After re-reading Michael A. Martin & Andy Mangels’ Star Trek: Enterprise novel Kobayashi Maru (click here for my review), I started right into Michael A. Martin’s follow-up novel The Romulan War: Beneath the Raptor’s Wing. This is the first book of a duology chronicling the events of the Romulan War, a momentous event in Earth’s history referred to in the Original Series but never actually depicted on-screen. In the fourth and final season of Star Trek: Enterprise, fans grew excited that the show seemed to be planting the seeds of that conflict, but the show was cancelled before they ever got to actually show it. Luckily, the authors of Pocket Books’ Star Trek novels are here to pick up those tantalizing story threads.
Whereas Kobayashi Maru was mostly build-up, Beneath the Raptor’s Wing is “the good stuff,” so it’s not surprising that I felt this was a slightly stronger novel than the previous. I’m not sure why Mr. Martin is no longer writing with Andy Mangels (with whom he had partnered on numerous previous Star Trek books). When I saw Mr. Martin’s name alone on the book’s cover, I worried there would be a noticeable change in style, but I was pleased that this book flowed very smoothly from the previous novel.
As the novel opens, the newly-formed Coalition of Planets (the alliance between Earth, Vulcan, Andor, and Tellar) is being forced to deal with a threat to all their worlds. The Romulans’ involvement in the attacks on their ships (under the guise of the Coalition planets attacking each other, because the Romulans had discovered a way to remotely take control of Coalition ships and use them to attack others, as seen in Kobayashi Maru) has been revealed, and the coalition is now embroiled in a shooting war with their unseen enemies. Unfortunately, they still have no way to defeat the Romulans’ telecapture weapon, so the Coalition finds themselves defeated at every turn by the Romulans, who are able to turn the Coalition’s own starships into weapons against them.
Beneath the Raptor’s Wing takes place over a full year. I like how the novel is stretched over a much longer time-period than Kobayashi Maru was — it helps give an epic feel to the dramatic interstellar events being depicted. I also appreciated how one of my major complaints about Kobayashi Maru seems to have been addressed. (In my review of that previous book, I commented that all of the planets in the story — Earth, Vulcan, Chronos, etc. — seemed way too close together, with Archer and Enterprise able to zip from one center-of-government to another in just days, whereas I would have expected those journeys to take weeks or months.) Kobayashi Maru does a far more realistic, in my view, job of depicting these vast interstellar distances. Enterprise has been recalled to defend Earth, but it takes about half of the novel for them to actually travel back to the Sol System, which seems right to me.
However, the novel still has a number of inconsistencies in terms of the way the interstellar geography is presented that I wish the author or an editor had cleared up. The most egregious one I noticed is how, in chapter 42, we see Archer on Earth and learn of Enterprise’s new mission, leading a Starfleet attack force towards Berengaria, where they would attempt to retake a captured world from the Romulans. Then, in chapter 46, we spend a little time with Hoshi Sato, while the text tells us that Enterprise and the attack force are en route to Berengaria. But then, the next time we return to Enterprise is in chapter 52, and the chapter headings tells us that the setting is in Neptune orbit. Despite what we read back in chapter 46, the Enterprise apparently hasn’t left the Sol system at all!! Totally inconsistent.
I enjoyed the vast scope of the book, and the way each chapter jumped to different characters of different races on different worlds across the galaxy. It gives the story a richness and a much more epic feel than had the whole book just been set on-board Enterprise. But I must confess, there were times when I wished Mr. Martin had focused more on the Enterprise crew. I was particularly impatient with the chapters focusing on the two news reporters Gannet Brooks or Keisha Naquase. Both characters seemed pretty simplistic to me. Though we spend a number of chapters with each of them, I didn’t feel like either of their characters were really fleshed out. (And it stretched my disbelief that seemingly every character in the galaxy watched/read the news reports filed by one of the two of them.) Despite the length of the book, poor Hoshi Sato (who was always criminally underused on the show) gets almost nothing to do. Travis Mayweather and Lt. Reed don’t fare much better. (Travis does get a few chapters in which we follow his exploits after transferring off of Enterprise, but I can’t say that we get into his character in any serious way. I would to have loved to have read more about his efforts to adapt to new crews after leaving Enterprise, as well as his internal struggles to make peace with the loss of his family and his complex feelings about Captain Archer’s actions re: the S.S. Kobayashi Maru. But we didn’t get any of that.) I would have preferred to have seen a tighter focus on those members of the Enterprise ensemble, rather than on boring new-for-the-novels characters like Gannet Brooks. (Though I did love many of the scenes with supporting characters from the show, such as various Starfleet admirals, T’pau, and especially Vulcan Ambassador Soval, whose character I think Mr. Martin really nailed.)
