Warning: Strange digression into RL politics ahead.
I've always been fascinated with modern Arab cultures' struggle with the West. Not necessarily in terms of geopolitics but the sheer lack of ability to find common ground more often than not. During the Cold War, the Middle East was lumped in with the rest of the Third World less because it wasn't involved in the struggle between NATO and the Warsaw Pact nations than its members didn't want to ally with either.
Former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi was briefly one of the most listened-to men in the world due to his opposition to both sides, highlighting the Soviet Union's state-based atheism and the United States' commercial secularism as reasons for the Muslim world to go it alone. Obviously, his support of terrorism destroyed his influence world-wide and the world is better for it. However, it highlighted the culture divide for me when I first read about it. The United States frequently speaks about how it wishes to foster democracy world-wide but gets extremely irritated when the public votes for a government dissimilar from its own.
During the Second Iraqi War, one of the early questions about what was going to happen was whether or not the Iraqi people were going to become a theocratic oligarchy like Iran. Iraq, of course, didn't go this way but the biggest fear was that the people themselves would vote in leaders to install this. I found myself surrounded by classmates who were dreading democracy in action--because it was democracy they didn't like.
In December, 2010 the Arab Spring began in part due to the failed democratic protests in Iran but also due to a rising tide of other factors from education to internet access. The overthrow of governments was done through means both nonviolent and otherwise, eventually bringing down the aforementioned Muammar Gaddafi amongst others. Of particular note was Egypt, whose firmly entrenched dictator was overthrown and promptly replaced with a populist religious movement. For many, it was a sign of a new day beginning in the Middle East. For others, it was a cause for concern.
This relates to The Struggle Within as Christopher Bennett puts us squarely in an allegory to the Arab Spring with both the Talarians and the Kinshaya. For those who aren't enormous Star Trek nerds, the Talarians are a chauvinist race of warriors from TNG while the Kinshaya are a novels-only theocratic government of griffons.
You can gauge roughly what sort of Star Trek fan by whether or not your reaction to that last bit is like mine (totally awesome) or like others I've read the posts of (stupid). For me, I fall on the line that a little craziness makes the Star Trek universe all the sweeter. I love the Kinshaya and would dearly enjoy seeing them interact with the Federation on a regular basis, particularly because if Starfleet had trouble with the Bajoran religion they'll lay an egg (pun intended) over the Kinshaya's. There's nothing particularly funny about the book itself, however, which depicts the Kinshaya's nonviolent protest movements entirely seriously. They're a deeply spiritual people who desire to have a little more freedom in how to worship their god.
The Federation sees all manner of possibilities in this descent, including the possibility they might turn into a more secular government. I liked this last bit as it highlights the Federation seeing what it wanted to see versus what will probably happen.
Of course, in RL, I support secularism not because of any irreligious thoughts (though people are welcome to have them) but because I believe dissent is important for any healthy functioning society and any religious conversion won by pressure is worthless. It is a failure of many modern Christians they fail to realize Freedom of Belief protects them every bit as much as it protects others.
The Talarian situation is equally troublesome to the Federation as they desire the violent chauvinistic people to join them in the expanded Khitomer Accords. I'm reminded of David Webber's Grayson people in the Honorverse when describing the Talarians.
They're not misogynists per say, there's no indication the women are physically abused (indeed, the taboo against such is extremely high), but they do restrict them from many cultural roles. No sooner does the Federation start compromising its principles by dealing with this decidedly un-Roddenberry group that the females start engaging in resistance for greater rights.
Part of what I like about this book is the fact the Federation really has no idea what the hell is going on in the minds of the dissidents. The Kinshaya are strongly motivated by mysticism, arguing with the government on points completely esoteric to your average Feddie, while the Talarian women's demands are not what you'd immediately expect. It's very similar to many RL situations where cultural grievances are not universal and outsiders often misunderstand (or deliberately misrepresent) demands to cater to their own perspectives.
My favorite parts of the book deal with Jasminder Choudhury and T'Ryssa Chen. They are my two favorite Novelverse characters and such a breath of fresh air from the "old faithfuls." Jasminder Choudhury's peaceful nature contrasts nicely to the typical Security Officer stereotype. It's moving to see her want to see the peaceful protests of the Kinshaya succeed over more violent action. T'Ryssa Chen, the Happy Vulcan is just awesome and I could read a whole book about her adventures. She, more than anyone else, serves as an audience surrogate for the strange dealings going on around her.
Seeing the Talarians return from their appearance in "Suddenly Human" and other spots was a welcome surprise, as well. They're not a bad race, albeit I grossly disagree with any form of non-equality, but they're leery of getting absorbed into the Federation wholesale. For a government so keen on cultural contamination, everyone around it seems to think it's some kind of root-beer-based Borg. I'm a little saddened by how their negotiations go but unsurprised.
In conclusion, I think this was a great tribute to the nonviolent resistance of the world and those who marched their way to freedom without guns. Selling nothing short to those who won their freedom with firearms, swords, or golf clubs--I applaud the courage lauded here and Christopher Bennett's tribute to it.