Genre Star Trek Publisher Pocket Date Published 2007 Review Posted on 7/27/2007 Reviewer Rating
Star Trek: Mirror Universe: Obsidian Alliances written by Keith R.A. DeCandido, Sarah Shaw
Reviewed by David Roy
If you've read this book, why not
The first volume of the Star Trek Mirror Universe short novels, "Glass Empires," was a wonderful book with stories detailing how the "current" (as of the "Deep Space Nine" television series) came into being. I greatly enjoyed every story in it. The second volume, Obsidian Alliances, didn't do as much for me, mainly because it went a bit over the top with the sex and violence. Don't get me wrong. I like sex and violence as much as the next red-blooded male, and the Mirror Universe has always had its share of it, but two of the three stories in this book just took it too far.
Obsidian Alliances deals with the "Voyager," "New Frontier," and "Deep Space Nine" Trek series, and all three are extremely well written (even the one by newcomer Sarah Shaw). They certainly aren't bad stories, just not as good as the first ones. I would still recommend these two books highly. Just watch your step. The sex isn't "on screen," so to speak, but it is dealt with in a much more matter of fact manner than is usual in the Trek series.
"The Mirror-Scaled Serpent" by Keith R.A. DeCandido
DeCandido once again manages to write a Voyager story without going to the Delta Quadrant (except at the very beginning of the story). In the Mirror Universe, Neelix rescues Kes from the Kazon, and while being pursued by them, his ship is swept to the other side of the galaxy, and into trouble. A band of rebels, led by Chakotay, happens upon Neelix's escape pod but Kes is captured by the Klingon-Cardassian Alliance, which is very interested in her newfound telepathic powers. To keep her out of their hands, Chakotay decides on a rescue mission, to steal her out from under the nose of the villainous half-breed B'Elanna Torres. But Tuvok has plans of his own for her, as she would make a great addition to the secret Vulcan telepathic Underground which has been waiting patiently since Spock's fall.
This story is a case in point for my main complaint about these stories. I don't need my Trek characters talking about pleasurable sexual positions, and Harry Kim is a truly amoral sadist in all senses of the word in this story. Yes, that is a wonderful twist concept from the normally meek Harry Kim in the "normal" universe, but DeCandido takes him over the top, while also at times making him seem like Super-Kim. I understand that the Mirror Universe has always been like this, but it's still usually more implied than out in the open.
That being said, the story itself is marvelously told and I truly enjoyed DeCandido's take on all of the characters. In this universe, it's Torres' half-human side which tortures her and she has to keep desperate control of what power she's been given at the behest of her Klingon mother. Janeway is an extremely embittered engineer in the rebellion and also has a sadistic streak, though not as much. We don't see enough of Annika Hansen, but other than that the characterization is great. I especially liked the contrast of the innocent Neelix and Kes (though Kes has her own problems) against the thuggery that the Alliance has embraced.
As for the story itself, DeCandido's prose is its usual great self, and the action doesn't stop once they've infiltrated Torres' lair. DeCandido can definitely write action and characters, so there are no boring bits here. It's a masterfully-told story, with just one hiccup.
"Cutting Ties" by Peter David
I can say right off the top that you don't have to be familiar with New Frontier to enjoy this story, as it was my favorite in the entire book (granted, I do have some familiarity, but I'm nowhere near current). Yes, a fan would probably relish the changes in characters far more than somebody not familiar with them, but David tells such an exceptional story that it doesn't really matter.
M'k'nzy of Calhoun (Captain Calhoun in our universe) is a broken man with truly nothing to live for. After his brother's rebellion against Xenex's overlords, M'k'nzy is meekly given over to the Romulan Praetor as protection against any further violence. He eventually meets up with the Romulan Soleta, daughter of an important Romulan businessman who the Praetor believes is involved in a plot to kill him. She takes M'k'nzy as her lover, though he is not emotionally invested in anything. But he learns through his association with her, as well as with two Terran slaves (Robin Lefler and Elizabeth Shelby) that there is something to live for, and to fight for in this universe. And he may just happen upon a true wonder of the universe, something that can show him what he might become.
