"Star Trek: Rihannsu: Swordhunt and Honor Blade"

by Michelle Erica Green

In 1984 and 1987, Pocket Books published two novels about the Romulans, or Rihannsu, as author Diane Duane named them within their own culture. My Enemy, My Ally and The Romulan Way were both extremely popular with fans, but the Vulcan and Romulan storylines on The Next Generation removed Duane's novels from Trek canon by taking Romulan culture in a different direction from the detailed backstory created by Duane and fellow writer Peter Morwood. For many years the Rihannsu novels went out of circulation.

That was a pity, not only because Duane created a complex, vibrant culture of Rihannsu, but also because she's one of the finest Classic Trek fiction writers. Her leading triumvirate have all the warmth and humor of the captain, first officer and doctor in original series episodes like "A Piece of the Action" and "Bread and Circuses." Also, she produces a brilliant Uhura who doesn't just open hailing frequencies, but asks questions about the messages and offers suggestions. You can tell these books veer from current series continuity when ships start traveling at Warp Eleven, yet readers remain fascinated in the rich Vulcan-Romulan joint history and culture, including an alien form of haiku and a sword that sounds more like a contemporary Klingon relic than an ancient Vulcan one.

Now the Rihannsu are back in two sequel volumes (plus the original pair, re-released at the bargain price of $3.99 each). The first, Swordhunt, focuses on the return of Ael, who has stolen the ancient Vulcan weapon that formerly rested in the Senate chamber on ch'Rihan (the planet the Federation calls "Romulus"). With insurrection brewing on their own planets, the Empire determines to find Ael and the sword at any cost -- even if it triggers war with the Federation, the Klingons, or both. Because of Kirk's special relationship with the exiled commander, Kirk is sent to keep an eye on Ael's ship Bloodwing, but everyone fears his loyalties may be split if Starfleet decides to turn her over to her enemies...everyone including Kirk, who knows that Ael's safety and the Federation's safety may depend on one another.

Honor Blade, the fourth Rihannsu novel, focuses around Romulan Senator and secret Federation spy Arrhae i-Khellian, who helped save McCoy's life in The Romulan Way yet refused to leave the alien empire she had come to love. A surprise representative to the last-ditch negotiations to try to avert war between the Federation and the Romulans, Arrhae finds herself a go-between among different factions in the Empire, and comes into information that could shatter both cultures if the wrong people discover it in time. While Kirk tries to protect Ael, whose name has become a rallying cry for Romulan insurgents, Arrhae struggles to balance her loyalties in a society where alliances shift at warp speed.

Ael and Arrhae are two of the most interesting women ever to inhabit the Trek universe. Though the Romulan term for personal honor, mnhei'sahe, cannot be explained adequately in Federation standard, they epitomize it. Both understand when it is necessary to allow private grudges to pass unanswered, and when one must feign sleeping with the enemy to protect one's friends. Despite their dire circumstances, both women have terrific senses of humor and a taste for irony. Asked to pass on potentially deadly material to McCoy to mislead the Federation, sexy Arrhae makes an ostentatious showing of dropping her scarf so that a Romulan intelligence officer will see the exchange but never suspect that Arrhae has hidden a secret of her own in the material. Later, she buries a coded message in a bottle of illicit blue ale and has a would-be-paramour convey it to the Enterprise.

The history and culture of the Rihannsu weave seamlessly into the plots. In the 1980s books, Kirk tries to stop the Romulans from harvesting Vulcan mind-control techniques and creating deadly ion storms with the help of brilliant, honorable Ael. Ael, who bears marked similarities to the Romulan commander from The Enterprise Incident (and turns out to be her aunt), notes that Rihannsu place a high value on the precise meanings of words such as the term for honor. She asks why "brotherhood" doesn't include females. Kirk explains that it means kinship. Ael insists that a word's true meaning is implicit in its structure, and presses the matter. Kirk admits he feels differently for his "brothers" than he ever could for a woman, and the two end up flirting about male-female relations. In the newer books, Starfleet admirals consequently believe the two have become intimate -- a rumor that serves both of their political interests as the Federation tries to avoid becoming involved in a Romulan war.

Fans of space battles and sci-fi tech will be delighted, for Ael is a first-rate tactician during an endgame with cloaked ships and deadly technology that can rip apart stars. She also has an impressive understanding of engineering, more than Kirk ever exhibited around Scotty. In addition to many familiar Rihannsu, Duane has brought back her character K's't'lk, one of the spider-like physicists from the author's 1983 novel The Wounded Sky. Because Kirk encourages Ael to meet with his officers in order to develop her confidence and trust in the Federation, the two alien women have a chance to bond, discuss space-warping engine modifications, and do some plotting behind the captain's back.

Other familiar faces appear -- for instance Ambassador Fox, best known for getting the Enterprise crew caught in the war between Eminiar and Vendikar but now a respected negotiator. The easy banter between Kirk, Spock, and McCoy continues from the first two Rihannsu novels, with McCoy scoring more zingers than usual and analyzing people based on their chess games. In My Enemy, My Ally, "Spock made the gentle you-must-be-joking expression that Jim knew so well" during a debate. In Honor Blade, "Spock gave Jim one of those 'you know better than that' looks" when Kirk asked whether the odds of a certain event were absolutely zero. Slash fans will be delighted when Kirk says he's going to hold Spock's hand if Spock keeps acting like a mother hen, and McCoy warns that people start the damndest rumors about crew romances even without provocation like that.

Let me warn that Book Four ends with the three dreaded words "To be continued..." And there's no date for when we can expect the next installment. Again, it's not quite as bad as the end of the universe at the end of Deep Space Nine: Millennium's second volume, but the galaxy is on the brink of war and all our heroes are on the line - it's a cruel trick to play on readers! Despite that minor annoyance, the Rihannsu books are thoroughly enjoyable, with tense action sequences and many beloved characters in the sort of classic situation that made the original Trek series so influential. This is a series worth reading more than once.

Click here to buy My Enemy, My Ally, The Romulan Way, Swordhunt and Honor Blade from amazon.com.

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