Book Review: ‘The Poisoned Chalice’ by James Swallow

March 16, 2021 at 6:05 am | Posted in Books, Reviews, Sci-Fi, Star Trek | Leave a comment
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Star Trek: The Fall: The Poisoned Chalice is the fourth book in The Fall crossover series of books written by James Swallow and released in November of 2013. 

While the first entry in The Fall, Revelation and Dust, was lackluster, its follow ups have been wonderful. The Crimson Shadow was one of the best Star Trek books I have ever read, and A Ceremony of Losses was my favorite David Mack book that I’ve read, and made me really excited for the future of the series. My only worry was that all the books, with the exception of a few references to the overall plot, seemed to be stand alone. That has changed with The Poisoned Chalice, which follows up all three of its predecessors and brings the events to a climactic head.

The Poisoned Chalice follows three main plotlines. The primary plotline follows Christine Vale as she works for Admiral William Riker to uncover the truth about Julian Bashir’s detainment. That plotline was utterly fascinating and had me on the edge of my seat. This was partially because I was invested from the events of the previous book, but also because James Swallow writes suspense really well, almost as well as David Mack. I was so intrigued to find out how Vale would get Bashir out of detainment and it was a joy to read.

The second plotline followed Tuvok and Nog as they were sent on a clandestine mission to seek out and capture the assassins who killed Nanietta Bacco. It was really good to see Voyager get some attention in these books, albeit only through one character. Tuvok made some references to Voyager that actually made me chuckle. While their plotline was the least interesting to me, it became exciting towards the end and I was invested. Since I have external knowledge that the characters don’t, it was so suspenseful and the hands of power changed so often that I was on the edge of my seat.

The final plotline followed William Riker, who is trying to understand everything going on and why on earth he was promoted to the rank of Admiral. I had heard that James Swallow is one of the best Riker writers and it shows. I could clearly hear Riker’s voice in my head and thought that all of his actions and decisions made perfect sense. I basically knew what was going on, but it was fun to see where he would end up and how he would get there.

There was a reference to the “Picard Maneuver” (wherein a Starfleet officer tugs on their shirt whenever they stand up or sit down), which had me laughing out loud. It was handled in such a way that it fit in-universe, but it also was kind of fourth wall breaking, which I appreciate when done correctly. 

The villain in this book/series (whom the reader will have figured out by the last book and is made clear in this book) really ticks me off. Anytime they are mentioned or on screen I just want to yell at them. It’s so obvious that they are the villain, and it’s taking our heroes quite a while to figure it out. 

Swallow writes political intrigue really well. I clearly understood what was going on the whole time, which sometimes doesn’t happen in Star Trek books. I don’t believe that when it comes to the issues of politics he’s as good a writer as Una McCormack, but he certainly is very good at it. Likewise, I believe that David Mack and John Jackson Miller are experts at suspense, and while Swallow is also very good, he’s not quite at their level. However, his ability to do very well on every aspect of his writing is something many writers, even Star Trek writers could only dream of. However, unlike Mack, Swallow isn’t as overhand with his messaging, which I really like. 

Overall, I thought that this was a fantastic book. I would place it about even with A Ceremony of Losses, if not a little bit higher. Still a fantastic book and this is shaping out to be one of my favorite Star Trek series. The Poisoned Chalice gets 4.5 out of 5. Great work Swallow!

My next book review will be of Peaceable Kingdoms by Dayton Ward. It’s the final book in The Fall series.

Reviewed By: Jonathan Koan for Roqoo Depot.

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