Saturday, 25 January 2014

Carried Away by a Crimson Shadow: Una McCormack Books into The Fall

Welcome back weary traveller to the second installment of The Fall. We're spent some time on Deep Space Nine so what's happening over there on the USS Enterprise? Well let me tell you...

For fear of falling into the one trap we avoid, this book is again set within a tight sixty day window. Not sure why? Well there is a reason which is pretty much explained in every book. If you've not read any we won't give it away but it's a nice little twist. As always, dear reader, SPOILER ALERT - we don't mean to but sometimes it's unavoidable. Sorry.

From the cover of The Crimson Shadow you might assume that the focus is going to be on the crew of the Enterprise however Picard and his officers actually don't stand on the front line here as the limelight falls much more solidly on one Elim Garak.

Now the Cardassian ambassador to the United Federation of Planets this is quite an individual story in which Garak is extremely influential. It's not something I was expecting but it works particularly well - at least to being with. The concept is great and having Garak as our guide really marks this novel out from the rest of the series which appear to stay on safer ground using more familiar characters to lead the action. Introducing each chapter with a letter from the spy/tailor/ambassador adds something of a flair to proceedings however after a while it gets a bit bland and getting half way through there was enough political intrigue to crash a Jem'Hadar cruiser. It's not that it's badly written but McCormack does go on for a while as Garak has a televised debate, gets an undercover officer out of prison, discusses the troubles of Cardassia (which reminded me of The Circle) and the like. 

What is a completely different tack from the last 12 months worth of Star Trek novels is that it relies on the strength of a regular recurring character to carry the show but you do welcome any appearance of the Enterprise crew namely Picard or Worf to provide some form of respite along the way. They do appear and while they act as more of sub-characters to the events on Cardassia it's nice to have them along. Smrhova and Glynn Dygan also return for The Crimson Shadow with the latter having a much greater role since he is himself Cardassian. However, whatever angle I tackle their involvement it still feels like they are tacked on to the story rather than integral to its narrative and conclusion. Sorry, Una but I was expecting more from our regulars.

The characters of Mhevet and Temet in comparison are interesting asides however they never seem to break out as strong personalities and I found that after a prominent debate Temet shrank away. Mhevet does come away better as a law enforcement officer investigating an apparent murder but it all seems a bit wishy washy. They do appear to be the typical security officer and political opponent respectively but the events around them are more interesting than the characters themselves. The political instability around the Federation withdrawl is certainly a parallel to real events we know of in this day and age. In that frame, McCormack hits the mark because Star Trek never shied away from attempting an angle on the surrounding world's troubles. Cardassia is recovering and Temet in particular acts as the link back to the old ways, the times before the arrival of the Dominion.

Against Garak, the leader of Cardassia First makes an interesting counterpoint to one who used to operate for the Obsidian Order and, effectively, everything that Temet rallies in favour of returning. This Garak is much more forward thinking, open to new ideas rather than dug-in concepts. Nevertheless there are occasions where we can see him just as confrontational but purposeful in his beliefs. His discourse with the Cardassian castellan is especially telling of his changed character; more thoughtful, less brutal and maybe understanding his place in society and his responsibilities a little more. This Garak is markedly different to the character we knew of old. He's "grown up" if you will, looking out for Cardassia's best interests rather than wholly self-preservation. Being home has altered his primary goal in life.

An ambassador he may be but his loyalty is clearly to his homeworld and his personal beliefs. I liked that but, as I've just said, he is very different. There are some hints of the past which remind us effectively where he has come from but that sneakiness is pretty much non-existent. At times I waited for some of the old Garak to slip out - the only piece I could note was his love of Cardassian literature which he fondly shares with Picard and gives the novel it's title.

I really hoped that the second book would bring more excitement than the first but I found I was getting jealous of +Mark Thwaite who had dibs on Book Three and a return to the world of Deep Space Nine

I do squirm a bit because this isn't a badly written book at all and if you like crime novels it's probably up your street; I just found it, well, forgettable. Saying that, you might be wondering how it all fits with the rest of this loose five book arc. I can assure you it does and there is an element which, quite late on, does segway into the events that transpired in the (much better) first book, Revelation and Dust. I'm upset in some respects because it takes so long to reach that point and I found myself questioning the relevance of the previous 200 something pages. However,The Fall, as I found with Cold Equations is about the sum of the parts.

I admit too that I've had to write this review over quite a long time period for no other reason than I didn't know what to say. Usually I can hammer out a review and discuss every aspect of it, where it succeeded, failed or was just plain mind-blowing but here it's all very average; straight-forward and matter of fact. There's no real big revelation and it feels like the characters are wasted in what is a quite wordy novel which misses some serious action to spice it up. 

Individual stories do run through them but there is still an overriding arc to follow. While it has been said they can be read out of order my experience with the first two books is that I definitely wouldn't follow this advice because of the later revelations. I would hate to read three, four or five and find then that I should have read The Crimson Shadow. I might even suggest that reading it later with perhaps knowledge of the later stories and twists could ruin enjoyment of this book further. My opinion - don't take it as gospel!!!

Overall then, is it worth the cover price? If you're intending to buy the whole series then absolutely and you'll, if nothing else, get to understand all the machinations, the twists and events happening all across the galaxy in this tight 60 day period. I suspect that events alluded to here will be played out/referred to elsewhere but then again, there might be assumptions made (?) as to the reader's knowledge in books three, four and five. Certainly this will fit into the overall tapestry leading from the events of Revelation and Dust and will conclude in Peaceable Kingdoms but my fascination is how it will all come together. Will it only make sense if I read all five (in whatever order I choose) - will all the clues be explained at the end or is it necessary to have, at the least, read all of them to understand the big reveal? Phew. Hope that made sense because this could get very confusing...might have to set myself up one of those situation boards just to work out where everyone is....

Next up we're with +Mark Thwaite as he takes us back for a second trip to Deep Space Nine in A Ceremony of Losses. This review will be LIVE on 26th January!

The Crimson Shadow is available now from Simon and Schuster priced £6.99; ISBN 9781476722207

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