One of the many questions Star Trek fans were asking during the long Dominion War arc of "Deep Space Nine" was "What was the Enterprise doing during all of this?" Some of those questions were answered in a couple of other novels, as well as the movie Insurrection. But what about Counselor Deanna Troi's homeworld of Betazed? I remember the astonished feeling when I heard that it had been taken over by the Dominion, and I knew there had to be a story there. This brings us to Charlotte Douglas and Susan Kearney's The Battle of Betazed, where Counselor Troi is forced to come to terms with what her people may have to become in order to rid their world of the Dominion. Unfortunately, the book has horrible pacing and is quite pedestrian all the way around.
Betazed has fallen to the Dominion and the Cardassian forces, and a new space station is being built in its orbit, similar to Deep Space Nine. The Resistance movement on the planet is running dangerously low on food and resources and isn't causing much damage. They are in desperate need of relief, but an entire fleet of Federation ships is destroyed in an attempt to retake the planet. Why is the Dominion investing so many resources into protecting it? What horrible crime is one Cardassian, Crell Moset, committing in the name of scientific discovery? The Enterprise is sent on a desperate mission to free a man who may do more harm to Betazoid culture than the Dominion is doing, even as they discover what the horrible result of Moset's experiments might be. If he succeeds, it may spell the end of the Federation and the beginning of ultimate Dominion victory.
Sounds exciting, doesn't it? Ok, maybe my description doesn't do it justice. However, the back cover blurb does make the book sound very interesting. Unfortunately, Douglas and Kearney don't succeed in making the *book* interesting. It takes forever to get going (at least as a percentage of its very short length). We get a lot of Troi angst, as she has to decide whether to go through with a mission that could bring down the Betazoid culture she's trying so desperately to save. After a while, the angst just got tedious. We spend a lot of time getting to know Elias Vaughn. Even if this is his first appearance (I'm not up on the publishing dates of all the books he has appeared in), we spend way too long learning about him. There's also the predictable friction between the Cardassian in charge of the occupation and the Vorta who oversees everything. Add to this Moset's insanity, which gets demonstrated way too often, and it all boils down to a lot of set up.
When the action finally does start, the authors do a decent job of describing it. The starship battles are kind of interesting, though not exactly logical at times. The Enterprise and its support ships go into battle vastly overmatched, with all parties wondering if *anybody* will get out alive, but then everything suddenly becomes too easy. Meanwhile, the action down at the prison, where Troi, Vaughn, Crusher and Data are, is also illogical. The party happens upon a Jem'Hadar patrol and manages to talk them into letting them go despite not having their identification cards. The Jem'Hadar *I* know would have just shot them on sight if they were the least bit out of line. My last complaint has Troi managing to stun somebody holding Data prisoner by firing *through* Data. I'm sorry, but if your phaser shot burned a hole through an android, there's no way it's going to only stun the target behind him.
While the prose and characterization is somewhat pedestrian (Moset is very stereotypical of the single-minded scientist), there are a few nice scenes here and there that seem to set up what happens in the Insurrection movie. Riker and Troi seem to grow closer together as he helps her deal with the weight of what her people might have to do to survive. Especially nice is the final scene between them (though I can't go into detail, because of spoilers). The plot itself is fairly interesting (despite the logic flaws in some cases). There's only one major coincidence, and while it's a doozy, it's still forgivable given everything else. The final solution doesn't come out of left field and is, in fact, quite good. It's not a perfect solution, unlike a lot of plot resolutions. It has its price. Unfortunately, the price that we expect that Troi will have to pay after what happens doesn't come to pass, as she's let off the hook by developments. It's a shame when that happens, as that really would have grown her character.
One final compliment to the book. The characterization of Lwaxana Troi (Deanna's mother, for those of you not in the know) is actually very nice. She's one of the leaders of the local resistance cell, and while she is not unrecognizable, all of the changes that the invasion and four months of occupation have wrought have taken their toll on her. She still has a couple of bantering comments with Picard, but you can tell they are just old habit and her heart's not in it. It's wonderful stuff, and unfortunately she is underused (and anybody who knows my Trek reviews knows how much I hate the character, so that's really a compliment).
Ultimately, I'm glad I read The Battle of Betazed, as it's good to know what happened (it's referred to in some subsequent books, especially Articles of the Federation). It's a very quick read, so you won't waste much time on it. I just wish it had been as interesting as the description promised it would be. A missed opportunity for sure.