I was really into the episodic TNG, DS9 and Voyager novels coming out when I was a teen in the ’90s, but I hadn’t paid any attention to the books since then.
When The Valkyrie Directive and I had our most recent chat about the Mirror Universe, I mentioned I wish that Mirror Hoshi and T’Pol should’ve joined forces, and she pointed out that did happen in one of the books.
This was not the first time I’d said something I wish had happened on the series and was told by a fan that thing had happened in the novels. It makes sense – a novelist can bring in as many characters as they want without it costing more money, and that can often translate into more female characters. They can also explore the characters and the social dynamics more.
So I asked The Valkyrie Directive for recommendations, mentioning I was looking for a shorter series with interesting female characters.
And that’s how I ended up starting the three-book Terok Nor series. The series is a prequel to Deep Space Nine and starts in the years leading up to the Cardassian occupation of Bajor.
I can’t give an exhaustive review of every element because the scope is truly epic, but I will highlight some points and particularly talk about the female characters and what we learn about Cardassian gender relations.
The first book is James Swallow’s The Day of the Vipers, which deals with the period leading up to the Occupation.
What I most appreciated about it was how it shed light on the political dynamics. The Occupation didn’t just happen because the Cardassians were evil; there were economic and military motivations and cultural/ideological factors like feeling the Bajorans were “backwards” and needed guidance. The book doesn’t in any way excuse the Cardassians but it helps us understand how similar atrocities have occurred and could occur in future in our own world.
(Spoilers ahead, but I’ll try to avoid them where possible)
I also loved getting to see a young Alynna Nechayev going undercover to gather intelligence for the Federation. It adds a lot to her character to see her going on a risky mission, having her life saved by a Bajoran, and then having her superiors in the Federation refuse to intervene.
But overall The Day of the Vipers was my least favourite of the three books. On a writing style note, I felt Swallow over-used Bajoran and Cardassian words to describe things, even when the word had a clear English alternative. There were also so many original characters that I frequently had to reference the “Dramatis Personae” in the front of the book (here’s the page showing the first 16 of 31 characters).
I also wasn’t impressed with original character Darrah Mace and his stereotypical relationship with his family. Darrah is a typical workaholic father whose wife, Karys, is annoyed that he doesn’t spend enough time with her and their son, Bajin, and daughter, Nell. That would be totally tolerable if it weren’t for parts like this:
“How’s Karys and the cubs?” (Commander Jekko asks Darrah)
“They’re good. Not so much cubs anymore, though. Bajin’s growing into a fine example of a moody teenager, and Nell spends my money almost as fast as my wife does.”
In the second and third books, Night of the Wolves and Dawn of the Eagles S.D. Perry and Britta Dennison get to spend more time on awesome female characters we already know, including significant scenes with Kira Meru, Kira Nerys, Opaka, Winn, Ro Laren, and Natima Lang.
Meru is probably treated the most problematically because she is frequently described from the perspective of one of Basso Tromac, Damar or Dukat. Basso and Damar are not fans of hers and Dukat even at this point is feeling pulled in different directions, having learned his other mistress on Bajor has given birth to Ziyal.
For example, we get sections like this:
“Meru continued to whimper and cry piteously as [Dukat] left the room, and the sound of it made him sick to his very core.”
“Basso felt that Meru was a spoiled, inconsolable woman, and as she had gotten older, her demands and her tantrums had become increasingly unreasonable.”
Of course we know Dukat and Basso aren’t good guys and not to side with them, but the novel doesn’t spend as much time on Meru’s feelings to really balance out what others are feeling and thinking about her.
I was pretty shocked when the novels explained what ended up happening to Meru. I won’t give it away entirely in case you’re planning on reading the books, but if you want to know, it’s in this Memory Beta article. I thought it was a bit much, even for Dukat, but I appreciated how the writers had him become almost in denial about his role in her death, trying to reason his way out of feeling guilt.
Ro has an important role in Night of the Wolves and it’s great to see her as a teenager, constantly challenging authority and trying to navigate her first love interest. She’s no typical lovestruck teenager, as you’d probably guess. Unlike Meru, Ro’s part of the story is very much her own.
Kira Nerys is still a child for most of Night of the Wolves, just slightly older than the picture above, from “Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night”, and being watched over by Dukat. Later in the book she joins the Shakaar cell and helps liberate the Gallitep labour camp in a really exciting scene.
In Dawn of the Eagles she’s a risk-taking young woman and we follow her as she ties up a lot of threads from DS9 episodes, like the killing of Vaatrik from “Necessary Evil”.
Opaka is also very well-fleshed out in these books, as she goes from a somewhat timid Vedek who is unsure of whether she should voice her controversial opinions, to the planet’s spiritual leader, guided by important visions and love for her son.
Winn gets less time but what she does get makes you understand even more where she’s coming from in DS9 – she lived through a time of incredible upheaval and given the way the Cardassians lulled the Bajorans into a false sense of security before the Occupation, it makes sense why she acts the way she does towards the Federation.
Natima Lang has an important story arc in her own right that helps explain how she went from being a pro-Occupation propagandist to a dissident in a relationship with Quark (revisited in “Profit and Loss”).
But she and the new original Cardassian women characters also let the authors explore the differences between Cardassian and Bajoran norms. This is something I love because any time you show gender norms are different in different societies, you show they aren’t fixed things and you give people room to challenge them.
Here’s an example from Yopal, the Cardassian woman who takes over the Bajoran Institute of Science and becomes Dr. Mora’s boss:
“Men…”she began, the start of a familiar refrain. “You simply aren’t capable of the same kind of attention to detail as women. I suppose you cannot realistically be faulted – you were born with the natural inclination towards immediate results, with less regard for the process of getting there. Sometimes, gentlemen, the journey is as important as the destination – often even more so. I find myself reminding you of this truth far more often than I would a female scientist.”
I also love how Cardassian gender roles don’t just cut one way – like our gender roles, they restrict both men and women. While Cardassian women dominate the sciences and men who try to enter the field are suspect, men dominate the military. And all women’s hopes can be dashed if they are unable to fulfill their life’s main role of being mothers.
“But her internal injuries had been extensive, and the doctor had confirmed what every Cardassian woman feared more than death – [She] would never carry a child to term.”
The Bajorans highlight how ridiculous the gender roles are, and even get some of the Cardassians to reconsider. At one point Natima Lang meets a Bajoran who says not letting half their population fight is silly and challenges her on whether Cardassians really feel women are “less capable, because they carry young.”
By the next book, she has clearly started changing her mind about things:
“Natima winced a little at the last one, for there were women in the military as well as men, but Cardassia was still mired in patriarchy…As it was, she got plenty of disdain from her male colleagues at the Information Service, who had long tried to dissuade her from covering pieces that might place her in harm’s way.”
This is a really long post already, so I’ll wrap up. If I had to change one thing about the Terok Nor trilogy I would’ve liked for there to be more focus on people’s feelings instead of only their actions. In Dawn of the Eagles there were a couple lines about how Odo and Dr. Mora were feeling that really stood out, but otherwise it was hard to get really emotionally involved other than what was already there from knowing the familiar characters and caring about the story.
But overall the books are engaging and do a really good job telling us about Trek women we know, and introducing interesting new ones. The range of women characters is impressive and the way the books acknowledge social gender roles is refreshing.
So what should I read next, everyone?