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The Star Trek Saga Continues with Star Trek: Sacraments of Fire

We’re in the midst of one of the longest dry spells of new “official” Star Trek content since the decade between the cancellation of The Original Series in 1969 and the release of Star Trek: The Motion Picture in 1979.  In the decade since the cancellation of Star Trek: Enterprise in May 2005, there have been just two official new Trek adventures released: the fun but flawed Star Trek reboot in 2009, and the catastrophically terrible Star Trek Into Darkness in 2013.  And yet, among fans, Trek has continued to flourish.  Despite Paramount’s ridiculous effort to shut down the production of Axanar (a kickstarter-funded fan-led effort to create a professional-quality Trek feature film, telling the story of the Federation’s Four-Years War with the Klingons that took place before the events of the Original Series), many fan-film productions have created wonderful new Trek episodes.  (My favorites are Star Trek: New Voyages/Phase II, and Star Trek Continues; both groups are producing extraordinarily high-quality new Trek episodes set during the classic Kirk/Spock “Five Year Mission” era.)  While those fan productions so ably explore Trek’s past, Pocket Books has continued to produce new officially-licensed Trek novels that explore Trek’s future.  Over the past fifteen years, the Trek novels have created a wonderfully complex and sophisticated web of stories that expand the saga and the characters beyond where we left them at the end of the Star Trek: The Next Generation film series and the Deep Space Nine and Voyager TV series.

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Being of the mind that Deep Space Nine was the best of the Trek spinoff shows, I’ve appreciated how central so many of the characters and story-lines from DS9 have been to this expanding Trek literary saga.  It was the post-finale-set DS9 novels, beginning with S.D. Perry’s Avatar trilogy from 2001, that brought me back to the Trek books after some time away.  And the success of that first wave of post-finale DS9 novels set the stage, I believe, for the more ambitious ongoing Trek story that has woven together characters and plot-lines from all of the many Trek series.  With no new 24th century-set shows or movies on the horizon to whose canonical continuity the novels would have to adhere, the Trek books have been free to play freely with all sorts of wonderful Trek characters and story-lines, moving the sage forward in exciting and surprising ways.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: this last decade-and-a-half of Trek novels has been one of the very best sci-fi sagas in any medium that I have ever come across, sophisticated and a hell of a lot of fun.  This is long-form story-telling at its very best.

I’ve also commented before that it was a little unfortunate that while the Trek books have flourished recently, the post-finale DS9 storyline had gotten a little waylaid.  We got a spectacular “first season” of novels, running from Avatar to the finale, Unity, and then the exciting beginning of a new wave of story-lines with the three-book Worlds of Deep Space Nine series and David Mack’s 2006 rip-roaring page-turner Warpath.  And then things hit the skids.  The follow-up novel’s author was replaced and, apparently, the book begun again from scratch.  After a delay of over two long years, we got two short and somewhat unsatisfying novels, 2008’s Fearful Symmetry and 2009’s The Soul Key, both written by an author who had never written for Trek before or since.  (Someday I really want to know the story about what went on behind the scenes with all of that!)  Meanwhile, in 2008, David Mack’s magnificent Destiny trilogy of novels was released, a status-quo shattering crossover story depicting the final Borg invasion of the Federation.  This story, which involved characters from Next Gen, DS9, and Voyager, was set following the events of the last Next Gen movie, Nemesis.  This was several years later than the finale of DS9 and so also the post-finale DS9 novels.  Following Destiny, all subsequent Trek novels set in this era (there were still some Original Series-era new novels being published) took place following the events of that story, which meant that there was suddenly a gap of several years in the DS9 story.  Through the course of Destiny and several post-Destiny novels we have slowly caught up with many of the DS9 characters, but for many fans like myself that years-long gap in the DS9 story was disappointing, compounded by the many unresolved story-threads from the Worlds of DS9 novels, Warpath, and The Soul Key.

I had started to believe that those stories would never be resolved, but thank heaven for David R. George III and his magnificent new novel, Sacraments of Fire.  Along with it’s follow-up, Ascendance (which I am reading now!), this novel finally tells the story of what happened during those missing years.

Set in both the current era of the Trek novels (following the events of The Fall five-book series) as well as seven years earlier (taking place after The Soul Key but before Destiny), Sacraments of Fire follows many different story-lines.  We see the deranged and evil Iliana Ghemor (picking up immediately after the end of The Soul Key), who suddenly finds herself the leader of a merciless group of intergalactic zealots called the Ascendants who she plans to use to destroy Bajor and exact her revenge on Kira Nerys.  Meanwhile, we follow Kira herself, who has been trapped in the Celestial Temple (following the events of Raise the Dawn) and now finds herself transported to the past, where she is unexpectedly reunited with the Jem’Hadar Taran’atar and the crew of the Even Odds (who Jake Sisko met and befriended way back in 2003’s Rising Son).  Meanwhile, in the present day novels’ continuity, we follow Captain Ro and the crew of the new DS9 as they attempt to recover from the horror of the assassination that took place in Revelation and Dust.  Nog struggles to recover Vic Fontaine’s program, damaged two years ago during the destructive events of Plagues of Night.  Benjamin Sisko and his family work to settle into their new circumstances on board the USS Robinson.  A discovery on Bajor’s moon Endalla challenges the Bajoran faith in the Prophets.  And Altek Dans, brought by the Prophets from Bajor’s ancient past (and the vision experienced by Kira Nerys while inside the wormhole in Revelation and Dust), looks to make sense of his new circumstances.

