Next week Simon & Schuster releases its big trade paperback "Star Trek Enterprise: The Romulan War: Beneath the Raptor’s Wing." This book should be of interest to both fans of Enterprise, as well as those who want to learn more about a conflict we first heard about during The Original Series. Today we have an an early review which is extensive, befitting this extra-long trade paperback.
Book Review: Star Trek: Enterprise – The Romulan War: Beneath the Raptor’s Wing
by Michael A. Martin
Pocket Books Trade Paperback – 464 pages
[Be advised that this review includes minor spoilers for this and other Enterprise books.]
The Earth/Romulan War. In the minds of Star Trek fans, the words conjure images of sleek battleships decorated with menacing birds of prey. A desperate war for the survival of Humanity, fought over vast distances of interstellar space. Atomic holocaust delivered mercilessly by an unseen enemy from the stars. For more than 40 years now, Trek fans have been left to flesh out those images, and the stories behind them, in their own imaginations. Then Star Trek: Enterprise arrived on the airwaves – a franchise prequel set just a few scant years prior to the conflict. Suddenly, we had context for the era and the events – a fleshed out pre-history in the form of fully realized starships, technology and characters. But for better or worse, Enterprise’s broadcast run was cut short before the Earth/Romulan War could be addressed by the show’s writers. So while the seeds for the conflict were planted during the series’ fourth and final season, the task of chronicling the war itself has fallen to Pocket Books. That effort officially begins now.
Written solo by author Michael A. Martin, who co-penned the two previous installments in Pocket’s Enterprise “re-launch” with Andy Mangels, “The Romulan War: Beneath the Raptor’s Wing” opens just moments after the cliffhanger ending of the previous installment, “Kobayashi Maru,” (see TrekMovie review) and the official declaration of war against the Romulans by the fledgling Coalition of Planets. Over the course of its weighty, 464 pages, Raptor’s Wing unveils the story of the conflict’s first full year, from mid-2155 to mid-2156.
Now, I should probably admit up front that I’m in the minority of Trek fans that actually liked Enterprise, particularly over its last two seasons, and very much warmed its characters. As such, I also enjoyed both previous Enterprise re-launch books, so I’ve been quite looking forward to "Raptor’s Wing," albeit with a degree of apprehension given the enormity of its charge. But on the whole, having now read it front to back a couple of times, I’m pleased to say that the book is a lot better than I was expecting. And I mostly wasn’t disappointed.
The real joy of reading "Raptor’s Wing" for most Trek fans will be in the discovery of its sheer scope and detail. Martin has crafted a surprisingly believable story here – one of vast astro-political scale. As with the previous books, "Raptor’s Wing" splits its focus between various parallel plotlines, including Trip Tucker’s shifting undercover activities and the continued efforts of Archer, T’Pol and the crew of the NX-01 to manage both Coalition wartime politics and the actual fighting of the conflict. This time, however, the cast of characters has been greatly expanded. You see, the story also follows Starfleet’s Admiralty and technical leadership, as they struggle to marshal an effective fighting force and find a way to counteract the Romulan’s telepresence weapon. (In a clever touch, their solution will in part explain why the technology of Kirk’s era a century later looks the way it does.) Martin also focuses upon the various Coalition Council members as they attempt to unify the war efforts of their respective worlds. And for the first time, we get a real look at the crews of other Starfleet ships, including not just Enterprise and Columbia, but those of the newly completed NX-class starships Atlantis, Discovery and Challenger, as well as the more numerous – but less capable – Daedalus-class ships.
On the other side of the war, we get a deeper look at Romulan internal politics, as Admiral Valdore attempts to press his attack against the Humans as aggressively as possible in the face of faltering leadership. We later follow similar developments on Vulcan, as Administrator T’Pau struggles to hold her fragile new reformist government together, while protect her people’s return to logic and peace from contamination by the conflict. And in a very deft nod to current real-life events, we even track intrepid reporter Gannet Brooks (who first appeared in the Enterprise episodes "Demons" and "Terra Prime") as she turns war correspondent and embarks on a front-lines tour of Human settlements across Coalition space – a tour that not only reveals the tension, fear and destruction of the war itself, but also fleshes out the sheer scale of Human expansion into the cosmos, from the Mars colonies and Jupiter Station, on to Alpha Centauri, Archernar II, Berengaria VII and beyond. We even briefly see the MACOs engage in ground combat with Romulan forces.
