Monthly Archives: October 2012

Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter, by Michael Reaves

It had not been an easy path that he had been set upon.  To be a truly superior being, apart from and above the senseless herd, required absolute devotion and dedication.  He had had to learn self-sufficiency, both in body and in mind, almost from the time he had learned to walk.  His master would accept nothing less than the absolute best that Maul could offer.  When he was younger, if he had flinched during his training when the edge of a weapon found his flesh, or when an incorrect block or defensive maneuver resulted in a cracked bone, his punishments had always been swift and inevitable.
-The early life of Darth Maul

When Star Wars Episode One was still being hyped as much as the Second Coming, fans were anticipating great things out of the main villain, Darth Maul.  All things considered, though, he didn’t get all that much screen time, and was promptly sliced in half at the movie’s climax.  So much for Darth Maul.

Of course, authors can never let things rest on just that, can they?

That brings us to Star Wars:  Darth Maul-Shadow Hunter.  Taking place prior to the Phantom Menace (and ending probably 15 minutes before the movie begins), the evil Darth Sidious is putting in motion his plans to bring the Trade Federation under his thumb.  In the course of explaining his plans to the Neimoidians, he notes that there is one less attending than he’d expected.  Despite the seemingly successful attempt to lie to Sidious, the villain deduces that there’s treachery afoot…so he sends Darth Maul on his trail.

In the meantime, an information broker named Lorn Pavan and his droid partner I-5YQ, blow a deal on a Sith Holocron (a recording device) on the world of Coruscant, and the two are eager to find something that will supplement their income to the point where they aren’t living in dives.  Elsewhere, at the Jedi Temple, Padawan Darsha Assant is given an assignment to bring to the Jedi a former member of the Black Sun organization, for her last official duty before she becomes a Jedi Knight; unfortunately, he’s in the lower levels of Coruscant, in the Crimson Corridor, one of the roughest neighborhoods around.

These seemingly unrelated events are destined to collide head on.

To put it simply:  I never really liked Darth Maul.  I’ll grant that nobody used a lightsaber like he did in the Phantom Menace, but he had no personality.  It could be that I kept comparing him to Darth Vader, and I guess almost any villain would come up short there (I firmly believe that in a steel cage match, Vader could take down Maul in no time).  Reaves tacitly acknowledges the fact that Maul is rather one-dimensional, and instead of fleshing him out, he found reasons to explain it…reasons that fit in nicely with the general training of Jedi Knights.  I still don’t think much of the character-in some ways, I think that Boba Fett could’ve replaced Maul in this plot, and it would have turned out generally the same.  All things considered, though, it could’ve been worse.

Where the book shines, though, is with the supporting characters.  Lorn and I-5 are an interesting pair; Lorn is a standard kind of low-life with some scruples, with an interesting back story; I-5, though, is a wonderfully versatile droid possessed of a greater sense of humor than Artoo or Threepio…probably because he knows he’s being sarcastic/humorous.  Darsha gives a different point of view from a Jedi Padawan; eager instead of solemn, she throws herself at her mission with gusto-with rather surprising results.

Some reviewers have hit this book with the complaint that you know everyone except Maul’s going to end up dead or worse; after all, nobody knew about Maul or the return of the Sith until the Phantom Menace.  Of course, I expect the same people don’t bother watching the Star Wars prequel movies, since they know that Obi-Wan Kenobi is going to get cut in half by Darth Vader-formerly the cute little kid Anakin Skywalker.  And those people have missed the point.  The book may not be the best one written, but in a book like this, it’s the process of getting to the end rather than the end itself that fascinates.

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The Thousand Orcs, by R. A. Salvatore

There are times when I so wish that things could be different, that tidy and acceptable endings could find every tale.
-Drizzt Do’Urden

Orcs get no respect.

It’s true.  While the Lord of the Rings movies may reverse that trend a bit, the fact is that ever since Tolkien, orcs have done the grunt work.  More than your average city guardsman, these guys are the cannon fodder; they exist for the sole purpose for heroes to carve through them like a hot knife through butter.  They rate slightly higher than goblins.  But King Obould Many-Arrows is looking to change that perception, at least in an indirect manner.  He’s an orc, and he’s got a desire to take back a former citadel of his, before a batch of dwarves came along and took it while he was busy with a rival band of orcs.  However, his ambitions are destined to put him along with his army against the most famous heroes of the North.  But why should he worry?  He’s got The Thousand Orcs.

