Although I haven’t read any of Hamilton’s “Anita Blake” books, I was slightly surprised to see that Laurell K. Hamilton had written a “Star Trek” novel, since I thought that she was more of a horror/fantasy writer than a sci-fi writer.
Anyway, as someone who likes both sci-fi and horror fiction, I was intrigued enough to read “Nightshade” and I certainly wasn’t disappointed.
“Nightshade” starts with Captain Picard, Commander Worf and Counsellor Troi beaming down to a dystopic planet called Oriana which has been almost destroyed by centuries of civil war. Since the two warring factions wish to negotiate a peace, they have called for the assistance of the Federation to mediate the negotiations. However, shortly after Picard, Worf and Troi arrive on the planet, the Enterprise is called away to answer a distress call from a rather unusual spaceship.
The peace talks begin well and it seems likely that peace is within sight. But, when one of the leaders dies suddenly and mysteriously during a banquet, Picard is accused of poisoning him. Not only do Worf and Troi have to continue the peace negotiations, they also only have three days to prove Picard’s innocence or he will be executed….
Although “Nightshade” begins relatively slowly, one of the things I really love about it is the sheer atmosphere of this story. Hamilton spends quite a while showing you just how much of a horrific, paranoid and dystopic place Oriana is and this really adds a lot to the story and makes you feel like you are actually on Oriana too. Seriously, I cannot emphasise how much of an atmospheric story “Nightshade” is.
Plus, although “Nightshade” is still very much a sci-fi novel, there are definitely more horror elements in this story than there are in the average “Star Trek” novel and the scene where Troi first discovers the medical facilities on Oriana is probably one of the creepiest scenes I’ve ever read in a “Star Trek” book. Seriously, I cannot praise Titan Books enough for choosing to publish a “Star Trek” novel by a horror writer, since “Nighshade” is refreshingly different to many of the other (also very good) “Star Trek” books I’ve read.
Another thing I really love about “Nightshade” is the sheer level of characterisation in it. All of the supporting characters seem like very realistic and believeable people and, although the main characters are obviously similar to how they are portrayed in the TV show, you really get a deep insight into both the similarities and differences between Worf and Troi. Plus, the idea of Worf being a peace ambassador is a really innovative one and you will get a very clear sense of how difficult he finds this job to be.
Not to mention that Worf and Troi obviously aren’t really trained to be detectives either, so there is a real sense of suspense and tension about whether or not they’ll be able to find enough evidence to clear Picard’s name. Plus, apparently the Klingons have their own version of Sherlock Holmes called “Betan-Ka”, who Worf refers to a few times during the investigation. Although this is an extremely minor plot detail, I really liked it.
The only slight criticisms I have to make of “Nightshade” are to do with the pacing of the later parts of story and the sub-plot involving the Enterprise. Although the sub-plot (where LaForge and Doctor Crusher have to repair a damaged spaceship) is fairly interesting and it has some rather innovative imagery (which reminded me slightly of “Farscape”), it isn’t really developed quite enough and it almost feels like it has been tacked onto the main story.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s a very interesting sub-plot, but the story would have worked equally well without it. Basically, it’s just a plot device to ensure that Troi, Picard and Worf are completely alone when they visit Oriana. As long as you’re aware of this fact, then you’ll probably enjoy the sub-plot.
The other criticism I have of “Nightshade” is to do with the pacing of the story. In short, it ends slightly too quickly. When I was about three-quarters of my way through this novel, I had the same feeling that I normally get when I realise that a story will probably end on a cliffhanger. In other words, it seemed like there would be no way for the plot to be resolved in the number of pages which were left. Hamilton still manages to resolve both the main plot and the sub-plot fairly well, although I feel that this novel really should have been slightly longer.
Still, don’t let these two minor criticisms put you off reading what is an absolutely excellent and atmospheric “Star Trek” novel. “Nightshade” works extremely well as both a detective novel and as a creepy dystopic sci-fi novel too. It’s fairly different to any other “Star Trek” book that I’ve read and it’s also the most atmospheric “Star Trek” novel I’ve read too. Seriously, it’s well worth reading if you’re a fan of “Star Trek: The Next Generation”.
If I had to give “Nightshade” a rating out of five, then it would definitely get a four.