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Star Trek: Prey Book 1: Hell’s Heart

I must confess that I didn’t start reading the first book in John Jackson Miller’s new trilogy of Star Trek novels, Prey, with great enthusiasm.  Mr. Miller has written some wonderful Star Wars novels, and while I enjoyed his first Star Trek adventure, the short e-book Absent Enemies, I didn’t at all care for Mr. Miller’s first full-length Trek novel, Takedown.  As for Prey, his new trilogy, I wasn’t enamored by the plot description that I’d read on-line — a rift in the Federation-Klingon peace felt like a step backwards for a Trek story, rather than a step forwards — and the cover to book 2 in the trilogy looked ridiculous, one of the worst covers I’ve seen to a Trek book in years.  With the previous Star Trek 50th anniversary trilogy, Legacies, having left me somewhat cold, I wasn’t expecting greatness for this second 50th anniversary trilogy of novels.

And so I must stand and doff my chapeau to John Jackson Miller, who blew me away with Prey book 1: Hell’s Heart, a magnificent Star Trek adventure that I tore through with enormous enjoyment.  This is a terrific novel, one of the best Trek books of the past few years.

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Legacies attempted to connect several different generations of Star Trek adventures.  (In that case, it was the era of “Number One,” who was first officer of the Enterprise under Captain Christopher Pike, with the later era of Kirk and Spock.)  Prey is structured with a similar goal in mind, one achieved far more successfully.  Mr. Miller’s story deftly weaves together multiple characters and story-threads from across a hundred years of Trek history.  Set in the post-Nemesis 24th century that Pocket Books’ interconnected series of Trek novels have been so skillfully crafting, Prey explores what happened to the house of the Klingon General, Kruge, who was played so memorably by Christopher Lloyd in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.  In this novel we meet Korgh, a Klingon who, while not Kruge’s son by birth, considered himself the general’s son and heir.  After Kruge’s death on the Genesis Planet, Korgh found his dreams for the future shattered.  For a hundred years, Korgh nursed his hatred for the Federation and developed a far-reaching plan to shatter the peace treaty that was forged in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country and that, by the TNG era, had stood for almost a century.

As the book opens, while the newly-promoted Admiral Riker attempts to prepare for an important peace conference between the Khitomer Accord powers (the Federation, the Klingon Empire, and the Ferengi Alliance) and the Typhon Pact, Captain Picard and the USS Enterprise escorts a group of elderly Klingon lords from the House of Kruge to a ceremony on the planet Gamaral intended to honor the manner in which the nobles maintained Kruge’s house following the General’s death.  But the ceremony is disrupted by a vicious attack by a group of terrorists known as the Unsung, who attack the Enterprise in orbit using multiple cloaked ships, while they murder every single Klingon noble on the planet’s surface.  Starfleet’s failure to protect these Klingon nobles outrages Klingons across the Empire, while the surviving Korgh manipulates the situation to fan the flames of Klingon anger and to position himself to attain a new position of power on the Klingon High Council.  Picard and Riker and their crews race to find and defeat the mysterious Unsung, but they find themselves far behind a complex unfolding plot that threatens to shatter the Federation-Klingon peace forever.

Hell’s Heart is a terrific Star Trek novel.  The book is incredibly fast-paced, and I eagerly devoured chapter after chapter.  Mr. Miller has woven a wonderfully complex story here, filled with mysteries and reveals that keeps the reader surprised and engaged throughout the book.  There were a few times when I was able to guess a secret whose reveal had not yet arrived (such as the reason that the Unsung wanted to capture Worf rather than kill him), but even in those cases the reveals were such fun, and made such perfect sense in the context of the story, that I was never annoyed at being ahead of the book, rather I was just pleased at the rich story being told.  I love stories in which the villains are SMART, and Mr. Miller’s tale allows Korgh to develop a multi-layered plan that, here in this first book of the trilogy, keeps Korgh many steps ahead of our heroes at every step of the game without forcing Riker and Picard & co. to behave stupidly just to service the plot.  Our Trek heroes are as smart and capable as they always are, it’s just that Korgh’s plot seems sophisticated enough that they don’t have a chance.  This is great story-telling.

Mr. Miller’s book constantly jumps from location to location and character to character, giving the story an epic feel.  Along the way, Mr. Miller is able to develop a number of new, interesting characters, including Korgh, the Unsung-member Valandris, the manipulator Cross, and many more.  I was thrilled to see how skillfully Mr. Miller was able to incorporate the cloned Kahless into this Klingon-heavy story.  I never felt the Trek writers knew what to do with this character when he was introduced in the sixth season TNG episode “Rightful Heir,” and subsequent Trek TV and novel writers have struggled with how this figure could fit in.  Mr. Miller seizes on that and develops the character of Kahless, while finding a fascinating part for him to play in this story.