The first thing to understand is:  if you’re looking to see Drizzt Do’Urden, famous drow ranger of the Forgotten Realms in a steel cage match against a thousand orcs, forget it.  In spite of what the inside cover and back cover say, this is not a solo Drizzt book.  Besides, if a scene like the one on the cover ever actually happened, our hero would be in serious trouble.  Plus, I figure he’d avoid direct confrontation, staying in shadows…!

Enough of that.  Time for the basics.  As of the close of the last book Salvatore wrote, Sea of Swords, Bruenor Battlehammer had gotten word that the King of Mithral Hall had finally died-which meant it was time for him to once again resume the throne (long story).  But Bruenor has it in his mind to have one last great adventure, rivaling the finding of Mithral Hall in the first place-an ancient stronghold known to the dwarves as Gauntlygrym.  Another motive to find it is the fact that the city of Mirabar is also looking for it, mostly because their mining business has been hurt by the work of the Mithral Hall dwarves.  In the process, however, they find themselves sidetracked by evidence of orc raids, aided by significantly larger allies.  And behind them in the shadows, a quartet of drow elves who are (amazingly) not interested in ruling the surface or hunting down Drizzt, but are instead rogues from their assorted cities.

Salvatore’s books over the last couple of years have been fairly solid stand-alones.  In other words, they weren’t so much a series in that sense of the word as much as they were about single stories.  While it was certainly helpful to have read previous books, it wasn’t highly required.  Well, with The Thousand Orcs, we’re beginning a trilogy; the first book means this is as good as it gets as far as backstory-the next two will probably not be as kind.  Salvatore’s going for more of an epic feel off of this trilogy, though, and the titles of the rest of the trilogy should give a foreboding feeling as to the tone those books will take.

Yet this one starts in a hopeful manner-for the first time in a long, long time, the Companions of the Hall are together again, adventuring together again.  Wulfgar, Cattie-brie, Regis-they’re all here.  And each of them have a fair amount of time giving the reader insight into their current characters-mostly during scenes in which it makes sense.  There’s a number of interesting subplots going on in the background too.  Even setting aside Obould’s plans and the drow rogues, there’s intrigue going on in Mirabar, where its ruler has crossed the line from being a rival to the dwarves of Mithral Hall to an outright enemy; this move has a chilling effect among some very important dwarves in Mirabar, threatening its peace.  Speaking of dwarves, a pair of dwarves known to readers of some of Salvatore’s earlier works are making their way to Mithral Hall themselves (and if you understand the significance of “doo-dad”, then you know who I mean!).  Salvatore also manages to work in some contemplations on the relationship between Cattie-brie and Drizzt, recognizing some very significant obstacles to it, as well as a greater appreciation for the nature of mortality.

The Thousand Orcs is a fairly action packed story, which I’ve come to expect from Salvatore; it keeps the reader turning pages until the rather chilling epilogue (which is all you’re getting from me until the next book is released).  It represents a turning point in the lives of the major characters, and foreshadows a danger to the entirety of the Spine of the World.  So don’t think of orcs as cannon fodder; think of them as the biggest danger Drizzt Do’Urden and his friends have ever faced.  Really.

Categories: Forgotten Realms, Legend of Drizzt, The Hunter's Blades | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

The Farther Shore, by Christie Golden

The Borg are so familiar to us, they’re like old friends.  Perhaps more like old enemies.  We know them in a way Starfleet, indeed no one who wasn’t on Voyager, can understand.  We’ve lost a lot of our fear of them out of necessity.  I think we’ve forgotten how terrifying they are.
-Admiral Kathryn Janeway, late of the U.S.S. Voyager

Things looked as if they were going to be all right.  The U.S.S. Voyager had returned to the Alpha Quadrant, and although it wasn’t as celebratory as they may have expected, the crew was at least glad to at least be home.  But things started going bad.  Admiral Montgomery was distinctly hostile to the crew, and seemed obsessed with the futuristic technology still on board Voyager.  Holograms based on the EMH Mark One have begun to go on strike-and worse, their leading advocate, Oliver Baines, has killed on their behalf.  B’Elanna Torres has gone on a Klingon spirit quest in order to find her mother-if she still lives.  And, to top off everything else, people on Earth are beginning to mysteriously transform themselves into Borg.

