Star Trek: Legacies Trilogy (Book Review)
On September 8, 2016 the Star Trek fandom marked a significant milestone, the 50th anniversary of Star Trek: The Original Series, the groundbreaking show that changed television and science-fiction forever. In fact, all of last year was dedicated to this celebration in a number of ways, such as the release of multiple novels from Simon & Schuster as well as the release of the third movie in the rebooted franchise, Star Trek: Beyond. It is indeed a celebration like none other because what Gene Roddenberry and others created all those years ago still has huge ramifications for all of us.
The Legacies trilogy is part of this grand celebration, bringing together fan-favourite writers like Greg Cox, David Mack, Dayton Ward and Kevin Dilmore to present a riveting story that goes all the way back to the core history of the series itself and features none other than Number One. An away mission gone-wrong in hostile territory, a promise fulfilled after eighteen years, interstellar conflict, spies and espionage, Legacies has everything that has come to define Star Trek over the years and is a great series to read, even for any newcomers to the franchise.
Our story begins with the first book in the series, Captain to Captain, which details how the various captains of the Starship USS Enterprise have been the guardians of a dangerous secret from the ship’s earliest days of service, a command tradition maintained in an unbroken chain. Until now. Open knowledge of such a secret can and will have huge ramifications for not only the Federation but for the other major powers of the Alpha Quadrant, and it is this genie that must be put back into the bottle before such a danger arises.
Greg Cox begins with an introduction to the character Number One, also known as Una, who in the original television series first appeared in the show’s pilot episode The Cage and was played by the amazing Majel Barrett who would go on to later return as Nurse Christine Chapel for the show, and also became the voice of most shipboard systems for the successor shows among other things. As a character, I loved Una throughout the novel, and feel that Greg Cox wrote a novel that while being a celebration of the franchise’s 50th anniversary was also a sort of grand opera for her. We learn so much about her over the course of the story and by the end you get the sense that you’ve really come to know her, her strengths and weaknesses, who she is, what she does.
Going back into the origins of the character is also where the heart of the conflict here resides for it is on one of her earliest missions as a young officer aboard the Enterprise, then commanded by Robert April, that she visits the planet of Usilde near the Federation-Klingon border and meets the Usildar and their oppressors the Jatohr. And everything snowballs from here as eighteen years later she must return to that world and fulfill a promise made during that first mission. Where her part of the narrative is concerned, I absolutely loved everything about it. Hers is a character you can definitely root for.
On the other side, we have the non-flashback scenes set in the “present” as Kirk and his Enterprise must themselves head to Usilde to figure out the mystery for Una’s mysterious actions which just might precipitate a war with the Klingons on the eve of a major diplomatic conference. Greg Cox packs the novel with a ton of action and never lets his foot off the accelerator. Once events are in motion then we see them through to their end, in so far as Captain to Captain is concerned.
What I loved most about the novel was how heartfelt it was. It explores the concepts of loyalty, honour, self-belief and sacrifice in a very typical but nuanced way that makes for one hell of a read. Characters like Kirk and Spock and the token Klingons I’m very much familiar with. Una/Number One stirs the pot quite a bit in that regard and stands out till the end.
For the first novel in a trilogy meant to celebrate fifty years of Star Trek, Cox’s Captain to Captain is definitely a recommended read!
Note: Do not read the following if you have not read Captain to Captain. Here be spoilers.
From where Greg Cox leaves off, David Mack takes up the reins. David is another old-hand at Star Trek and has written some great ones over the years, with Best Defense being no different in that regard. By now we know well what happened during the USS Enterprise‘s first mission to the planet of Usilde, and the disaster that followed where the crew of the ship was concerned. Multiple crew members lost, a dangerous alien race thwarted at great cost, and the beginning of a secret tradition maintained by the senior officers of the ship who followed in the footsteps of Captain April and Lieutenant Una.
For me, Best Defense was a huge step-up from Captain to Captain. A lot of times it has been the case that the middle novel in a trilogy is weaker than the novels preceding and succeeding it, for a multitude of reasons. It gets very irritating in such a situation since you are looking forward to the story continuing on and more great moments, but then everything falls flat. Not so in this case. Greg Cox laid down a solid foundation for David Mack and the latter then built a solid structure on top of that foundation.
The novel is divided into three separate storylines, very much like the one before it. The first storyline deals with the USS Enterprise in the present as it hunts down a Romulan spy who possesses a dangerous artifact, the Transfer Key from the first novel. The second storyline, also set in the present, deals with the Federation Ambassador Sarek who is holding a diplomatic conference with the Klingon Ambassador Gorkon on a planet near their shared territorial border. And finally, the third storyline deals with Captain Una, who has transitioned to the home-dimension of the Jatohr to find her missing fellow crew-members from eighteen years ago.
Where the first novel was mostly setup with some good action scenes thrown in for good measure, Best Defense is mostly all-about action interspersed with some major plot development and some great emotional moments. It is a novel that emphasizes the importance of family for the crew of a Federation starship and even more beyond that. Whether the relationship be between two biological family members, or between the crew of a ship, Best Defense puts the best foot forward in that regard, metaphorically speaking. We have Spock and his parents, Sarek and Amanda. We have Doctor Leonard McCoy and his daughter Joanna. We have the Romulan spy Major Sadira herself who is not biologically a Romulan, but ends up going against the crew of the Romulan warship placed under her command. This all makes for some stirring read as David Mack delves into the emotional aspects of life in the Star Trek universe.
