Spoilers: I liked this book.
While Star Wars is more famous for its vast breadth of extended universe content, including novels, comics, and video games, Star Trek has its own fair share of books and novels. However, unlike the popular Star Wars novels, I’ve found Star Trek books to be quite hit or miss in terms of quality- like my odds at Intertops Casino Red after a couple of drinks. “Star Trek: Excelsior: Forged in Fire”, for instance, tried to jam as many characters from the show into the story as possible… whether they were particularly relevant to the story or not.
Then there are books like the awfully titled, “Star Trek: The Original Series: Crucible: McCoy: Provenance of Shadows,” which had decent enough prose but just went nowhere and ended with a fizzle rather than a bang. I just felt miserable after reading that one, and not in the way the author intended me to be.
Still, I love the Star Trek universe, and I’ve been looking for a Star Trek book that I could wholeheartedly recommend. “Star Trek: Sarek” by A.C.Crispin is pretty darn close, and I can recommend it if you’re in the mood for a good Star Trek book. Still, I have a couple of nitpicks here and there, so let’s break it down.
“Star Trek: Sarek,” of course, follows the obstinate and proud Ambassador Sarek, a recurring character through the Star Trek shows and father of the fan-favorite protagonist, Spock. The blurb on the back of the book tries to paint the story as Sarek’s adventure, that doesn’t accurately portray it.
Sarek begins to uncover a plot eighty years in the making involving a planet ruled by a race known as the “Freelans”. Sarek begins to suspect that these “Freelan” aren’t what they seem and recruits his son to help figure out who they are, what they’re up to, and how they’re connected to the Vulcan’s arch-rivals, the Romulans.
However, while Sarek plays an important part, he’s more of a catalyst for the rest of the characters to do the adventuring than a prime member of the adventure himself. The more important part of the story for Sarak is the dialogue and relationship with his son Spock, while they both work through the grief of Amada’s (Sarek’s wife, Spock’s mother) failing health.
Meanwhile, our other protagonists, including fan-favorite characters Captain Kirk and Doctor McCoy, plus two new additions to the cast, Peter Kirk, the Captain’s nephew, and Valdyr, the niece of a renegade Klingon named Kamarag, are the center of the action.
Peter, about to finish his final exams at Star Fleet Academy, suddenly finds himself swept up in KEHL (Keep Earth Human League), a xenophobic organization that’s suddenly gained a lot of influence across the planet. Peter discovers that they’re more dangerous than Starfleet seems to realize… and accidentally finds himself at the center of a web of intrigue.
Let’s start with what “Star Trek: Sarek” does right.
First of all, it is very faithful to the source material. Every named character here feels accurate to the characters depicted in the shows. Which, after suffering through the Star Wars sequels and Star Trek: Discovery, is quite the breath of fresh air. Sarek, Spock, Kirk, and McCoy are all treated with respect and love for the history of these characters and where they ended up throughout the course of the shows and movies.
Easily the strongest part of the story is the breakdown of Sarek’s character and his relationship with his family. The show really only explores one side of Spock’s dynamic with his father, and A.C. Crispin allows us to explore it from the opposite perspective. Which is really… fascinating.
But the part that really pulled on the heartstrings was Amanda. Her failing health is a central part of the book, and it’s handled excellently. A lot of stories don’t give off-screen character deaths justice, but this one is handled beautifully… in a macabre sense of beauty.
There is no avoiding it. No surprise MacGuffins, miracle cures, or deus ex machinas to save Amanda at the last second. It’s not quick. It’s not heroic or dramatic, with meaningful last words or a selfless sacrifice. I’m struggling to find the right word to describe it. Realistic? Emotional? Human? Raw?
The story explores how each character reacts to this situation and, most importantly, how the entire scenario strains and / or strengthens Sarek and Spock’s relationship. I have nothing but praise for this portion of the story.
The rest of the plot pales in comparison. It’s not bad, by any means, and it’s actually quite intriguing. I wanted to know how it was resolved. However, the relationship dynamic is really where “Star Trek: Sarek” shines.
