The Left Hand of Destiny, Book One
J.G. Hertzler and Jeffrey Lang
Publication Date: April 2003
Timeline: Days after “What You Leave Behind”, in 2375
Progress: As was pointed out in the comments section of my review of Gateways #4: Demons of Air and Darkness, Worf essentially gets absorbed into the TNG book series post Ds9-finale—with a couple of exceptions. This duology is the major one of those exceptions.
Since we’ve covered a lot of ground with other characters in this post—“What You Leave Behind” reread series, here’s a brief refresher on the conversation in that episode, featuring the newly-minted Chancellor Martok, that told us about Worf’s fate, and set the stage for the two books we’re about to dive into:
Sisko: Can you spare a moment?
Worf: Yes, sir.
Martok: We’ve been discussing your plans for the future.
Worf: I was not aware I had any plans.
Ross: Commander, how would you feel about being named Federation Ambassador to Kronos?
Worf: I am not a diplomat.
Martok: And I am not a politician. But sometimes fate plays cruel tricks on us, Worf. Come. Kronos needs you. And what’s more, I need you.
Ezri: You helped him become Chancellor. You can’t very well turn your back on him now.
Worf: Well my first loyalty is to you, Captain.
Sisko: Thank you, Mister Worf. I’ll probably regret this in the morning, but if it’s what you want, then by all means.
Worf: It has been a great honor serving with you, sir.
Sisko: The honor is mine.
Worf: I accept.
Martok: Excellent. An Ambassador who’ll go targ hunting with me. Well, perhaps being Chancellor won’t be so bad after all.
Ezri: Congratulations, Worf.
Our current story opens with General Martok having a dream in which he is taunted by Kor (whom we saw die an honorable death in “Once More Unto the Breach”), fights the Jem’Hadar Ikat’ika, and engages in hand-to-hand combat with Gowron (who was killed by Worf in the brilliant episode “Tacking Into the Wind”). Gowron turns to dirt. Worf appears and advises: “We have been victorious thus far, but the war is not yet over.” Martok then sees his deceased father Urthog, who tells Martok that he has lost his way, and urges him to not waste his time with these “endless battles.” Urthog assures Martok that he has everything that he needs to succeed. When Martok complains that he does not possess a weapon, Urthog reaches into his body, pulls out Martok’s beating heart, and says, “Then you had better use this.”
Martok wakes up, somewhat groggy, in his stateroom aboard the Imperial flagship Negh’Var, cruising under cloak at warp five. Worf relays the news that the emperor (Kahless’s clone) would like to speak to both of them privately as soon as possible. In the course of conversation Martok asks Worf why he challenged Gowron, and Worf reveals that it was because Ezri Dax helped Worf realize that the empire was losing its way. Its leader was politicking in the service of personal glorification rather than in the best interests of the Klingon people. A reception is held to honor Martok in the mess hall. Drinking and eating and much singing ensues. The ship nears Qo’noS, and Martok looks forward to being reunited with his wife Sirella. Worf is relieved to find that his plan has helped Martok, who has been down since becoming Chancellor, to enjoy himself. After dropping their cloak and sending a message to announce their arrival to the High Council, Worf and Martok are stunned to witness the destruction of the Great Hall and the Plaza of Heroes in the First City.
Alexander Rozhenko—whom we learned from Ezri had been made weapons officer aboard the IKS Ya’Vang—watches the destruction of the High Council via a local broadcast on Qo’noS. Alexander decides he has to get out of the panicked throng he’s in and find his father. On the bridge of the Negh’Var, Martok and his crew surmise that the attack was carried out by a low-flying robot craft. A transmission on all military and public channels displays a Klingon who identifies himself as Morjod claiming responsibility for the attack. Morjod calls himself “a warrior for truth, a freedom fighter,” and goes on to say that he has liberated the Klingons from the grip of treachery and the weakness of alliances, a process of corruption driven by none other than Worf. He introduces his “hunting pack,” comprised of beasts, thought extinct, known as Hur’q, and rallies those watching him. A disruptor bolt hits the Negh’Var.
An unusual Ferengi named Pharh is hiding under a table in a Klingon bar as the Klingons are getting riled up, and we’re given the backstory of how he ended up there. Meanwhile, Alexander is trying to stay out of harm’s way—easier said than done with blood-thirsty mobs on the streets chanting Morjod’s name. Cornered, Alexander is saved by a hooded warrior. The warrior invites him to make use of antigrav units to leave the scene with him.
