Friday, April 04, 2008

Day of the Vipers

Well. Epic. Impending doom. Intrigue. Narrow escapes and tragedies that aren't averted. Betrayal. Unexpected romance. Action. Day of the Vipers is quite an experience.

The story feels almost more like Star Wars (the prequel trilogy) than Star Trek. I don't mean it sucks -- it's very good, actually -- but there are parallels between the fall of the Republic and the fall of Bajor. The Cardassians don't just show up and take over, they set in motion a number of plans, using the Bajorans (and some Cardassians) against themselves, letting the conquest happen like dominoes falling in slow motion. It's a long, epic story covering the lives of a large cast of characters over the course of a decade.

The book has a number of main characters, several of whom appeared on DS9 (not that I remembered most of them), only one of them easily remembered and recognized: Skrain Dukat. There are viewpoint characters representing a variety of perspectives -- Cardassian followers of the Oralian Way, Cardassian military, Cardassian spies, Bajoran politicians, Bajoran religious figures, Bajoran police, a Bajoran freighter captain, and a Starfleet character or two, with a convincingly portrayed young Dukat and Bajoran City Watch officer Darrah Mace the two most prominent characters. Each character has his or her own agenda and his or her own demons, leading to sometimes surprising alliances and betrayals. Though the book has its share of action, it's more about intrigue, as the Cardassians work their way into Bajoran society. The Cardassians are playing multiple games, not all to do with the Bajorans, and some of the Bajorans are playing (intentionally or otherwise) for the wrong side. It's a long, complex story that nonetheless keeps you reading to see what will happen next, even though the reader knows there's no happy ending waiting at the end of the book. But that sense of inexorable doom doesn't mean there's no suspense. For one thing, we never really had all that much information on how, exactly, the Cardassian occupation began. More importantly, there are several well-drawn sympathetic characters who were created for this novel, which means we don't know as we read the book if they're going to survive. And many of them don't.

There are a couple of unsubtle Star Wars references -- the prequel trilogy has a character named Mace, for example, and the likeable rogue independent Bajoran freighter captain quotes Han Solo ("We're fine, we're all fine here, how are you?") in one scene, which may draw a little too much attention to the fact that he doesn't have a lot of character of his own. And I don't know if it was Swallow's intent or not, but I pictured a certain character who appears late in the book as if she were played by Torchwood's Eve Myles.

The prose flows smoothly, and the characters, though some are types rather than people, are believable. Swallow's obviously done a lot of homework, tying in references from a number of TNG and DS9 episodes as well as DS9 novels, but the fact that I didn't remember that some of them from onscreen until I skimmed through the book's Appendices shows that they're well integrated into the story rather than just popping up to draw attention to themselves.

This is a solid work of thoughtful entertainment, and a heck of a beginning for the Terok Nor trilogy. I hope this isn't Swallow's only Trek novel. (And I can only imagine how different from this book his Doctor Who novel Peacemaker, sitting still unread on a nearby shelf, must be....)


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