The first book in the Lost Era series, The Sundered features Captain Hikaru Sulu and the starship Excelsior. Most of you will remember that Sulu was shown to be in command of the ship in Star Trek VI, and I've always been interested in seeing what an adventure with him and his crew would be like. In The Sundered, we see that he has a few familiar faces along with some crew members we haven't seen as well. For me, part of the "coolness factor" of this novel is the fact that we get to see Captain Sulu in action. Unfortunately, some weird pacing and jumping back and forth in history bring the book to a screeching halt every time it gets going. Add a "trial by combat" cliché, and the book turns out ok rather then great.
First, it was good to see old friends again in new situations. Sulu has assembled a number of known Trek characters to fill out his crew complement. Janice Rand is now the communications officer, Christine Chapel is the ship's doctor, and Pavel Chekov is Sulu's first officer. Also, as established in the Star Trek: Voyager television series, Tuvok is a member of the crew. Not only was it great to see these faces, but Martin & Mangels capture them perfectly. They are the characters we all know and love, but they have matured. Chekov is no longer the impulsive hot-head he was in the original series, but he can still remember that time. When it comes time to discipline one of the crew, he remembers back to when he was a raw ensign, and it affects how he does it. It's like the kids have grown up and are running the store. Given the fact that these characters were small roles in the original series, there is no larger-than-life character that has to be given the hero's position. In fact, the resolution of the whole story is sparked by somebody else, and what Sulu has to do is adapt it in order to solve the current crisis. This is refreshing for those of you who are tired of seeing Jim Kirk solve every problem in sight.
While the known characters are done well, what about the rest of them? The new crew members are top notch as well, though they are relatively few. Only two of them actually have much to do, but they are great characters as well. This is marred by only one thing. The authors decide to make use of a situation from an old episode, where two of the crew are about to get married, but then one of them is killed in battle with the Romulans. Not only does this happen again (except no Romulans, of course), but it's foreshadowed so bluntly, that the episode is actually referenced *before* it happens! Rand thinks back to the last time two crew members were going to get married and remembers what happened to them. The authors don't even change much of the story, having the death happen in the same place on the ship as the previous one. While I appreciate the fact that Mangels and Martin took this story further (and actually tell a little sub-plot about revenge), the fact that none of the details are different is very lazy.
Another problem with the book is the awkwardness of the story-telling. The book is broken up into parts, alternating between the current time and history (both of the ambassador and of several Earth historical points). While I understand that the Neyel have a lot of history that can't just be infodumped, I found that the way it was done destroyed the tension in the book. It didn't help that the characters within this history weren't that interesting. I found myself wondering when the history lesson would end so we could get back to the actual story. Just when the Sulu story really started to get interesting, they would switch back to the history. They even include a scene in this history with Zefram Cochrane (the creator of warp drive) discussing things with the Next Generation characters that helped him in the movie First Contact. This scene seemed entirely gratuitous, as it didn't seem to matter anywhere in the plot.
Other than that, though, the plot of the book is very intriguing. The Tholians haven't been used much in Trek fiction, so it was nice to see them. The current-day story is well-told and intriguing, though it's brought down by the cliché of Sulu fighting a trial by combat with the Tholian commander is really a groaner. Thankfully, Mangels and Martin end it in a distinctive way, at least.
The Sundered is a flawed first book in the Lost Era series, but it's certainly worth reading if you're a Trek fan. The series has an intriguing premise, and if subsequent books can keep up the quality of this one (without the annoying bits mentioned above), then it should be a winner.