From the back cover:
One simple act, and the troubles of the United Federation of Planets have grown darker overnight. The mystery behind the heinous terrorist attack that has rocked the Federation to its core grows ever deeper, and William Riker finds himself beset by rumors and half-truths as the U.S.S. Titan is ordered back to Earth on emergency orders from the admiralty.
Soon, Riker finds himself drawn into a game of political intrigue, bearing witness to members of Starfleet being detained—including people he considered friends—pending an investigation at the highest levels. And while Riker tries to navigate the corridors of power, Titan’s tactical officer, Tuvok, is given a series of clandestine orders that lead him into a gray world of secrets, lies, and deniable operations.
Who can be trusted when the law falls silent and justice becomes a quest for revenge? For the crew of the U.S.S. Titan, the search for answers will become a battle for every ideal the Federation stands for. . . .
How is it possible that the books of The Fall just keep getting better and better? The Crimson Shadow was simply outstanding, at a level that I thought would be impossible to match. Then comes A Ceremony of Losses, and I have to eat my words, as David Mack more than rose to the occasion. But that level of quality story-telling couldn’t possibly be maintained, could it? It turns out that it can, as James Swallow hits another one out of the park with November’s The Poisoned Chalice.
The Poisoned Chalice continues the two main story threads that have come up so far in The Fall: the fall-out from the assassination of President Bacco, including the rise of the morally-ambiguous Ishan Anjar, and the solution to the Andorian reproductive crisis and the repercussions for Dr. Julian Bashir and his “co-conspirators.” James Swallow deftly handles both threads extremely well, bringing them together in the end in a creative and entertaining way.
The events in the book can be seen as parallels to events and issues in the real world. While some of these parallels are fairly obvious, it is still worth examining them. For example, the members of the “Active Four” group encounter a “black site” maintained by an ally of the Federation, the Klingons. In many ways, this black site is reminiscent of Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo Bay. Similarly, the Ishan regime’s methods of pinning a terrorist attack on the Typhon Pact instead of the true perpetrators brings to mind the initial justification for the attack and invasion of Iraq by the United States in 2004.
A long-forgotten face returns: Will Riker’s transporter duplicate.
Earlier, I mentioned the group called “Active Four,” a paramilitary unit activated by the President Pro Tem’s chief of staff in order to capture or otherwise neutralize the President’s assassins. This group consists of Nog, Tuvok, another member of Starfleet, a Federation “marine,” and a few civilian mercenaries, including a familiar face we haven’t seen in some time: William Riker’s transporter twin “brother,” Thomas Riker! I’ve long been curious as to his fate, and I’m overjoyed that James Swallow was able to use him here.
The original characters created by Swallow are interesting enough, but what I truly enjoyed was his use of the regular characters. Nog and Tuvok are especially well-written, and I really enjoyed the interactions between the two of them. Similarly, Swallow has a great handle on the literature-only characters such as Admiral Akaar and the members of the Titan crew, including my favorite, Ensign Torvig Bu-Kar-Nguv (usually shortened to Ensign Torvig).
I have previously not been a big fan of Titan’s first officer, Commander Christine Vale, but this book has done a great deal to change my opinion of her. She receives a short-lived commission as commander of the U.S.S. Lionheart, and her actions and how she was written really redeemed the character in my eyes. Similarly, I’ve never been very impressed with Tuvok, but his role in this novel is very well-written, and I found myself really empathizing with him.
Tuvok becomes a surprisingly compelling character under James Swallow’s care.
As I’ve said above, I was blown away by this novel. However, if I were to search high and low for one small quibble, it would be the speed at which the Titan seems to have returned to Earth. Previously, she had been out in the far reaches of the Beta Quadrant exploring the fringes of known space. However, she made it back to Earth on what seems to be very short notice. However, as I said, this is a very minor quibble, and if this is the quality of the story we get, I’m okay with the assumption that they found a short-cut!
Absolutely stellar. I thought that I had already figured out what the best Star Trek novel of 2013 would be. Now, I’m not so sure. With The Poisoned Chalice, James Swallow has advanced the story of The Fall in an extremely compelling way. I found myself staying awake into the wee hours saying “just one more chapter” over and over again.
Well done. Dayton Ward certainly has his work cut out for him in the conclusion — and I can’t wait to see how this all turns out!
– Reviewed by Literature Editor Dan Gunther
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