A very steady read. I was very impressed with the way the character of Garak came into this story, through the tone of the narration. But it never really rose to any passionate degree, and I question the effectiveness of placing three distinct stories intertwined like this.
Ah, plain and simple Garak. The man who never was plain and simple on the TV show is shown to be very plain and simple in this book. On TV, he was confident, full of mystery, and was rarely, if ever, caught off guard. The one facet of his personality that did continue through it all was his ability to get things done, no matter the cost. He continues to do that throughout the
book, as well.
I came into this book hoping to learn about the restoration of Cardassia after the Dominion War. There was a little of that, but it was not as interesting as the main body. After
What You Leave Behind, I had assumed Garak had committed suicide. The way he left the Federation group after Cardassia fell, I was sure he didn't want to live on this cindered world. And perhaps he came close to killing himself, but rejected that path in the end. Instead, he started doing random things, which led to his encouragement of the people's mourning and inadvertently
paved the way towards a rebirth.
The book takes place in three time-frames. The first shows us how Garak became the Cardassian his was when we knew him on DS9, through his years of training and as an operative of the Obsidian Order. The second, in the sixth and seventh seasons, when he is anxious for his world to be rid of the Dominion. The last point of view is in the "present", as he tries to figure out how to live on a world ravaged by the Dominion.
The first storyline takes place in the past, and is the most interesting part. As Garak tells the doctor, he started writing journals to alleviate his loneliness when he was exiled to Terok Nor. He starts at the beginning of his life, on the edge of adulthood. As a child, he doesn't realize that the gardening his foster father (whom he thinks is his father) does has any meaning other than planting flowers. But as he gets older, he grows more
disdainful, because his father is of the service class.
He is sent to the Bamarren Institute, where Cardassians are trained for the military. I really enjoyed this part of the book, as he makes allies and enemies (I wouldn't call any of them friends, really). It gives us a really good insight into Cardassian society, giving us distain for people of lower rank, politics and treachery, random segregation that society feels is meaningful, but initiates wonder at, and so on. The Institute is run by students for students, though classes seem to be taught by adults. All the rigors of military life are set into these new recruits at an early age, where they are told to forget their names and live as numbers in team groups.
Although it is stressed (by rather severe beatings) that no work should be
done without the team in mind, Garak is still a loner. Though
not a friend, there is another loner in his team, and they grow close.
Out in the wilderness, on a hunt-and-evade strategy game, Garak manages to
evade all of his potential captors. To do this, he develops a skill of
which I became very wary. I didn't like the disappearing trick he
"learned" from the camouflage reptile. It is way too much like
magic, or worse, like the Force, to be part of the Trek universe. To
evade detection right under somebody's nose takes skill -not camouflage.
To disappear when he was previously in sight is just nonsense. All
the talk about life energy, bending it to his will, and deflecting it around
him so that he remains unseen seems way too Jedi-like for my tastes.
After he participates in a physical battle for political power at the
Competition, helping a powerful individual to gain control of the ruling body
at Bamarren, he is betrayed by that leader, and kicked out of Bamarren by Enabran Tain, who turns out to be
his father, and the head of the Obsidian Order. Of course, we knew this
from DS9, but it is interesting how the revelation comes through the
narrative. We get so much detail concerning their relationship, and it
really describes how
Tain maintains his distance, and never actually acknowledges that Garak is his
Garak is a sentimental fellow, which is the main reason Tain won't call him
"son" (aside from the fact that his mother is unwed, and is of the
service class, maid to his real father). He spends much of his time
pining away for Paladine, a woman he met at Bamarren, who used him, and who
was engaged to wed the man who betrayed him and took power after the
Competition. He actually never forgets her, in a way that is much more
believable than the similar circumstances in which Han Solo never forgot Bria
Tharen after The Paradise Snare.
Even after Tain brings him into the Obsidian Order, Garak thinks of her
during and between missions. When he spies her in the park, with a
child, he watches longingly. They start seeing each other, because her
husband, Lokar, is stationed on Bajor.
It is really interesting how the author fleshes out Garak's life. He
takes every single event that we learned about Garak during the series, no
matter how small, and weaves an expanded dialog around it. My favorite
was his stint as a gardener on Romulus, a story that kept popping up on the
show. He even meets up with Dukat during a conference.
Unfortunately, Garak seems to be a pretty poor operative. He can get
the job done without any problems, but is constantly questioning
himself. He is not the confident person we saw on TV, and is often
caught off guard, even during the time period where he is on the
station! Part of the problem also lies about a third of the way into the book,
when all the people seemed
to merge in their personalities, including Garak. I could easily tell Cardassian from
human and other species early on, but after a certain point, the differences
stopped being apparent. Mannerisms, feelings, and attitudes, except for
a few pointed examples, were the same as any human's would have been, even
though Garak's thoughts tell us otherwise. I
even wondered at one point how reptilian Cardassians were -do they even sweat?
