Book ReviewsStar Trek Coda Book Two: The Ashes of Tomorrow

Star Trek Coda Book Two: The Ashes of Tomorrow

I’ve been reading Star Trek novels since I was a kid.  For the past two decades, these books have gone to the next level, and I’ve been captivated by the vast interconnected universe of Star Trek stories that has developed.  What began as a few books set after the events of the last canonical on-screen Star Trek adventures (the finale of Deep Space Nine and the movie Nemesis… and later also the Voyager and Enterprise finales) has grown over the years into a tapestry of interconnected stories, an epic saga that I love dearly.  But the Picard show presented a very different version of events in the Star Trek universe, thus suddenly rendering all of these wonderful stories out of continuity.  Rather than abandoning this universe immediately (as happened with the Star Wars books when Disney started making new Star Wars product), I am pleased that the authors and readers were given an opportunity for closure with this three-book Coda series.

In book one, Moments Asunder, an alien threat from the TNG series returned, attempting to destabilize and eventually destroy the entire timeline in which these Star Trek novels have taken place.  An aged Wesley Crusher from the future returned to attempt to warn his friends and family.  Captain Picard and the crew of the Enterprise E attempted to mobilize their allies to mount a defense, but at the end of the first book, things looked grim.  Here in The Ashes of Tomorrow, the scope of the story expands even further.  Captain Picard and the crew of the U.S.S. Aventine (the starship formerly commanded by Ezri Dax, as established in previous novels) attempt to rally Starfleet to the cause, only to be stymied by Captain Riker and the U.S.S. Titan, who unexpectedly find themselves in opposition to Picard.  Meanwhile, Benjamin Sisko (once again a starship commander) and Kira Nerys (now a Vedek on Bajor) both receive warnings from the Prophets that the Celestial Temple/Wormhole is about to become a critical battleground in this time-spanning conflict.  Sisko and Kira return to Deep Space Nine and attempt to gather their friends and comrades to do what they can to protect Bajor… and the Prophets themselves.

The Ashes of Tomorrow is a terrific book, even better than Book I: Moments Asunder.  I love the epic scope of this story, featuring a wealth of characters from across the various Trek TV shows as well as many characters created just for the books.  Author James Swallow really knows how to build tension, as he tightens the screws on our heroes as the story unfolds.  I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough.

My main two complaints about this novel are the same I had about Moments Asunder.  First, if this is to be the end of this twenty-year continuity, I wanted more of a happy ending for these characters.  I wanted to imagine they could all ride off into the sunset and continue having future adventures, even if I could no longer read about them.  Instead, Dayton Ward (author of Moments Asunder) and James Swallow seem to have opted for more of what Mr. Swallow calls, in his afterward, a “burn down the house” approach.  Moments Asunder was filled with character deaths, and even more major characters bite the dust here in The Ashes of Tomorrow.  Now, one of my favorite aspects of these novels has been their fearlessness in overturning the applecart and changing the status quo.  I’m all for some sad deaths to add drama and tension to the story.  But the sheer amount of death in these books is off-putting to me.  It makes this whole literary adventure look like a failed alternate timeline that resulted in a terrible end for our heroes.  I understand that these authors love this series and are trying to go out with a bang, but I think they’ve chosen the wrong approach.

Second, the aliens chosen to be the villains (I won’t spoil it here) remain underwhelming to me.  There just isn’t enough character to these aliens to make them feel like substantial enough a threat.  They don’t feel big-league enough to be the villains who manage to take down our heroes in such a catastrophic manner, more so than even the Borg ever did.  It’s a potentially potent idea to finally see our Starfleet heroes truly lose.  But to do that effectively, the villain has to feel like they deserve such a level; that they’re capable of this feat.  This feels like Soran killing James T. Kirk.

OK, stop here to avoid SPOILERS.

Still here?  Let’s dig in a little more:

* I was pleased that the opening chapters of this book showed us some characters’ emotional reactions to the deaths that had happened in Moments Asunder (which I felt was missing at the end of that book).  However I still think it’s weird that we don’t get to see more of Worf’s reaction to the death of Ezri.

