Star Trek: Picard – The Dark Veil (2021) – James Swallow

Simon & Schuster delivers another tale set before the first season of Star Trek: Picard with The Dark Veil by James Swallow, this time centering the story on the U.S.S. Titan, and her captain William T. Riker, its counsellor, and the captain’s wife, Deanna Troi, their young sun Thaddeus (which makes what we learn of him in the series all the more poignant), an enigmatic race known as the Jazari, and the ever secretive Romulans.

Set in the year 2386, a year after the horrible events on Mars which caused the Federation and Starfleet to withdraw their aid from the Romulan evacuation of their home systems as the supernova encroaches, as well as the ban on synthetic life and research, the story wraps itself firmly into established continuity. And like Last Best Hope before it, this story has the ring of continuity to it that was lacking in earlier Trek novels.

The mysterious Jazari are making ready to leave our galaxy, setting out for parts unknown, but when an accident summons the help of the Titan, and a Romulan warbird from across the Neutral Zone, Riker and his crew find themselves caught up in an adventure that continues to show the difficulties Starfleet has in dealing with the Romulans.

But that doesn’t mean there isn’t fun to be had, and joyfully, Swallow doesn’t overuse Thaddeus, despite the fact that he’s a very bright boy with a gift for languages. He doesn’t quite get under foot the way some felt Wesley did in The Next Generation, and in fact, most things that happen with Thaddeus help drive the narrative, but they don’t make him a heroic superkid, but just a boy, and one I think most readers will be able to relate to.

There’s also a lot of fun to be had as Swallow is obviously a huge science fiction fan, as I caught a line quote from Dune, one from Star Wars, and a possible nod to an episode of The Original Series.

There’s also a sense of wonder and mystery (who are the Jazari really? What are they hiding?), things that are inherently Trek to me, wrapped up in the story, as well as the occasional skirmish. We are introduced to Riker’s crew, and we also get to check in on Picard, and we can see the thought process in play that puts Riker in the place he needs to be for season one of Picard.

I don’t want to give away any of the plot, its twists and reveals, all I will say is that Swallow tells the tale expertly. He knows the story he wants to tell, he knows the universe, and it is fantastic to travel with old friends again, while toasting to absent friends. Swallow’s writing style is engaging, fast-paced, and you can almost hear any number of countless Trek scores underlining the entire novel.

And where Last Best Hope may be my favorite Trek novel to date, it is also a bit less optimistic than most people like their Trek, not only does it have to set up why Picard is the way he is in the new series, it puts us through those events as well. The Dark Veil is a lot more optimistic, and even though Riker is thinking about retiring, there is still the hope of wonder and discovery that drives humanity’s exploration.

Star Trek novels have come a long long way since those first forays into the unknown, and with two novels, my love for the written world of Trek is back, and I cannot wait to dig into more offerings from the Picard time line, like Rogue Elements, and perhaps other new novels as well (while catching up on those from the past as well).

Star Trek: Picard – The Dark Veil and other Star Trek titles are now available from Simon & Schuster, boldly go!!!

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