Spoilers ahead for Swordhunt and the Rihannsu saga!
From the back cover:
The sword was the ultimate symbol of Romulan power, tradition, and pride. It lay in the senate chamber of the Romulan Star Empire, revered and untouched for centuries, until the day Dr. Leonard McCoy was tried for treason -- and both were stolen during a daring attack on Romulus itself.
Now, to avenge that insult and save face in eyes of their deadly enemies, the Empire must recover the sword at any cost. Their envoys to the Federation demand the return of the sword and the extradition of the Romulan renegades who aided the Starship Enterprise in McCoy's escape. If diplomacy fails, the Romulans will trap the Klingons and the Federation in open war.
In such dangerous times, the Starship Enterprise is assigned the most valuable -- and volatile -- element of all: the fugitive Ael, her stolen bird-of-prey, Bloodwing, and the sword they carry. Ael will undoubtedly attempt to use ship and sword to foil her enemies and play her hand in the dangerous game that she's begun. But she will do it all under the watchful eyes of Captain James T. Kirk, the Federation starship captain who knows her dangerously well...
About the Novel:
The Romulan Empire is incensed over the escape of Commander Ael with Dr. McCoy and, more grievously, the Sword of S'Task in the previous Rihannsu novel, The Romulan Way. The sword, which traditionally sat in the "Empty Chair" of the Romulan Senate, reserved for S'Task, the man who led the Romulan exodus from Vulcan, is a beloved symbol of the honor of the Rihannsu (Romulan) people. Honor which Commander Ael believes no longer exists in the current Romulan government.
In a bid to get Ael and the sword back, the Romulan government decides to open negotiations with the Federation. However, the negotiations appear to be largely a pretense to begin a war. Assigned to the Romulan delegation is Arrhae, former housekeeper and now a Senator in the Romulan Senate. Unknown to the rest of Romulus, however, is the fact that Arrhae is a deep-cover Federation operative, assigned to cultural studies of the Romulan Empire. In the preceding novel, The Romulan Way, Arrhae elected to remain behind on Romulus rather than be "rescued" by Dr. McCoy.
Rather than feeling like a complete novel, Swordhunt ended abruptly and is continued in the next Rihannsu entry, Honor Blade. Because I was reading on an e-reader rather than a "dead tree" copy, the end was completely unexpected. The novel seemed to meander for quite awhile. There is a lot of setup for the diplomatic mission, but by the end of the book, it has not yet begun. I love character development, and Commander Ael is a fascinating character, but I kept wanting the story to commence. Instead, the action never really takes off for our heroes, and the novel ends just as things start to happen. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as the next book obviously picks up immediately after. However, I am curious as to why the novel was split into two parts to begin with. This entry isn't particularly long, and I think both books in one volume would have made more sense. Although, I suppose, the financial aspect of it means that Pocket Books can sell two volumes as opposed to only one.
I'd like to make a small note about the continuity of the Rihannsu series. A staggering thirteen years pass between the publication of this novel, Swordhunt, in 2000, and the publication of the last entry in 1987. In that time, many changes occurred in the Star Trek universe. The first two novels in the Rihannsu series, My Enemy, My Ally and The Romulan Way take place during a supposed second five-year mission between the events of the original Star Trek television series and Star Trek: The Motion Picture. However, by the time Swordhunt was written, the timeline had been revised and the second five-year mission had never happened. So, the decision was made to place Swordhunt and its follow-up, Honor Blade, during the original five-year mission of the original television series. However, this means that references to various details between this novel and the previous ones don't match up perfectly. Muddying the issue even more is the sequel, The Empty Chair, which again revises the timeline of the Rihannsu series to a post-Star Trek: The Motion Picture period. Confused yet?
The good news is that a revised edition of the Rihannsu saga has been published in the form of an anthology comprising the first four books. Rihannsu: The Bloodwing Voyages corrects many of these small continuity errors into a cohesive narrative that is internally consistent for the most part. The small discontinuities in the books are a little distracting, but don't impact the overall enjoyment much for me. However, readers who are bothered by these issues have another option! In addition, Swordhunt and Honor Blade are presented as a single story in The Bloodwing Voyages, solving one of my issues with these novels.
I feel that Swordhunt does not stand sufficiently on its own to warrant full consideration. Therefore, I think I will reserve final judgement until I've had a chance to finish the follow-up story, Honor Blade. While I have been informed that Honor Blade doesn't complete the story, I would still like to chime in with my thoughts at that point. To get the entire story, I will have to read The Empty Chair. I will, of course, post a review of the entire story once I have done so. What I have read thus far I have very much enjoyed, as I have enjoyed most of Diane Duane's work. While the story seems to be meandering a bit, what action there has been has been exciting, and I hope the payoff will make up for the lengthy setup.
Also by Diane Duane:
Star Trek #13: The Wounded Sky (1983)
Star Trek #18: Rihannsu #1: My Enemy, My Ally (1984)
Star Trek #35: Rihannsu #2: The Romulan Way with Peter Morwood (1987)
Star Trek: Spock's World (1988)
Star Trek #50: Doctor's Orders (1990)
Star Trek: The Next Generation: Dark Mirror (1993)
I am, of course, reading the next novel in the Rihannsu saga, the continuation of Swordhunt, entitled Honor Blade. Full review coming soon!