In Review: Star Trek: The Captain’s Oath

This is a must-read for Star Trek fans.

Star Trek: Captain’s Oath by Christopher L. Bennett

Published by Gallery Books, an imprint of Simon and Schuster on May 28, 2019. Oversized paperback of 392 pages at $16.00.

The cover: A bust shot of Kirk in his uniform from “Where No Man Has Gone Before” stares forward. The title is to the right of his image. Beneath him is one the massive ships of the Agni with the Enterprise crossing its path. This visual of Kirk tells fans what time period this is set and the size of the Enterprise against the unknown vessel shows what the Federation ship must overcome. This cover art was created by Stephan Martinere and design by Alan Dingman. Overall grade: A

The premise: From the back cover, “The saga of James T. Kirk’s historic command of the U.S.S. Enterprise is known throughout the galaxy. But one part of the legend has barely been touched upon until now: the story of Kirk’s first starship command and the remarkable achievements by which Starfleet’s youngest captain earned the right to succeed Christopher Pike as the commander of the famous Enterprise. From his early battles with Klingons to the rescue of endangered civilizations, Kirk grapples with difficult questions: Is he a warrior or a peacemaker? Should he obey regulations or trust his instincts? This thrilling novel illustrates the events and choices that would shape James T. Kirk into one of the most renowned captains in Starfleet history.” I’ve read the majority of Pocket Books’ Star Trek books when they were new and I was very interested to see where Gallery Books was going with this. I admit to being disappointed by this premise, because I thought I knew all there was to know about Kirk. I really didn’t want a retread of Kirk’s history. I was wrong. Very wrong. Judging this premise on its own, I was not thrilled. Overall grade: C

The characters: James Kirk is shown in five different years of his life before assuming command of the Enterprise and as captain of the Sacagawea. I really enjoyed Kirk in this novel because he makes mistakes, grave ones, and has to deal with the fallout from them. He struggles with continuing as captain, more so than he did in any episode. I also liked seeing him deal with crew members who miss Pike as their leader. This was a captain who is growing into the icon of this franchise. He was wholly engaging. A crew member who also evolves is Andorian Rhenas Sherev who balances Kirk and also frustrates him with her choices. She’s got that infamous Andorian fire, but she’s also first and foremost devoted to her specialty which I’ll not spoil. Her interactions with Kirk and Spock are great. Gary Mitchell, before he was wearing contacts, is the Enterprise‘s helmsman and he is much more outgoing than his captain. He represents who Kirk would be if he didn’t value his ship above all. Leonard McCoy reluctantly returns to starship service after Kirk’s request. Their first meeting is given and how their friendship grew. McCoy is awesome. Equally fantastic is Spock, who is trying to adjust to working with Kirk, asking others for advice on the captain. Hikaru Sulu is an eager beaver, wanting to be all that he can be aboard the Enterprise. He provides a perfect foil (no pun intended) to Lee Kelso who gets a lot of depth to his characters, considering he’s only briefly in “Where No Man Has Gone Before.” I was impressed with what was done with him and how he changes as the story progresses. There are several antagonists over the five years this book covers, though the biggest would be the Agni. They are a mysterious race employing massive mysterious energies to power their massive vessels. They change the most and don’t go the suspected path of most Star Trek villains. The other impressive villain was Koloth the Klingon. I loved his dialogue and behavior. Though he only appears for one chapter, he was memorable. Overall grade: A-

The settings: This book is spread out among the years 2261 to 2265. It’s not a linear novel. I would have preferred it to be so because there were several times where I had lost track of who was aboard the ship — and which ship the characters were on — and what the threat was. The physical settings were better. The main setting is the U.S.S. Enterprise. If you’re reading this book, I’m sure you know what this looks like and how it performs. There are no new areas explored in this book, but there are plenty of familiar locales. The U.S.S. Sacagawea is a smaller Federation ship. It doesn’t have the punch of the galaxy class ship, but it still can move about well. It reminded me of a small Enterprise. Karabos II is a desolate world that the locals in the system want to terraform quickly. It was destroyed by their warlike ancestors eons ago and they would like to erase all that they wrought. Unfortunately a Federation archaeology crew has discovered something there. Acamar is a planet that is trying to decide between aligning itself with the Federation or the Klingon Empire. Only it’s debating arena is shown. Nacmoria is a world similar to Earth of the early 20th century, with radio being used for communication and entertainment. The crew is involved in a deadly scheme to suppress some rebels. This reminded me of “A Piece of the Action” without the gangster element. Chenar is a world that’s been devastated by a radiation blast from within the system. Its people have only progressed to basic sea travel. The interior of a system of  caves is the primary setting and it’s very believable. There are other settings, but these are the main locations. My grade is low for this element of the novel because of the nonlinear format. Overall grade: B-

The action: Several threats and several locations create many different types of action for Kirk to prove to others and himself that he can be a captain. Some of the exploits are only a chapter, while others go on for much longer. All were enjoyable. I loved the Vega Colony incident, Egdor has a war of words between diplomats, Nacmoria has “primitive” politicians creating issues for the crew and its citizens, Kalea has McCoy shine tremendously, Chenar shows how actions can influence, and all the action on Karabos II is a nail biter. I loved the action. This is what I wanted in a book about Kirk’s early career. Overall grade: A+

The conclusion: The obstacles are overcome, some brilliantly and some disastrously. All show how Kirk came to be the person that fans recognize. The book ends with the Enterprise being ordered to go to the edge of the galaxy, which leads to the second pilot, and second aired episode, of this series. It was fantastic. Overall grade: A

The final line: The nonlinear story is confusing at times, but there’s no denying how incredible Kirk’s odyssey is to be the become fans know. I loved reading exploits only hinted at, how characters initially interacted with each other, and every obstacle and threat that Kirk and his crews experienced. This is a must-read for Star Trek fans. Hopefully all books from Gallery Books continue to be as strong as this. Overall grade: A-

To see the cover visit my Instagram account: patrickhayesscifipulse

Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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