This review contains some minor spoilers about the novel; mainly plot overview information. However, I promise I won't give away any of the key revelations in the story.Nutshell: A winner. An entertaining, nicely characterized, and well-told story of Bajoran turmoil.
Because of my personal schedule combined with the fact that DS9 and Voyager air a lot of reruns around this time, it comes as no surprise that winter breaks provide me with what seems like the only convenient time to read and review Trek novels. As I look back at one year ago, I see that it was exactly the same week that I read Saratoga, which was also the last Trek novel I reviewed.
So here we are again, at what may become an annual event. This time, the subject is Wrath of the Prophets, a superior DS9 novel written by not one but three authors in a collaborative process. I've only read 12 or so Trek novels over the years (my favorite remains the adrenaline-pumping DS9 novel Fallen Heroes), but Wrath of the Prophets is definitely near the top of that short list. It's a substantive adventure like this that makes one wish the Trek novels were canon.
Wrath of the Prophets is "old school DS9," if you will—Bajor-oriented, highly political, emphasizing a torn planet trying to cope with its own problems. The novel takes place between seasons three and four of the television series (after Sisko has been promoted to captain but before the arrival of Worf and the Klingons).
The plot in a nutshell: A plague breaks out on Bajor, quickly threatening the population. Because Bajoran medicine proves ineffective, Bashir must work around the clock to search for a cure before the disease destroys the entire society. When Maquis soldier Ro Laren appears to help her people in any way she can, she and Kira reluctantly team up to look for the source of the disease on Bajor. By all indications, the illness arose from some replicators distributed through the Bajoran black market. Kira and Ro must find the people responsible, since perhaps the plague was manufactured and the culprit knows its secrets.
Ah, how nice it was to see (figuratively speaking, that is) Ro Laren again. The pairing of Kira and Ro unlocks some of the potential that having Ro guest-star on DS9 could've provided—especially considering her defection to the Maquis in TNG's "Preemptive Strike." Kira and Ro do not like each other; each has preconceptions of the other's respective lives—Kira the bureaucrat that represents the ineffectiveness of Bajoran government, and Ro the Starfleet officer and subsequent traitor who abandoned Bajor in its hour of need.
There's a reasonable amount of cliché surrounding the teaming of Kira and Ro—plenty of passages where the two swap "cutting" one-liners, and where one explains how annoying the other is. I could've done without some of the excessive banter, but most of the serious arguments and misconceptions are genuine and well conceived. Much of the dialog is pointed and crisp, and the action gives them both the opportunity to demonstrate their strength, intelligence, and heroism through a rough and physically challenging series of events.
The novel's most thoughtful passages, not surprisingly, come out of the Kira/Ro plot, especially as the investigation leads Kira to many of her old friends from the Resistance. Kira finds herself dismayed to discover these friends have lowered themselves into the conspiracy and treachery of the black market for their own personal gain. Perhaps the story's most important statement is that Bajor's toughest fight is in solving its vast social problems. That's not a particularly new message, perhaps, but the novel's representation of the problem is top-notch. The black market (which the government seems unwilling to do much about) is a resource to some who are tired of waiting for the government to get around to helping them; but the people benefiting the most from the illegal activity are only serving their own greed—and much of the money is not even benefiting Bajor, but rather an off-world circle of Orion traders.
Another major player in Wrath of the Prophets is Varis Sul, the young Bajoran tetrarch of the Paqu village who befriended Jake and Nog in the lighthearted first-season episode "The Storyteller." Varis' part here, however, is anything but lightweight—she's the one who acquired the replicators from the black market (in an attempt to save her starving village), effectively starting the spread of the disease. She sees herself as deserving all misery for her tragic mistake, but she's also looking to atone for her sin—as well as finding the responsible end source of these ills. Her role in the novel proves intriguing.
The disease is dubbed the "Wrath of the Prophets" because many Bajorans see the plague as a sign of apocalyptic punishment from the Prophets. This, naturally, makes for some good analysis of religious issues—and no Bajor story, of course, would be complete without Kai Winn, who figures into the story the way she does when best used: as a three-dimensional source of grey areas, yet still arrogant and politically self-serving. At times, Winn is surprisingly sympathetic; I particularly liked some of the passages where the Kai inwardly questions some of her own previous wrong-headed actions. And one standout passage between Winn and Varis highlights hard-edged conflict just as well as many Kira/Winn exchanges I've seen.
This novel is a balancing act skillfully assembled. Several mini-plots run concurrently, including Chief O'Brien's pitiable dilemma (his wife and daughter remain stranded on Bajor, at risk of contracting the illness), Bashir's desperate search for a cure (he has his work cut out for him), and Dax's mysterious tie-in to the plot (her sense of distraction early in the novel effectively foreshadows that she has a personal stake in the situation). And the novel also finds comedy and adventure where appropriate, refusing the possibility of drowning in its own weighty issues.
The major related B-story is an example of deliciously written adventure fun, though still quite important within the context of the story. Teaming up Sisko with Quark (a stunt-pairing that I wish we would see more of on the series) to retrieve information from a band of nasty Orion traders works extremely well—leading to some engaging action and comedy (the type you could probably expect from Sisko and Quark and a band of unhappy smugglers). The novel's use of the Defiant, however, in an obligatory space battle passage is gratuitous, especially when the authors suggest that only two people are on board the ship. Wouldn't the use of a Runabout have been more practical?
Like most novels, the plot has a lot of supporting characters that make brief appearances to complicate or help solve the plot. I wouldn't want to go into detail here for fear of confusing myself and others (as well as giving away key parts of the plot), so I'll just say that the authors do a good job of pulling the massive storyline together into something that makes sense and proves entertaining and relevant at the same time. The story unfolds on a grand scale encompassing several religious and political figures, a number of interesting characters from Kira's past, the dark corridors of an Orion space station, and even some of the unexpectedly sinister settings of the Orion slave trade in Bajoran society.
Wrath of the Prophets is easy reading that's well written—a novel that moves along at a brisk pace, stays focused, remains very true to its myriad of characters, and gives them all just enough to do. In the meantime, there's an adequate amount of relevant exposition in the dialog, plenty of fun and action, and very believable character moments. It's smart, but smart in a fun way. What's not to like? If you want a good all-around DS9 story with an emphasis on Bajor, this novel is for you.