Well Of SoulsBy Jacqueline Bundy
Posted at November 7, 2003 - 9:47 AM GMT
Title: Star Trek: The Lost Era: Well of Souls
Author: Ilsa J. Bick
Release Date: November 2003
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Author Ilsa J. Bick recently commented that Well of Souls, the fourth Lost Era novel, is about secrets, loss and memories. Ultimately this novel is about the characters learning to let go of those memories and move beyond the ghosts of their past. While the execution of the story is superb on a number of levels it is a difficult story to get involved in initially. The old saying "first impressions are the most important" is extremely apt when it comes to Well of Souls. While this novel may not make a particularly good first impression, patience with its eccentricities does bring some rewards in the end.
The year is 2336, eight years before the Enterprise-C is lost at Narendra III and two years after Rachel Garrett takes command of the Federations flagship. As the story opens you are slowly introduced to the three primary characters of Well of Souls, Captain Rachel Garrett, her first officer Commander Samir al-Halak and ops officer Lieutenant Commander Darya Bat-Levi. Each is struggling to cope with their past in their own way, and each is losing the battle.
Garrett is emotionally battered from a bitter divorce in which she lost custody of her young son and the recent death of her former first officer is still an open wound. She is unable to accept or trust her new XO, Halak, a man with more than his share of secrets. Bat-Levi has been badly scarred, both physically and emotionally, in a horrifying accident and is under the care of an El Aurain psychiatrist, Dr. Yuriel Tyvan, who is carrying a lot of emotional baggage himself. As events unfold each is forced to confront their past as the Enterprise-C becomes caught up in a web of intrigue, suspicion and murder.
To say that Well of Souls is not your conventional Star Trek novel is a bit of an understatement. It is a book that is bound to provoke a strong reaction, either positive or negative in those that read it. Well of Souls contains many of the usual elements you would expect to find in a Star Trek novel but many more that you usually don't.
First and foremost this novel is about the characters. They are perhaps the most human cast of characters I can ever remember encountering in any Star Trek book. They are flawed, and that, in and of itself, is extremely refreshing. Unfortunately all the soul searching and introspection bogs down the pace of the story and I found myself becoming extremely impatient the more I read. Every time the plot began to pick up a bit the narrative suddenly changes tempo and reverts to a slow crawl. The author throws in more than one left curve and there are small bursts of action within the subplot but until the final one hundred or so pages they never last for long enough to build momentum.
We didn't get to know learn very much about Rachel Garrett in the Next Generation episode "Yesterday's Enterprise" and I must admit that my initial reaction to the character in Well of Souls made me feel very grateful for that lack of knowledge. But as the story unfolds it's possible to find much to admire in her character and you might even find yourself empathising with Garrett and her dysfunctional officers to some degree. The sheer number of secondary characters is a bit overwhelming at times and they are not all as fully developed as they could have been but some of them really stand out, like the straight talking CMO Jo Stern or the Naxeran tactical officer, G'Dok Ghemour.
That said, Black's prose is wonderful. Exquisitely descriptive and at times so graphic you can't help but feel uncomfortable. This is Ilsa Bick's first full-length novel (although her short fiction has been widely acclaimed), and her talent shines from every page of Well of Souls. The point of view of each character comes through clearly and the scene transitions are wonderful. Bick takes the reader on a journey, albeit a sometimes painful one, through her characters and if you stay on the path she has laid out you ultimately get to experience a happy and satisfying ending.
Jacqueline Bundy reviews Star Trek books for the Trek Nation, writes monthly columns for the TrekWeb newsletter and the Star Trek Galactic News, and hosts the Yahoo Star Trek Books Group weekly chat.