The Empty Chair by Diane Duane
2006, Pocket Books/Star Trek
Review Summary: Much could have been forgiven, had a satisfying resolution to the series been accomplished, but perhaps worst of all the novel’s ending seemed forced and contrived.
The Empty Chair is a valiant, frantic effort to complete the Rihannsu storyline Duane started over twenty years ago with My Enemy, My Ally. The pacing in The Empty Chair is a major improvement over the two recent intermediate novels – well, anything is a vast improvement over the two short, weak novellas Swordhunt and Honor Blade – but the attention Duane paid to character and culture development in My Enemy, My Ally and The Romulan Way – the key to what made these first two novels so gripping and fascinating – is completely absent in this final installment.
Granted Duane has a lot of ground to cover to achieve her final goal, but I think she would have been better off spreading the story out over several more meaningful novels, where she could have introduced and spent more time and detail with some of the additional Rihannsu characters who are playing a pivotal role in the rebellion. And I definitely feel that more time could have, and should have, been spent discussing Kirk’s role in the rebellion, particularly as seen from the views of the other characters involved with the rebellion, including the Enterprise crew, and from outsiders’s perspectives as well, such as from other Starfleet officers not directly involved with the conflict.
And what about the Klingon perspective? The Klingons, suddenly, just dropped out of the picture, when what was occurring in Romulan space would be of definite interest to them. And how about the other colonists? One thing that Swordhunt and Honor Blade at least attempted, was to show how the average everyday Rihannsu colonist was being oppressed by the current government – yet another valuable, “human” perspective that was completely dropped in this final installment. Nearly nothing new was learned of the Rihannsu culture, either on the homeworlds or as a fresh perspective from the colony worlds, or as a contrast from the Klingon empire’s perspective of the Romulan empire, and the novel was the poorer for it.
Much could have been forgiven, had a satisfying resolution to the series been accomplished, but perhaps worst of all the novel’s ending seemed forced and contrived. Given that the introduction to each of the last three books states that Duane is being allowed to pursue a storyline outside of Star Trek canon, I think her attempt to make it fit in at the end comes off false and disappointing. There is so much potential in the culture and characters she was originally portraying that I believe the reader would rather see a complete spin-off from the standard Trek universe rather than have it be subsumed into the stiff portrayal of the Romulan empire in the Next Generation future.
Overall, the final installment to the series comes off as rushed, forced, and comparatively shallow – the storyline itself was gripping and intense as the novel progressed, and had a great deal of potential, but it all needed a great deal of leavening with more of a human/Rihannsu touch before it could come close to fulfilling the promise of the first two novels.