There’s some fun starship action in the book, and in particular I found the battle at Andoria (that takes place about two-thirds of the way through the novel) to be especially compelling. That was a real page-turner of a section, and I couldn’t put the book down during that part. Although I must confess that even in that great section of the novel, I was bugged by what seemed to me like inconsistencies in the writing. The Coalition forces discover a group of small Romulan attack ships heading towards Andoria, while the larger Romulan mother ship waits outside the system. There’s a whole scene between Shran on an Andorian vessel and Travis Mayweather and his new captain on the U.S.S. Yorktown in which they debate which ship will go after the small fighters and which will engage the mother ship, and eventually they decide the Starfleet vessel will go after the mother ship. OK, so far so good. But then, after a short scene on the Romulan bird of prey, we see that the Romulan ship has warped into the system and is now closer to Andoria than either Shran’s ship or the Yorktown, because the Romulan ship can reach a higher warp-factor that either of those ships can. So not only does the whole previous scene (the debate between Shran and the Yorktown as to which ship will do what) seem like a waste of time, it makes the characters look stupid. If they knew that the Romulan ship was faster than either of their ships were, then why the whole debate as to which ship would head towards the Romulans? BOTH Shran’s ship and the Yorktown should have headed back to Andoria, to destroy the smaller fighters and to be in place when/if the mother-ship decided to attack. That seems obvious to me. (And if the characters DIDN’T know of the capabilities of the Romulan ship, then they ALSO seem dumb!) I just don’t understand the tactics as presented in the book, and that’s a real disappointment to me. When depicting a battle like this, not only do I want all the characters to be smart, but I want to have a clear understanding, from the writing, of who is where and what actions they’re taking, and why, during the fighting.
Beneath the Raptor’s Wing is a fun book and a fast read. It’s great fun to see this mysterious but important period of Star Trek history finally fleshed out. I like the large canvas of this story, and Mr. Martin does a great job of weaving a LOT of different characters and locations into the story. There are a number of fun “easter eggs” for Star Trek fans to enjoy, from the brief appearance of a Dax host to a subtle explanation for the name of a future class of Romulan ships (D’deridex) to a fascinating (if not entirely convincing) explanation for why Star Trek canon seems to have the ugly Daedalus class starships as the immediate predecessors to the Constitution class ships (of which the classic U.S.S. Enterprise was one) rather than the sleeker design of the NX-Enterprise as seen in Star Trek: Enterprise, and why the controls and systems aboard the Constitution class Enterprise as seen in the Original Series seem far more simplistic than the advanced, modern controls seen aboard the NX-Enterprise seen in Star Trek: Enterprise. I applaud Mr. Martin for tackling that pretty-much impossible-to-answer issue (caused by the prequel Enterprise series having been made decades following the 1960′s Original Series), even though I thought the explanation hinted at in the novel to be a little thin.
Really, though, as I have discussed above, my main complaints about the novel focuses on two of the same issues that I had with the previous book, Kobayashi Maru — 1) That many of the core Enterprise characters had little to do, while chapter after chapter were spent focusing on what were to me less interesting secondary characters, and 2) That the writing often seemed inconsistent or vague on the details, leading to confusion about the geography and logic behind some of the events being depicted.
I’m excited to move on to the next Romulan War novel by Michael A. Martin, To Brave the Storm, but I hope he can shed some of these weaknesses and bring this saga to a strong conclusion. I’ll let you know what I think in a few weeks…!
Previous Star Trek novel reviews:
Star Trek: Voyager – Full Circle
Star Trek: Enterprise — Kobayashi Maru
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