"Heal," the eighth novel in the "A Time to..." series, continues the journey from The Next Generation's Star Trek: Inssurection adventure to the striking and noticable differences seen in the last feature film, Star Trek: Nemesis. The previous book, "Kill," was also written by David Mack and features the troubled worlf of Tezwa and the chaotic war-frenzy that seems to engulf it's people and the Federation. Caught in the middle is the Enterprise and Starfleet, left to clean up a political mess and save an entire world from tearing itself apart.
Reading "A Time to Kill," I was taken in by the Klingon side of things. Basically, without spoiling too much, the Klingons have a bone to pick with the world of Tezwa and it leads to a September 11 situation. What I felt wasn't dealt with, from the get-go, was the result of Worf's actions and how the Klingons were recovering from such a defeat (you have to see the loss of thousands as a major defeat, even for the warrior-driven Klingons). "Heal" though is a story all within itself. Sure, there are early mentionings of a few consequences that came with Worf's decisions in the previous book but the Klingons, for the most part, are not involved in "Heal." It leaves this particular duology with a sense that it's incomplete. The Worf and the Klingons do seem to play a role in the last book of the series, but as a reader, I wanted to know how the Klingons dealt with the big events in "Kill."
As for the rest of the book, it is, in my opinion, one of the top Next Generation tales. It is all about being challenged and accepting change, a theme that seems to run rampant in the "A Time to..." series. Each character is given their time in the spotlight. I was relieved to see that La Forge, Troi, Crusher and Riker, who are sometimes shoved to the margins as Picard and Data run the show, are given a lot to do. In Nemesis there seemed to be a more subued and mature La Forge; a tired character that seemed to "see" more than he was letting on. Finishing this book, I feel like Mack definately fleshed him out more and made him a character to really be respected and looked up towards. Crusher has been given a lot of attention in this series and "Kill" left her out of all the fun for the most part. In this tale, she has a budding romance and it looks as if it's exactly what is needed to get her to understand what she wants in a career and life. Riker and Troi are tested in this book as well. Riker is a prisoner of the bad guys, nothing new in novels. Yet, here he is truly pushed to the limits. There were moments when I found myself biting my lower lip or squinching at the description of what he was going through. Troi truly was given the role of a lifetime, finding her counseling and peaceful side broken, letting loose a darker Deanna Troi who finds herself on the counseling couch.
This book, unlike "Kill," flowed together better and the pace was good. I found it hard to keep up in "Kill" because of the staccato feel to each chapter and the ten million things going on at one time. "Heal" has longer chapters that fully explores each scene and situation before moving on to another section, aiding with the full understanding of what's going on. I enjoyed the scenes cutting from the Tezwa front where the Enterprise found itself in a war situation, then being able to travel back to Earth and see how the political situation was unraveling. As a reader, you can't help but to think that Mack is trying to get you to view the war on terrorism and American politics through this allegorical tale. This isn't the 1990s Next Generation where all can be solved within an hour. Time wise, the crew has been dealing with this one situation for a month. Riker is held captive for weeks, Troi finds herself giving up hope, Picard seems worn out, La Forge even appears to have come to an end of his tolerance of the Federation's involvement at Tezwa.
What I liked about this book also is that it was realistic. Each seen is detailed and written with descriptions that will leave you gasping. I had more emotional reactions to this novel than any other in the TNG genre I believe. Mack handles the Tezwa situation like a pro, taking you into the minds of some of the main adversary's helpers, giving you a haunting depiction of some of these demented and troubled characters, leaving you wondering what is going to happen, despite knowing there is a movie called "Nemesis" where everyone seems to be all cheers and having the ability to crack jokes. It does get graphic in some parts but I felt to understand how these characters came to accept these major changes in their lives, they needed these wounds to "heal" and move on. Each character is tested in this novel and each comes out a changed person. Except Data. He is there, but he comes out as rather flat and boring in this novel. Riker has a speech at the end though that wraps up Data and his "change," satisfying that character's involvement in the plot for me.
I liked the continuity that sort of came into the novel and appreciated some things being left out. Unlike "Kill," there is acknowledgement of the Rashanar incident of "A Time to be Born/Die." Still, I would think someone such as President Zife, Azernal, Nachayev, Ross, Nakamura... all of these people who have been there since the opening novel would make some mentioning of it. What led to Starfleet Command sort of trusting Picard with Tezwa? When did the Federation seem to get over and not care about the so called "career ending" events this series opened on? I shook my head, somewhat disapointed, that the premise still seems flawed and left undone. Nakamura, portrayed as a crazed man obsessed with Data, actually seems like a respectable man here. Picard doesn't show any resentment to the people, like Ross and Nakamura, who nearly took his command away! That seemed... off. Also, Ross is still being hinted as being involved with the "bad admirals" club but gone is that unlikeable figure from the first two novels. He's back to his Deep Space Nine portrayal, which is good, but still... I feel like there's a missing chapter that explains all of these things. Also, there is an appearance by another group that's been quite controversial in Star Trek in the past few years. Even though their involvement in Tezwa was cool, I was left wondering why and how they were involved. Also, have they always been there, since the Enterprise's decline in the polls?
Other than those complaints, I felt that "Heal" was explosive. It was fun and definately had me wondering how they were going to get themselves out of this one. The character of Vale, the new security chief, deserved to be on the cover of this novel I felt. This is more her character's novel than it is Picard's installment. I enjoyed Admiral Janeway's appearances but wondered why she seemed to be left out of the action at the end. She always seemed suspiscious of things going on, espescially in the "A Time to Love/Hate" duology. I also enjoyed seeing Admiral Edward Jellico, perhaps more famous in his New Frontier appearances than his "Chains of Command" appearance, play a part at the end of the novel.
This book has many great scenes, including one that has Troi on the verge of completely breaking out of character, one that nearly costs Crusher her life, and one that has Picard realizing some of his past mistakes and missed chances. It's a rather sad and depressing tale but "Heal" definately explains many of the changes and why some of these characters chose to move on from the Enterprise. I rarely feel a novel is worth five stars but for this journey David Mack takes the reader on, any less wouldn't do the tale any justice. This book adds substance and emotion that the early novels of the series lacked. It adds to the great arc that "A Time to Love/Hate" began, making you invest your emotions into these characters as for once, they aren't all perfect and living in a peace-driven world. Sure, this isn't the "Original Series" Trek with a perfect Earth and society. I don't think Mack was trying to say this was the future but rather if we choose to ignore the past, we're bound to make mistakes. This is the post Dominion War, and things have changed. It was this one war that led to the events of "A Time to Kill/Heal." For any Trek fan, this should be a must read for you. For those wary of the "A Time to..." series, if you aren't impressed by this book, you don't know good literature when it's offered to you.