A continuing problem with the Mission Gamma series of Deep Space Nine books has been character angst. There's just been too much of it. In Cathedral, Andy Mangels and Michael A. Martin give us a plot that would seem to call for a lot of angst. Thankfully, they tone it down to a dull roar, thus making the book a lot more bearable. They've created an interesting mcguffin that gives our characters a lot to deal with, and they do it beautifully. Add a killer ending that leads into the next book into the mix, and you have a satisfying piece of the Gamma Quadrant puzzle.
Once again, the most interesting part of Cathedral takes place on the station. I'm a sucker for Bajoran politics, and the characters there continue to fascinate. I'm a big Ro fan, so watching her wrestle with Quark, her feelings about the Federation, her growing attraction to a Trill security operative, and everything else going on around the station was extremely interesting to me. As I said in my review of This Gray Spirit, what's truly going on in the Bajoran plot had been spoiled for me, but it was still interesting to piece everything together. I pegged what was going on with Shakaar immediately, but trying to piece together how everybody else fit in was fascinating. The events in the Andorian plot in This Gray Spirit meant that a lot of my gripes about that book didn't carry over to Cathedral, which I was very happy with. The Andorians didn't figure much at all, except for Shar's reaction to these events, and that's a good thing.
Which brings us to the Gamma Quadrant. While the events back on the station deeply affected Shar, Mangels and Martin avoid having him wallow in his grief, at least externally. I could tell that he was heavily affected, but we didn't get pages and pages of him moaning about it. That's one plus right there. Secondly, the plot involving the Defiant was finally interesting. On first glance, it suffers from the same problem that This Gray Spirit had, where we aren't really given any characters to care about other than our heroes. This time, however, it didn't make that much of a difference. The two alien species are more a plot obstruction that the Defiant crew have to deal with, rather than having the plot deal with them. Thus, the interest is in seeing how the crew gets past their obstruction. One of the aliens is given a little bit of character, but it seems to be more a plot convenience than anything else. He points them in the right direction, and then he gives them some stumbling blocks later on in the story. I really enjoyed that.
This gave us a chance to see how Bashir, Nog, and Ezri dealt with their own situations. Again, Mangels and Martin avoid the heavy angst that permeated the first two books. This is surprising because if any plot called for angst, this one did. I loved how Bashir's log slowly degenerated as his genetic augmentation failed. Ezri's doubts about her abilities as first officer of the Defiant were also well-handled, as was Vaughn's reaction to it. We finally get some resolution from Ezri's heavy reliance on her previous hosts abilities that I found a bit heavy-handed earlier in the series. When that ability is stripped from her, it's intriguing to see how she handles it. The scene where Vaughn convinces her that she is still valuable is wonderful.
Even better is Nog, as he has to deal with two things: the fact that his leg is growing back, and the fact that he is the only one of the three characters who actually had something good happen to him. His secret desire to keep his good leg runs up against the certainty that none of these things can be reversed if all of them aren't is almost heart-breaking. The scene where he and Shar share their secrets (Nog's guilt and Shar's tragedy) is well-written. The only bad thing about the whole Gamma Quadrant plot is the relatively quick resolution. I realize that the point of the story was how these characters deal with the loss of their abilities, rather than how to solve the problem, I still found that the solution was almost too easy. Sure, the Defiant had to go through a lot and there was a chance that they couldn't retrieve the three wounded people, but it was too easy for the characters themselves. Still, that's a small niggle and doesn't detract that greatly.
Then we come to the ending. Whoa, boy! I had a general idea of what was going on, and I was still floored. Talk about your cliffhanger! Thankfully I had the next book right there and could continue immediately. I don't know how I would have been able to wait a whole month to find out what happened. It takes the Bajor plot in a whole new, satisfying direction. Kudos to both Martin and Mangels.
In fact, many compliments to them for saving what had been a good, but fairly lackluster series. For once, I wasn't reading the Gamma Quadrant sequences while saying "I have to get through these in order to get back to the station." Both sides held my interest equally. Here's to a rollicking conclusion!