This tale has its moments, and maybe a certain Horatio Hornblower quality of which Roddenberry would approve -- the story of a young officer thrust into a command situation and having to prove his mettle. But the execution is poor. The writing is flat and totally passionless. The scene where Picard's captain and mentor is killed before his eyes contains no trace of emotion.
The story also lacks imagination -- particularly the early part, recounting the Valiant's doomed mission. This ship was supposedly launched just four years after Cochrane's warp prototype. But Friedman depicts it exactly like a 23rd- or 24th-century Starfleet vessel, with a crew of eighty, at least seven decks, lifts, deflectors, ops officers, an electroplasma system, the works. The only concessions to the earlier era are the weapons. There's no way such an early ship could be that big, elaborate and modern. Friedman didn't even try to imagine a credible early-warp expedition or a more primitive level of technology; he just parroted the familiar tropes without considering whether they made sense in this context. As for the plot of this section, it's virtually a beat-by-beat replay of "Where No Man," except less interesting because none of the characters has any emotional connection to the Mitchell stand-in.
The Stargazer portion isn't very creative either. The characters and their interactions are quite crudely drawn. Picard is almost indistinguishable from the TNG-era Picard. In an earlier Stargazer story for DC Comics, Friedman portrayed the young Picard as more brash and daring, somewhere between "Tapestry"'s cadet Picard and the captain we know. But here, Friedman forgets his own past characterization and gives us a routine, uninteresting Picard.
The other characters are mere caricatures, their conflicts as simplistic and exaggerated as any soap opera. The antagonists among the crew are fanatical, incompetent and insubordinate. Friedman has them mutiny at their first disagreement with the new captain, a ludicrously overplayed plot point that makes a mockery of Starfleet training. Anyone with such knee-jerk mutinous tendencies would've washed out of the Academy in the first week. Had this been credibly written at all, these officers would've resisted Picard's authority in subtler ways, respecting their oaths and discipline but still clashing with an unwelcome commander. We've seen such conflicts before, in "Chain of Command," for instance, and they can be quite tense and engaging. But here Friedman takes the most melodramatic and broad approach possible, creating more farce than tension.
Bringing back the Kelvans was a nice idea, but it was handled poorly. No effort was made to develop them, beyond a half-hearted effort to describe their real appearance. The telepath culture wasn't developed either -- just a few random elements that don't fit coherently together. At first they say they value privacy; then, later, they say they all prefer to live close together. Friedman acknowledges the paradox in passing, but never bothers to resolve it. I also agree that the Nuyyad were a total waste, nothing but shooting-gallery targets, another complete creative failure.
More laziness is demonstrated by Friedman's claim that the Andromeda Galaxy is "a hundred thousand light-years away." That's like saying Los Angeles is a hundred-mile drive from Manhattan. It's a minor point, but come on, Mr. Friedman, would it have hurt you to do just a little basic research? Open an encyclopedia? Type "Andromeda Galaxy" into a search engine? Five minutes of your time? (By the way, there's nothing wrong with having planets on the other side of the Barrier. The galaxy has no sharp edge; the stars just get sparser the further out you go. This is just about the only sensible idea in the book.)
The sad thing is, Friedman isn't usually this bad. He's never been brilliant; he has very little SF imagination, and his dialogue tends to be stilted and awkward. But in the past he's turned out a number of engaging character-driven stories, including REUNION, CROSSOVER and MY BROTHER'S KEEPER. THE VALIANT, though, is the worst thing he's ever written. It's evident from start to finish that he just wasn't trying. I can't imagine why Friedman is being given an ongoing Stargazer novel series after such a dissatisfying "pilot."