BOOK REVIEW: The Poisoned Chalice, by James Swallow

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Era: Post-Nemesis

Series: The Fall (#4)

Publisher: Pocket Books

Genre: Space Opera

Pages: 372

Publication Date: 2013

Verdict: 4/5

 

Recalled to Earth amid the political fallout of President Bacco’s assassination, William Riker finds himself promoted to Admiral, and immediately plunged into a conspiracy with far-reaching consequences . . .

The penultimate book of The Fall is where everything comes together. All those little strands of plot that have been left dangling in the first three come together rather nicely, and Swallow does a fine job of tying the characters from the Titan series into this series. More than any of the previous books in The FallThe Poisoned Chalice shows off its entire ensemble cast to good effect, just as all the best Star Trek has done for decades.

Untangling the mess of of Bacco’s assassination and Ishan Anjar’s subsequent (questionable) premiership of the Federation makes for a book of many parts, each following a different group of characters. The most obvious thread is that of Riker himself. I went into this book knowing that Riker made it to Admiral one day (the natural effect of being eight years late to a series), but the manner in which it happens took me by surprise. It’s right there at the opening, with no ceremony and maximum efficiency. From that moment on, Riker is fighting a battle he’s only partly aware of. Something I don’t think Star Trek has ever handled very well is the relationship between Starfleet and the Federation, a problem that this book tackles head on. Starfleet is the spacefaring branch of the Federation military, but they are not simply there to wage wars. Nor even to protect the Federation. Again we come back to the questions of the previous book: How far do you follow an order if you’re unsure of its lawfulness? And how do you tell right from wrong when your own side is no longer the beacon of good and right that you once thought it to be?

Tuvok’s history of espionage comes back in strong form a she is sent on an undercover mission, joined by two familiar faces. It’s always good to see Nog, and he and Tuvok’s relation sparkles in every scene they share. The Ferengi and the Vulcan could not be more difficult, bound only by duty and a desire to do what is right. Joining them is a man I never expected to see in a Star Trek book: Thomas Riker, the transporter clone on of the new Admiral. Again the Litverse pulls in unexpected names and connections. But it’s more than just an indulgence in continuity. Thomas’ inclusion works on multiple levels. With the honour of a Riker, but the willingness to get his hands dirty, he’s a perfect counterpart to the Titan‘s captain.

The third thread is where the threads tie together. As Commander Vale investigates shadowy goings on across (and beyond) the Federation, we catch up with the events of the previous three books. We visit Dax in prison, see how Picard is faring on diplomatic duty, and most importantly learn the whereabouts of Julian Bashir. The Poisoned Chalice wraps up a lot of loose ends, funnelling everything towards the final book in the series.

When I first approached this series, I was worried the Litverse was making the same mistake as other franchises, heading into ever darker territory until the fun is gone. Thankfully, this is not the case. Yes, there is a terrible danger here, but again and again we are reminded of the noble intentions behind the Federation. Even when the leadership may make harsh decisions, the boots on the ground mean well. The average Starfleet officer might follow questionable orders, but they do question them. With the Federation in crisis, there is still hope. We can still trust our heroes to do the right thing, and that is a very important message.

James Swallow does more than just continue the good work he’s been doing with the Litverse. He elevates The Fall to one of my favourite series in the franchise.

Published by Alex Hormann

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

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