few Trek novels we’ve learned that, for the past two years of the novel universe, he has been in a brain-dead coma, living only because he’s been kept on life-support by his daughter Prynn. Because of the way Vaughn was introduced, and because of the way he wasn’t just killed off in Destiny (which left him MOSTLY dead but not all-the-way dead), I have been waiting for some more dramatic events to occur to Vaughn to complete his story. For 95% of this duology, it seemed that wasn’t to be the case, and that was a real let-down. Events in the finale of Raise the Dawn gave me hope, but this was one aspect of the story that was left too unresolved for my taste. I’m prepared to let Vaughn go, but I would have preferred (either back in Destiny, or here in this duology) a more definitive ending for the character. I understand that complete closure often doesn’t happen in real life, but I felt it was needed here in this story. I was expecting one more scene in the wormhole at the end of Raise the Dawn to explain things to me — that such a scene never came was a let-down.
But these are just a few tiny off-notes in the wondrous symphony that is this duology. I was dazzled by the way Mr. George was able to weave together an enormous cast of characters, as well as various story-lines from the last decade-and-a-half of Star Trek novels, into a unified hole.
It’s not a criticism but a compliment that, despite the great length of this two-novel series, I would have gladly read two more whole novels set during the years covered by the story (that’s another exciting aspect of the duology, how Mr. George felt free to allow the events to unfold over almost two years, rather than the just-a-few-days length of many Trek novels) and featuring these characters. I relished spending time with Julian Bashir and Sarina Douglas, for example, but I would have loved to have spent a lot more time with those two and their complex relationship. I enjoyed every minute with the characters who return in Raise the Dawn, but I would have loved to have spent many more pages reading about them and what they’ve been up to, and how they responded to the dramatic events of the story’s climax.
Plagues of Night and Raise the Dawn represent a dramatic, exciting moment in the Star Trek literary universe. Both because the plot of the novels is replete (as is history, apparently, according to a certain green-blooded, pointy-eared character) with turning points, and because of the tremendous literary craft on display in their writing, this duology is the most exciting, dramatic event in the Star Trek literary universe in years. The bar has been raised going forward. I am extremely excited to see where the Trek novels go from here. I particularly hope that Mr. George or another author picks up on the promise of Raise the Dawn’s final pages, and that we will continue to see strong, well-written continuations of the Deep Space Nine saga from here on out. (And please oh please, don’t make us wait too many more years before filling back in those missing years and finally telling the story of the Ascendants.)
For now, thank you, David R. George, for these tremendous two novels. These books represent everything that excites me about reading Star Trek novels. They are a tremendous achievement, and not to be missed.
Previous Star Trek novel reviews:
Star Trek: Voyager – Full Circle
Star Trek: Department of Temporal Investigations – Watching the Clock
Star Trek: Mirror Universe (Books 1 & 2) – Star Trek: Mirror Universe: Shards & Shadows – Star Trek: Mirror Universe: The Sorrows of Empire — Star Trek: Mirror Universe: Rise Like Lions – Star Trek: Myriad Universes (Books 1 & 2) – Star Trek: Myriad Universes: Shattered Light