Those of you who are used to funny Peter David stories may not enjoy this one as much, as the humor is very much muted. It's still there, of course, and the characters are still capable of making the wry asides that I've always loved from David's writing. But this is definitely a serious exploration of this alternate Calhoun and what freedom truly means. David's always been a marvel at characterization, and this story is no different. Even not being overly familiar with the "true" characters, the contrasts in this story are still beautiful to behold.
What's even better is that "Cutting Ties" actually has some characters that we can care about. They're not all thugs of one form or another. M'k'nzy is only violent and sadistic because he has no hope, and he's tempered once he's with Soleta and interacts with the two humans. This story is a powerful one about a man's redemption and truly coming of age (he's a teenager when he's taken by the Romulans) and it was a joy to read.
Of course, David's prose is as beautiful as ever too. There's not a lot of action compared to DeCandido's story, but it never gets boring. "Cutting Ties" is easily the best story in the book.
"Saturn's Children" by Sarah Shaw
And then we hit the sexual wall again, though this story isn't nearly as bad as DeCandido's in this respect. This is the story that bridges the gap from the last " DS9" Mirror Universe episode to the current series of books that are dealing with Mirror Universe characters. Namely, how did Kira Nerys, who had fallen from grace at the end of the television series, rise back up to her position that she's assumed in current continuity?
Kira's disgraced and under the power of the brutal Klingon Emperor Martok, who uses her as his plaything. But at the request of the Bajoran government, she's handed over to the new Intendant of Bajor, Ro Laren. The ever-resourceful Kira can find allies in the most unlikely places, and hatches a plan that will bring her back to her powerful position, rubbing Ro's nose in the mud in the process. It will take some Klingon help, and some rebellion foolishness, to pull off, though. Good thing that "Smiley" O'Brien has troubles of his own, namely some underlings who think he's too cautious and who want to oust him from his position. When the two plotlines meet, there's going to be trouble.
Thankfully, my main problem with this story is just one scene, which probably wouldn't have bothered me much if DeCandido's story hadn't already annoyed me. Basically, I didn't really need to hear about Kira being face-down in a pillow with Martok's grip holding her down while he's behind her, or the rest of the description regarding Martok's treatment of her. Again, the sex is taken over the top in a way that I don't like in my Trek. This is the only instance of this happening, however, and I was quickly able to get past it to enjoy the story.
Again, we get novel twists on characters we know and love, though this time we're more familiar with them because we've seen six television episodes about most of them. I had a bit of trouble buying the elderly Ferengi Zek as a power in the rebellion, Bashir is perfectly done as a hothead who thinks he knows better than everybody else. Kira is delicious as she schemes her way back to the top and O'Brien is the thoughtful man we saw in the episodes. We're introduced to his lover, Keiko, in this story, and Shaw does a great job with her too. You're never quite sure whether she's going to be the traitor or not (and I'm certainly not going to reveal it), but I enjoyed her characterization.
For a new writer, Shaw's prose is remarkably poised. It's not quite as polished as her two co-authors in this book, but it's definitely readable and enjoyable. I'm not sure how much input the editors had into the events of the story (to make it tie in to the new novels), but the story she came up with is well done. And she even manages to keep a Mirror Universe tradition alive when it comes to the Ferengi! I like that attention to detail.
Sarah Shaw can definitely go far in the Trek universe, as she's produced a truly enjoyable story this time around. I hope we'll see more from her in the future.
In the meantime, if you can get past what I criticized above, Obsidian Alliances is a great addition to the Trek mythos. This book is a bit darker than "Glass Empires," but overall it's yet another romp in the Mirror Universe, and one that should be on any Trek fan's bookshelf.
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