No one hesitates to tell me that I am in the minority when I state my preference for Bajoran religious and political stories above all others in Deep Space Nine. And perhaps I am one of the few who has lamented the absence of further stories involving the Ea’voq, Bajor’s sister planet in the Gamma Quadrant, since Rising Son. But I think that Olivia Woods’s new novel The Soul Key surprisingly blends the recent mirror universe emphasis with the Prophets and their many followers in an effective way.
The novel finally fills in the backstory from the point Iliana Ghemor escapes her Cardassian prison up until the present storyline, including how she came to wield power over Taran’atar. As some reviewers have noted, there is a greater focus on her than on any of the regular characters, but this in fact is due to necessity of allowing the readers to experience her story in order for the overall story to advance. Ghemor’s motivations and actions not only help one understand her better, but also are used in order to contrats her with Kira Nerys and the Ghemor from the mirror universe, all of whom play critical roles in this story and the saga to come.
After returning from the Prophets, Benjamin Sisko called Kira his ‘Right Hand,’ and we see the weight of that pronouncement in the conclusion of this tale. While the Ea’voq are only mentioned, I got the feeling that they would be seen again in the near future. And finally the Ascendants were shown preparing for their apocalypse, only to be surprised by what happens. I don’t want to give anything away, but The Soul Key wraps up the mirror universe arc and moves back towards the religious angle that has been neglected for the last few stories.
Speaking of the mirror universe, after reading so much about that reality’s Miles O’Brien, not to mention seeing him in numerous television episodes, I was surprised and disappointed at the way he was portrayed here. Though scenes from his perspective are often written to show his sense of doubt over his ability to lead the rebellion, nothing made me think that he would suffer the sort of emotional breakdown described in these pages. The other mirror universe characters, from Eddington to Keiko, are static here. But what is so enjoyable is that fleshing them out isn’t necessary; one need only read other entries set in the mirror universe to get ales focusing on them, to one degree or another. That it all holds together so well yet so loosely shows editorial oversight clicking on all cylinders.
Unfortunately, with the termination of Marco Palmieri, editor and creative force behind the post-television Deep Space Nine fiction, we may never see the story that this novel sets up all the pieces for. With the next novel being announced as taking place three or so years in the future, it seems likely that the readers will receive a certain amount of filler that could very well gloss over events occurring in the interim. That’s not to say that I do not have faith in David R. George, only that a work so conceived likely won’t address the parts of the relaunch I am most interested with to the degree I would like. So it is with a certain bittersweet feeling that I review The Soul Key, a good novel that could unfortunately represent the interruption point of a very good series.