IKS Gorkon, at last
I have a lot of books I haven't read yet. Hundreds. When you have that many, the fact is that some good books go unread for too long. But I have begun to rectify that.
I have to admit that I've suffered from Klingon fatigue. Not only did TNG, DS9 (for most of its run), and Voyager have characters with Klingon heritage issues, there have been a lot of episodes centering on the Klingons, some of them just recycling the old honor and violence cliches. It's almost surprising to remember just how new, different, and exciting TNG's Klingon arc was when episodes like "Sins of the Father" first aired.
Keith R.A. DeCandido established his bona fides as a good and smart writer about the Klingons with his first Star Trek novel, Diplomatic Implausibility, which was in part something of a test run for the IKS Gorkon series. It was a solid novel that showed the possibilities of a Klingoncentric Trek novel, taking the Klingons and their culture seriously and demonstrating the diversity of characters who can actually exist within that culture.
So why did I wait so long to read these books? I dunno. It's no reflection on the author, who hasn't let me down yet. If it helps, I have books that I've had for a lot longer that I haven't read yet. Better late than never, right? So why bother reviewing these books this late in the game? To remind people who may not have read them that they exist and that they're worth reading, so we'll get more of KRAD's Klingon adventures. (I'm currently reading the third Gorkon book and expect to read the first -- and so far only, though I hope that'll change -- rebranded Klingon Empire novel soon thereafter.)
As always, there are SPOILERS ahead.
A Good Day to Die reintroduces the IKS Gorkon, its captain Klag, and his crew, ensuring the book is completely accessible for anyone who hasn't read (or doesn't perfectly remember) Diplomatic Implausibility. Rather than presenting a wholly standalone adventure that happens to be set aboard a Klingon ship, the book sets up a more ambitious series premise. This is the Klingon version of the Enterprise's five year mission. With the Klingon Empire low on resources following the Dominion War, Chancellor Martok sends a fleet of Klingon ships into uncharted space to seek out new worlds. As the book's back cover says, their mission is "to explore strange new worlds... to seek out new life and new civilizations... and to conquer them for the greater glory of the Klingon Empire!"
The A story of the first novel is the Gorkon's encounter with the Children of San-Tarah, wolflike aliens with little technology but a proud warrior culture. Unsurprisingly, first contact Klingon-style is a lot different from the Federation approach, with military conquest the goal. But this planet is surrounded by subspace eddies that interfere with the Klingons' technology, which means that instead of disruptors, the Klingon troops must rely on bat'leths and other traditional weapons. And they have woefully understimated the people they expect to subjugate. Klingons and San-Tarah develop a mutual respect as fellow warriors, and the leader of the latter proposes that instead of simply warring indefinitely, the Klingons meet a challenge: if they win a majority of five traditional competitions, the Children of San-Tarah will voluntarily join the Empire; if not, the Klingons must leave and not return. Klag accepts, not only because he expects to win, but also because he has come to respect the San-Tarah, and he intends to live up to his end of the bargain honourably. He is, after all, a member of the Order of the Bat'leth, which Martok hopes will help restore the traditional Klingon values to the Empire.
Meanwhile, the B story -- well, it's not as simple as a B story, really. The "meanwhile" is the stuff exploring the characters. Viewpoint characters among the Gorkon crew range from the captain and his senior officers down to grunt level, as we get to know one of the squads of Klingon soldiers. Many of the characters have secrets, or flaws, or both -- and some are not who they seem to be. KRAD excels at taking a collection of characters, some of whom had originally appeared onscreen in TNG or DS9 episodes, some new, and making each a believable character with his or her own motivations, concerns, and pleasures; these are not interchangeable Klingon cliches, but people.
In the end, the Klingons lose the competition. Klag prepares to leave.
Honor Bound deals with the consequences. General Talak, the man overseeing the fleet's mission, refuses to allow Klag to let the world go unclaimed. Klag cannot cast aside his word and his honour and chooses to fight beside the Children of San-Tarah to defend the traditional honour of the Klingons. He sends a message to all members of the Order of the Bat'leth to call for help. In the second book, instead of fighting aliens who prove to be as honourable as Klingons, Klag finds himself fighting Klingons who lack honour.
And somehow Blogger lost the remaining several paragraphs of this review. Let's see if I can reconstruct what I wrote. It might have been a little like this, but it was longer...
Honor Bound deals with the consequences of Klag's decision to stand by his word, and the consequences of Martok's decision to once again make the Order of the Bat'leth a meaningful force for the restoration of Klingon values. In doing so, it kicks up the action of the story, with lots of ground-based and space-based battle sequences and a high body count. But the consequences also play out in a number of ways for all those characters who are driven by secrets and issues from the past. There are divided loyalties, among the Klingon fleet and among Klag's own crew, and several characters find themselves facing the consequences of their own past actions as they play their part in the struggle for San-Tarah and for Klingon honour.
Though the story is on a larger scale this time around, with other ships of the fleet becoming involved, KRAD never forgets to keep the focus on the people in the story. Some characters don't do well under the pressure of the situation; others face their worst nightmares and survive.
The duology is almost like a Mirror or Myriad Universe tale in a way; the Gorkon's mission is, after all, the Klingon equivalent of the various Enterprises' mission, and resembles some of the more extreme anti-imperialist critiques of the original Star Trek. And yet, though the Klingons' values are almost antithetical to ours and the Federation's, KRAD ensures that we not only understand Klag and his crew, we sympathize with them and cheer them on. That's no mean feat.
I think my first version ended with something like, I look forward to reading Enemy Territory and A Burning House soon, and I hope that they will be followed by more books in this series. But Blogger lost all that.
Now I've just finished reading Enemy Territory, which continues the Gorkon's mission of exploration and conquest, this time dealing with a civilization more technologically advanced than the Children of San-Tarah. This time it's first contact with a spacefaring species, but the irony is, it's the Elabrej, not the Klingons, who shoot first. The Klingons are the aggrieved party here, and the crew of the Gorkon must attack the Elabrej homeworld, where several survivors of the detroyed Klingon ship are being held as prisoners, kept from an honourable death. Though this is largely a standalone novel, it nonetheless continues the ongoing subplots around several characters and relationships. Some of the tensions on the ship this time around are due to the ship taking on a number of soldiers and officers who fought against Klag's forces on San-Tarah, and who are planning to demonstrate their discontent as forcefully as possible. The Elabrej, meanwhile, have their own malcontents to deal with, and Klag's people find themselves working with the Elabrej separatists, who have a lot to learn about insurrection.
Once again it's a strong mix of action and character development, this time with an ironic ending: the Elabrej have used up so many of their world's resources that making their world part of the Empire may be more trouble than it's worth.
I'm really looking forward to get into A Burning House and see how the scope of the series is widened up with the Klingon Empire rebranding.