Star Trek: Prey, Book 1: Hell’s Heart by John Jackson Miller

2285 (following the events of Star Trek III: The Search for Spock) – Admiral James T. Kirk lost his Enterprise and his son to the Klingon Commander Kruge in his bid to rescue his friend, Captain Spock, from the Genesis Planet.  Following Kruge’s death, his house descended into civil war due to having no legitimately named heir.  In the midst of this, the Phantom Wing, a secret squadron of advanced Birds of Prey that would have been used against Kruge’s enemies — both within the Klingon Empire and in the Federation — has gone missing before Kruge’s young unnamed heir-to-be, Korgh, could use it to exact his revenge.

2286 (following the events of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home) – The many warriors who claiming to be Kruge’s heir pull together against a common foe in celebrated combat at the battle of Gamaral, so the story goes.  The heirs have been at tenuous peace ever since.  The dishonored losers of the battle are discovered by the newly commissioned U.S.S. Enterprise-A, resulting in a difference of opinion between Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock in how these Klingons are to be dealt with.

2386 (seven years following the events of Star Trek: Nemesis) – Admiral William T. Riker and his team from the U.S.S. Titan are to represent the Federation at diplomatic talks involving the Klingons and members of the Typhon Pact, which include hostile races such as the Breen and the Romulans.  Captain Jean-Luc Picard is ordered to escort the cloned Klingon Emperor Kahless to the accords, as well as the elderly heirs of the house of Kruge, first participating in a ceremony to honor the house of Kruge in the centennial of the battle of Gamaral.  Essentially, Picard’s Enterprise-E is there to make a political statement, that the Federation has long since made amends since the time of Kruge.  Worf, and then Kahless, learns the truth of what really happened at the battle, but before the warriors can be called out for their dishonor, the ceremony is attacked, capturing Worf and Kahless in the process.

When attackers are revealed to be a faction of warriors known as The Unsung — the generational descendants from the unnamed and dishonored “losers” of the battle of Gamaral, led by the mysterious “Fallen Lord” — a deeper mystery unfolds, threatening to bring the Klingon Empire to its knees and split the alliance with the Federation as negotiations with the Typhon Pact looms ahead.

John Jackson Miller is a name I trust implicitly when it comes to franchise custodianship.  I trust him to tell a story that not only winks and nods at the longtime and deeply entrenched fans of a series, but to push that series to its furthest boundaries with quality storytelling.  This is something that few authors seem to be able to do at this level, and, well, Miller has a gift for it.  He has done this for me with both Star Wars and Star Trek: The Next Generation, so it was a no-brainer that I would pick up this book, the first in a trilogy that crosses TNG with the original Trek crew.

On the character front, he absolutely nails it in all regards.  With Kirk and Spock, I’m especially impressed that he’s able to capture their nuances at a very specific time in their careers.  With Picard, Riker, Worf, et al, their story has progressed considerably in the novels, the first taste of which I got reading Miller’s first TNG novel, Takedown, after a long absence.   The more things change, the more they stay the same, however, so once a reader has a grasp on the pecking order, the rest falls into place simply by knowing the characters.  Miller makes that part easy.  In his hands, it’s like reuniting with old friends, with both crews.

Miller’s knowledge of Trek runs as deeply as any fan-made Wiki database, and he uses that knowledge to craft a story that gobsmacks the reader with its sheer audacity.  Speaking as a longtime fan of too many classic franchises, I’m sure I’ll get some silent nods from my fellow geeks when I say that most crossovers are pure fan wank and very little else.  The cool factor is there, but such stories typically have very little substance, with few exceptions.  This is one of those exceptions.  Miller goes for broke and makes the story he’s telling worthy of the characters in it.  The story in question not only presents an understanding of character, but also the politics and themes of honor as seen by both legendary Starfleet crews and by the various Klingon characters and factions.  These are the points of the human (or Klingon) condition that makes for the very best Star Trek stories.  The plot forged from all of this is nothing short of genius level myth building.  Readers should approach this one with Easter basket in hand; as it was in Takedown, those eggs are everywhere!  And it’s not just Trek.  Shakespeare and Tolkien take their turns as well.

One thing that truly impresses me is when a writer can take a universe and characters that I know and love and spin it on its ear in ways that still adhere to everything I know about them while giving me something new to think about.  Miller gave me geek shivers when he led up to the big reveal, and then he yanked the carpet out from under me in short order with an even bigger reveal.  I can’t get that kind of reader gratification from most of the bestselling name brand authors.  To get it wrapped in the flag of ultimate geekery and to know that this is only the first of three books in this series?  Shut up and take my money!

Actually, that’s exactly what happened here.  Twice.  I regret nothing!  I pre-ordered all three novels in paperback as soon as I learned there was no Audible release, as there seems to be fewer unabridged Trek audiobooks than some there are for some of the competitors, and Audible seems to be the only way I can keep up with them these days.  Case in point, I started on book one in paperback as soon as I got it in the mail, and it seemed like every time I sat down to read it, I’d get no more than a page or two in before something would interrupt me.  It eventually got so distracting that after restarting the novel a couple more times, I put it aside about the time book three showed up and promised myself I’d carve out time for the entire trilogy as soon as I was able.  We all know how such things go, of course, and days became weeks, and all three novels started taunting me from my side table as only a good book can.  This, my friends, is why it sometimes doesn’t pay to keep as many irons in the fire as I do.  The wait is torture!  As soon JJM announced on his blog that they’d be available on Audible, I pulled the trigger on the pre-orders and timed my enjoyment in such a way that I could enjoy them rapid fire as a giant epic.  The first two audiobooks are available now, and book three drops on Tuesday.  If book one is any indication, to say nothing of his previous and sterling track record with me, the wait between volumes would otherwise drive me nuts.

5 stars

4 thoughts on “Star Trek: Prey, Book 1: Hell’s Heart by John Jackson Miller

  1. Pingback: Star Trek: Prey, Book 2: The Jackal’s Trick by John Jackson Miller | Knight of Angels

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