Star Trek: Discovery: The Enterprise War Review: Capt. Pike and Crew at Their Best

The second season of Star Trek: Discovery introduced a new generation of Star Trek fans to the pre-Kirk crew of the USS Enterprise. Capt. Christopher Pike (Anson Mount), Mr. Spock (Ethan Peck), and Number One (Rebecca Romijn) proved to be popular additions to the cast in season two. Yet the show left fans to wonder where the Enterprise had been during the first season when the Federation was at war with the Klingon Empire. John Jackson Miller’s new novel Star Trek: Discovery: The Enterprise War answers that lingering question through a stellar Star Trek adventure.

The novel begins as Capt. Pike receives word about The Battle at the Binary Star. The Enterprise is on a one-year mission to explore a hazardous, radiation-heavy nebula called the Pergamum. Pike is eager to return to Federation space and join the fight, but he’s ordered back into the nebula to continue his mission. He’s frustrated but obeys his commands. He may have done otherwise if he'd known he and his crew were about to stumble upon a generations-old conflict that would test them to their limits.

The Enterprise War is a slow starter. Miller isn’t afraid to spend some time explaining the technical aspects of things, and there’s a lot while the Enterprise explores this nebula. There’s also a lot happening all at once. The narrative splits time between a handful of point of view characters in different places. Doing so adds breadth the story, but slows the pace and feels unwieldy at first. There are also secrets hidden until late in the novel. Because of this, the reader’s understanding of the conflict is frustratingly vague at first. There’s a conflict between two groups, the Boundless and the Rengru, and the Boundless drag the Enterprise’s crew into it. But the reason for the conflict isn’t revealed in full until much later on.

As the story progresses, it gains steam and becomes more absorbing. Its separate narrative threads each gain momentum before coming back together for a worthwhile final act. By developing these separate threads, Miller can give each of the primary members of the Enterprise crew time to shine in their own right.

In Pike’s case, the novel serves as a bridge between “The Cage” and the events of Discovery’s second season. Set two years after the Enterprise’s mission to Talos IV, the novel finds the war in Federation space and the war within the nebula both weighing on Pike. Old fears and doubts he thought he’d worked through begin to creep back into his mind, and he finds himself alone when he needs his closest officers the most.

For Spock, the novel explores the long, brutal, near-fatal road that leads to his encounter with the Red Angel. It’s a less emotional journey — this is Spock, after all — more about breaking the confident young officer down so that he can be built back up in Discovery. The adventure adds new context to Spock's journey that'll help color a repeat viewing of Discovery's second season.

Number One, aka Cmdr. Una doesn’t get quite as much space as Pike and Spock. Her arc doesn’t begin until halfway through the book, but it gives her a chance to show off her unique talents and disciplined mind. Even Evan Connolly — the confident science officer who found himself on the wrong end of several jokes and a collision with some large space debris in Discovery’s second season opener — gets a character arc that provides him a fuller characterization that never had a chance to emerge in the TV series.

That’s the Federation side of things alone. The Boundless and the Rengru are two of Star Trek’s wildest and most brutal alien cultures. The novel explores both, and they’re both fascinating. It's almost a shame this novel ties up their tragic conflict as well as it does since it would have been interesting to revisit.

The novel uses the Boundless and the Rengru to explore some of the same themes as the first season of Discovery. Pike warns a Starfleet admiral that if they keep adding weapons to their vessels, other cultures won't buy the "we come in peace" bit much longer. It’s this that gets the Enterprise into trouble in the Pergamum. From there, the conflict between the Boundless and the Rengru offers a glimpse at where walking the path of war could lead the Federation.

Despite being a little slow to start, Star Trek: Discovery: The Enterprise War proves to be an excellent interstitial chapter in the sagas of Discovery and the Enterprise. Miller deftly weaves a narrative that is strong enough to stand on its own while reflecting and illuminating themes from Discovery. The story also serves as a satisfying new beat in the longer arcs of each of its main characters. Whether your campaigning for a Captan Pike spinoff show, are missing Discovery during the offseason, or are always ready for a good Star Trek tale, Star Trek: Discovery: The Enterprise War should be on your summer reading list.

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Star Trek: Discovery: The Enterprise War goes on sale on July 30th. The publisher provided a copy for review.

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