The Farther Shore opens with Seven of Nine, Icheb, and the Doctor imprisoned; unsurprisingly, Janeway doesn’t take to kindly to this, and as longtime viewers of the series know, it doesn’t pay to mess with her.  She’s on a bit of a deadline, though-Montgomery wants to delete all but the most essential programs from the Doctor’s to serve as an example to the other holograms, and he’s content to keep Icheb and Seven out of regeneration chambers, which will lead to their deaths.  On a different front, Libby Webber, Harry Kim’s old flame (and quickly becoming current) and secret member of Starfleet Intelligence, is tracking down a lead concerning corruption in Starfleet, but quickly leads to something far, far worse-something known as the Royal Protocol.  Corruption is the least of Libby’s problems at that point.

This secret, as well as other bits of uncovered information, causes Janeway to make one of her famous alliances of convenience to make a breakout in a fashion eerily similar to that of another famous Trek breakout.  The methods involved in the breakout are substantially different, though; it also helps that Doctor Kaz, who works under Admiral Montgomery, is highly sympathetic to Seven and Icheb’s danger.  Meanwhile, B’Elanna manages to continue to survive the wilderness of Boreth.  On another front, the rights of the Doctor are also explored, by the one being in the Federation who has had to fight for those rights himself before-Commander Data, of the Enterprise.  The Commander also proves useful in other activity as well.

As for my own impressions:  I was only somewhat surprised to see that my guess concerning the source of the Borg virus was off.    I’d really expected a “Dark Frontier” explanation, but I can tolerate the explanation given in this book.  The entire B’Elanna arc felt like the B-story of an episode of Voyager, and ultimately had nothing at all to do with the main plot of the book.  The same can also be said of a short subplot involving Baines’s holograms, as he puts the shoe on the other foot for some Starfleet personnel.  Neither one of these subplots really did much for me; the book would have been okay without them.  (As an aside, I don’t have a problem with the B’Elanna and her mother subplot; it’s just that it would’ve been nice if it tied in to the story, somehow.  I realize that real life isn’t that neat, either)

Ultimately, The Farther Shore was an okay read; it was certainly better than a large number of the show’s episodes, but it wasn’t as deep and as enjoyable a read as the DS9 Avatar books.  Then again, Voyager didn’t tend to be as deep as DS9 (hm, that bias of mine is showing again).  Still, for fans of the Voyager series, I believe they’ll find little wrong with the conclusion of the Homecoming storyline; there aren’t as many loose ends to tie up, but the series shows some promise, and will be worth following for at least a while longer.

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House Harkonnen, by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson

Treachery and quick thinking will defeat hard-and-fast rules any day.  Why should we be afraid to seize the opportunities we see?
-Viscount Hundro Moritani, Response to Landsraad Court Summons

In some ways, it’s a little strange that this book is called Dune:  House Harkonnen.

It covers the eight years following the last book of this trilogy, Dune:  House Atreides.  There’s a lot of subplots going on here.  Duke Leto of Caladan is dealing with affairs of state and the heart.  Duncan Idaho, the one character who has been in every Dune book so far, is sent to the planet of Ginaz to study with the legendary Swordmasters.  Gurney Halleck is introduced, a man desperate to find what has come of his sister on the Harkonnen world of Giedi Prime.  The young Liet-Kynes, future planetologist of the Imperium grows up on Arrakis with his fellow Fremen.  And C’tair Pilru, a rebel on the Tleilaxu-occupied planet of Ix, tries to find a way to drive them off his world.

But while there are many threads going through this book, there is an excellent reason why the Harkonnens get top billing in this book.  The mostly-despicable Harkonnens are the driving force behind this book.  Baron Harkonnen, for example, finally finds out why his once-healthy body is bloating up-and takes typical action to try to repay his tormentors.  The Harkonnen homeworld is a source of grief for Gurney Halleck, as their actions take his sister away from him.  Glossu Rabban earns his title of “The Beast” in this book…and we see more of probably the only example of a Harkonnen that could be considered a moral person, Abulurd Harkonnen.