* The chapter in which Picard and Wesley report to the Starfleet admiralty and recap book one was frustrating.  The recap was boring to me (though I understand why it was there to refresh readers’ memories), and the idea that so many admirals would fail to heed Picard’s warnings of the dangers seemed silly.  I know Trek is famous for its dumb/evil admirals, but this felt like narrative wheel-spinning to me.  Even worse was the whole Riker-versus-Picard stuff.  Putting Picard against Riker is an idea with merit, but the book fails to justify why Riker disagreed with Picard so strongly.  Instead Riker just turns into a villain for what seems like no reason.  (I guess his mind is being affected by the “shadows” from the destroyed alternate universes?  I hate mind-control or any sort of mind-altering being the cause for drama in genre stories.  It’s what I call “fake drama”.  If Riker is only acting the way he is because he’s out of his mind, it feels like a boring waste of time for me.  It would have been better to give Riker a real reason to object to Picard’s actions.  Part of the problem here is that the book keeps the nature of Picard’s plan mysterious.  We get hints that he wants to change history, but how or why?  If we better understood that, maybe we’d better understand why Riker and others felt that plan was too reckless and dangerous.)

* I loved the funny joke when Wesley meets Tom Paris and thinks he recognizes him.  (Tom Paris was of course was played by Robert Duncan McNeill, who also played Wesley’s fellow cadet Tom Locarno in the TNG episode “The First Duty.”)

* I loved getting a brief glimpse of Maria Batinides (from the TNG episode “Tapestry”).

* We got a great final scene with Klag (From the TNG season two episode “A Matter of Honor” and the IKS Gordon series of novels) and Martok, though I’m bitter they killed off Martok.  Still, at least he got a glorious death in battle.

* I was delighted by the wonderful scene with Garak and Bashir.  If this is their final scene together, it’s far more satisfying than their final scene in the DS9 finale “What You Leave Behind.”  I’m glad that Bashir’s story didn’t end with him still in a coma (as he was left after his final confrontation with Section 31 in the novel Section 31: Control.)  (My only complaint?  I was bummed they didn’t confirm that Garak and Doctor Parmak are lovers.  C’mon, this series is (apparently) ending!  What are you waiting for?)

* I enjoyed the callbacks to previous Trek solutions to a characters being prematurely aged (in the Original Series episode “The Deadly Years” and the second-season TNG episode “Unnatural Selection”), as Picard and Beverly’s son Renee was at the end of book one.

* A highlight of the book was the great “stealing the Enterprise” scene, a nice twist on the fantastic sequence from Star Trek III.

* I loved that Spock was in this novel.  And Saavik!!  (I assume this is meant to occur before the destruction of Romulus and Spock’s journey back in time, into the Kelvin Timeline films.  It must be, because the destruction of Romulus would have a huge impact on the quadrant that would have been mentioned.  But maybe that never happened in the novel continuity?  Interestingly, according to the timeline at the start of the book, this trilogy of novels is set in 2387, which is the same year the 2009 Star Trek film shows Romulus being destroyed.)

* Speaking of the J.J. Abrams films and what some call the nuTrek continuity of new shows, it was interesting to see how Mr. Swallow worked in some references to them as well, such as the existence of time crystals hidden at the Klingon monastery on Boreth (as per Discovery season two).  But in just a few sentences, Mr. Swallow is able to make these crystals make more sense and seem less stupid than on Discovery.  The book suggests the crystals were used, not to travel through tine, but for Klingon pilgrims to glimpse events from along the timeline of their lives.  Ok, I can buy that.  We also get a reference to Vulcan word Ni’Var, meaning reunification (which will be the name of a future post-reunification Vulcan according to the Discovery season three episode “Unification III”.)

* I was pleased by the involvement of so many DS9 characters in this story.  It was great to see Jake and his wife again.  (I love the joke about Jake’s calling his next novel “Rising Son”, which of course was the title of S.D. Perry’s Jake-focused novel from early in the DS9 novel series.).  I loved seeing Sisko, Kira, Bashir, Odo, and O’Brien.  I loved seeing Nog as an XO, and then a captain.  (Sadly Captain Nog suffers the same tragic fate that he would have suffered in the imaginary eighth season DS9 premiere episode that the writers created in the DS9 doc What We Left Behind.)  I was happy to see that Quark and Ro were back together.  (I’d loved their relationship in the DS9 books and was sad they’d been broken up when last we left them.)  But I was puzzled that Odo and Kira were not together.  That was weird!  Why aren’t they still in a relationship?  Frankly, Odo in this book felt like Odo from season 3 of the show, super-stiff and with little apparent loyalty or affection for his DS9 crewmates.  This was very odd to me.  Also a bummer: I’ve been waiting for years and years for a happy ending to the romance between Shar and Prynn Tenmei, which was a major storyline from the early DS9 relaunch books.  Sadly, while Prynn got a brief mention here, Shar remained absent.

* There’s a major storyline in this novel about a mental link between Spock and Worf.  I had no idea where that was from.  Some google searching informed me that this storyline comes from the two-part novel series The Brave and the Bold by Keith R.A. DeCandido.  I’ll have to read those someday!