With all the action that happens in this novel, the pace is very fast and every few chapters there is some major development that forces the characters to react and adapt to the changing situation. The most… haunting example of such can be found in Captain Una’s narrative as she encounters some of her old crew on the Jatohr world and comes face-to-face with some big realizations about their home dimension and her place in it. Not to mention that her reunion is pretty emotional, though even that must bow before the pace of the plot since the characters have to literally keep moving and not get bogged down.
And as with Captain to Captain, Best Defense also captures the true spirit of Star Trek. It isn’t just a story about daring starship captains averting interstellar disaster in the flashiest of ways or just about relationships, personal and otherwise. It is about all of that and then some. It connects you to the characters directly, such so that oftentimes you can be reading the dialogue in the voice of the actors from the original series. It all just… fits and never seems out of place. This holds true for Una as well even though Majel Barrett had nothing but a cameo as Number One. There’s a strong sense of… belonging in the novel. That everyone is where they are meant to be, whether the heroes or the villains.
This was a fantastic read and I’d recommend this one even more highly than the first. The writer takes the time to familiarize the reader with the ongoing narrative from the first novel and doesn’t leave out any major detail, so if you read this first for some reason, you won’t be lost. Much.
Note: Do not read the following if you have not read Captain to Captain and Best Defense. Here be spoilers.
Unfortunately, I must say that Purgatory’s Key doesn’t compare to either of the two novels that have preceded it in this series. And in fact, I must say that Dayton Ward and Kevin Dilmore miss out in a big way, and there are good reasons for that. We do pick up from where Best Defense leaves off, with the Enterprise heading back to the world of Usilde to retrieve the missing Captain Una, as well as other key characters who have gone missing in the Jatohr home dimension. The diplomatic conference didn’t go as well as expected and now the security of the Federation itself is in danger since the Klingons are now aware of the Transfer Key artifact and seek to take control of it for their own benefit, something that will redefine the balance of power in the quadrant.
Whereas the previous two novels gave plenty of space to some really well-done action scenes, whether they be ground assaults or space battles or atmospheric confrontations, Purgatory’s Key does the same as a mere convenience, an afterthought rather than a set-piece that was the focus. And this really bothered me, truth be spoken. They were all too brief with little to set them apart from each other and they all pretty much flowed together. That’s not what I expected after the detailed conflicts presented by Greg Cox and David Mack in the previous novels. A big letdown.
And second, we learn finally what and how different the Jatohr home dimension is, and this is where I felt that the story really suffered. The explanation was too far along the crazy Star Trek spectrum. It was a really wild explanation, and the payoff felt rather weak. Not to mention that Sarek’s scenes here were very mediocre and while the story itself is full of technical terms, they seemed all flash and no substance. Complexity for the sake of complexity and not to serve a higher purpose.
I still enjoyed the novel since over the course of the previous two novels I’d come to really care for all the characters involved, but still things were lacking in the grand scheme of things. I didn’t have as much of a connection to the story as I’d had before and that really rankled. I didn’t expect the concluding novel in the series to be such a downer. Purgatory’s Key is all mystery and little in the way of any satisfactory conclusion. Plus the writers tie-off everything too neatly rather than leave some cracks that could potentially be exploited and this brought a conversation to mind that I’d had on Twitter recently about how tie-in writers cannot break the status quo. While that is a subject all on its own and I disagree with that stance on a big level, with this novel I felt that the writers put themselves into a corner that they couldn’t get out of later.
To add to that, some of the new characters that were introduced also felt as if they were afterthoughts since their actions left a lot to be desired and they just weren’t that impactful in any way. I expected far more it seems, and I would undoubtedly be justified in that since the previous novels set such a high bar for Purgatory’s Key. When handled well, Klingons are very fascinating to read about. But when that is not the case, then they become dull and boring, little more than cliches, and that was exactly the case here. Ward and Dilmore had a big opportunity here and for me, they just couldn’t get there.
The novel is not a total loss however. Interspersed amidst all of the elements that I found critical and negative were others where it excelled. The relationship between Joanna and Doctor McCoy being one of them, but also the subtle hints of the strong relationship enjoyed by Spock and his mother. We rarely get something substantive on how Spock relates to his parents, and these novels, particularly Purgatory’s Key do a good job of that. Especially given how his fate as unfolded in the rebooted movies.
Overall, not too bad a conclusion but could have been a strong installment had the writers been more committed to the characters and had expanded on their motives and their conflicts.
More Star Trek:
- Cast No Shadow by James Swallow (Review)
- The Fall #1: Revelation and Dust by David R. George III (Review)
- The Fall #2: The Crimson Shadow by Una McCormack (Review)
- The Fall #3: A Ceremony of Losses by David Mack (Review)
- The Fall #4: The Poisoned Chalice by James Swallow (Review)
Posted on May 15, 2017, in Book Reviews, Review Central and tagged Aliens, Best Defense, Captain To Captain, Captain Una, David Mack, Dayton Ward, Enterprise, Greg Cox, James T. Kirk, Kevin Dilmore, Klingons, Majel Barrett, Military SF, Montgomery Scott, Number One, Purgatory's Key, Romulans, Science Fiction, Simon & Schuster, Spock, Star Trek, Star Trek 50th Anniversary, Star Trek: Legacies, United Federation of Planets, USS Enterprise, Vulcans, Women in Science Fiction, Women in SFF, Women In Star Trek. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.