A suffering refugee population on a remote planet, a dangerous war criminal, and a (slightly) disgraced intelligence officer looking for their next move. These three things come together on Ordeve, a planet with a long and complicated history, in Una McCormack’s Star Trek Picard: Second Self.
[Note: While I am reviewing this novel independently and honestly, it should be noted that it has been provided to me by Simon and Schuster for the purpose of this review. Warning: My review of Star Trek Picard: Second Self contains some spoilers!]
Raffi looks to reenter the game
Lieutenant Commander Raffaela Musiker (Raffi) has had a rough journey. As a young intelligence officer, she was a rising star. She happily accepted a mission on the remote planet of Ordeve to help with a refugee crisis that was taking place there at the end of the Dominion War. The problem was between the ruling Romulans and Cardassian refugees.
Her colleagues were jealous, but it turns out they should have considered themselves lucky. The mission ended up becoming a fiasco. While she was able to protect all the civilians, her actions strained a new Romulan-Federation alliance and greatly damaged her career. Afterward, Raffi spirals down, eventually losing her family, her job, and her mind to addiction.
Decades later, Picard and Raffi meet up. He’s looking to pivot to a new path, teaching at the academy, and wants to offer Raffi a job. She is reluctant to follow him but has a hard time flat-out denying him. While she’s still visiting Picard’s family vineyard, an urgent situation comes to his attention. Ironically, it’s about a refugee situation on Ordeve. This time around it’s the Cardassians who are against Romulan refugees. Because of, and in spite of, Raffi’s history on Ordeve, Picard believes she is the perfect person to navigate this difficult situation.
It also offers her the perfect cover for another mission that Picard believes she is best suited for. There is a Cardassian war criminal, Elim Garak, that the Bajorans want brought to justice. However, the Cardassians claim to not know where he is. Intelligence information places his last known location on Ordeve. The refugee crisis is the perfect cover for Raffi to get on the planet and look for Garak. She doesn’t want to go, but it’s Picard and in the end, she can’t say no.
A complicated history makes negotiations difficult in this Star Trek novel
Raffi is happy to hear that the Romulan refugee representative is Sokara, an old friend from when she used to work in Romulan Affairs in the federation. She feels a little bad about using him and deceiving him about her true mission on Ordeve. But she promises herself she will do all she can to help him and the Romulan refugees while she is there. To that end, she meets with Khrill, the Cardassian leader, and tries to negotiate more space for Romulan settlements. Khrill is understandably resistant, insisting there is no more space.
But Sokara has the idea to expand into the Caanta Valley. It is land near the current Romulan settlement that no one uses. There are rumors that the land used to belong to the Cardassian Obsidian Order and that it’s cursed. There’s something wrong with the land, and no one wants to go anywhere near it.
Sokara wants to journey into the valley to see if there is any reason that the Romulans shouldn’t be allowed to go there. Raffi thinks that Garak, who had ties to the Obsidian Order, might be hiding in the valley and agrees to a small scouting party to investigate the Caanta Valley. None of them are prepared for what they find in the Caanta Valley or for the consequences of venturing where they’re not wanted.
Star Trek Picard: Second Self is a gripping story once the politics get out of the way
This story is a fascinating tale of choices, consequences, redemption, and justice. The ending is especially strong. I was literally crying over the last few pages. Like, tears running down my face, bawling like a baby, crying. I never would have thought that McCormack would have pulled that kind of reaction out of me based on the beginning of Second Self.
The book started a little dry. There was a lot of very layered political groundwork that had to be laid in order for the rest of the story to have the impact it does. And political groundwork is, well, boring. But trust me, McCormack makes the payoff very much worth it! So grin and bear it through the first couple of chapters, then have the tissues handy when the end gets close.
Multiple histories of the same site create a tragic picture
Second Self is divided into five parts. The different parts focus on the same base on Ordeve at different times. At first, it seems the stories have little in common beyond the location but eventually a pattern emerges.
The different stories weave a picture of a land that has seen too much tragedy. The repeated atrocities and mysteries have accumulated over the years to give the land a cursed reputation. But sometimes a single piece of information can wash away everything and reveal a deeper truth. Can Raffi and her scouting party find this truth before it’s too late?
One thing I found interesting is that for a book titled PICARD: Second Self, Picard is not really a part of the story. He is present for the first chapter and the last chapter. Different characters call him for quick advice or insight a couple of times. But aside from sending Raffi to Ordeve, he doesn’t really play a role in the events of Second Self. Anyone picking up this book expecting it to be one of Picard’s adventures is going to be disappointed. Although the story they get should make up for the disappointment.
Picard: Second Self is a surprising delight
I was pretty worried when I started reading Picard: Second Self that I was in for a long and boring tale. The political setup of the first few chapters was tough for me. But when I got through that and got into the meaty part of the story, I was happily surprised. The story is good, the characters experience some nice growth, and the redemption that Garak and Raffi strive for embodies the Second Self title perfectly. Star Trek fans will want to read McCormack’s offering for sure, but even non-Trekkies will enjoy this tale.
My Rating: 8/10
Star Trek: Picard: Second Self by Una McCormack is available now! Have you read the book? What are your thoughts? Let us know on Twitter or in the Cosmic Circus Discord! And if you haven’t already, check out our review of Strange New Worlds: The High Country!