Mr. Miller is able to play deftly with Star Trek history, referencing events from across the Trek TV shows and movies.  I love the idea of developing the backstory of General Kruge, and examining what might have happened to his house and heirs following the events of Star Trek III.  While I don’t want to spoil any surprises, I love what Mr. Miller did with the Unsung, taking an aspect of Klingon society that has come up in the 24th-century-set Trek TV shows, and digging in deep to really explore the repercussions of that particular thing and the ripple effects it might cause.  I love that Mr. Miller mentions the group of Klingon-Romulan kids Worf discovered in the TNG two-parter “Birthright,” as in reading about the Unsung my mind went immediately to that story.  At first I thought the Unsung were members of that Klingon-Romulan community, but I like their true nature, when it was revealed in this book, even more.  (The only place where Mr. Miller appears to somewhat drop the ball on Trek continuity is that in making such a big deal of the rift that develops in this story in the Klingon-Federation peace treaty, he seems to ignore that we actually already saw something like this happen in the 4th and 5th seasons of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.)

Sensibly, Worf has a major role to play in this Klingon-heavy story.  It’s great to see him functioning both as Picard’s first officer and also as someone who, as we have seen on TNG and DS9, has been intimately involved in Klingon politics over the years.  I’m interested to see where Worf’s relationship with Valandris goes in the next two books.

I loved the wonderful, and surprising, middle section of the story in which we learn that Kirk and Spock encountered the group who would eventually become the Unsung in the years soon after the launch of the Enterprise A.  This was a lovely development in a story already filled with many entertaining twists.  It was interesting to see Mr. Miller incorporate Captain Kirk’s complex feelings towards Klingons following the death of his son in Star Trek III.  (Kirk’s anger towards the Klingons would of course later become a major plot point in Star Trek VI.  It’s unclear whether this sequence in Hell’s Heart is supposed to take place before or after the events of Star Trek V.  Reading in these chapters of Kirk’s lingering anger towards the Klingons only reinforces how weird it is, looking back, how that was not at all seen in any of Kirk’s interactions with the Klingons in Star Trek V.  This might seem like an inconsistency in the book’s story with established Trek lore, but actually I think Mr. Miller is doing his best to write around a pre-existing discontinuity between Kirk’s attitude toward Klingons as seen in Trek V and Trek VI.)

The only place I felt Mr. Miller dropped a ball with his story was in the often-mentioned interstellar peace conference that we read Admiral Riker is attempting to set up.  Riker’s H’atoria conference was designed to negotiate a free-trade route for all interstellar powers, the Khitomer Accord powers and the Typhon Pact, that would run through a section of Klingon space.  We read over and over again in Hell’s Heart that the escalating events might disrupt this conference.  And while Mr. Miller wants us, I think, to see this as a huge issue of galactic import, I don’t think this conference to negotiate a free-trade route feels at all as significant as Mr. Miller intends it to be.

I was also surprised that, while the “Historian’s Note” at the start of the book specifically mentions that this novel takes place three months into the term of newly-elected Federation President Kellessar zh’Tarash, zh’Tarash does not ever appear in the novel.  Following Keith R.A. DeCandido’s magnificent novel Articles of the Federation, the Federation President and other high-ranking political officials have often been important characters in Pocket Books’ Trek novels.  The recent crossover series, “The Fall,” was all about the election of a new Federation President.  Since Hell’s Heart presents us with a potential rupture in the long-standing Federation-Klingon peace treaty, I would have expected to see Zh’Tarash involved in the story.  Perhaps she will pop up in one of the remaining two novels in this trilogy?  We’ll see.

Over-all, I cannot heap enough praise on Hell’s Heart.  This was a hugely entertaining novel, an epic story that connects many disparate threads of the larger Star Trek tapestry and tells a complex, sweeping story that presents our heroic Starfleet heroes with powerful threats and real stakes.  I loved it, and I am already deep into reading book 2: The Jackal’s Trick.  I’ll be back soon with my thoughts on that novel.

Previous Star Trek novel reviews:

Star Trek – Unspoken Truth , Troublesome MindsCast No ShadowExcelsior: Forged in FireAllegiance in Exile, Legacies Book 1: Captain to Captain, Legacies Book 2: Best Defense, Legacies Book 3: Purgatory’s Key

Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Sky’s The LimitResistance and Q & ABefore Dishonor and Greater than the SumDestiny trilogyA Singular DestinyLosing the Peace, Immortal CoilCold Equations Book 1: The Persistence of MemoryCold Equations Book 2: Silent WeaponsCold Equations Book 3: The Body ElectricThe Light Fantastic, Takedown, Armageddon’s Arrow

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – DS9 relaunch overviewThe Soul KeyThe Never-Ending SacrificePlagues of Night and Raise the Dawn, Section 31: Disavowed, The Missing, Sacraments of Fire, Ascendance, Force and Motion

Star Trek: Voyager – Full CircleUnworthyChildren of the StormThe Eternal TideProtectors

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

Star Trek: Titan – Book 1: Taking WingBook 2: The Red KingBook 3: Orion’s HoundsBook 4: Sword of DamoclesUnder a Torrent SeaSynthesisFallen Gods, Absent Enemies (e-book), Sight Unseen

Star Trek: Typhon Pact – Book 1: Zero-Sum GameBook 2: Seize the FireBook 3: Rough Beasts of EmpireBook 4: Paths of Disharmony, The Struggle Within (e-book), Plagues of Night and Raise the DawnBrinkmanship

Star Trek: The Fall — Book 1: Revelation and DustBook 2: The Crimson ShadowBook 3: A Ceremony of LossesBook 4: The Poisoned ChaliceBook 5: Peaceable Kingdoms

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)The Buried Age (2355-2364)One Constant Star (2319)

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