Eventually, Garak and Paladine are caught in their affair. This, combined with a
botched interrogation where Dukat's father was disgraced by Garak, but
retained enough memory of the examiner, and Tain was not happy. Being
captured, Garak endures a rough military interrogation by Lokar
himself -but survives because of the wire in his brain which Dr. Bashir
eventually removed during the second season. After that, he is sent,
disgraced, to Terok Nor, and is forced to mend soldiers' clothing. It
really seemed like a natural progression, and was actually quite beautiful to
behold. Garak refuses to accept defeat, and begins dealing with Quark
for information and clients, as he begins designing clothing for a more varied
The first part of the book, even though it had its faults, was without a
doubt the best part. I especially liked his interactions with his first
human (while at the same time disgracing an unstable team member), his first
soccer game, and his encounter with a Federation ambassador near the time of
the withdrawal from Bajor. His sad acceptance at being left behind,
accentuated by a visit from Rom, is a fitting conclusion to this storyline.
I am not quite sure what the point was about the second time-line. I
suppose it helped to amplify the stress we saw Garak go through in Afterimage,
how tense he was -how tense the entire station was- especially with all the
waiting. I wonder how much the author was sympathizing with the viewers
of DS9 when he describes the interminable waiting, as the Federation, Klingons
and Romulans debate the best way and time to invade the Dominion stronghold
known as Cardassian space. He even mourns Dax, though he doesn't say
anything at all about Ezri (that's fine as far as I'm concerned).
During this time period, he gets to know a friend of Ziyal's, and they come
together because of the grief they share from her death at the hands of Damar.
Remara, of course, turns out to be a spy for a group of Bajoran survivors who
didn't get to board an escaping shuttle that Garak had ordered destroyed,
thus losing their families. So we get a little more of his Obsidian Order days from this
relationship. It was very well done, but after she fails to kill him,
she tells him to watch out for other assassination attempts. This is an
open ending that I didn't really know what to do with.
The other aspect of this time period is Garak's guilt over working against
his own people. It is very interesting how the author presents
alternative interpretations of what happens to his character on the TV
show. His anxiety was solved very easily by Ezri in the show, but in
this book, Garak tells Dr. Bashir, quite correctly, that one model does not
fit all species. Considering how Ezri used human psychology in
Afterimage, it was disappointing to find out that she was right in her
analysis. From Garak's point of view, with the continued problems, it
works much better. His greatest depression, mixed with joy about what it
represents, comes when he discovers that
Damar has gone missing. But if Garak can figure out that he has turned to
the rebels, why is Weyoun caught so off guard (in that terrific revelation in
the final arc).
The main problem with this section is that Garak seems involved in way too
many things at the same time. It would have been much nicer if we were
treated to a single running plotline, instead.
The third plot has much less to do with Garak's past, though he does come
face to face with some people we met in the first plot. He clears the
rubble of Tain's
house by creating a memorial there -but that was not his intention. It
was just part of the healing process, as he can't face digging out so many
people from the ruins after the Dominion pulled out. He spends a little
too much time describing how ironic things are (not only in this timeframe),
but I guess Garak was full of irony anyway...
It's interesting to see how Garak ends up embracing democracy after all,
after he berates it at every turn. But he saw how Cardassia's other
governmental system turned out, so he supposes this can't be any worse.
But he also gets the last word, in a funny statement about how nothing ever
gets done with all the opinions floating around!
Although the early timeframe introduces us to a young and not fully formed
Garak, I was amazed at how the two later timeframes gave us voices that
sounded exactly like the characters we knew! The narrative easily
carries the tones and inflections of all the characters, especially
Garak. It was truly remarkable, until the characters started falling
into a mold.
I also enjoyed the way the entries in his narrative journal changed as time
passed. As the past is recited, it is in the past tense, relating
exactly what happened and how he felt. Getting closer to his exile,
which is when he started writing the journals, it becomes more of a reminiscence
of what happened not long ago, until it becomes an actual daily journal.
During that time, there are no broad summaries, and there is less focus on
what was said, but rather describing it, and analyzing the emotion behind
The main character changed, as well. Garak didn't seem as mysterious
as he became on DS9, but I could see the changes as time progressed, very
subtly at times. Still, we didn't really get near the Cardassian that we
knew from the TV series. I also wondered why he kept meeting up with his
old schoolmates. Surely the Obsidian Order was a large
organization? But his schoolmates were in a military academy, not an
espionage one. How did they all end up where he could meet them so
The story didn't really have a conclusion, in that it was ongoing in each
of the three timeframes. The book ended with a sense of hope for the
future -though I was a little incensed that Garak was too shy to find out what
Paladine's fate was. It seems that she joined an illegal group that
embraced the people Cardassians originally overwhelmed, millennia ago, to take
the planet as their
own. It was a group that Garak introduced her to, but I wondered at the likelihood
of an illegal group that managed to meet in the exact same place for decades,
not only through the Dominion occupation, but worse, the years before it.
Another unanswered question is how Pythas felt about Garak's exile.
Again, Garak respects his friend's privacy by not asking the question. I
liked that (and the similar situation with Paladine), but it still drove me
nuts! (In a good way, I think...)
The book was evenly written from beginning to end, no matter which
storyline we were dealing with. It showed the same level of
anticipation, intrigue, sentimentality (a "fault" in this Cardassian), and
dedication. But it seemed to lack passion. There were no real
passionate entries, where the adrenaline would rush, forcing pages to turn
almost by themselves as we try to figure out events or motivations. This
was a very good try, and a very interesting read. I have always liked
Garak, and I feel that I do know him a little better now. But I'm still
not sure it is exactly the same person we met on Deep Space Nine.