There are quite literally dozens of references and connections in these pages to other parts of Trek canon (including the films, TV series, other novels and even the old FASA role playing game – no kidding), as well as cameos by the likes of Shran, Sopek and other faces familiar to Enterprise fans. And all of this is thoroughly interesting, ingeniously plotted and planned, and surprisingly entertaining.
But I mentioned earlier being only mostly satisfied with this book. That’s because as good as the larger war story may be in "Raptor’s Wing," the personal stories of the Enterprise crew themselves are given somewhat shorter shrift… or at least tend to pale against the tapestry of larger events. Having read and enjoyed Martin’s previous Enterprise novels with Andy Mangels, "The Good That Men Do" and "Kobayashi Maru," I’m starting to suspect the way the pair tended to write was to split up the scenes between them, with Martin focusing on the larger political stories and Trek canon ties, and Mangels concentrating more on the character’s personal moments and interactions. For whatever reason, Mangels is absent from this effort and I think it’s no coincidence that the character moments here are a bit wanting. What’s missing in this story is any real sense of emotional heft – the little personal moments, bits of humor, the internal monologues that help the reader feel invested in what the characters are going through. Those moments were powerful and memorable in the two previous books, but here they tend to read rather flat and lacking in nuance. Such scenes are particularly important in a war story, to contrast the peril and illustrate why the war is worth fighting in the first place. For example, what would the film Braveheart be, without the tender moments between Wallace and Murron, or the friendly teasing of his comrades in arms right before battle against an overwhelming enemy force? What’s worse, when it comes to the key Enterprise characters, there doesn’t seem to be as much emotional continuity with the previous novels as fans of those novels might hope or expect.
A couple other minor quibbles: The true loyalties and intentions of the (Is-he-Vulcan-or-Romulan?) double agent Sopek continue to be frustratingly difficult to pin down, and there are little logical and story-plotting conveniences some might find hard to buy, like the fact that the MACOs never manage to see the face of a Romulan because when one falls in battle their comrades vaporize the body before the enemy arrives. I was able to let most of the little things slide, but your own mileage may vary.
Despite my issues with the way characters are written here, I still found "Raptor’s Wing" to be an engrossing and rewarding read. Those of you who really loved Star Trek: Enterprise (and the previous re-launch novels) might be a little disappointed in the characters too, but the rest of the book will make you think wistfully about what might have been had the series lasted seven full seasons. But the overall war story is so credibly imagined that even those of you who are less appreciative of Enterprise (preferring the various other Trek series instead) should find it an interesting read. While it’s not "War and Peace," the overall war arc of "Star Trek: Enterprise – The Romulan War: Beneath the Raptor’s Wing" is well-conceived, fascinating… and a surprisingly enjoyable read.
The official release date for "Star Trek Enterprise: The Romulan War: Beneath the Raptor’s Wing" is October 20th. You can pre-order it from Amazon.
It’s worth noting that unofficial Trek canon describes the Earth/Romulan War as a four-year conflict, and this book only covers the first year. That should, in theory, mean that at least two or three more novels of this size will be required to tell the complete story. Although there was no Romulan War book on the 2010 schedule, former Pocket Book’s editor Margaret Clark had outlined a fairly elaborate history for the conflict, and the follow-up book to "Raptor’s Wing" was expected for 2011. However, as previously reported, Clark is no longer with S&S by (Margaret, if you’re reading this, I wish you well. You and Marco are greatly missed.), so the future of the Enterprise books and Romulan War is unknown, but hopefully Pocket continues the series. I hope Martin stays with the series, but focuses a bit more on the characters… or (better yet) teams up with Mangels again for the next installment.
More post-finale Star Trek Enterprise books
Although not required for you to read The Romulan War, the book does pick up on story threads from the previous two books set after the finale of Star Trek Enterprise: "The Good That Men Do" from 2007 (see TrekMovie review) and "Kobayashi Maru" from 2008 (see TrekMovie review).
Bill Hunt is the Editor of TheDigitalBits.com, the finest site for all your digital media needs.