As with the previous book, intrigue and treachery-a staple of Dune novels-are present, in every one of the Great Houses.  House Harkonnen deals with internal strife even as it makes strikes both covert and overt against its enemies.  Houses Atreides deals with not only the turmoil of sheltering the heirs of House Vernius, but with matters of the heart-complicated by the introduction of the young Bene Gesserit named Jessica.  In House Corrino-which doesn’t get too many pages on this one-Emperor Shaddam IV discovers the difficulties in having a Bene Gesserit wife who is secretly insuring that she bears him only daughters instead of the male heir he desires.

In addition to this, we see the first appearances of both Feyd-Rautha, future gladiator extraordinaire, and Dr. Wellington Yueh, who turns out to be far more interesting than when I’d first read about him in the original novel Dune.  There are also-once again!-tantalizing hints of the future as chronicled in the later novels:  the Tleilaxu are working on experiments in Ix that aren’t destined to see fulfillment until Heretics of Dune; the Harkonnen no-ship, and the reason why it hasn’t been seen long after, is resolved.  There are prophecies:  one of the Fremen foresee that “the mouse and the hawk are the same!”, which longtime readers will have no trouble figuring out.  And Piter deVries, the Harkonnen mentat, foresees the loss of the House’s melange monopoly…but not enough to tell him how or why (but fans of the series already know the answer to that).

The greatest appeal of this book-and the previous one, as well as the next one (Dune:  House Corrino, if I recall correctly)-is showing just who were the characters who were introduced in Dune that we never go the chance to know.  As I’ve said before, I’m not Kevin Anderson’s biggest fan, but I’m still one the roller coaster for this collaboration.  If you enjoyed the Dune books by Frank Herbert-or even if you just read Dune:  House Atreides-go buy this book and read it!

(As an aside, there is a mini-series premiering in December on the Sci-Fi Channel-in theory, they’re going to show Dune as it should have been done in the theaters way back.  It’s all new, and if you get the Sci-Fi channel, it’ll probably be worth seeing.  I don’t think I’ll be reviewing it, as this is a book review site, but it might encourage me to review the original novel!)

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The Left Hand of Destiny, Book One, by J. G. Hertzler and Jeffrey Lang

Afterward, if you find yourself in a position to tell anyone about me, exaggerate nothing.  Don’t make me bigger than life.
But, General, you are bigger than life.
I’m not a general.
All right, Chancellor.
Or that.
Than what are you?
Just a Klingon.  Just a man.
-Martok and Pharh

Of the various alien species that have populated the universe of Star Trek, none have evoked the same fascination with the fans as the Klingons.  In the original series, they were the enemy, wishing nothing more than to conquer the United Federation of Planets.  By the time of the Next Generation, time had made them allies; we were exposed to their culture, their sense of honor and their love of battle to prove that honor.  They briefly became enemies again during Deep Space Nine, but the rift between allies was healed when the Dominion made their bid for the Alpha Quadrant.  It was that series which introduced General Martok-a character who started out as a minor one kicking off the temporary tiff between allies, but evolved into a Klingon unlike the others in Star Trek.  Where Worf was a Klingon raised by humans in the Klingon fashion and applied Federation morality to his Klingon side, and where most of the other Klingons were all “battle, glory, and honor” (or were underhanded weasels), Martok turned out to be quite different-a Klingon who loved the same things as most, but allowed his reasoning to rule his instincts.  By the time the series ended, Martok had ended up named as Chancellor of the Klingon Empire.

Which is where The Left Hand of Destiny begins.

Martok is aboard his flagship, arriving at Qo’noS, to be officially acknowledged as Chancellor at the Great Hall by the members of the Klingon High Council.  While Martok has some reservations, he seems to be in much more improved morale…right up to the moment the Great Hall is wiped out, with all the council members in it.  A Klingon named Morjod takes credit for it-and speaking as a “freedom fighter”, declares that the Klingons have lost their way, become a servitor race to the Federation, and vows to lead the Klingons back to greatness (read:  conquerors).  He has creatures from Klingon myth at his side; and he has a handy scapegoat for all the problems of the Klingon Empire-Worf!  And, naturally, since you need to get rid of a Chancellor to become a Chancellor….!

