As I take a month’s hiatus from writing new content for my blog, I invite you to revisit with me a few of my old posts. This one, a slightly-edited review of my favorite Star Trek novel series, was written on my old blog in April of 2016. This is awesome sci-fi literature, folks. And don’t forget, you’re still more than welcome to leave comments! I’m not ghosting this place completely! All links with an asterisk are Amazon Affiliate links.
“Her name, to which various people had recently been appending curses, was Ael i’Mhiessan t’Rllaillieu. Her rank, in the common tongue, was khre’Riov: commander general. Her serial number was a string of sixteen characters that by now she knew as well as she knew her fourth name, though they meant infinitely less to her. And considering these matters in such a fashion was at least marginally appropriate just now, for she was in a trap.
“How long she would remain there, however, remained to be seen…”
–Diane Duane, My Enemy, My Ally
Don’t ask me how to pronounce Ael’s second and third names, because I’m afraid I’m just as lost as you probably are. What I can tell you is that she is one of my favorite Star Trek heroines of all time, and that if you’re going to read any of the Star Trek novels, Diane Duane’s fantastic Rihannsu: The Bloodwing Voyages* series (and its concluding novel, The Empty Chair*) are some of the finest you’ll ever get your hands on.
Ael is the aunt of the female Romulan commander in the Star Trek episode “The Enterprise Incident.” Unsurprisingly, Ael harbors considerable anger against Captain Kirk and Spock for their deception of her niece, who was subsequently punished for her “carelessness.” But she sets aside her resentment when she uncovers a blood-curdling plot by the Romulan government to harness Vulcan mind powers for their own purposes. She reaches out to the now-Admiral Kirk, and together they plan a daring rescue of the captured Vulcans, eventually becoming trusted allies and friends.
And that’s just the first book. I didn’t realize until I was almost finished with My Enemy, My Ally* that it was the first in a quintet! The Romulan Way* ends with Ael’s “theft” of the legendary Sword of the Empty Chair; Swordhunt* and Honor Blade* follow her rise as a revolutionary figure and the outbreak of war between the Romulan Empire and the Federation. The Empty Chair* concludes with the liberated Romulans (AKA the Rihannsu) declaring a reluctant Ael their new Empress.
My love for Star Trek aside, these books are just good literature. As a writer I learned so much about world-building from them, while Diane Duane’s writing style is beautiful and vivid. To paraphrase the old quote about showing-not-telling, she doesn’t tell you the moon is shining; she shows you the light on broken glass.
Not only that, but she gives us complex, admirable characters. Ael is described as a tiny woman (“If she was five foot one, that was granting her an inch or so; if she weighed as much as a hundred and ten pounds, that was on a dense planet”), but awesome things come in small packages: she is as fierce and cunning as she is kind and good-humored. She’s burdened by concerns for her crew’s safety, her value for innocent life, and her devotion to the Romulan principles of honor. But unlike her nation’s leaders, she’d rather do the right thing and risk losing her life–or worse, her name-than tolerate injustice. Ael is also the only person I’ve seen yet, besides Spock or Dr. McCoy, who can sass Jim Kirk and get away with it.
Besides Ael, you have a full and diverse cast of characters: Arrhae, the Federation agent genetically altered to look like a Romulan; Tafv, Ael’s enigmatic son; the three Praetors who really rule the Romulan Senate, each a distinct character in his own right; and, of course, all of our old friends: Spock, McCoy, Uhura, Scotty, Sulu and Chekov. Even Ambassador Fox, the busybody diplomat in “A Taste of Armageddon,” makes a brief appearance. It’s an epic tale, with plenty of humor, mysterious subplots, and revolutionary, even libertarian overtones. Writers of dystopian and sci-fi novels should take note: stories about freedom fighters–especially female freedom fighters, ahem–don’t have to be depressing.
So, if you’re interested in reading any Trek novels, I highly recommend these. Of course, I am biased towards anything about Vulcans and Romulans. But if you like political intrigue, good and noble heroines, clever banter, and vivid storytelling…with these books, you’re in for a treat.