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Star Trek: The Crimson Shadow

As a humongous fan of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, I am delighted by how central the DS9 storylines and characters have become to the continuing, interconnected series of Star Trek novels, in particular this new five-book crossover series, “The Fall.”

In the first installment, David R. George III’s Revelation and Dust, Starfleet finally brought on-line the new, Federation-designed and built DS9.  The celebration, though, was marked by terrible tragedy, an event that threatened to spill the tentative peace in the Alpha Quadrant back over into brutal interstellar war.  In the middle of the book, Cardassian Castellan (the head of their government) Rakena Garan was forced to depart DS9, in order to return home to deal with unrest back on Cardassian Prime.  She then dropped out of the book.  Una McCormack’s magnificent The Crimson Shadow picks up the story from there.

Ms. McCormack has become the go-to writer in Pocket Books’ stable of Trek writers when it comes to dealing with Cardassians.  One of her first major pieces of writing for Pocket Books was the Cardassian novella The Lotus Flower, in Worlds of Deep Space Nine back in 2004.  That was a terrific story, and ever since then most of Ms. McCormack’s works have focused on Cardassians, in particular her phenomenal novel The Never-Ending Sacrifice.

Like that book, The Crimson Shadow draws its title from a Cardassian novel mentioned on DS9 (and kudos again to Ms. McCormack for that wonderful little bit of continuity).  It’s hard to believe, but this book is actually set ten years following the series finale of DS9.  I knew that the Trek series of books was moving forward in time — that’ one of my favorite things about Pocket’s Trek novels from the past decade-plus, how they have fearlessly moved the over-all story forward beyond the finales of the 24th century-set Trek TV shows.  But I hadn’t quite realized how much time had passed in the books.

The Crimson Shadow is an engaging study of what has been happening on Cardassia in the previous ten years, following the defeat of the Dominion (and their final, great purge that laid waste to most of the planet and killed hundreds of millions of Cardassians).  With Federation aid, the Cardassians have slowly been rebuilding, both the physical structures of their cities (buildings, roads, etc.) and their very society.  Cardassia has been struggling with democracy, an entirely new concept for its citizens who had been ruled by the military for so long.  The road has been rocky, and Ms. McCormack’s story doesn’t gloss over the difficulties this new experiment in democratic self-government represents, nor does she cheat and give us overly-easy answers in the end.

The focus of the novel is on Garak, and Ms. McCormack writes the character better than almost anyone, save actor Andrew Robinson himself (whose Gaak novel A Stitch in Time, published almost twenty years ago now, wow, still stand as one of the very best of all the Trek novels).  Garak has appeared in several of the Trek books over the past decade, but this is the first time in a long while that he has been the focus.  Garak can be a hard character to get write, but Ms. McCormack shows again and again in the novel that she understands his character thoroughly.

Garak has been seeing as Cardassian ambassador to the Federation for several years when this story begins.  He has just completed difficult negotiations for the withdrawal of all Federation forces from Cardassian Prime, allowing the Cardassians the opportunity to stand on their own two feet again for the first time in a decade, since the end of the Dominion War.  But a new political threat has arisen to the pro-Federation Casteallan, and what at first seems like a small political challenge blooms, in the story, to a struggle for the very soul of the Cardaassians as a people.  Do they want to return to their old ways, or do they want to move forward and join the other worlds of the Feration and the Khitomer Alliance as a partner and ally.  If I was watching a Star Trek TV episode, I’d be pretty sure that the good guys would win and all will be well.  But luckily, Pocket Books’ recent Trek novels have been far more complex, seeing our heroes lose almost as often as they win.  Ms. McCormack skillfully weaves a very taut, compelling story in which the outcome is by no means certain.

The Crimson Shadow isn’t just about Garak.  Ms. McCormack also fleshes out a number of Cardassian characters, including Castellan Garan and Glinn Dygan, who has been serving on the USS Enterprise (and has appeared in the last few years of Trek brooks).  She also creates several new characters, most specifically the police officer Arati Mhevet.  She becomes a very interesting, compelling character, and I was impressed by how well Ms. McCormack was able to engage the audience in Mhevet’s story, making her chapters of the book every bit as intesting as those featuring Garak and/or Captain Picard.

Ahh, Captain Picard.  He is a major player in this book, and I adore the relationhip that Ms. McCormack developed between Picard and Garak.  Those are two characters I never expected to be paired up.  I was delighted by how fruitfully Ms. McCormack explores their growing partnership over the course of the novel.  That storyline was one of the book’s most unexpected pleasures.

I also want to note how pleased I was to see a story-point from Ms. McCormack’s earlier story, The Lotus Flower, come back into play.  It’s a decade later, so I have high praise to Ms. McCormack and her editors in returning to that particular plot point.  It’s another great example of the Trek novels’ terrific inter-connectivity.

The Crimson Shadow is a phenomenal novel, one of the strongest Trek novels of the past few years.  It moves the over-all Trek storyline forward in several major, bold ways, while also developing compelling, intimate story-lines for several Trek characters.  It’s a tremendous achievement, and I loved every page.

I am very much looking forward to Una McCormack’s next book, and to the next novel in “The Fall.”

Previous Star Trek novel reviews:

Star Trek – Unspoken Truth , Troublesome MindsCast No ShadowExcelsior: Forged in FireAllegiance in Exile

Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Sky’s The LimitResistance and Q & ABefore Dishonor and Greater than the SumDestiny trilogyA Singular Destiny, Losing the Peace,Immortal CoilCold Equations Book 1: The Persistence of MemoryCold Equations Book 2: Silent WeaponsCold Equations Book 3: The Body Electric

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – DS9 relaunch overviewThe Soul KeyThe Never-Ending SacrificePlagues of Night and Raise the Dawn

Star Trek: Voyager – Full Circle

Star Trek: Enterprise — Kobayashi MaruThe Romulan War: Beneath the Raptor’s WingThe Romulan War: To Brave the StormRise of the Federation: A Choice of Futures

Star Trek: Titan – Book 1: Taking WingBook 2: The Red KingBook 3: Orion’s HoundsBook 4: Sword of DamoclesUnder a Torrent SeaSynthesis, Fallen Gods

Star Trek: Typhon Pact – Book 1: Zero-Sum GameBook 2: Seize the FireBook 3: Rough Beasts of EmpireBook 4: Paths of DisharmonyPlagues of Night and Raise the DawnBrinkmanship

Star Trek: The Fall — Book 1: Revelation and Dust

Star Trek: New Frontier – Series overviewStone & Anvil, After the Fall, and Missing in ActionTreason and Blind Man’s Bluff

Star Trek: Department of Temporal Investigations – Watching the ClockForgotten History

Star Trek: The Lost Era – Book 1: The Sundered (2298)Book 2: Serpents Among the Ruins (2311)Book 3: The Art of the Impossible (2328-2346)

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

Beyond the Final Frontier — Josh’s favorite Star Trek novels

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