Sacraments of Fire is a terrific novel, exciting and complex.  That would be more than enough for me to sing its praises, but I was bowled over by Mr. George’s attention to detail in the book, and the manner in which he reached back through a decade of Trek novels’ continuity to pick up so many story-threads that I had believed long-forgotten, and wove them together into this delightful new tapestry.

The crew of the Even Odds were introduced all the way back in 2003’s Rising Son, as was the mystery of the Eav’oq (an alien race from the Gamma Quadrant who also worshipped the Prophets, as the Bajorans do) and the vicious aliens, the Ascendants, who had hunted them.  The Ascendants were also mentioned in 2005’s Worlds of Deep Space Nine novella, The Dominion: Olympus Descending.  That fascinating but bizarre story introduced the idea that the Founders worshipped a shape-shifting god of their own, an enormous shape-shifter called the Progenitor who had apparently been murdered by the Ascendants.  That novella raised a lot of questions that have remained unanswered for a long time, so it was a delight to see Mr. George pick up those story-threads again here.  (By the way, I must admit to have been totally delighted and pleased to look back and discover that that novella was written by David R. George III himself!)  But that’s not all.  2006’s Warpath contained a lengthy but not-quite-explained sequence in which Kira Nerys dreamed of (or was given a vision by the Prophets that depicted her) being forced to defend a fortress against insurmountable odds, a vision at the end of which Kira came to know herself as the Hand of the Prophets, a description again applied to her at the end of The Soul Key.  I’ve been waiting more than a decade to learn just what the heck that means, and while Sacraments of Fire doesn’t answer all of my questions, it has Kira tackle this issue head-on.  These are just some of the more notable examples of a novel filled with lots of little references and connections to the DS9 tapestry as a whole.  As a long-time fan, I was delighted.

As he had done previously in his duology Plagues of Night/Raise the Dawn, Mr. George took the time to step back a bit in the novels’ continuity and to follow the DS9 characters through the events of the past few Trek novels.  Even though we’ve already gotten two DS9 novels set after the events of The Fall (David Mack’s Section 31: Disavowed and Una McCormack’s The Missing), the first half of Sacraments of Fire steps back to take place immediately after Mr. George’s last novel, Revelation and Dust, but before the events of the rest of the novels in the five-book series, The Fall, that Revelation and Dust had kicked off.  I love this approach, as we get to see the impact of the events of The Fall on our DS9 characters.  We get to see Ro and the crew struggle to accept and move on following the tragic death that took place at the inauguration of the new station.  We get to see Sisko deal with his disappointment at having the Robinson’s exploratory mission cancelled in favor of what we saw happen later in The Fall.  This first hundred-plus pages of the novel is filled with a lot of wonderful character moments (moments that I had commented about dearly missed in The Missing).  

Then we jump forward and move the story forward beyond the events of The Fall.  Meanwhile, of course, we’re also following Kira and Taran’atar and Ileana Ghemor seven years earlier.  It’s complicated!  But Mr. George juggles the various characters and story-lines with ease.  I was pleased that many of the supporting DS9 characters got some nice character-development moments throughout the book, from Quark to Nog to various created-for-the-novels characters like Cenn Desca and Prynn Tenmei.   (Speaking of Prynn, it was a nice touch — and again a wonderful example of Mr. George’s careful attention to the continuity of the Trek novel series — to see the consequences of the events with Dr. Bashir and the Andorians from The Fall Book 3: A Ceremony of Losses.)

Before I started reading Sacraments of Fire, I decided to refresh my memory and go back and read four of Mr. George’s previous DS9-centric novels: Rough Beasts of Empire, Plagues of Night, Raise the Dawn, and Revelation and Dust.  I am thrilled that I did so, first and foremost because it made clear to me that while all of those books were part of other Trek novel series (Rough Beasts of Empire was book three of the initial four-novel Typhon Pact series; Plagues of Night and Raise the Dawn were also given the Typhon Pact subtitle; and Revelation and Dust was the first of the five-novel The Fall series from last year), together with Sacraments of Fire (and Ascendance, which I am reading now) they form an epic six-book Deep Space Nine saga.  It’s clear that David R. George has become the main keeper of the DS9 characters, and I couldn’t be happier.  He has done a spectacular job in weaving together dozens of characters and story-lines into a complicated and thrilling ongoing story.  It’s also nice to see that issues that I had originally, when first reading both Rough Beasts of Empire and Revelation and Dust, vanished when reading them as a part of this multi-book DS9 saga.  (Both books felt incomplete when I first read them on their own.  But reading them together with these other novels makes clear the piece they played in the much larger story that David R. George III was creating.)

I was thrilled by Sacraments of Fire.  It was a great pleasure seeing plotlines begun a decade ago in previous Trek novels finally picked up and brought together into such a compelling new story.  I can’t wait to read the conclusion of this duology with Asendance.  I’ll be back here soon with my thoughts on that book.  For now, this Trek and DS9 fan is very, very happy.

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