Rough Beasts of Empire is yet another novel in the continuing epic political drama of the Typhon Pact.
As the cover indicates, the book is primarily about Captain Benjamin Sisko and Spock. The book is, obviously, set before the events of Star Trek (2009) when the latter departed the original Star Trek universe forever.
Benjamin Sisko's return isn't in this book but, I confess, a certain ambivalence to it in general. When he left to join the Prophets, I thought he was never going to return. That his 'ascension' was the price he was willing to pay for the Prophets destruction of the Jem'hadar fleet in "Sacrifice of Angels."
The premise of the book is multifold. Benjamin Sisko is going through a personal crisis following the events of Star Trek: Destiny. Having witnessed the death of thousands he was unable to save, suffering the loss of a good friend, and discovering the death of his father--the man who would not bend simply breaks.
It is painful to see Captain Sisko lose faith in the Prophets, his friends, his family, and even himself. This is not an easy situation that is resolved mid-point through the novel or during a dramatic climax, it is seemingly a permanent change to the character. David R. George III sells this excruciatingly sad series of events and I applaud his ability to write a tragedy, even as I hate it's happened to a character I love.
Elsewhere, on Romulus, we see Spock finally getting some traction on his Reunification movement. This is contradictory towards New Frontier, where the Praetor and Spock had come to a sort of accommodation, but it's hardly the only continuity difference between those novels and the main universe. Spock soon finds himself targeted by a Reman assassin but uses this event to get political capital enough to force a meeting with the Praetor. What follows is a multi-layered conspiracy plot the former Ambassador must try and unweave. The ending is shocking and entirely unexpected.
Finally, the Romulan government gets it own analysis. Their culture only vaguely hinted at in the various series, it is the Novelverse which has expanded on them to become a fully three-dimensional culture. Here, we get a rivalry between Praetor Tal'aura and Empress Donatra and how it has split the culture in two.
Both sides want the Romulan Empire reunited as does the Typhon Pact but whichever side it comes down on will forever change the galaxy. As expected, we get the usual Romulan blackmail, assassination, and cronyism to spice up the politics.
On my end, I've always been a huge fan of Empress Donatra and her Imperial Romulan State. I was rooting for her throughout the books she's appeared in, hoping she'd decide to ally with the Federation. Here, her story reaches its crucible as she's forced to work with Captain Sisko despite the fact he's probably at the absolute worst point of his life. I won't spoil things, but they don't go the way the universe needs. I fear for the Romulan people and I hate Romulans.
We get some more information on the Tzenkethi this book, illustrating them as a people who employ a genetic "caste" system (which they object to--despite it being mostly true) so that everyone is perfectly suited for their jobs. I was getting a little bored of the Breen as the only "villains" of the pact so it was nice to spice up things with Tzenkethi manipulations. I find them an offensive people and hope they get some comeuppance for the horrible things they do this volume.
A fan-favorite returns this volume with Sela of the Obsidian Order. Sela has always been a favorite character of mine and Star Trek Online won many kudos from me when it employed Denise Crosby to voice the evil Romulan Empress. Will Sela rise to the heights of her online counterpart? I don't know, but I hope so. With things having gone so poorly, I can think of no one better for eventual rulership of the Romulan people.
Rough Beasts of Empire is a harsh book dealing with both depression as well as the loss of ideals. In a very real way, it's a volume about the fact the Federation's principles won't always work out for the best. That the "bad guys" often win as much as the good ones. Also, that the "good guys" don't get to retire into a life of happily ever after. Many times, they're broken by their experiences.
I recommend the book, nevertheless, citing its excellent craftsmanship. It is a tragedy, telling the fall of a good man and how even heroes can be helpless before larger events. If we ever get to the Hobus disaster, I hope it is David R. George III who chronicles its final hours.