As Martok tries to get a handle on events, on the surface, Worf’s son-Alexander-is dealing with the fallout of the attack on the Hall; unsurprisingly, he feels as if he’s got a target on his back, being the big traitor’s son and everything.  Alexander also makes the acquaintance of a rather interesting Ferengi named Pharh, who is as unique an individual as Rom and Nog from DS9.  In the meantime, Martok’s wife, Sirella, is also in dire straits, as she recognizes that her home and family are likely to come under attack as well.  What she doesn’t know, however, is that Morjod isn’t exactly alone, and a major motivation for the coming events has everything to do with her and Martok.  And there’s a mysterious Klingon wandering around the edges, who isn’t happy about this turn of events one little bit.

For the most part, I’ve been impressed with books with former Trek actors as at least co-writers.  A Stitch in Time was a great book, and I had liked the early Shatner books (before they started looking the same).  This one is no exception, written in part by the actor who had played Martok.  It also helps that Lang had previously impressed the hell outta me with Immortal Coil.  As a team, Hertzler and Lang have put together a fine start to this two-part story.  I could draw some comparisons with some older, more famous stories-parts of the book had a King Arthur kind of feel to it (and not the action sequences); others put me in mind of Robin Hood (especially the last action sequence!).  I also loved a couple minor homages to one of the best (if not the best) Klingon books written (before Next Generation came along and revamped everything; kai the authors!).

New characters in the book stand out as well, both major and minor.  Pharh, as I’ve already mentioned, is a unique Ferengi-he actually wants to see the universe and keep as much of space between himself and his family as possible.  He also manages to rub shoulders with just about every major player in the story (at least the ones on the side of the angels).  Morjod starts out looking like a fairly charismatic Klingon (perhaps more than he should be), but later sections show that there is more to his story than is apparent to the Klingons in the Empire.  And then there’s Darok, gin’tak of the House of Martok; he’s a fairly minor character so far, but I absolutely loved his opinions about his mother, and just what her position in Sto-Vo-Kor (the Klingon afterlife) must be.

I can’t wrap the review of Book One without mentioning the main character-and that’s Martok.  Martok was more or less pushed into taking the title of Chancellor, and he’s still uncertain as to whether or not it really suits him.  It’s something that weighs on him as he infiltrates the Emperor’s Palace, and prompts him to make a telling set of statements at the end of Book One (which I won’t go into, because I think it has a much greater impact when read for the first time).  The book closes at a turning point for Martok, and I am eagerly looking forward to see just where the story goes from here in Book Two.

And to think:  when the books were first announced, I was saying “oh, no, not another Klingon book”.  Thanks for proving me wrong, guys.

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Winter’s Heart, by Robert Jordan

I’m going to cleanse the male half of the Source.
-Rand al’Thor, the Dragon Reborn

Anyone who thinks I’ve spoiled anything in that quote, no fear-it comes in this book’s prologue.

A word of warning-unlike most of my reviews, I am not going to summarize the books prior to this one.  There’s just too much going on in this series.  Suffice it to say, Rand al’Thor is the Dragon Reborn, who is said to be the man who will fight the Last Battle of this Age of the Wheel of Time against the Dark One.  If you haven’t read the previous eight books, don’t read this book-read the first eight first.  Believe me, this is not a book that stands alone well.

On the other hand…if you’ve followed the story of Rand, Mat, Perrin, Egwene, Elayne and everyone else-you probably know most of what’ll be going on in this book.  Winter’s Heart inches closer to Tarmon Gaidon, the Last Battle.  You would think that we’d have made more progress in nine books.

(I’m not bitter.  Really.  I’ll save the rant for the end of the review)

This book has a number of plots rolling.  The main ones involve Elayne, Daughter-Heir of Andor, trying to keep her nation from splintering off into civil war; Rand’s quest to cleanse the male half of the True Source (Jordan’s version of magic) of the Dark One’s taint-which causes all men who use it to eventually go insane; and most amusingly of all, Mat’s inevitable meeting with the Daughter of the Nine Moons, whom he is destined to marry (a fate which he’s not exactly fond of).  There’s a number of side plots as well, involving the kidnapping of Perrin’s wife (and her maid, the mother of Elayne in disguise), and the attempts of Cadsuane, one of the Aes Sedai, who is trying desperately to catch up to Rand, fearing that he’s losing his grip on his very humanity.

