Star Trek: New Frontier had a bit of growing pains to go through with the first four books. While there were moments of great comedy and great adventure, they were interspersed with unprofessional behavior amongst the crew and inappropriate silliness. New Frontier's fifth installment hammers out some of these problems and makes a more "realistic" (for whatever value that word has in a setting with Apollo running around and logical elves) take on the characters.
The premise of this novel is Captain Mackenzie Calhoun is summoned to the planet Zondar by the locals due to their startling claim he's their planetary messiah. Mackenzie is flattered by this proposal and believes he can use it to bring an end to their centuries-long civil war. Meanwhile, the authoritarian religion known as the Redeemers are dealing with the after effects of Thallonia's destruction.
Part of why I enjoyed Martyr so much is the novel takes the time to walk you through the the setting's craziness as well as address the lunacy of the last four novels. Admiral Jellico doesn't believe a word of Mac's logs regarding the "Great Bird of the Galaxy", for instance, and it requires Shelby citing Kirk's memorable encounters with the unreal to convince him to lay off. Everyone has time to reflect on the previous craziness and that makes the future insanity all the more effective.
This book nicely illustrates a lot of Mackenzie Calhoun's flaws, showing how easily he's taken in by the prospect of being a planetary messiah as well as his belief in brute force over subtler solutions. The arrogance of the boy-warlord turned starship captain is shown as a weakness rather than a strength as is his refusal to compromise on anything.
It's a challenge which reminds me of Captain Kirk's own in Star Trek: The Motion Picture and The Wrath of Khan. Seeing him forced to confront problems on an intellectual level rather than through brute force was deeply satisfying. By the end of Martyr, I felt Captain Calhoun was actually worthy of being a starship captain than "Conan in Space."
The character of Elizabeth Shelby also grows. Whereas she was originally a somewhat contrary commander for contrary's sake, her objections are much more reasonable in this book. Still, there are times she comes off as more jealous than introspective, which doesn't suit her character. The whole plot of unrequited feelings between both her and Captain Calhoun just doesn't work for me.
Likewise, the ongoing relationship between Burgoyne 172 and Selar the Vulcan doesn't improve. Burgoyne 172 comes off more as a stalker than a romantic suitor, ignoring Selar's continued requests for he/she to leave. It becomes especially annoying when Selar goes into Pon Farr, which makes the entire thing just creepy. While I can accept Burgoyne is genuinely in-love with Selar, it just reminds me of too many RL situations where someone won't take a hint.
The Redeemers are bad guys I can either take or leave. While I love cruel and evil Star Trek races as much as the next guy, the Redeemers see-saw between ridiculous and nightmarish. They're capable of decimating whole worlds with plagues but their religion is almost parody-like, designed to do evil because their god is too good to emanulate.
Overall, I really liked Martyr and think it's a nice set up for a 'serious' Star Trek: New Frontier series. Its flawed but these flaws don't hurt my enjoyment of the work overall.