Star Trek: Picard – The Dark Veil
By James Swallow
Published by Pocket Books in hardcover, ebook, and audiobook
“Starfleet and the Federation have had to make a lot of hard choices over the past couple of years,” continued Riker. “I believe wholeheartedly in the ideal of the United Federation of Planets, and I know everyone on this ship feels the same. But we’re moving in a direction that could take us away from our core beliefs if we don’t keep an eye on the winds that are pushing our sails.”
James Swallow’s newest novel, The Dark Veil, starts in media res with Captain William Riker of the USS Titan in a cell, waiting to appear before a Romulan tribunal, along with a Romulan Commander and a member of the Tal’ Shiar. After quickly becoming immersed in Romulan paranoia and secrecy, the novel flashes back six days to begin the story proper. This Star Trek: Picard tie-in is set seven years after the events of Star Trek: Nemesis and one year after the “Mars Incident” and Jean-Luc Picard’s resignation from Starfleet, the story of which was told in part in some episodes of Star Trek: Picard, but was covered in depth in the first official Picard tie-in novel, the excellent The Last Best Hope, by Una McCormack. (Read TrekMovie’s review).
The Dark Veil focuses on Will Riker and Deanna Troi, aboard the USS Titan, and expands our understanding of the impact that the Romulan supernova event, the Federation’s pledge of assistance in the Romulan evacuation, and their subsequent withdrawal of that assistance after the Rogue Synth attack on Mars, had on both the Empire and the Federation. If that makes this novel seem dull, I apologize. It’s really an action-packed “first contact”/mystery adventure, introducing us to a brand-new species, the intensely private Jazari. When the USS Titan is assigned to ferry a group of Jazari back to their homeworld, an accidental disaster suddenly throws the Titan and the Jazari onto a collision course with a Romulan warship, the Tal’ Shiar, and the Zhat Vash, the fanatical anti-AI cult that occupied so much of the first season of Star Trek: Picard.
James Swallow does an excellent job of adding this new fascinating race to the Trek alien pantheon. The Jazari are a bit of an enigma, with minimal and evasive relations with the Federation for some time, but there are still some Jazari in Starfleet. The Jazari’s deep custom of privacy led them to continually rebuff any inquiries into their culture or language, keeping them mysterious, even to those serving alongside them. However, it does strains credibility that a Jazari crew member could serve in Starfleet without utilizing a Transporter or receiving a thorough medical workup, as the book indicates, no matter how much Starfleet respects the cultures of its personnel.
Long-time fans of the Star Trek Extended Universe will quickly realize that this book follows the continuity of the Star Trek: Picard TV series and not of the Titan-focused books of the past, but Swallow honors a good deal of that continuity, including familiar crew members from previous Titan novels along with new faces. Christine Vale is still the First Officer, and Ranul Keru and Karen McCreedy are there, as well, among others. The Titan’s crew is just as diverse as longtime fans are accustomed to, with humans, Denobulans, Kelpiens, Trill, and many more species serving in prominent roles.
“At her side, Troi’s son put on a brave face, but she could sense his sorrow and the bright, sharp lines of his fears. ‘We’ll be okay, Thad,’ she told him. He nodded stiffly as the evacuees moved deeper into the ship. ‘I really liked it there. I wanted to stay.’ ‘I liked it too,’ she admitted, ‘but it isn’t our home.’ ‘Where is?’ Thad grasped her hand. ‘Earth? Betazed?’ Troi had no answer for him. ‘When this is all over, we’ll figure that out,’ she promised.
One of the fun bits that the book explores is the character of Thaddeus Worf Troi-Riker, Will and Deanna’s young son. Thaddeus is mentioned prominently but is never seen in the Star Trek: Picard episode, “Nepenthe.” This novel confirms Thaddeus’ middle name, as first revealed in recently published background information from showrunner Michael Chabon. Thad is a rambunctious, brilliant little child going on six years old with a gift for languages. Midway through the book, after getting in trouble for a little against-the-rules exploring, Thad is tempted to disobey again. Swallow writes, “After all, he thought, gathering his courage, I can’t get any more grounded than I already am.” You gotta love that kid! One-quarter Betazoid, Thad has “just a dash of magic” in him, according to his father, and all of Thad’s special qualities serve to both get him into big trouble and to help solve the big mysteries of The Dark Veil.
The book’s chief adversary is a Tal Shiar officer who is maybe a bit too cartoony in the extent of her evil, but she serves well as a philosophical and tactical opponent both to Starfleet and to more moderate Romulan we get to encounter. The Dark Veil features an epic starship battle, well-conceived and described by Swallow, as well as a fair dash of hand-to-hand action. There are connections to both Star Trek: Picard and the rest of Trek canon. My favorite deep cut was a mention of a previous Romulan commander who described himself as a “creature of duty,” but there are plenty more nods for committed fans to enjoy.
The Dark Veil recognizes some of the darker implications of recent Star Trek television writing but does its part to focus on the deep core of Trekkian optimism that still remains a staple of every Trek show. It’s a fun, fast-moving read, with interesting characters, a gradually-unfolding mystery, and plenty of action. It’s a worthy addition to the Trek literary library.
It is also available as an audiobook on Amazon and Audible. You can listen to an excerpt below.
Keep up with all the news and reviews of Star Trek books at TrekMovie.com.