In some of Jordan’s previous books in this series, I’ve felt that nothing really happened.  It was a pleasant surprise to see that we’re actually getting some resolutions in this book.  Mat’s been MIA for the previous two books, and it was good to see that his fate has finally caught up to him (in part, at least).  Rand’s quest to cleanse the True Source with a pair of the most powerful magical focuses in the world is certainly something would expect he’d eventually try-as he rightly points out, it isn’t much good to recruit men who could use the Source if they all went insane before the Last Battle.  And Rand’s love life finally comes together in a rather odd, but not wholly unexpected manner.  For once, I feel that things have happened that make a difference.  But this leads up to my biggest pet peeve with this series.

<Rant On>
Jordan continues to drag this story out.  It’s been almost ten books!  I realize that the Last Battle is not something you rush, but a good story does eventually end.  I don’t know how much longer this series is to run, since I haven’t kept up with the newsgroups on this, but it’s obvious that it won’t end on book 10, and I’m not certain it’ll be over by book 12.  The fact is, each time a new book comes out, I’m having to re-read over a half dozen books; and as longtime Jordan fans know, these are not small books, in both quantity and quality.  While I’ll be sorry when the story finally reaches a conclusion, I’ll be glad to see that Jordan’s ready to move on.  Until then, though, each book is going to be filled with anticipation and frustration.
<Rant Off>

I’ll concede that this is a pretty good book.  I’m not as rabid a Jordan fan as some of the folks out on the net, I was happy to see progress made in some subplots, and new subplots beginning to unfold.  All things considered, I have to say that this is probably one of better books to date from Jordan.  If you follow the Wheel of Time books, then pick up Winter’s Heart.  It advances the story quite nicely.

And a warning to new readers.  I’m deadly serious:  go ahead, and read this series.  It’s complex, but so’s real life.  It’s easy to lose track of characters, because there’s so many of them.  If you’ve got the attention span, you’ll enjoy the series.  If your short-term attention span or the long-term has trouble…you might be better with lighter fare.  Jordan’s books can be a little rich.

(2012 note:  in case it isn’t obvious, this was written when Robert Jordan was still living; the series itself should conclude next year.)

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The Brave and the Bold, by Keith R. A. DeCandido

Nice speech.
Thank you.
I especially liked all the dramatic pauses.
-Commodore Matt Decker of the U.S.S. Constellation and Captain James T. Kirk of the U.S.S. Enterprise

Isn’t it interesting whenever there’s something really, really bad going on in the galaxy, the only ships that can get to them are ones named Enterprise, Defiant, or Voyager?

Well, that’s not always true.  Sometimes, there happen to be other Starfleet ships nearby, and we get a glimpse of what things are like under other captains, and other crews.  Sometimes (well, actually almost always), they are drawn as a contrast with the crews we know, but we never really get a chance to know them all that well-after all, the Star Trek shows are about the main characters, not the guest stars; sometimes we also get the impression that these captains are either seriously unbalanced or incompetent.  That’s always bothered me a bit, as you would think that the folks serving on a starship would be better than that.  (Don’t get me started on some of the novel spin-offs like Challenger, Stargazer, or New Frontier)

Ever wonder what the stories were behind some of them?  Well, that’s the drive behind The Brave and The Bold-we get to see the characters of the Original Series, the Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager in a different light.  We see them through the eyes of other crews, other captains (some of whom aren’t even Starfleet).  I have to admit that I was looking forward to these books, just to see the team-ups shown on the covers.

The Brave and The Bold is actually not a single story, or even a two parter; rather, it’s a quartet of short stories, with a prologue involving another ship called Enterprise, and linked together by a common thread.  In this case, the thread is the existence of a quartet of artifacts from an ancient alien civilization.  Those artifacts, unfortunately, were created on the behalf of a power-mad tyrant named Malkus the Mighty, to give him the power over life and death, the power to overcome any enemy, power over the elements, and power over the mind.  The stuff of fantasy, maybe-but someone made them a reality.  This discovery prompts Starfleet to issue a General Order to confiscate these artifacts should they actually be found-because they are far to dangerous to leave laying around.

Does it really need to be said that certain crews become involved?

