Thursday, 1 June 2017

The Miller's Tale: Prey Trilogy Revives the Dead

As a starter, THIS should have been the official trilogy for the 50th anniversary. Beware SPOILERS abound.

Written solely by John Jackson Miller who most recently produced Takedown for The Next Generation, the three Prey novels are one of the highlights of the last few years of the expanded universe of Star Trek. Yes, they are.

I can understand that Legacies drew on The Original Series which was itself 50 years young but as mentioned in my review of that batch of books, the longer it went on, the weaker the trilogy began to feel. Not so here and that may well simply be due to the fact that only Miller had a hand in the story across the three books.

Staying away from creating a new alien race, Miller chooses to keep the story with familiar parties, bringing conflict between the Federation and elements of the Klingon Empire. Now here's the clever bit. Miller hasn't gone all the way back to The Original Series to pull together an immersive plot rather he's stepped into the stomping ground of both The Next Generation and The Search for Spock to dial in to some untapped threads that have never really been unravelled or attempted to be used - at least not in the same place at the same time. Also if you're a fan of the machinations that took place in Devil's Due then this will in no way disappoint.

With the interruption of a Klingon ceremony, the re-emerging of a dishonoured group of Klingons and the apparent return from a fiery grave of one legendary Klingon, Miller has a toolkit literally overflowing with opportunity. With this much going on from the start I was immediately concerned that it would be too much, I might lose track of a thread or that the author might well get lost within the story but I couldn't have been more wrong.

As you may have gathered this series really grabbed me and I flew through the first two books at warp speed to coin a phrase. Bringing in the crews of the Enterprise-E and the USS Titan, it's a series that needs three books to make use of all the characters effectively and build a convincing arc with a logical and tempered conclusion. As you would expect, the first novel does a lot of scene-setting and notably establishment of the dishonoured Klingons referred to herein as the Unsung. At the heart of their agenda is to be re-accepted into the Empire and strike out against those who took their honour many years ago utilising some secret bird-of-prey technology but once this is set out you find that there's more than just the one layer to the story.

This is the genius of the Prey books in that just when you think there's enough going on or that something seems to be resolving itself there is another twist in the tail that adds another item. It might be the inclusion of another character (trust me there are a few that turn up I'd forgotten about from other novels) or it could be that we have another part of the bigger picture revealed that spins off a new line. You never quite know where the story will take you but it never gets out of control and always comes back on course.

Prey is incredibly action-packed all the way through from the bloodbath at the initial ceremony all the way to the third book conclusion passing planetary attack and attempted ambassadorial assassination along the way. As you might expect with this being a Klingon novel series there's a fair bit of narrative assigned to Worf and in line with that we do get understand a lot about the Unsung from his perspective. We do get a lot of the story from the perspective of the Klingons both the Unsung and those other factions of the Empire and you do find yourself rooting for the underdogs from the off. 

It is absolutely unrelenting from start to finish and this is where it has a massive win over Legacies. With those I did feel that by the third novel it was running a little out of steam but here it keeps on giving right to the final page. The pacing is superb, continuing to drop something every few pages to keep you involved. Prey's third book (The Hall of Heroes) is just as good if not better than the first but it doesn't unnecessarily drag out plot elements to their extreme across that final 300+ pages. There are some resolutions within the pages of the second novel but there's still enough guts remaining to make a resoundingly enjoyable finale.

Miller has also provided the series with some truly great Klingons in the form of Korgh and Valandris in particular as key exponents of the Unsung plotline but just when you believe that there's everything uncovered something else drops into place and you're off again on a new line of inquiry.  There's no real "whodunnit" slant to Prey either with the story distinctly explaining all the different angles and views as it progresses. Rather than work it out we get to see each piece gradually drawing together and how each protagonist is working their angle for better or worse.

The Federation characters - Picard, Riker, Vale, Tuvok and Ezri Dax most prominently seem to act as second fiddle to the Klingons but are true to their established TV personas. Aside from some very action-orientated appearances it actually seems that the lower ranked regulars (Tuvok for one) as well as La Forge are given much more active roles within the story and are more integral to the story notably in its later stages.

Tuvok's age and link to previous generations of the franchise is well-used within the trilogy to bring in other elements from the past but Miller has also added time to nod to some more recent guests to the Star Trek universe both individuals and alien races and not shoe-horned either. Each is carefully placed and involved where necessary and it does make very, very clear sense by the end with even the possibility that this story isn't quite over. I might even go so far as to say that Miller might have created one of modern "book Trek's" most interesting and devious villains with more to give. I can't wait to see what direction future writers take that thread in.

I can't recommend this series enough and while some readers may wince at the thought of diving through another trilogy so soon after Legacies I would encourage them to take the leap and get stuck in. Prey will take the reader back to Worf's discommendation, Kirk's defeat of Kruge on Genesis as well as those tender Khitomer Accords and a whole array of warrior traditions etched into Star Trek lore. It's undoubtedly one of the clear Star Trek literary masterpieces and deserves a great deal of recognition. 

The Prey trilogy is available now from Simon and Schuster with each novel priced at £7.99. Book 1 ISBN 9781501115790; Book 2 ISBN 9781501115806;  Book 3 ISBN 9781501116032

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