Ah, the second book in the Star Trek relaunches the Fall series. Written by Una McCormack, this book follows the crew of the USS Enterprise-E as it arrives at Cardassia Prime. The Crimson Shadow follows up on my fears that Dust and Revelations (DnR) was pure set up, and, unfortunately, justifies those concerns.
Picking up shortly before the events of DnR, the Crimson Shadow follows Garak, a DS9 alum, as he prepares for the Starfleet withdrawal from the Cardassian Union. Also, the Enterprise (and thus her remaining TNG characters) are on hand for the diplomacy. Naturally, things don’t go as planned when news of President Bacco’s assassination becomes public. This book, time line wise, takes place just prior, concurrently, and for a few days after the events of DnR.
I should clarify that I don’t think that the Crimson Shadow is a poor book. In fact, it’s quite exciting, with political intrigue, a few assassinations, and at least two genuine surprises I’ll try not to spoil, if only because the books are only a few months old. Unlike it’s immediate predecessor, CS definitely stands on its own. The reader only needs a basic understanding of the Star Trek history, most of which can be filled in by watching Star Trek DS9 and the rest is nicely filled in as part of the plot.
I enjoy that the character interactions don’t seem forced. It’s not as if there’s a contrived reason for the Enterprise to be on Cardassia. They were supposed to escort President Bacco back after the signing of the treaty. As the flagship of Starfleet, this makes perfect sense. Garak’s role as ambassador to the Federation, and his history with the antagonists, the True Way, who are the actual party responsible for president Bacco’s assassination, fit nicely together.
In fact, Garak is the main character. His loyalty to Cardassia is definitely well developed and the tension that exists between him and the crew of the Enterprise is well earned, as only Worf has served with Garak before and even then, not under the best of circumstances. One of the best recurring themes in the book are his letters to Bashir. These letters show Garak at his finest, from when he is completely in control of his situation to the meticulous rising of tension, when his letters are far more honest. His affection for Bashir comes through as long absent friend.
One of the best aspects of the book is that nothing just goes away. The effects of the Dominion War are still felt strongly on Cardassia, despite the rest of the Trek universe having moved on (and suffered from the Borg incursion). To Cardassia, those wounds are still fresh, and the pride that made them prey to Dukat and the Dominion is still present. Cultural melting pots aren’t welcome everywhere and not everyone wants the help of the Federation or even sees the Federation and Starfleet as actually helping. The best part about this echoing of real life is that is only helps the plot along, and, despite offering several opportunities, these messages never feel preached. Unless of course you’re getting tired of the Federation methodologies and ideals, which probably means you’re reading the wrong universe.
The idea that patriotism can corrupt is prevalent, as everyone wants what they think is best and no one is evil. The antagonists all have relateable reasons for what they’ve done, often with higher ideals twisted to suite political agendas. I’m not sure anyone can honestly say they don’t see a little of their work environment in the politics of this book.
On the negative side, I do think this book suffers from being the second in a series, with the end once again leading into future events. CS does a much better job of being a self contained story, however. I would say that though I didn’t notice immediately, it felt strange not to have Keiko appear. She was last stationed on Cardassia, helping with the planets botany problems, which are mention as a metaphor for the conflicts. I didn’t notice until I finished reading, and I suppose Keiko isn’t a political figure and so wouldn’t be involved but even a reference would have been nice.
The Crimson Shadow starts to move pieces around, as Picard decides to keep the secret of Cardassian involvement in president Bacco’s assassination a secret, though how they managed to carry out the job remains unclear. This is a plot line that will be followed up on throughout the series, as one of the major conspiracies involving the upper echelon of the Federation.
In the end, I think the book is a lot of fun and I read it in an afternoon. It’s not a hard read but it’s not meant to be. If you read and enjoyed the Star Trek Relaunch series so far, this book makes the list. Next up is the Fall, book three, A Ceremony of Losses, which explore the Andorian’s extinction predicament and Julian Bashir.