One last thing to be happy about is that “Star Trek: Sarek” was published in 1995, and therefore doesn’t carry any of the baggage that comes with the post-J.J. Abrams Star Trek. No weird timeline stuff, reboot additions, or secret half-sister half-Jesus Michael Burnham to warp the universe around. Thank goodness.
A lot of the context of the story relies on established knowledge not specifically explained in this book. Obviously, you need to know what Star Trek is and who the main characters are. However, to really understand what’s happening, you need to have watched, like, six movies, plus both “Star Trek: The Original Series” and two specific episodes of “Star Trek: The Next Generation”.
This isn’t necessarily a flaw because “Star Trek: Sarek” is admittedly a Star Trek book aimed at Star Trek fans. However, if you were unfamiliar with the franchise (or weren’t a die-hard fan), and you just picked this book up from a bookstore, certain parts of this book would leave you lost. When Amanda is relating how she feels about her own death, she talks to Spock about the time he died- which is probably very confusing without the context of, like, three of the movies.
There are also a lot of character names and proper nouns that are dropped, which also means very little without knowing the context. David Marcus, Chancellor Azetbur, Chancellor Gorkon, General Chang, Genesis, The Kobyashi Maru, and “The Complete Works of William Shakespear”, written in the original Klingon (an inside joke that only Trekkies will get).
In terms of flaws with the book itself, I have mixed feelings about Peter Kirk, specifically. I don’t recall a nephew of Captain Kirk ever being mentioned in any Star Trek show or movie, and I’m not really a fan of when a new piece of media tries to introduce a new-super-secret-special family member to an established character because it usually turns out terrible (Eg: Both of Spock’s “siblings”).
Since Peter Kirk is a nephew still studying on Earth, rather than something more direct like a brother or a parent, not being mentioned in any of the shows or movies is more easily explained.
Peter also ends up falling in love with a certain character by the end of the book… and their relationship advances to the “I love you” phase very quickly, considering the circumstances of how the two meet (which I won’t spoil). The whole relationship is a bit odd, but that’s about all I have to say about it.
There’s a small subplot of Peter living under the burden of being related to the famous Captain Kirk, but it’s a very minor subplot, so… meh.
A more relevant nitpick of the story is that the whole plot with the baddies (who may or may not be the Freelans) ends up being thwarted rather quickly and cleanly for a scheme that has apparently been in the works for around eighty years. You’d think that the bad guys would have some contingency plans or something so as to not waste all that time and resources in the event that they were found out, but no. It’s chalked up to one throwaway line about how patient the baddies are.
One last, final nitpick is that part of the story wraps up when Sarek challenges one of the baddies to ritual combat. Now, I said earlier that the adventuring is done by the non-Sarek characters, and this is true… right until the very end of the third act. Sarek calls for a traditional combat ritual that apparently is so old and ancient, these scheming bad guys still respect its rules, despite the whole thing being so old and ancient. Also, Sarak was apparently trained to fight mano-a-mano in such a circumstance?
It’s a sudden and bizarre turn of events that should have just been settled in a game of chess. Chess had been mentioned as being something that both the bad guy and Sarek enjoy, and are quite good at, and have been playing together for decades. The whole ritual combat thing seems so out of character for the both of them when playing for the same stakes in a game of chess could have been equally as intense while making far more sense within the context of the story. I think this was a really big missed opportunity by the author to get in the head of both the villain and Sarek, which is kind of disappointing.
In short, “Star Trek: Sarek” manages to stand out from the majority of Star Trek books that I have read by being surprisingly good. It slots neatly into the established canon, and while its plot isn’t the highest stakes this universe has seen, the book compensates for it by making the personal stakes so much higher. You really feel for the characters, and that’s what “Star Trek: Sarek” does so well.
Everything taken from established canon is handled with love, care, and respect. The author clearly loves this franchise and the characters therein. The gripes I do have with this book are nitpicks from another enraptured fan and fellow writer. Out of all the Star Trek books I own, this is the one I’ll be recommending.
9 / 10 Easily one of the best Star Trek books I’ve read. It’ll make you cry but in a good way.