Captain K’Tar dies saving Martok, and Martok promises to write a song in his honor. The Negh’Var suffers heavy damage under attack by four Klingon attack cruisers and six birds-of-prey. Associate Consul Annup Bommu and Iris Hume at the Federation embassy on Qo’noS pick up what appears to be the destruction of the Negh’Var, and Klingons storm the embassy. Bommu and Hume buy themselves some time by using nonlethal gas to take out the intruders. Then Hume, following orders from an unknown “Lady,” turns on Annup and informs the Lady that the embassy’s Flare—a small, warp-capable drone—is at her disposal.
We discover that the Negh’Var was indeed destroyed in battle, but not before Worf cycled a transporter beam through various satellites and beamed Martok and the crew to safety on Qo’noS. They survey the hilly land and junk around them, looking to establish a base of operations in an abandoned outpost, and to access the comnet. Darok, gin’tak to the House of Martok (also seen in “Once More Unto the Breach”), confers with Sirella about assault craft reaching the outer walls of their location. They manage to take two out with concussion grenades, but are unable to resist the enemy’s advance. Sirella gives herself up, while Darok slips out through one of the compound’s rear entrances.
Worf has a dream in which he speaks with K’Ehleyr, who, among other things, tells Worf that the next time he speaks with Alexander he should ask his son what his son wants to do with his life for himself, rather than in an attempt to please his father. Worf and Martok analyze the information they’ve uncovered on Morjod and his stealthy rise to power. Despite Morjod’s brilliance and magnetism, though, Martok suspects that someone else is behind him, because Morjod lacks the genTag, or depth of character, to fully account for his strategy and success. A new transmission by Morjod from the Emperor’s Amphitheater again emphasizes the idea of Klingons resuming their true warrior heritage, and blames the destruction of five Klingon ships on Martok. He urges the people to locate the traitor Martok, and exhibits a captive Sirella, announcing that she is to die in two days in the square where the Great Hall stood. A squadron of B’rel-class birds-of-prey approaches Worf and Martok’s base.
Darok witnesses Drex, son of Sirella, evade pursuers, and tells him that Sirella has been captured. He is on a mission, he explains to Drex, to find Martok and give him the DiHnaq that Sirella passed on to him. Drex realizes the Hur’q have caught their scent, and they must leave quickly. They meet up with Alexander and a hooded figure, who beam them out.
Pharh ponders his fate. His musings are interrupted when the structure he’s in is shot at and falls in on him. Martok wakes up in pretty bad shape, and one of his men, Jaroun, recounts how their base was found and destroyed. Martok ordered everyone to a tunnel in the basement, and that’s how they escaped. Worf has also been injured.
Turns out Martok’s hunch was right, because we learn that Morjod is working with someone else, a Klingon woman who has acted as his teacher and whose approval he constantly seeks. She is confident that Martok will come to try and save Sirella, and wishes for Martok to be publicly humbled. Meanwhile, Martok has disguised himself as a beggar and taken to the road. Eventually he finds an abandoned, damaged building with Ferengi vehicles in it, and a live Ferengi—Pharh—banging his head on the floor.
Martok invites Pharh to join him on his journey to the First City, telling him his name is Tark and that he’s a retired soldier, so inspired by Morjod’s campaign that he wants to offer his fealty in person. They set out on a vehicle together. Over the course of several hours Martok learns about Pharh’s background and his unfortunate personal situation (he might be written out of the family contracts). Pharh has seen through Martok’s disguise and calls him on it. Martok admits he’s right, but bluffs about a huge army awaiting him at the city. He encourages Pharh to get out, but Pharh insists on staying with him, so that he can be compensated for the use of his vehicle—but also because he’s curious.
Sirella manages to taunt Morjod from her cage, and the shadowy woman in cahoots with Morjod asks him to leave. The two women converse. Sirella learns that Drex is missing but alive, while her other children are dead. The woman asks Sirella about her past with Martok. Worf is relieved to discover that he’s still alive, and comes to in the midst of warriors, including Drex—and Alexander. He does as dream-K’Ehleyr advised, and Alexander says he’s doing what he wants to, which is to be near his father. Then the previously hooded warrior tells Worf that they have “a great deal of work to do.”
