Sunday, July 5, 2015

The Soul Key

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
The Soul Key by Olivia Woods
Published August 2009
Read June 29th 2015


Previous book (Deep Space Nine): Fearful Symmetry

Next book (Deep Space Nine): The Never-Ending Sacrifice

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Spoilers ahead for The Soul Key and the Deep Space Nine relaunch!

From the back cover:
There is a void in the alternate universe that demands to be filled. Iliana Ghemor, the Cardassian operative who years ago was altered in both body and mind to replace Kira Nerys, dreams of fulfilling a prophecy that will mark her as the one true Emissary of that other reality -- a messianic figure who could lead her followers into an era of renewed hope...or an age of deepening darkness. 
Ghemor's claim to the mantle of the Emissary is by no means certain, however, as the inexorable pull of providence tugs also at other souls who are swept into the vortex of the Prophets, the remote and timeless beings who have set these strange events in motion. 
But the stakes are higher than anyone imagines: for the outcome of this struggle for the fate of one universe will ripple across many others, and become the key to unlocking a future that will prove to be the greatest trial yet for the heroes of station Deep Space 9.

My thoughts:

When the history of Star Trek literature is written, the Deep Space Nine "relaunch" will hold a special and revered place in that history. This series was the first to continue past the series finale and see what happens when you take the characters and the story in new and unexpected directions, rather than the usual "put all of the toys back on the shelf" mode of Star Trek storytelling. However, after eight years of the DS9 relaunch, The Soul Key ended the ongoing story. After this novel, the DS9 continuity would be pushed into the future to catch up with the rest of the post-Nemesis continuity that had developed. Admittedly, this colored my perception of this book when I first read it. Now, however, author David R. George III is going back to fill in the missing story in his upcoming novels Sacraments of Fire and Ascendance. Coincidentally, I am wrapping up my DS9 relaunch re-read right around the time of Sacraments of Fire's release!

So how does The Soul Key fare as the last chapter in the Deep Space Nine relaunch? Well... unfortunately, it isn't the strongest note for the story to go out on. The novel is marred by a number of issues, not the least of which is an overly-complicated storyline. Ghemor's goal of killing every Kira Nerys in every universe she can get her hands on is a little too over-the-top to be taken seriously. At one point, there are three people who look like Kira running around. While the story is interesting, it descends into ridiculousness at times.

At one point, there are three people running around the mirror universe Terok Nor wearing Kira Nerys's face. The plot of The Soul Key can be very convoluted at times.
The very existence of Iliana Ghemor doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but that is a holdover problem from the DS9 episode "Second Skin," which introduced the character. I did appreciate the novel's attempt to explain how people from different races can look so much alike when, in reality, it is a product of Star Trek hiring actors to play multiple roles. A little wink to the reader was caught in the previous novel, Fearful Symmetry, when Entek tells Iliana that the Obsidian Order was surprised at how many matches Gul Danar has across many different species. This is, of course, because Danar was played by Vaughn Armstrong, arguably the most prolific Trek guest actor.

The similarities between Kira and Ghemor are explained as a biological quirk of nature... or, they were both simply played by the same actor, something which which all of these characters are familiar!

Another issue is the slowness with which the story proceeds in the first half of the novel. Much of the space is reserved for recapping previous events and filling in the gaps of Iliana Ghemor's plan. All of that said, once the plot finally gets going, The Soul Key is an exciting read. There is definitely a lot to recommend the story, such as some wonderful character work with Elias Vaughn while he visits the mirror universe with Kira. His interactions with Sisko are interesting as well, and something that I hope gets further exploration in DRG's upcoming novels.

One piece of character work that I found fell a little flat was Taran'atar's story. After the great setup in Warpath and Fearful Symmetry, the conclusion of his "betrayal" seemed somewhat anti-climactic. However, I thought the choice to have him fly off on his own at the end of the novel was an interesting one, as was the inclusion of the Even Odds. I'm very interested in seeing where his story goes from here!

The Deep Space Nine relaunch has seen a number of excellent stories, such as the Defiant's mission of exploration in the Gamma Quadrant in Mission Gamma, Jake's adventure aboard the Even Odds in Rising Son, the entry of Bajor into the Federation and the return of the Emissary in Unity. While the tale of Iliana Ghemor's insane crusade may not be quite up to the same level of these other stories, Olivia Woods still managed to craft a fairly compelling story out of it. The setup for the Ascendant story that takes place at the end takes on a much different tone than it did when I first read it a few years ago now that we may finally be getting the next chapter of that tale.

How did Deep Space Nine and the Bajor Sector fare against the Ascendants? Hopefully we can find out soon!

Final thoughts:

When I first read The Soul Key, it was with a certain amount of trepidation, as I knew that the story was left hanging with Deep Space Nine having moved forward in time to catch up with the rest of the post-Nemesis novel continuity. I was not eager to read a setup that would never have a satisfying conclusion. However, now that David R. George's upcoming Deep Space Nine novels are endeavoring to answer the questions left at the end of The Soul Key, I found this reread to be much more satisfying! While the story is plagued with a slow start and a very convoluted plot, once the action gets going the story takes off and concludes in an exciting manner. Some great character work helps to elevate the story somewhat, but it is still not one of my favorite stories from the DS9 relaunch.

More about The Soul Key:

Also by Olivia Woods:

My next read:

At long last, the story of Iliana Ghemor and the Ascendants continues! My next review will be for the all-new Deep Space Nine adventure, Sacraments of Fire, by David R. George III. Until then, live long and prosper!