The latest Star Trek: Enterprise novel, The Romulan War: To Brave the Storm, brings to a conclusion the finally-told story of the Earth-Romulan war that lead to the founding of the United Federation of Planets, and also serves as a finale to the series of five Star Trek: Enterprise novels written by Michael A. Martin (the first three of which were co-written by Andy Mangels). I have recently written about the last two of those books: Kobayashi Maru (click here for my review) and The Romulan War: Beneath the Raptor’s Wings (click here for my review).
To Brave the Storm is a frustrating novel. There is a lot about the book that I really enjoyed. It’s a very fast-paced read. The story is exciting and gripping, and I tore through the book’s pages at rapid speed. There are none of the digressions I complained about in Beneath the Raptor’s Wings (such as the lengthy chapters dealing with the two news-reporters Gannet Brooks and Keisha Naquase). The story is galaxy-spanning, with the stakes extremely high: nothing short of the survival of Earth and the human species itself as the Romulans’ assault intensifies and the newly-formed Coalition of Planets (the alliance formed between humans, Vulcans, Andorians, and Tellarites in the final episodes of Star Trek: Enterprise) shatters. I love how epic the story is in scope, and I appreciated that the book takes place over the span of over five years. That gives the Earth-Romulan war a believable scale. I’m glad this mysterious, much-discussed conflict in Earth’s past wasn’t depicted as having been resolved in just a few weeks.
On the other-hand, To Brave the Storm feels in many ways like the cliffs-notes version of what should have been a much-lengthier saga. I read that this book was originally planned to have been books 2 and 3 of a Romulan War trilogy, but that for reasons unknown those last two books wound up being compressed into one novel. It certainly feels that way. There’s a lot of plot in the book, but little time spent fleshing out the characters of the story and how the galactic events effect them — which should, of course, be at the heart of any good story. Why don’t we get a single scene of Captain Archer’s grief at the disappearance of his former lover Captain Erika Hernandez and the Columbia (an event — key to the trilogy Star Trek: Destiny — that seems like it happened right at the end of the events of the previous book, Beneath the Raptor’s Wing)? Why don’t we get to see Hoshi Sato’s reaction to serving on Enterprise during wartime, something which she said in previous books she had no interest in doing? Does she hate it? Has she made peace with it? Or maybe how about showing us some development of Hoshi’s hinted-at-in-one-chapter-then-abandoned relationship with MACO officer Takashi Kimura? How about actually SHOWING us the scene of Travis Mayweather’s reconciliation with Captain Archer, rather than just suggesting that it happened between-chapters? How about giving Malcolm Reed ANYTHING to do in the book other than report tactical information to Archer? It feels realistic that not every single key event in the Earth-Romulan war happened on Enterprise, and so I like that significant portions of the book involve other characters on other ships/planets. BUT I feel the story should still have found more substantive ways to circle back to the main Enterprise characters, to give them each significant character-developing story-lines in the midst of all of the galactic chaos. Without that, the books feels like it is missing its heart.
I wrote above that I liked that the book spans years rather than weeks, and I do. Plot-wise it means the events of the book fit into what I had imagined in my head. But unfortunately what this means for the story is that everything feels incredibly rushed. I often turned the pages from one chapter to the next to find that months have passed by in the story. When you stop to consider things, you realize that the last time you read about a certain character was over a YEAR ago in the narrative. What were all of the characters up to in the intervening days-weeks-years? This novel basically takes place in the same span of time — if not more — than the ENTIRE run of the Star Trek: Enterprise TV show. Imagine if the events of that four seasons-worth of story-telling had been condensed down into a single novel, and you’d get a sense of the way To Brave the Storm feels like to read. The story is cool, but over-all it feels like a huge wasted opportunity.
All the more-so because the final pages of the book seem to read like not just an ending to this Romulan War story-line, but to the entire Enterprise story-line as well. Now, I actually really love the final chapters of the book. They’re some of my favorite parts. There’s a great sense of culmination and conclusion, and there are some great moments in there. (I particularly enjoyed circling back to Archer’s speech at the signing of the Federation charter, an event glimpsed in the season 3 episode “Azati Prime,” and then again in the series finale “These are the Voyages…”.) But I was surprised at how quickly the end of the book seemed to wrap-up the entire Enterprise story, as if Pocket Books decided at the last minute that this should be the last Enterprise book. I have no idea if this is the case, but that’s what it felt like, particularly because of a surprising revelation about the fate of the starship Enterprise herself, something which caught me off-guard and which really demanded some more substantial follow-up at the end of the book. If this really is the final Enterprise novel, I really wish all of the key characters from the show had received more substantial wrap-ups to their individual story-lines.
Especially Trip. Sigh. The most disappointing aspect of To Brave the Storm was the muddled ending to Trip’s story-line. First of all, Trip’s entire story in this book is the least plausable of all of his not-very plausable undercover adventures that we’ve been following in the previous three books. At the start of To Brave the Storm, Trip is living undercover as a Vulcan on Vulcan. This is absolutely ridiculous. In the few scenes we see of Trip on Vulcan, it is clear that he is entirely unconvincing as a Vulcan. To the Vulcans, who have been trained to detect the slightest twitch and interpret it as an emotional response, Trip’s attempts to seem unemotional must be hugely unconvincing — surely his expressions and body language would SCREAM emotion to them. Certainly his dialogue sounds entirely un-Vulcan.
