From the back cover:
Cardassia Prime is home to a prideful people who, for centuries, forged alliances with those they believed would strengthen them and their place in the Alpha Quadrant, and expanded their empire at great cost to other worlds.
For generations, dissenting voices were silenced either by fear or an early grave. When their wartime ally, the Dominion, suddenly turned on them, seeking to transform Cardassia into a tomb for every last member of their race, their old adversary—the United Federation of Planets—put an end to the carnage, and even now works to help rebuild Cardassia Prime.
To celebrate this alliance, the Castellan of the Cardassian Union is to welcome the Federation president to Cardassia Prime. As a symbol of this deepening friendship, the U.S.S. Enterprise-E is tasked to carry the Cardassian ambassador to the Federation back home. For his part, Ambassador Elim Garak is working with Captain Jean-Luc Picard to oversee the diplomatic reception that will commemorate the last of Starfleet’s personnel finally leaving the homeworld.
However, there are malevolent forces at work, who even now strive to “restore Cardassia to its proper place and glory,” and are willing to do anything to achieve their goal…
The Crimson Shadow is the second book in The Fall, a five-book series featuring crossovers between the current series in the 24th-century post-Nemesis continuity. Taking place over a sixty-day period, The Fall deals with a rather shocking attack against the Federation through the eyes of various players in the current continuity. Written by Una McCormack, The Crimson Shadow is primarily set on Cardassia and deals with the effects of The Fall on current Cardassian politics and the former empire’s relationship with the Federation.
I have written reviews of a number of Una McCormack’s earlier Trek works. Those who have read those reviews will know that I think very highly of her work. Hollow Men was a terrific novel, and The Never-Ending Sacrifice will always be a high point of Star Trek fiction for me. So, how does The Crimson Shadow stack up?
Quite frankly, it blows them out of the water.
Author Una McCormack proves herself extremely adept at creating a vivid landscape and tone in the reader’s mind. The Crimson Shadow adopts a noir tone at times, alternating between advancing the plot in surprising ways and becoming a lovely, introspective character piece. The Crimson Shadow is very different from the typical Star Trek novel. While the Enterprise is on the cover, The Crimson Shadow is very much a story about Cardassia at large, and Garak in particular.
The other characters that populate the novel’s pages are extremely dynamic and well-thought-out. Much like Neta Efheny in McCormack’s earlier book Brinkmanship, one of the primary characters in this novel is someone we’ve never seen before: Ista Nemeny, a member of the Cardassian constabulary who is assigned to investigate the murder of a Bajoran Starfleet officer in Cardassia’s capital city. Through the eyes of this investigator, we see Cardassian society like never before.
I make no secret of the fact that Garak is one of my all-time favorite Star Trek characters. From his initial introduction in DS9’s first season, I have always been fascinated by the character and wholly impressed with Andrew Robinson’s portrayal. Una McCormack is able to channel Robinson’s performance in her writing for a pitch-perfect representation of the spy-turned-tailor-turned-ambassador.
Garak is one of the most complex characters ever created in Star Trek, something that Deep Space Nine excelled at. His complexity can be witnessed through his interactions with other characters in the novel. For example, his literary comparisons with Captain Picard were a highlight, as were his letters to Dr. Bashir. In particular, I enjoyed seeing his relationship with Dr. Parmak, who watchers of the television series may recall was mentioned as a victim of Garak’s interrogation techniques in the episode “The Die is Cast.”
In many ways, The Crimson Shadow can be seen as a companion piece to Andrew Robinson’s own novel A Stitch in Time. Readers wishing to get more out of The Crimson Shadow would be well-served to also read that particular book.
After a somewhat ponderous (if still enjoyable) beginning to The Fall in the previous book, Revelation and Dust, The Crimson Shadow shifts gears by giving us less “setup” and more actual plot. It feels as though Revelation and Dust could not stand on its own, and rather needs the rest of The Fall (or perhaps further books set on Deep Space Nine) in order to feel complete. Not so with The Crimson Shadow. While I certainly wouldn’t suggest reading this novel without the rest of the series for context, it could be done and still feel satisfactory.
Vivid characterizations and amazing prose make The Crimson Shadow rise to the very top of great Star Trek fiction, and proves that tie-in fiction is not just “junk” literature. I would put this book toe-to-toe with nearly any modern novel in terms of complexity, entertainment value, and meaning. I enjoyed every single moment of reading this book, even when, at one point, I was tempted to throw it across the room; readers will know which part I mean!
Beautifully written, and featuring the continuing story of one of my all-time favorite Trek characters, The Crimson Shadow currently sits at or near the top of my “best of Trek” list. Well done, Una McCormack; you’ve earned a life-long fan.
– Reviewed by Literature Editor Dan Gunther
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