Star Trek: Crimson Shadow by Una McCormack (Book Review)
Last year it was announced that the Typhon Pact series would continue with a new “event” called The Fall which would work across multiple books and involve some of the biggest names in both Star Trek fiction and the Star Trek setting. Earlier this year I read the first book in the series, Revelation and Dust by David R. George III and it proved to be a fairly good read, better than expected in many cases. Having fallen off reading any Star Trek fiction ages ago, I was quite unprepared for all the new changes that had been afoot at DS9 ever since the show stopped. But getting back in touch with the characters proved surprisingly easy.
And that’s what happened again with Una McCormack’s The Crimson Shadow, which is the second book in the series and focuses on a small number of crew from the Enterprise-E alongside several Cardassian characters, especially one of my favourites, Elim Garak from DS9. The Crimson Shadow was, unreservedly, an awesome read that dealt with Cardassian politics and the continuing rebuilding of their homeworld after the attacks of the Dominion several years ago. Una McCormack’s characters are extremely fun to read about and she tells a really exciting and interesting story that also ends up having some allegorical meanings.
While Star Trek originally was very much a “typical” space opera adventure and this was a direction that future showrunners and writers played up to the hilt, there was also a very strong political angle to it as well. After all, when you have an interstellar government stretching across multiple alien species and homeworlds, political bickering and point-scoring is always going to figure into the mix, especially when you are dealing with tragedies. Which is the case with Cardassia right now. The Federation has spent years helping in the rebuilding efforts on Cardassia, getting the people and the world back on track to live a normal, healthy life and now the Cardassian Union is about to sign a treaty with the Federation that will give it entry into that collective and also make it a member to the Khitomer Accords. It is no small thing and there is some growing discontent on Cardassia among some ultra-nationalists, headlined by the unsubtly named political party Cardassia First. That’s the stage for this novel, as members and sympathisers of Cardassia First do whatever they can to head off the treaty even as the pro-Treaty folks like Elim Garak and Castellan Rakena Garan do what they can to ensure that things go smoothly.
Back when I watched Deep Space 9 during my college days, Elim Garak was one of my absolutely favourite characters. An exile from Cardassia who spent his days as a tailor on the space station, there was always something about him that was… exotic. Of course, he turned out to be the last remaining member of a Cardassian intelligence agency that was now defunct, the Obsidian Order, and that cast a dark pall over his character that served to only enhance Garak and elevate him as a serious player. In The Crimson Shadow, Una McCormack deals quite a bit with Garak’s past and how it affects his current role as Cardassia’s ambassador to the Federation and his relationship with Castellan Garan, who doesn’t quite trust him. Using some of Garak’s trademark humour and and his flair for the dramatic, not to mention the character’s utter simplicity at times, Una crafts a really interesting tale that deals with the feelings of the Cardassian people as a whole. As a former exile, Garak has a unique perspective on his people and his culture, something that the author makes full use of.
But Garak isn’t the only perspective character of significance in the novel. We also have Constable Ari Mhevet, who gets put on a sensitive murder case right at the start, since it involves a dead Bajoran Starfleet member, and relations between the Cardassians and the Bajorans haven’t really cooled off even though its been years since Cardassian occupation of Bajor and the Bajorans’ independence. Add unpopular feelings against Starfleet and you have a right recipe for disaster, which is what Ari has to deal with most of the time. As much as I loved Garak in the novel, I enjoyed Ari far more, I have to say. She is a wonderfully conflicted character since she grew up among the same ultranationalists who now want nothing to do with the Federation and will use any means necessary to make sure that the interstellar government collective stays out of their affairs. This gives her a great amount of insight into the events as they happen in the novel, almost on the same level as Garak himself, but where he is someone looking at the big picture, she deals with the small picture, the immediate problems.
And that’s a hell of a lot of fun.
There are some other characters spread throughout the novel which add to the entire experience in a positive way. Frankly, there is no character in the novel that I didn’t like. Each and every one of them was interesting in their way, and that’s pretty good as a reader since it reflects how well the characters are crafted to appeal even if they are traitorous and backstabbers.
Often I describe a fantasy novel as a political fantasy, in that it deals with politics on a very deep scale. The same designation, slightly altered of course, could describe The Crimson Shadow as well: political science fiction. The novel isn’t just a murder mystery or a cultural study of the Cardassian people, it deals with the species’ internal and external politics both. Midway through the novel, the events from the climax of Revelation and Dust rear their ugly head and the status of the treaty between the Federation and the Cardassian Union comes under jeopardy, given what happens. That is when the novel really kicks into overdrive and Una McCormack begins to deal with the political fallout. The resolution of this novel is very politically charged as well and the way that the author pulls off that resolution is quite masterful indeed. She teases and teases and drops some big revelations your way until you are really caught up in trying to understand the master plan and just when you are really into the thick of things, she begins to peel back the layers of deception one by one. For of course there are such. This wouldn’t be good political novel without layers of deception.
For someone coming back to Star Trek fiction, The Crimson Shadow is a great read. It is a surprisingly fast read, partly because of how well-seeming the characters are and partly because of the author’s writing style, which doesn’t deal with grandiosities or needless complexities. Some of the characters are familiar ones, and some not so much. But they are all likable to one degree to another, and that is what matters most I think. Of course, The Crimson Shadow also has to advance the overall plot of The Fall event and it does that too by exposing who was behind the climax of Revelation and Dust. It is not a straight reveal and there are some complexities of the setting involved, but it is ultimately quite a rewarding experience.
For my money’s worth, I’d say that The Crimson Shadow is one of the best Star Trek novel I’ve read to date and also one of the best examples of science fiction/space opera in general. It is a wonderfully crafted tale with lots of good twists and lots of great characters, especially when you consider the cameos of the crew of the Enterprise-E, which was just icing on the cake, personally speaking, since The Next Generation is my absolute favourite Star Trek show of all of them.
Posted on April 24, 2014, in Book Reviews, Review Central and tagged Aliens, Ari Mhevet, Bajorans, Book Review, Captain Jean-Luc Picard, Cardassia, Cardassian Union, Cardassians, Commander Worf, Deep Space 9, Deep Space Nine, Elim Garak, Enterprise, Enterprise-E, Federation, Pocket Books, Revelation and Dust, Review, Review Central, Science Fiction, Space Opera, Star Trek, Star Trek: The Fall, Tie-in fiction, Top 25 Series 2014, Typhon Pact, Una McCormack. Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.