Elim Garak has ascended to Castellan of the Cardassian Union…but despite his soaring popularity, the imminent publication of a report exposing his people’s war crimes during the occupation on Bajor looks likely to set the military against him.

Into this tense situation come Dr. Katherine Pulaski—visiting Cardassia Prime to accept an award on behalf of the team that solved the Andorian genetic crisis—and Dr. Peter Alden, formerly of Starfleet Intelligence.

The two soon find themselves at odds with Garak and embroiled in the politics of the prestigious University of the Union, where a new head is about to be appointed.

Among the front-runners is one of Cardassia’s most respected public figures: Professor Natima Lang. But the discovery of a hidden archive from the last years before the Dominion War could destroy Lang’s reputation.

As Pulaski and Alden become drawn into a deadly game to exonerate Lang, their confrontation escalates with Castellan Garak—a conflicted leader treading a fine line between the bright hopes for Cardassia’s future and the dark secrets still buried in its past…

Una McCormack’s exploration of Cardassian culture and the character of Garak continues in her latest novel, Enigma Tales, a rich character drama set on Cardassia Prime seven years after the events of Star Trek: Nemesis, and eleven years following the destruction of large portions of Cardassia Prime by Jem’Hadar troops at the end of the Dominion War.

The novel continues themes and story elements established in McCormack’s previous novels, and follows up on the aftermath of David Mack’s Section 31: Control, which had a significant impact on the character of Julian Bashir.

Since the events of McCormack’s previous novel, A Crimson Shadow, Garak has been elevated to the leader of the Cardassian Union, serving in the role of Castellan of a Cardassia that has risen from the ashes of the Dominion War and continues to come to terms with its dark past and create a brighter future.

Garak, who has been a central figure in Cardassia’s reconstruction following the Dominion War, may no longer be a simple tailor in this novel, but he still has the same electrifying mix of characteristics that made him such a compelling character in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. He is at once charming, secretive, sly, loquacious, and sometimes dangerous.

As a former spy with a dark past trying to make amends and build a better civilization, Garak is the perfect metaphor for the Cardassia that McCormack has built.

There are a number of key relationships furthered by Enigma Tales, most importantly the relationship between Garak and Julian Bashir. Following the events of Section 31: Control, Bashir has been left in a catatonic state under the care of Garak on Cardassia Prime.

During the course of the novel, Garak is fiercely protective of Bashir, and each chapter is preceded by a series of unsent letters, written by Garak to Bashir, describing the tour of the planet Garak would take Bashir on if he were healthy. One could almost characterize them as love letters, and McCormack leaves the reader to decide the nature of Garak’s feelings for Bashir.

That seems appropriate, given Andrew Robinson, the actor who played Garak and wrote Garak’s backstory in the seminal work of Star Trek fiction, A Stitch in Time, has always said he intended the character’s sexuality to be ambiguous. Garak’s relationship with Bashir is paralleled by his friendship with Dr. Kelas Pamark, a recurring character in Garak stories who was first mentioned in the DS9 episode, The Die is Cast.

The role of the novel’s foil, agitator, and outside commentator, falls to Dr. Katherine Pulaski, who McCormack featured in her most recent Star Trek: Deep Space Nine novel, The Missing. Dr. Pulaski, the irascible, cantankerous physician whose character never quite gelled with the crew of the Enterprise-D, arrives on Cardassia Prime to receive a medal for her role in assisting Dr. Bashir in solving the Andorian fertility crisis.

She quickly butts heads with Garak, however, and becomes wrapped up in a possible conspiracy surrounding the treatment of Cardassian children with Bajoran parents during the Occupation. McCormack capably captures the Pulaski character that we saw on TNG, but she works so much better in these kinds of situations than she did trading barbs with Captain Picard.

One of the best parts of McCormack’s exploration of Cardassia, for which Enigma Tales is no exception, is the expansion upon Cardassian life and culture that we were never afforded in DS9. Alien races in Star Trek can unfortunately tend towards being depicted as a mono-culture, particularly when we only see predominantly one type of person from that race.

The Klingons have certainly suffered from this in recent years, as we saw more and more warriors and fewer and fewer Klingons in other capacities. In DS9 we saw Cardassians as mostly soldiers and spies, and so our knowledge of Cardassian culture was largely colored by that exposure. Enigma Tales features very little of the Cardassian military, and instead exposes us to more of its politics and culture through civilians, most notably the academics of the University of the Union.

This includes Dr. Natima Lang, a prominent dissident who first appeared in the DS9 episode Rules of Acquisition, and who will have an important role to play in Cardassia’s political future by the end of the book.

The Cardassia that McCormack creates is one that is both alien, and yet frighteningly familiar. Of all the races in Star Trek, the Cardassians always seemed most like 20th century humans, encapsulating many of the dark aspects of human history during the 20th (and arguably the 21st) century.

And yet, the fact that the Cardassians mostly closely reflect the darkest aspects of human nature makes Enigma Tales a novel that fits extremely well within the Star Trek ethos, as here is a race of people who have seen dark times, but are working together successfully to create a better future. Those ideas are explored in one of the book’s central storylines, in which a newly democratized Cardassia considers whether to prosecute war crimes committed by Cardassian soldiers against the Bajoran people during the Occupation.

“I’ll tell you something, Julian, this is an amazing planet. Don’t tell your friend the Castellan that, mind you-we haven’t exactly taken to each other very well. But I think he’s a crook, and he thinks I’m a pest. Which is fair enough. I am a pest. Still, he’s sharp as a laser, isn’t he?

I wonder what he’ll do next. He can’t stay Castellan forever.” – Dr. Katherine Pulaski

Enigma Tales is at once a rich character drama featuring one of Star Trek’s best characters and most interesting races, but it is also an optimistic vision for how people can work together to create something good and worthwhile. I’m excited to see where the evolution of the Cardassians and Castellan Garak’s journey to redemption takes us next.

If you liked Enigma Tales, you should check out:

  • A Stitch in Time, by Andrew J. Robinson – Learn about Garak’s backstory and immediate activities in the days following the Dominion War
     
  • The Never-Ending Sacrifice, by Una McCormack – Follow the political turmoil on Cardassia, from the invasion of the Klingons, the Dominion War, and its aftermath through the eyes of Rugal Pa’Dar, the Cardassian orphan on Bajor first seen in the DS9 episode “Cardassians.”
     
  • A Crimson Shadow, by Una McCormack – Part of The Fall miniseries, this novel shows Garak’s rise to leader of the Cardassian Union, how it relates to the assassination of the president of the Federation, and features Captain Picard and the crew of the Enterprise-E.
     
  • The Missing, by Una McCormack – A standalone DS9 novel that introduces the Athene Donald and follows Dr. Pulaski and Dr. Alden as they work with DS9 to solve a humanitarian crisis.
     
  • Section 31: Control, by David Mack – The riveting and challenging conclusion to David Mack’s Section 31 and Julian Bashir arc; learn how Bashir ended up on Cardassia Prime in the care of Garak.
  • iMike

    Definitely going to have to purchase this one, thank you TrekCore for your in-depth breakdown. I’m also going to pick up some of these others!