In the days of Kirk’s Enterprise, Commodore Matt Decker gets a distress call from Alpha Proxima II, and his ship-the Constellation-answers the call, along with the Enterprise.  The planet seems to be undergoing the effects of plague, although the plague seems curiously targeted-while there seems to be no means of transmission, it has conveniently wiped out the government as well as other apparently random locations.  Kirk and Decker find themselves in the unusual situation of having to deal with the problem without much in the way of local support.  It quickly becomes apparent (thanks to certain emissions) that the cause is one of the Malkus artifacts-which means they not only have to find a way to stop the plague, but they need to find the artifact-and the person using it.  While we get to see a lot of Kirk and Decker (who isn’t really sure about Kirk at first), we also get to see the two ships’ doctors and science officers work together a bit (while Dr. Rosenhaus seemed way too similar to Dr. Bashir in his early years-as in, full of ego-I really enjoyed Lt. Masada’s interactions with Spock).

In the early years of Starfleet’s administration of Deep Space Nine, Captain Keogh of the Odyssey comes to Deep Space Nine to meet with Captain Sisko; Keogh’s assignment is to aid in converting a portion of one of Bajor’s moons into farmland, transport some Bajorans to farm it, transport some supplies to the colony of New Bajor in the Gamma Quadrant, and do a bit of patrolling of the Cardassian border, especially as the Maquis are beginning to become active.  The mission sounds so simple; the problem is that one of the folks coming home to farm is a Bajoran named Orta (I don’t recall seeing if there was more to his name, but memory may simply be escaping me at the moment)-a man who was more of a terrorist than a freedom fighter.  Unfortunately, Orta’s got a new toy, and big plans for it….  Keogh struck me as “cranky”; he doesn’t really get along with anyone, especially Jadzia Dax (who just loves pushing his buttons, naturally); actually, the phrase “stuffed shirt” comes to mind.  A more interesting character is his first officer, Commander Shabablala; he’s recently lost a captain, and isn’t interested in losing another.  And of course, I’m always happy to see Chief O’Brien, Constable Odo, and Commander Sisko again.

The second book opens with the answer to the question, “Just how did Tuvok, a Vulcan in Starfleet Security, manage to infiltrate the Maquis?”.  The answer-partially by accident, and partially Starfleet’s very careful planning.  This story has a bunch of “captains”:  we get Captain Janeway (but she’s mostly a cameo role in this one); there’s also Captain DeSoto of the Hood, who’s been mentioned a few time in Next Generation; but we also get a pair of Maquis captains-Chakotay and Cal Hudson (who appeared in the earliest appearance of the Maquis).  It’s the Maquis who gets into trouble this time, as one of their own discovers one of the artifacts-and he sees it as the perfect weapon to use against the Cardassians.  To be honest, the Maquis get most of the page count on this one, since they’re the ones on-site; the story doesn’t suffer one bit, though; watching them try to figure out why Tuvok’s defecting is one of the high points of these books.

The final story features Picard’s crew and Enterprise-E, as well as a number of guest stars (which I won’t go into detail on, for reasons that the reader will figure out fairly quickly); it also features the return of some of DeCandido’s old friends-Captain Klag and the crew of the I.K.S. Gorkon, last seen in Diplomatic Implausibility.  Klag’s responsible for transporting a famous Federation doctor to a speaking engagement to the Klingon homeworld to point out some of the obvious benefits of medicine to a species notorious for preferring to keep debilitating wounds as a matter of honor; unfortunately, the doctor’s shuttle is lost in transit.  Other disappearances across the quadrant lead Klag to join with Picard to find out where the missing went, and the two end up where the last artifact can be found.  The best moment in this story comes from a “meeting of the minds” between two characters who you’d never suspect as being so much alike in their past experiences.

When planning this review, I wanted to be a little cautious; I’m generally inclined to like DeCandido’s work, as he’s consistently gotten characters written right in every franchise I’ve read, from Star Trek to Marvel Comics to Farscape, so I figured I’d need to fight that instinct.  After reading The Brave and The Bold, I gave up; I can’t really help that I like his writing!  The only characters that seemed a little off were the ones in the prologue, but they haven’t been around all that long, and I haven’t really gotten a handle on them either.  Also of note is the fact that DeCandido is making use of info that’s been sprinkled throughout the DS9 relaunch books, primarily info concerning Andorians, although one of the DS9 relaunch characters also has a very brief cameo.

