Star Trek Titan (Book 2): The Red King
After being catapulted clear of the Milky Way galaxy at the end of Taking Wing (The first Star Trek Titan novel — read my review here), Captain William T. Riker and the crew of the U.S.S. Titan find themselves in the Small Magellanic Cloud, one of the Milky Way’s satellite galaxies. This area of space also happens to be the home of the Neyel, the mysterious race of aliens with centuries-old ties to humanity first introduced in the novel The Sundered (read my review here).
While Taking Wing was focused on introducing Riker’s new ship and its extraordinarily varied interspecies crew, as well as wrapping up a number of dangling story-threads left by the end of Star Trek: Nemesis, The Red King (written by Andy Mangels & Michael A. Martin) is more of what the Titan series was billed to be: a story of exploration, in which Riker and his crew encounter strange new worlds and new life forms. At the same time, The Red King is a direct sequel to both Taking Wing and The Sundered, as Riker and his crew work to locate Romulan commander Donatra’s missing fleet, figure out how to return to Federation space, and unravel the mystery of a terrible new threat to Neyel space. (Readers, meanwhile, get to learn about what has happened to the Neyel since we last met them 100 years earlier during Captain Sulu’s time in The Sundered.)
My recollection was that The Red King was my least favorite of the Titan series, but in re-reading the novel I found quite a lot to enjoy. Mangels & Martin have a nice, easy-to-read writing style that I always find very engaging. The Red King is a fast-paced yarn, and it continues the exploration of the unique natures and backstories of the members of Titan’s diverse inter-species crew that was begun in the previous installment. Most interestingly to me, we finally learn the details of the event that caused the thirty-years-and-counting rift between Starfleet Admiral Leonard James Akaar and Lt. Tuvok (who had been close friends aboard the Excelsior during the events of The Sundered).
But the novel does have some weaknesses. Primarily, the emerging sentient protouniverse that is destabilizing space in the Small Magellanic Cloud doesn’t really present that compelling a scientific mystery (the Titan crew seem to figure out what’s going on pretty quickly) nor that compelling a challenge/adversary. As a result, the novel sometimes seems to be without a central narrative thrust. Riker’s crew comes up with a plan to contain the protouniverse about halfway through the novel, meaning that the whole second half of the book is without any real twists. Oh, a lot happens, don’t get me wrong. But all of the events seem very episodic. Every few pages, Martin & Mangels take us to a different location and dramatic event. Now we’re on the shuttlecraft Ellington as injured Titan security chief Ranul Keru attempts to rescue civilians from the doomed planet Oghen. Now we’re aboard the Romulan warship Valdore, as Donatra finds herself challenged by her former uneasy partner Suran for command. Now we’re aboard the Vanguard colony as a Neyel civilian flees from thugs convinced that the desperate situation means that the rule of law has gone out the airlock. But each of those events (and the many others that transpire during the novel’s second half) are over and done with in the matter of just a few pages. They’re all dramatic and well-written, but they don’t quite hang together as a suspenseful narrative.
Still, despite those flaws, I found myself enjoying The Red King far more than I remembered. Mangels & Martin have done an excellent job in setting up the new Titan series. They’ve created an engaging premise (a return to Starfleet’s original ideals of scientific exploration) and populated Riker’s ship with enough intriguing characters to give the series material for many novels to come. I’m eager to move on to the next installment: Orion’s Hounds by Christopher L. Bennett. I’ll be back with a report on that novel in a few weeks!