Admiral Ross contacts Kira and they speculate, with the little information they have on hand, about what might be happening on Qo’noS. On the night prior to Sirella’s execution, Martok gives Pharh the chancellor’s ring, and sets out to rescue his wife alone.
Martok proceeds to make his way into the fortification housing Sirella.
He locates Sirella’s dungeon. She tells him that their daughters are dead, but their son Drex is still alive. Martok is then knocked out by Morjod’s forces, and we learn that the woman working with Morjod is Gothmara—a Klingon with whom Martok had a relationship in his youth—of the House of Kultan, and that Morjod is in fact Martok’s son. Pharh has a change of heart and decides he should help Martok. He meets a stranger who is on the same mission.
Martok and Sirella face death by means of the cha’ta’rok torture device. However, a cloaked Pharh manages to free Sirella, and in response to his communicator message, reinforcements arrive from the sky, with Worf and other soldiers materializing on the scene and dispatching Martok’s guards.
Drex and Darok help free Sirella. Morjod unleashes the Hur’q, which he had penned in subspace. Using Worf’s help as backup, Martok advances toward Morjod, who pierces his right shoulder with a mek’leth. Martok is about to be killed by Morjod, but the hooded warrior slaps a signal emitter on Martok’s chest, and he and the others are beamed to safety by Alexander. The hooded warrior, it’s revealed, is Kahless. Morjod rages about Martok having gotten away, but Gothmara calms him and tells him he’ll surely have another chance to kill him. Then she announces that she is heading to Boreth, where she has “other projects to tend to.”
Martok dreams that he’s dying, and in his dream vision encounters Kar-Tela, the goddess of destiny, who smiles at him.
Martok wakes up in sickbay on the Rotaran and is greeted by Pharh. Pharh was found under a pile of rocks by Kahless. Kahless and Worf arrive and talk with Martok about the future of the Klingon people, and the need for “more than a warrior, more than a politician, more than a shaman.” According to Kahless, the Klingons “need a symbol,” and he believes Martok can be that symbol. Back on DS9, Ezri receives a message from Worf with a single word: “Now.”
What you don’t leave behind: This novel does a great job of tying in a plethora of Klingon-related details from a multitude of episodes, and it was rewarding to catch up with Alexander, but my favorite continuity thread was probably the inclusion of Darok. I really enjoyed getting additional insight into this character.
A close second was the short-lived return, albeit in dream fashion, of K’Ehleyr. She was one of my favorite Klingons on TNG, and through her interaction with Worf, Jeffrey Lang captures her tone perfectly—chiding yet loving, unimpressed with Klingon ways yet not overtly disrespectful, willful yet passionate. The following lines made me chuckle:
‘Alexander is serving the empire. We were, until very recently, at war.’
‘We’re always at war,’ K’Ehleyr said. ‘Whether we acknowledged it or not is another issue entirely.’
Don’t tell me you’re getting sentimental: “Replicating a raktajino, she [Kira] raised her mug in what she hoped was the general direction of Klingon space and toasted to Martok, Worf, and the empire. Whatever they’d managed to get themselves into, Kira was confident Chancellor Martok was the one to get them out.”
Nice way to end the scene.
All I do all day long is give, give, give: “Stepping inside the garage, Martok smelled odors he remembered from Quark’s bar, all things he associated with Ferengi: burned cooking oil, spiced alcohol, and fermented curd.”
Hey, at least Martok remembers Quark’s!
There’s a first time for everything: In the brief scene featuring Ezri, she’s trying to squeeze in a nap in a half-hour gap in her schedule when Worf’s message comes through. Hopefully she’ll have a larger role in Book Two.
Can you hear me?: “She [Ezri] missed Benjamin and was worried about the effect his loss was having on Jake. It didn’t make it any easier not knowing whether he was truly dead or merely … misplaced in time.” As we know from the books we’ve already read, Jake will go looking for his dad, and have his own set of adventures before linking up with the Defiant once again.
Have you ever considered Minsk?: Two bona fide references to Minsk!
I appreciate the way “healthy” is used in this first one: “Having been raised by the Rozhenkos, he [Worf] had grown up with the legends of Minsk: child-eating witches, baba yagas, and snarling wolves that stole babies from their cradles. All these stories provided him with a healthy array of childhood nightmares.”
