The Soul Key
There may be spoilers ahead.
It's a shame when I'm less excited about a book than I should be for reasons that have little to do with the book, but that's the case here. The DS9 relaunch line, for my money one of the best SF media tie-in series ever, hit a few stumbling blocks over the last few years, the most significant being the Fearful Symmetry situation. Leanna Morrow was hired to write it, but for some reason was dropped from the project, and Olivia Woods was brought in to write the book, apparently starting from scratch. Meanwhile, Pocket halved the number of Star Trek mass market paperbacks it published, meaning more competition for each slot on the schedule. All of which means that DS9 relaunch books have been relatively few and far between compared to the early days of the series.
As to why the delays are a significant problem... the books are serialized, with many storylines carrying over from one book to the next. The novel Rising Son set a few pieces in place for a big new storyline that hasn't really started yet, and that book was published in 2003.
So it's a mixed blessing that The Soul Key essentially follows on from Fearful Symmetry in following just one storyline, the Mirror Universe storyline started a few years back. The good: that storyline has now been resolved. The not so good: aside from a couple of pages at the end suggesting the series may finally be ready to deal with the Ascendants storyline started in Rising Son, the Mirror Universe storyline is all this novel is about. Not to mention that a series that used to be character-driven has had a couple of books that focus almost entirely on one new character and on moving the plot forward. Kira and Vaughn get moments, but the villain, Iliana Ghemor, gets the lion's share of character work.
But again, all those complaints come from looking at the series as a whole rather than this one book. And I raced through this one. It may not be the kind of story I wish we were getting, and it's short compared to many other recent Trek novels, but on its own, it's fine. And those last few pages... well. Damn. I just hope that storyline has a chance to play out, because after next month's Cardassia-centric The Never-Ending Sacrifice, we have a long wait for the next DS9 novel, and it's set several years in the series' future and is part of the Typhon Expanse crossover story arc.
Not much of a review, really, is it? But it's like reviewing a chapter instead of a full novel. Most of what I think about to say has more to do with the publishing problems than the book in its own right. Would it matter that the book gets off to a slow start, spending a lot of time on what Iliana was up to in the buildup to her first appearance a couple books back, if the last four novels had appeared in the space of a single year? Same goes for the fact that this book and Fearful Symmetry both spend an awful lot of time filling in Iliana's backstory. In a different publishing schedule, that's not a bug, it's a feature. I'm also nearing my saturation point as far as the Mirror Universe as concerned -- and there again, that's talking about the Trek line in general rather than this novel.
Anyway, everyone who reads the DS9 relaunch is going to need to read this; anyone who doesn't really shouldn't be starting with it. A few years from now, someone will read all the books in this series one after the other in a short period of time, without the publication delays being a factor, and that person will probably be able to come up with a more useful critique of the novel. Until then, well, it was generally well written, if not as balanced as I might like, and I wouldn't mind seeing what Woods can do in other corners of the Star Trek playground.