* I loved that the Aventine’s Captain’s Yacht was named the Azetbur, and I loved that the description of Nog’s ship the Saticoy made it seem like it was the same type of ship as the Ceritos from Lower Decks!

* I loved the Mirror Universe cliffhanger ending!!  That was a great twist.  The Mirror Universe has been a major part of this Trek lit-verse, so I’m thrilled those characters will (apparently) have a role to play in the finale.

I am excited for the third and final Coda novel.  I hope they are able to stick the landing and bring this vast saga of stories to a satisfactory conclusion!

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Previous Star Trek novel reviews:

Star Trek – Unspoken Truth , Troublesome MindsCast No ShadowExcelsior: Forged in FireAllegiance in Exile, Legacies Book 1: Captain to CaptainLegacies Book 2: Best DefenseLegacies Book 3: Purgatory’s Key, The Face of the Unknown, From History’s Shadow, Elusive Salvation, Assignment: Eternity, The Rings of Time, The Weight of WorldsNo Time Like the Past, Foul Deeds Will Rise, The Antares Maelstrom, The Shocks of Adversity, Crisis of Consciousness, The Latter Fire, Serpents in the Garden

Star Trek: The Next Generation – A Time to be Born & A Time to Die, A Time to Sow & A Time to Harvest, A Time to Love & A Time to Hate, A Time to Kill & A Time to HealA Time for War, a Time for Peace, Death in WinterThe Sky’s The LimitResistance and Q & ABefore Dishonor and Greater than the SumDestiny trilogyA Singular DestinyLosing the Peace, Immortal CoilCold Equations Book 1: The Persistence of MemoryCold Equations Book 2: Silent WeaponsCold Equations Book 3: The Body ElectricThe Light Fantastic, Takedown, Armageddon’s Arrow, Prey Book 1: Hell’s Heart, Prey Book 2: The Jackal’s Trick, Prey Book 3: The Hall of Heroes, Headlong Flight, Hearts and Minds, Available Light, Collateral Damage, Coda Book 1: Moments Asunder

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – DS9 relaunch overviewThe Soul KeyThe Never-Ending SacrificePlagues of Night and Raise the Dawn, Section 31: Disavowed, The Missing, Sacraments of Fire, Ascendance, Force and Motion, The Long Mirage, Section 31: Control, Enigma Tales, Gamma: Original Sin

Star Trek: Voyager – Full CircleUnworthyChildren of the StormThe Eternal TideProtectors

Star Trek: Enterprise — Kobayashi MaruThe Romulan War: Beneath the Raptor’s WingThe Romulan War: To Brave the StormRise of the Federation: A Choice of FuturesRise of the Federation: Tower of Babel, Rise of the Federation: Uncertain Logic, Rise of the Federation: Live By the Code, Rise of the Federation: Patterns of Interference

Star Trek: Titan – Book 1: Taking WingBook 2: The Red KingBook 3: Orion’s HoundsBook 4: Sword of DamoclesUnder a Torrent SeaSynthesisFallen Gods, Absent Enemies (e-book), Sight Unseen, Fortune of War

Star Trek: Typhon Pact – Book 1: Zero-Sum GameBook 2: Seize the FireBook 3: Rough Beasts of EmpireBook 4: Paths of Disharmony, The Struggle Within (e-book), Plagues of Night and Raise the DawnBrinkmanship

Star Trek: The Fall — Book 1: Revelation and DustBook 2: The Crimson ShadowBook 3: A Ceremony of LossesBook 4: The Poisoned ChaliceBook 5: Peaceable Kingdoms

Star Trek: New Frontier – Series overviewStone & Anvil, After the Fall, and Missing in ActionTreason and Blind Man’s Bluff

Star Trek: Department of Temporal Investigations – Watching the ClockForgotten History, The Collectors (e-book), Time-Lock (e-book), Shield of the Gods (e-book)

Star Trek: The Lost Era – Book 1: The Sundered (2298)Book 2: Serpents Among the Ruins (2311)Book 3: The Art of the Impossible (2328-2346)The Buried Age (2355-2364)One Constant Star (2319)

Star Trek: Mirror Universe (Books 1 & 2) – Star Trek: Mirror Universe: Shards & Shadows – Star Trek: Mirror Universe: The Sorrows of Empire — Star Trek: Mirror Universe: Rise Like Lions –  Star Trek: Myriad Universes (Books 1 & 2) – Star Trek: Myriad Universes: Shattered Light

Beyond the Final Frontier — Josh’s favorite Star Trek novels