I found these books to be fun reads; the first one primarily because of the chance to see famous crews seen through the eyes of others; the second one primarily because of plot situations (Tuvok and Captain Klag’s crew).  The thread binding the four stories together works for me, given all the things we’ve seen in Trek lore, and the length of time taken between the findings of the artifacts makes sense given the size of the quadrant, and the fact that it gets smaller every year.  So go ahead and pick up The Brave and The Bold.  It’s like reading extra episodes of Star Trek in all its incarnations.

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Ilse Witch, by Terry Brooks

Therefore, as King of the Land Elves and Sovereign Lord of the Westland, I wish this brave company success and good sailing, and I give to their ship the cherished name of one of our own, revered and loved over the years.  I give to this ship the name Jerle Shannara!
-King Elessedil

I hadn’t expected a new Shannara novel from Terry Brooks; his last set of Shannara books seemed to wrap things up pretty well…except, naturally, for one character’s new responsibilities that would take more than a single mortal lifetime.  And the last Shannara book was a prequel of sorts.  But I was pleased by the news that there would be another series set after the Heritage of Shannara quartet; Brooks rarely disappoints.

He maintains that streak with The Voyage of the Jerle Shannara:  Ilse Witch.  Set over 100 years after the Talismans of Shannara, a near dead Elf washes up near the Westland, and is discovered by one of the Elven Wing Riders.  The Wing Rider, Hunter Predd, discovers a map and a bracelet that lead him to the Elven city of Arborlon.  This begins a series of events that draw in two powerful forces of magic:  the Ilse Witch, and the Druid, Walker Boh.

Walker (who no longer uses the Boh name) “inherited” the mantle and cause of the Druids of previous books.  He’s become a little bitter in the last twenty years, as his goal of re-creating a Druid Council that would rediscover the lost sciences to share among all the races seems as far away as when he began.  When Hunter Predd asks for the Druid’s help in translating the map on the behalf of the Elven King, Walker sees a chance to make his dream a reality-or at least take it a large step forward.  The map reveals that there is a powerful magic to be discovered-more incentive.  The bad news is, this is more than enough motivation for the Ilse Witch to become involved.

A great deal of the book centers on gathering the crew of the airship Jerle Shannara, named for the Elven King who fought against the Warlock Lord during the Second War of the Races.  The crew consists of (among others) a bunch of Rovers (the equivalent of gypsies); the builder of the Jerle Shannara (considered good insurance that he didn’t sell Walker a lemon); a seer who has a curious attachment to Walker; Quentin Leah, the latest in a long line of men wielding the magical Sword of Leah; Bek Rowe, who will learn more about himself than anyone could have expected in this book; and a very interesting…person…by the name of Truls Rohk, who is at least as mysterious-if not more so-than Walker himself.

The Ilse Witch, on the other hand, doesn’t get too much time in comparison, but what is shown builds towards the conclusion at the end of the map.  The Witch is an ally of a warlock calling himself the Morgawr, and both appear to be the equal of Walker in magic.  She wants the magic, and a shot at revenge against Walker (which becomes clearer as the story progresses).

The journey itself is remarkably fast (at least in order of pages); at times, it seems almost rushed.  Some of the reasons may be explained by comments made by the crew near the end of the book.  The book spends a great deal of time on Bek Rowe and his struggle to understand not only his identity, but why Walker even bothered taking him along this journey.  There seem to be almost too many characters to keep track of, but I think that’s mostly due to the fact that so much time is spent on Bek.

Still, there are some characters who I find more interesting than others.  It shouldn’t be surprising that I was very interested in Walker.  This character never wanted to become a Druid in the first place, because he despised their manipulative tactics and their habits of keeping dark secrets…and yet in this book, he finds himself becoming exactly what he hates most!  I also found the Ilse Witch interesting, because she didn’t strike me as being as “Eeeevil” as many of Brooks’s other antagonists…just deeply misguided.

One of the big attractions to the more recent Shannara books is that Brooks is willing to expand beyond the limited borders of the map we first got to see in the Sword of Shannara; with the locales visited in Druid of Shannara and Elf Queen of Shannara, and now Ilse Witch, Brooks gives himself plenty of room to explore.  On the other hand, the next book which continues this story may be a bit more limited in territory…but then, while it may seem that this story doesn’t have too much more room to go, Brooks has never failed to deliver a great story in the Shannara books.  I’m looking forward to reading the next one-which can’t come soon enough.

Categories: The Voyage of the Jerle Shannara | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

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