There are moments when I read Star Trek novels and the floor is completely taken from under me, leaving me with my butt rather awkwardly on the ground, and big ass grin on my face. The opening pages of Star Trek – the Fall book 04, The Poisoned Chalice, written by James Swallow, certainly had that effect. Captain Will Riker, promoted on the spot to Rear-Admiral, reporting directly to Admiral Akaar. That’s kind of what fan fiction is made of and it is awesome in the right moments.
The Poisoned Chalice is a fun book. It’s a bit of A cross over between Deep Space 9, in that Martok and Nog are involved, and the Star Trek Titan series. I’d say Voyager, since it has Tuvok, but he’s been a member of Riker’s crew of years now, ever since Voyager returned. So, it sort of a crossover. Titan is an interesting series in that it spins out of The Next Generation but has a main character from Voyager.
So, the plot of The Poisoned Chalice revolves around Riker’s promotion as Akaar tries to discover what’s going on within Starfleet. To that end, he’s used Riker’s promotion to add someone he trusts to investigate. This spins out of an event in book 3 where someone leaked information that Bashir was using the metagenome to try and save the Andorians. Despite Bashir’s success, the political ramifications are felt as Andor tries to rejoin the Federation, Tuvok is sent on a mission to capture the people responsible for President Nanietta Bacco along with Nog, and Riker’s promotion is politics of the worst and best kind.
This review is kind of complicated, in that, as the 4th book in the Fall series, PC has a lot going for and against it.
The main thing for it is that the plot has already been established. To that degree, book works as Tuvok and Nog’s mission discovers the Cardassian’s responsible but that culpability reveals more about the conspiracy in Starfleet that Riker’s new promotion has brought him. The best parts of this book revolve around Riker and his adjustment to the politics of being an admiral, something he’s never wanted. He’s always wanted to be the captain of a starship and to have that suddenly taken from him is an interesting dynamic. I loved this. For the first time, really, we get to see what being an admiral in Starfleet is all about. Sure, we’ve had exposure over the years, but since Riker is the first real character to experience that promotion as something he doesn’t want but feels the need to do, it’s certainly different than Janeway’s.
Dianna Troy, Riker’s wife (obviously, if you’re here) also gets a great spotlight. Too often, she’s reduced in the TV to an emotional wreck. Part of that was the show writers of TNG not knowing what to do with a strong female. Author James Swallow has no such problems. Troi deftly navigates Riker’s promotion, as well as the politics involving the Andorian’s. Here, her political, counseling, and first contact skills all play pivotal roles as she is not subsumed by being an admiral’s wife.
The interaction of the Titan’s crew is also a highlight. The crew trusts Riker and follows him off what appears to be the deep end, as he has them spy on Starfleet command and intercept coded transmissions. The idea to bring back Second-Gen White-Blue is a stroke of genius where, the how’s and why’s I won’t spoil, but it does deal nicely with moral compasses that Star Trek is known for.
So, here’s the down side. It definitely reads like book 4 of a 5 book series. Much of the plot with Tuvok and Nog feels like moving pieces around for the final reveal, which I won’t spoil for now. It involves who’s pulling the strings and what’s gone wrong in the Federation, but it left me feeling hollow. There’s a grand battle and some nice politics with Martok and the Klingons but beyond that, there isn’t much of a story for them. These moments feel the least Star Trek and the most like someones tried the shoehorn a poor action adventure novel into a Star Trek tale. It leaves everything to be desired and I couldn’t wait for those parts of the story to end.
The Poisoned Chalice suffers from it’s placement. As with Dust and Revelations, it feels overpoweringly like an entry to a larger series that can’t stand on it’s own. That’s mostly true of Tuvok and Nog’s story. Riker’s story could stand alone, since he’s mostly in the dark and learning as he goes along, so the disconnect works well to isolate his story as a whole.
In the end, the strength of the Poisoned Chalice is Riker and Troy, along with the Titan crew, while Tuvok and Nog feel perfunctory plot development. How well you like the Poisoned Chalice will probably depend on how you like the mystery of the entire Fall series. I enjoyed it, but it’s not the strongest entry, as I’ve said, due to the maneuvering of plot pieces.
Next comes the final installment of the Fall Event (Heh, the 2013 fall event of Star Trek is called the Fall. I just realized that.) Peaceable Kingdoms. Join me next week.