Series: The Fall (#2)
Publisher: Pocket Books
Genre: Space Opera
Publication Date: 2013
The Federation has been thrown into chaos by the assassination of President Nan Bacco. Yet on the streets of Cardassia, there are more pressing concerns. Fanaticism and dissent run riot, and Cardassia’s dark past may yet reveal the way of the future . . .
The Crimson Shadow marks a vast improvement over the first book of The Fall, massively raising the overall series in my estimation. It takes us away from Deep Space 9, but not away from the series that followed the original station. The Never-Ending Sacrifice is proof that Una McCormack knows how to write Cardassians, and The Crimson Shadow takes us back to the formerly antagonistic species with great success.
Ten years after the end of the Dominion War, Cardassia is still a mess. Post-war efforts to rebuild, aided by the Federation, have been largely successful, and the Federation is now ready to pull out. Right up until President Bacco is assassinated, and the acting President takes a different approach. It’s interesting to see the Federation in a UN peacekeeper sort of role. It feels like a natural follow-on from the Federation’s involvement in bringing Cardassia to ruin in the first place, and is a fine example of the morality at Starfleet’s core. Counter to this is acting President Ishan’s hardline approach. At this point, it’s not clear if Ishan is simply an unlikable man, or if he’s involved in some larger conspiracy. Literary history suggests the latter, but I’m hoping for the former. Seeing the whole Federation shift around the perspective of one politician makes for a far more interesting story.
It’s the Cardassian politics that take centre stage here, and though this book was published in 2013, the behaviour of politicians and mobs are all the more familiar in 2021. The benefit of seven years on screen and a few dozen novels since give a real weight to the political history of Cardassia. Theoretically, this is an Enterprise-E novel, featuring Picard and his crew. In practice, it’s Garak who gets the lion’s share of the page count. Garak is written perfectly, in both third person and in his letters to Bashir that appear at the start of almost every chapter. Garak’s dark history and dreams of a better life are the perfect mirror to Cardassian society at large. This is a book full of intrigue and underhanded double-dealings. Like Revelation and Dust, this book is a fair bit darker than a lot of Star Trek, but never to the point that it diminishes the novel.
The only real knock against The Crimson Shadow is the writing itself. It’s very, very good. But there’s a quality to it that i don’t know how to describe that threw me out of the book. McCormack occasionally drops into the present tense, in a method that feels like a camera panning across a screen rather than the more traditional writing of the book at large. I actually quite like this new writing, but it appears at such random intervals that I couldn’t quite get into it before we were back in the larger narrative. There’s also a slight issue in that The Crimson Shadow doesn’t follow through on a lot of the setup from the previous book. The first third is an overlap with events of Revelation and Dust, and there’s a whole new suspect for the assassination of Bacco that doesn’t fully connect with what we’ve already seen.
These are minor quibble sin what is otherwise a very good book, and a redemption for The Fall that has fully captured my attention.