Friday, May 3, 2019

A Burning House

Star Trek: Klingon Empire
A Burning House by Keith R.A. DeCandido
Published January 2008
Read January 30th 2019

Previous book (I.K.S. Gorkon): Book Three: Enemy Territory

Mass-market paperback: | |
E-book (Kindle): | |

Spoilers ahead for A Burning House

From the back cover:
They have been the Federation's staunchest allies, and its fiercest adversaries. Cunning, ruthless, driven by an instinct for violence and defined by a complex code of honor, they must push ever outward in order to survive, defying the icy ravages of space with the fire of their hearts. They are the Klingons, and if you think you already know all there is to learn about them...think again.  
From its highest echelons of power to the shocking depths of its lowest castes, from its savagely aggressive military to its humble farmers, from political machinations of galactic import to personal demons and family strife, the Klingon Empire is revealed as never before when the captain and crew of the I.K.S. Gorkon finally return to their homeworld of Qo'noS in a sweeping tale of intrigue, love, betrayal, and honor.

My thoughts:

After the first three books in the I.K.S. Gorkon series, the entire series was re-branded Klingon Empire. Sadly, it would last only one more book: A Burning House would be the only novel published under the Klingon Empire banner. This is highly unfortunate, both because I've really enjoyed the exploits of the crew of the Gorkon up to this point, and because A Burning House is such a good novel that it practically begs for the stories to continue! Not to mention the obvious plotlines that DeCandido clearly set up for future novels that will most likely never come to pass.

The novel follows a number of storylines as the Gorkon returns to Qo'noS for repairs while the officers and crew take shore leave. After some persuasion, Leader Wol accompanies two of her warriors, Kagak and Goran, to Kagak's home village for a traditional Klingon festival, "yobta' yupma'." Along the way, she learns to trust her fellow warriors and decides to be more open with them, no longer hiding her past from those around her.

A map of Krennla, as seen in Dayton Ward's Travel Guide to the Klingon Empire.

Meanwhile, another member of the 15th squad, G'Joth, returns to his hometown of Krennla. I found this part of the novel to be an excellent exploration of the idea that "you can't go home again." G'Joth finds that his experiences as a member of the Klingon Defense Force have changed him, and Krennla is no longer the place it was in his youth. It is now more impoverished than it was when G'Joth was growing up, and many of his friends and family resent him for leaving. This part of the story also features G'Joth's sister, Lakras, who is part of a theatre company putting on an opera of "The Battle of San-Tarah," which took place in the first two novels of the I.K.S. Gorkon series. Because G'Joth took part in the actual events, he is brought on as a "consultant" for the opera. I felt like this novel had a lot to say about a creative work vs. objective reality, and how compromises are always made in order to account for the artistry of a performance or other work of art. I've always learned to take "based on a true story" with a huge grain of salt, and G'Joth's experiences in this novel back up that instinct.

Another major plot in the story involves the Gorkon's medical officer, B'Oraq, and her experiences with the "Klingon Physicians Enclave," which is hosting a medical conference for the first time. B'Oraq, whose ideas of medicine are borrowed from her experience as a student in the Federation, is not welcomed by most Klingon medical professionals, who tend to believe in a much "cruder" form of medicine. It was interesting to get a look at this part of Klingon society through B'Oraq's eyes.

After having the story build upon itself for the past few novels, we finally get payoff for the story of Rodek. As we all know, Rodek is actually Kurn, Worf's brother, who had his memories altered in the Deep Space Nine episode "Sons of Mogh" when he could no longer live with the shame of being a part of the dishonored House of Mogh. That memory "overwrite" has now begun to undo itself, with his memories as Kurn beginning to surface. In this novel, he learns the truth and confronts Worf with the knowledge of what was done to him. This aspect of the story also intertwines with the conflict between Captain Klag and his brother, Dorrek, who uses Rodek's predicament to his advantage when he turns "Rodek" against Klag. The conclusion tho this part of the story turned out much differently than I was expecting, and I was very happy to see this plot finally explored.

The young Toq, rescued by Worf from a Romulan prison camp, and now the first officer of the I.K.S. Gorkon.

Finally, we come to Toq, who is now the first officer of the Gorkon. His story was probably my least favorite of the plots in the novel, but was nonetheless quite interesting. We see him come into contact with his old home on Carraya IV, the site of a Romulan prison camp that held survivors from Khitomer and their descendants. We find out that it has been attacked by a Klingon seeking revenge against L'Kor, one of the Khitomer survivors. This story results in the rescue of Ba'el, whom we originally met in the TNG episode "Birthright, Part II." I was happy to see her story resolve in this way, as I always found it very sad that she wasn't able to leave Carraya IV because of her mixed Klingon and Romulan heritage. Lorgh, who adopted Toq and is a member of Imperial Intelligence, obviously has a few storylines that he wants to continue in later novels, but sadly, it seems as though they will end here.

Ba'el begins a new chapter of her life at the end of this novel.

As is obvious from the preceding wall of text, there is a lot going on in this novel! There are so many storylines, but everything holds together very well. After four novels, plus Diplomatic Implausibility, I find myself very invested in these characters. It is profoundly sad that this is the final novel to feature the crew of the Gorkon in a starring role, especially since I believe this one to be the best of the four. There are so many small moments for the characters that were so perfectly written that I haven't even touched on in this review.

Final thoughts:

It is definitely with not a small amount of sadness that I say goodbye to the crew of the Gorkon. They certainly leave on a high note, as A Burning House wound up being my favorite book of the series. I love strong character moments, and this novel is packed full of them. I loved the look at Klingon culture in ways that we don't usually get: rather than the usual focus on the lives of Klingon warriors, we see farmers, actors, doctors, and see the effects that poverty and change have on the lives of average Klingons. I felt that A Burning House was an excellent exploration of Klingon culture in general, and I would have loved to see where the series would have gone in the future. As it stands, the four books that make up the I.K.S. Gorkon/Klingon Empire series are some of the best Trek novels I have read, and it is almost criminal that Keith R.A. DeCandido doesn't currently write for the Star Trek novel line. Come on, Simon & Schuster: give this man another contract!

More about A Burning House:

Also by Keith R.A. DeCandido:

My next read:

Next up is Triangle: Imzadi II by Peter David!

1 comment:

  1. This is one of the strongest series of books in Treklit, imo. I would love to see at least one more novel with these characters.