Saturday, November 05, 2011

The Romulan War: To Brave the Storm (spoilers)

The end of the two-part Romulan War saga feels like the end to the Enterprise relaunch we've had thus far, tying up threads set up in the various Martin and Mangels then Martin solo novels. It's hard to tell whether the Enterprise post-finale books as we've known them are over now, but the last couple of chapters really provide a sense of everything being wound up and finished off.

But setting that aside, how is it? For me, at least, frustrating. For a number of reasons. First, I never thought the Romulan War really needed a big epic event, and according to some sources this was originally planned as a trilogy and later cut back to two books. As a result I'm torn between thinking it all went on too long and thinking the second book shows the signs of being something very different from what was originally intended. Where the first book, Beneath the Raptor's Wing, took a panoramic view of events, with a wide variety of perspectives, characters, and settings, To Brave the Storm has a tighter focus on the core characters. I liked the first book's approach at times, because we've seen plenty of space battles with our series regulars; we haven't seen the effects on politicians, journalists, and working stiffs.

And the tighter focus on the core characters leads to my second problem. I never had any issues with the decision to keep Trip Tucker alive. We never saw him die, just a centuries-later holodeck reenactment. So far, so good. But I never for one minute found anything believable about Trip Tucker, Federation spy in the Romulan Empire. Even when every character knew that Trip was a spy, they let him live for a variety of unconvincing reasons. And even after years of being a spy, judging by several scenes in To Brave the Storm, Trip never got the hang of talking or acting like anything other than the guy he was on TV. Every second character he encountered, at least, should have wondered what the hell was up with this guy, who looked right but talked cornpone and had inappropriate and blazingly obvious emotional reactions any number of times.

Third problem: though I liked some early Martin and Mangels books, I've found a lot of them, including several solo Martin books, seemed to just go on and on without anything happening. Characters move around a lot and talk a lot but nothing is really accomplished. And I very much had that feeling for the first half of this book.

But then something happened. Maybe it was just the need to deal quickly with all those balls in the air, but the last hundred-odd pages drew me in. I started actually enjoying the book and wondering how things were going to play out. A lot of the answers were predetermined -- Earth wasn't going to lose the war, Trip wasn't going to die, and so on -- but I started getting curious as to how the pieces would come together, and whereas I'd stalled any number of times in earlier chapters I raced through the last several chapters.

Overall, then, a flawed conclusion to a flawed series of books building on a flawed TV series. But one that ended up being a somewhat better experience than I was expecting.

(If you were wondering what I was on about last time, saying it could be hard to review a good, satisfying book, do you get it now?)