Nothing about Trip’s story in this book makes sense. WHY did T’Pau ask for Trip’s help at the end of Beneath the Raptor’s Wing??? The early chapters of To Brave the Storm seem totally inconsistent with that scene at the end of Beneath the Raptor’s Wing, since in To Brave the Storm we read that Trip is known as an associate of suspects in the assassination of the carrier of Surak’s katra, and thus has been given no assistance by the Vulcan government and in fact has been prevented from leaving the planet.
There’s really no reason I can fathom for Trip not to have returned to Enterprise with T’Pol at the beginning of the book. I absolutely don’t buy the reason he’s given for staying on Vulcan. Nor do I find it realistic that, if Trip insisted on staying, T’Pol would separate from him at this point in their relationship, after they had finally been reunited at the end of Beneath the Raptor’s Wing.
But, OK, Trip stays on Vulcan and then winds up on yet another mission into Romulan space. At which point he gets captured by the Romulan Admiral Valdore, the main bad-guy of these books and the senior Romulan military official in charge of prosecuting their war against Earth and the Coalition. Does Valdore have Trip killed or imprisoned? No! Believing him to be a Vulcan spy (rather than a human one, something which even a medical scan would have revealed), Valdore trusts Trip to undertake an espionage mission to track down the Romulan dissident group the Ejhoi Ormiin. Huh?? Why would Valdore use a Vulcan spy for that critical mission? Why not use one of the hundreds if not thousands of trained espionage specialists Valdore must have at his service in the military, or in the Tal Shiar? Why trust a man he thinks to be a Vulcan double-agent???
(And by the way, how on Earth was trip able to maintain even the pretense that he was a Vulcan rather than a human? We were told in previous books that, while undercover, he had to continually take a certain medication that would transform his red human blood to the Vulcan/Romulan green. But when Trip is captured by Valdore, he is beamed out of a his environmental suit while on an EVA — he certainly wouldn’t have had any of that medicine on him. And even if he HAD, surely the Romulans would have confiscated it when they captured him?? The story just doesn’t hold up to even a cursory amount of consideration.)
We’re not given answers to any of the questions that I posed above, nor are we given answers to any of the lingering questions from Trip’s adventures in the previous novels. What is the true identity or motivation of Ch’uivh/Sopek, who might have been a Vulcan spy or a Romulan dissident? Who was he really and what was he actually trying to accomplish? If that was ever clarified in any of these books, I did not understand. How about T’Luadh? Was she a Vulcan spy? Dunno. How about the Vulcan operatives Ych’a and Denak? Were they good guys or bad guys? Towards the end of Beneath the Raptor’s Wing it was certainly implied that Ych’a was not the straight-and-narrow Vulcan spy she seemed to be, as she was willing to do some pretty dastardly things to the captured Romulan Terix. Why did Ych’a and Trip seem to experience missing time right when the Vulcan carrying the katra of Surak was assassinated? It was strongly implied that they were connected to what happened, but we’re never given any answers as to who killed Surak’s carrier. (It’s implied that it was Terix, but that was never clarified, and again, the link to Ych’a was clearly hinted at but then totally dropped.) Finally, of course, we’re given no answer as to what happened to Trip aboard that Romulan escape pod, how he could possibly have survived, who might have rescued him, and most importantly, why he never returned to Starfleet and his friends and family on earth. (Or did he??? The book is maddeningly unclear.) That none of these stories were resolved, and that Trip’s fate (which it seems to me has been a central storyline of all of these Enterprise novels and so I would have figured would have been key to this novel’s conclusion) is left dangling really bugs me.
I can see that I’ve had far more negative things to say about To Brave the Storm than nice things. It’s a shame, because I really did want to like this book and, indeed, there really were a lot of things that I enjoyed. There are tons of little Star Trek references and easter eggs that are fun to spot. I loved the book’s explanation for why 23rd century Federation technology (as seen in the original 1960′s Star Trek TV show) looks so much more primitive than the 22nd century pre-Federation technology as seen in Star Trek: Enterprise. I loved the origin of the prefix codes. I loved seeing Enterprise supporting characters like T’Pau, Soval, Shran, and more pop up in the story. Most of all I am thrilled that the story of the Romulan War has finally been told.
It’s just that everything I enjoyed is overshadowed by my thoughts of what might have been. I would have preferred not to have seen this five years of Star Trek history squeezed into one novel — I would have preferred to have seen these events told over several more robust, more character-focused books. Most of all, if this really is the end of the Star Trek: Enterprise adventures, I wish that all of the dangling story-lines and mysteries had been resolved, and that all of the main Enterprise characters had been given more time in the spotlight, and been given more resolution before the end of the story. To Brave the Storm is a far superior ending to the story of Star Trek: Enterprise than the abrupt ending of the cancelled TV series, but still not at all the ending that the show and these characters deserved.
Previous Star Trek novel reviews:
Star Trek: Voyager – Full Circle
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