Genre Star Trek Publisher Pocket Date Published 2008 Review Posted on 10/8/2008 Reviewer Rating
# of Ratings: 2 Average Rating: 9 out of 10
DS9: Terok Nor: Day of the Vipers, by James Swallow
Reviewed by David Roy
If you've read this book, why not
The television series "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" told quite a few stories about life during the Cardassian occupation of Bajor, but they were all personal stories regarding the characters involved (usually Kira, occasionally Odo). It has often been wondered how the occupation came about, and more importantly, how it ended. Thus, Pocket Books has now come out with a "Terok Nor" trilogy ("Terok Nor" being the Cardassian name of the Deep Space Nine station). The first book, Day of the Vipers, by James Swallow, outlines how the occupation began, and it is a wonderful book.
Bajor is a peaceful planet, keeping to itself for the most part, living in natural and religious harmony, when they are visited by a Cardassian delegation bringing back the bodies from a ship long thought lost. While Bajor has kept to itself, it hasn't totally forsworn exploration, and it has encountered other raced before, but this is the first official meeting. The Cardassians come apparently desiring to begin active trade with the Bajoran people. Little do they know, though, that this is all part of a plan to annex Bajor and begin tapping its vast mineral resources to aid a depleted Cardassian empire. Tensions run out of control over the years, until finally an ambitious Cardassian officer named Dukat finally implements a plan that has been ten years in the making; one that will result in many years of Bajoran suffering.
For some people, it's hard to read a book like Day of the Vipers, or even a series like this one, because the reader already knows the results: Bajor will be occupied for 40-50 years until they finally withdraw and the Federation comes instead. However, there are two reasons that this shouldn't be a problem. First, it's often been said that the journey is more important than the destination, so learning how all of this happened is still worthwhile. Secondly, Swallow has created many good characters to supplement the ones we're familiar with (Dukat, Damar, some of the minor Bajorans who show up in the television series). These characters' fates are completely unknown to us, and they add a personal touch to the history. We see how the slow and steady occupation unfolds, and how it affects the Bajoran people.
Swallow has packed a lot of plot and character into these 500 pages, one of the longer Trek books. He follows a few threads to give us the broad overview of what's going on. We see Dukat bristling under the command of Kell (first a ship captain and then the overseer of the Bajoran operation) as he schemes to bring him down and brings himself into the light. Darrah Mace (an original character) is a Bajoran police officer who, as the years pass and the Cardassians become even more ingrained in Bajoran life, finds himself getting more and more disenchanted. He's given a wife and family, but he's married to his work and his devotion to his province (and, as time goes on, Bajor itself) so there's tension there. While Swallow does have other Bajoran characters, namely some of the religious characters, Mace is pretty much the central Bajoran viewpoint, and he's shaped very well. He's an interesting man caught in a bad situation. Other viewpoints show us various aspects of what is going on and are also handled very well.
One thing I found most interesting was Swallow's use of religion, especially the novel-created Cardassian religion called "the Oralian Way." These people are looked down upon by most Cardassians, but they are used by the military as a way to wiggle their way into Bajoran society, and we see some interesting parallels to the Bajoran religion of the Prophets. Yet the novel also shows us why we never heard of the Way until the post-series line of novels, keeping the continuity line pure.
And there is a lot of continuity in Day of the Vipers. I'm not against massive continuity in tie-in novels, but I am against it being shoehorned into a book for no apparent reason other than to tie things that were once thought separate together. This being a "history" novel, of course there's going to be a lot of it, and I didn't mind it at all. Swallow makes good use of it, and there's certainly not as much as in subsequent books that take place nearer to the start of the television series. Helpfully, each book in the series contains a guide to names and places that also tell you what episode they were introduced in if they were. That can help the reader place a name that sounds achingly familiar without having to go online and look.
One bit of continuity that I only became aware of after the fact, which shows just how much thought went into this novel, is that it attempts to explain the disparate number of years given to the Occupation in the television series. At times, they said it lasted 40 years, at times 50, and even once it was 60! Swallow ignores the 60 reference, but uses the 40 and 50 by showing how slow and gradual the process was. In hindsight, I can see some Bajorans seeing the Occupation dating from when the Cardassians first arrived while others would see it only when the Cardassians first took complete control. It's a nice touch.
Overall, I loved Day of the Vipers. Swallow's prose grips you, the plotting is intricate yet stays true to the snippets that you remember from the series. It has a few twists and turns (though one of them is completely obvious) and it has interesting characterization to boot. It even explains why the Federation didn't get involved for so long, though that sequence isn't quite as strong as the rest of the book. Still, that's a minor niggle in an otherwise awesome novel. Subsequent books are not written by Swallow, so we'll see if they keep up the quality.
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