Picard: Second Self by Una McCormack book review
Following on from the success of her season 1 prequel novel, The Last Best Hope, author Una McCormack returns to the world of Picard with Second Self — a new novel set between seasons 1 & 2 of the TV show. After several delays the novel has finally seen the light of day. So, was it worth the wait?
With ten Trek books behind her (and numerous other works), Una McCormack knows her way around the Treklit space. Naturally, I was looking forward to reading this one, and I’m happy to say the book did not disappoint.
Second Self starts with Raffi struggling to figure out her next step — her career and personal life are both at a crossroads. Picard suggests she might try teaching at Starfleet Academy, but Raffi isn’t sure. While she ponders her choices, Starfleet Intelligence needs an off-the-books agent to help find an old Cardassian war criminal. With some reluctance, she agrees to the mission, and brings Elnor along for the ride.
So, Raffi and Elnor head off to Ordeve — a place Raffi has been many years before. She does not have fond memories of the place. Both now and in the past, the place is/was a quagmire of complex politics — the world is inhabited by Romulans, Cardassians and Bajorans.
The big twist is that the war criminal Raffi is hunting down is none other than Elim Garak, from Deep Space Nine. Garak is a classic example of the shapeshifter character archetype — and no, I do not mean Odo and the Changelings. Rather, Garak is a character who plays both sides, and the viewer is never sure if he is a good guy or a bad guy… or simply a bit of both.
I’ve not read any of the previous Deep Space Nine books, so I’m not sure if Garak’s post-TV fate was ever explored in other Trek novels. But we are now in the Picard timeline, and in this book, the fate of Elim Garak is a big part of the story. An entire section of the book focuses just on Garak. It’s beautifully written, and provides an in-depth backstory to Garak’s early involvement with the dreaded Obsidian Order.
Which brings me to my next point: is this a Picard novel, or a Deep Space Nine novel? Jean-Luc himself is barely in it, and Rios only appears in a few scenes. Even though the Elnor and Raffi scenes are a hoot, once we delve into Raffi’s past it very much feels like she has been injected into the DS9 oeuvre.
I reckon the book does an amazing job of sewing the Picard timeline in with DS9. At times it did feel a bit more like a DS9 story than a Picard story, but because Una McCormack does such a great job of letting the book exist in both worlds, it didn’t really bother me.
Speaking of the author — Una McCormack obviously has a real affinity with the character of Raffi Musiker. As I said in my review of The Last Best Hope, McCormack does a wonderful job fleshing out Raffi’s character. I never felt much of a connection with the on-screen version, but in book form I enjoy spending time with her.
I have a couple of small nitpicks. Firstly, it’s a bit vague as to why Elnor should come along for the mission. Picard just sort of says, “I think it’d be good for him,” even though it’s a delicate and probably dangerous mission. Sure, Elnor can obviously take care of himself, but he’s not even in Starfleet!
Secondly, some may feel like the book is too deeply rooted in Deep Space Nine lore. Few of the cast other than Raffi really get any time to shine. What about Agnes, or Seven, or even plucking out a minor character from season 1?
Okay, let’s talk about the book’s ending — yes, that ending. The fate of Garak. Firstly, I should mention I am not a huge DS9 fan, and I find some of the stuff to do with the Orbs and the Prophets a bit silly. In that sense, I’m pretty easy going about where Garak ends up. Interested, yes — but it’s not like I have an extensive head-canon in which Garak gets his comeuppance. Overall, I liked the idea that Garak would travel back in time to atone for his terrible sins, with a little help from the Orb of Restitution. So a thumbs up from me.
Before reading it, I wondered if this book would tie up some of the loose ends between season 1 and 2. In a sense, it did. It explains how Raffi and Elnor both end up at Starfleet Academy, and why the pair had grown so close by the time season 2 starts.
Overall, I really enjoyed Second Self. It’s a character driven story, with Raffi and Garak providing the heart and soul. There are plenty of twists and turns. I highly recommend giving this one a read, even if you aren’t a huge Picard fan.
Don’t miss our interview with Una McCormack discussing this very book!