The second one occurs when Martok has a “madeleine moment” and asks Worf what’s happening, to which Worf replies: “‘You are home, General,’ he said, and the corners of his mouth curled upward ever so slightly. ‘Someday, we will travel to Earth and I will take you to Minsk where we will see what memories the smell of boiled cabbage stirs up in me.’”
Dramatis personae: Morjod and Gothmara are the new major baddies, but they didn’t make much of an impression on this reader. They’re well-written enough, but didn’t deviate much from the script, so to speak.
The Ferengi, Pharh, on the other hand, I found engaging. His tendency to introspect, and the way he challenges himself to consider new ideas, to find his own path and forge his unique identity, rather than simply doing what is expected of him, or what would be easiest based on the circumstances, are compelling Trek staples.
This passage is quite telling:
Pharh spent the first few weeks of his very long trip staring at bare walls, afraid to leave his tiny cabin because he didn’t like the idea of what Klingons would think of him. Then, as time passed, as he became accustomed to solitude, Pharh realized that he had never had time by himself to simply think. Much to his surprise, he discovered that he wasn’t stupid or slow or thick-witted, but simply required a quiet space around him in order to string thoughts together. Pharh began to plan, so by the time he arrived on Qo’noS, a strategy for staying away from his family indefinitely and turning a profit had been formulated. He was still a Ferengi, after all.
In absentia: This is a Martok/Worf story, so everyone else is essentially missing. Brief cameos by Kira and Ezri.
Behind the lines: Not crazy about this one.
Part of it may be that I’m impatient to return to the point in the timeline that picks up after Rising Son. Part of it may be that I think the grandeur and near-mythic dealings of Klingons are intrinsically better suited to the screen than to written form. I want to see their epic deeds and soul-chilling battles and rituals rather than read about them.
I can’t find fault with the attention to detail and worldbuilding here, which add to our knowledge of Klingon society and customs in a way that feels cohesive and logical. The plot itself, involving a scorned woman and an illegitimate son seeking to claim the throne, was less interesting, though I will grant that the “royal bastard” trope is an appropriately classic, even Shakespearean, element for Hertzler and Lang to be mining.
The pacing is probably what most detracted from my enjoyment of observing the plot play out. Too many scenes felt driven by characters recapitulating past events and simply musing on the state of affairs. Often a chapter or action montage would end, or rather be interrupted, by the character losing consciousness, and an extended dream sequence would follow, a technique that deflated tension. Events came across as staged and static rather than immersive and spontaneous, outcomes forgone rather than built up with suspense.
At the heart of it, I may simply feel that Martok—particularly when I think back to the brilliance of A Stitch In Time, another book written by the actor portraying the book’s protagonist—is not complex enough to carry two novels.
The theme relating to Morjod’s ascent to power, and his manipulation of the Klingon populace (even if he had some help along the way), I did find riveting and chilling. The techniques of demagogues, who push fear, particularly fear of the Other, and triangulate their positions based on our idealized likes and our base antipathies, is always deserving of our attention. The following passage brings this theme home:
He [Morjod] promised an empire free of influence from the Federation and the Romulan Empire, but offered very few specifics about how this could be achieved. He promised a stronger military and a return to ‘the Old Ways,’ though, again, he was short on particulars.
Having just watched the series Years and Years, in which Emma Thompson’s Vivienne Rook is very much cut from this same cloth (though she is more experienced and savvy in her deployment of rhetoric and charisma than Morjod), made for a fascinating juxtaposition.
Martok puts it well too:
This sort of bold and daring action, it is… romantic. It appeals to a warrior’s vanity. Young men believe it is precisely the sort of thing their glorious ancestors might have done, and old men like myself, who should know better, they think it may be their last chance to recapture something they never truly had.
Difficult times, it would seem, heighten our appetite for this type of unsalutary romanticism.
Orb factor: Decent execution, but this story feels thin spread out, as it is, over two books. 6 orbs.
In our next installment: Book Two in this series, same time next week, January Wednesday 29th!
Alvaro is a Hugo- and Locus-award finalist who has published some forty stories in professional magazines and anthologies, as well as over a hundred essays, reviews, and interviews. Nag him @AZinosAmaro.