BOOK REVIEW: The Dark Veil, by James Swallow

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spoilers for Season 1 of Star Trek: Picard

veil.jpg

Era: Pre-Picard

Publisher: Gallery

Genre: Space Opera

Pages: 321

Publication Date: 02/01/2021

Verdict: 5/5

 

The Federation has fallen on hard times, and Captain William Riker of the USS Titan finds himself wondering what his place in Starfleet is. Riker and his crew soon find themselves in a deadly battle with the Romulans. But with the Tal Shiar involved, is anything ever truly what it seems to be . . ?

The first season of Star Trek: Picard had two major effects on the literary canon of the franchise. Firstly, it brought an end to nearly two decades’ of books set after the events of Star Trek: Nemesis, though as the Voyager relaunch proved, all of the major arcs have been given a chance to wrap up. Secondly, it set up all manner of possibilities for new literary ventures. In the span of just a handful of episodes, Picard introduced new elements such as the Zhat Vash, the Mars Incident, the synthetics ban, and the former Borg seeking new life, as well as incorporating dozens of ideas from previous shows. Most notably, it picked up the Romulan supernova from the 2009 Star Trek film. The Dark Veil takes place a few years before that particular event, but the oncoming doom of Romulus casts a long shadow over events.

Though it bears the Picard label, The Dark Veil is very much a standalone book. Yes, it builds on the world established by the TV series, but you could easily read this without seeing the show, although it does include a few spoilers if you did choose to go down that route. As long as you are familiar with the characters, this is the sort of book any Star Trek fan could pick up and enjoy. Swallow has experience with the franchise, and deftly works Trek‘s unique blend of adventure and science.

The most obvious way The Dark Veil builds on Picard is in its handling of the Romulans. Though they’ve been around since the earliest days of the show, they’ve received relatively little in the way of development, especially when compared with their contemporaries, the Klingons. Picard did great work in this regard, with groups such as the Zhat Vash and the Qowat Milat. The former makes an appearance here, and we get a look inside the head of one of these anti-synthetic fanatics. The overwrought complexities of Romulan society are lampshaded a little, but the development we see here gives new depth to to their civilisation, even as it faces its demise.

In fact, there is a real sense of tragedy about The Dark VeilStar Trek is at its best when it is being optimistic, but here (and in Picard) we see the consequences of that optimism faltering. The Romulans face the end of their world, but they cannot move past their suspicion of other species. Starfleet and the Federation have reacted poorly, though understandably, to a terrorist attack, and the consequences threaten the future in ways no one can foresee. The Jazari, a species about whom the little given away the better, show how the combination of extreme paranoia and collective apathy can easily lead to depression. In spite of this, however, The Dark Veil is not a depressing book. Far from it. Even in the darkest corners Trek has explored, this book shows the value of fighting against the darkness. Optimism isn’t just an aspiration, it’s a tool for forging a better future. Riker and the Titan are beset by unimaginable difficulty, but they stay the course and stand by the ideals of Starfleet. Even among the Romulans, there are those who not only want a better future, but are willing to break with tradition to make that future happen.

The Picard novel line may be in its infancy, but based on the strength of this entry it’s looking to be every bit as good as the older tie-ins. The reinvigoration of the franchise yet again proves why Star Trek is so enduring.

Published by Alex Hormann

I'm a writer, reader, and farmer, with an interest in all things speculative.

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