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July 17 2024


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Catalyst of Sorrows

By Jacqueline Bundy
Posted at December 27, 2003 - 4:29 PM GMT

Title: Star Trek The Lost Era: Catalyst of Sorrows
Author: Margaret Wander Bonanno
Release Date: January 2004
Format: Mass Market Paperback
ISBN: 0-7434-6407-9

Margaret Wander Bonanno’s last Star Trek novel was published over 10 years ago yet Bonanno remains a fan favorite with long time readers and deservedly so. Character driven plots and vividly compelling prose distinguish her writing style, making her books the type of novel that you read again and again. Her new novel Catalyst of Sorrows, the sixth and final Lost Era title, is pure bliss, a story that tantalizes and surprises right up until the very end.

The year is 2360, four years before the launch of the Enterprise-D, and there hasn’t been any official contact with the Romulan Empire for almost 50 years. When an old and trusted friend within the Empire sends a messenger to Admiral Nyota Uhura, head of Starfleet Intelligence, bringing word of a mysterious and deadly disease that is making its way across the Neutral Zone toward Federation worlds, Uhura is faced with more than one dilemma. Can the messenger, a young girl named Zetha, be trusted? Even if she can, how can Uhura’s handpicked team find the source and a cure without setting off a major interstellar incident before the lethal disease spreads even further?

Catalyst of Sorrows is a novel full of questions, and there are questions inside of every question. It is never as simple as who, what, when and where. Bonanno weaves her storytelling spell with multiple layers of mystery. She takes the reader back and forth between the current crisis and the past, where the foundations of a complex plot were methodically laid, allowing the ‘how’ to be one of the most riveting elements of the plot.

Margaret Wander Bonanno has always demonstrated an ability to write particularly strong female characters. The women who populate her writing are complex and compelling and it is an absolute delight to see what she does with Uhura. Bonanno’s depiction of Uhura as a confident seasoned veteran who knows how invaluable her lifetime of experiences is is truly exceptional. We see a woman who has more than earned a quiet retirement but who is not yet ready to go quietly into the night. The author not only fills out Uhura’s back-story but also allows us a peek into how Starfleet Intelligence operated at that time.

But it is the enigmatic character of Zetha who really draws the reader in and she is the key to making the entire story work. Through Zetha the reader gets a glimpse inside Romulan culture and we see their society starkly and honestly through her eyes. Bonanno’s writing has the ability to make us feel as if we are experiencing everything right along with the characters. Yet even as we are drawn to Zetha and into her story, right up until the end we are never able to feel certain, one way or another, about who or what she really is.

Uhura’s ‘team’ is made up of familiar characters including Dr. Selar, Beverly Crusher and Leonard McCoy who is as cantankerous as ever. There is also Tuvok who has returned to Starfleet by this time and a young lieutenant named Benjamin Sisko. Sisko’s characterization is perhaps the most surprising; after all, we are used to thinking of Sisko as a natural leader, a war hero and the Emissary of the Prophets. This much younger Ben Sisko hasn’t come to that point yet in his life, but there are times you can catch glimpses of the man he will become.

The Lost Era titles are individual stories that each stand on their own merits and each should be judged accordingly. As the final installment Catalyst of Sorrows is an entirely satisfying way to wrap up this series but whenever I think of Catalyst of Sorrows the first thing that will come to mind for me is that this novel marks a breathtaking and triumphant return to Star Trek literature for Margaret Wander Bonanno. Welcome back.

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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.

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