The Story: The Never Ending Sacrifice, a “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” novel by Una McCormack, chronicles the teenage and young adult life of Rugal Pa’Dar, one of many Cardassian orphans who were originally displaced on Bajor. But when Rugal is essentially forced to be reunited with his birth father, he quickly discovers that Cardassia Prime is far from paradise: its people have been subjected to the watchful eyes of a police state and endure the consequences of constant conflict from within and without. Yet Rugal has an outsider’s perspective and sees both the flaws and the hope his home world can have. Even still, he finds himself pulled in two different directions thanks to his split heritage as he struggles to find his place in an equally divided world.
My Take: Though I’m a huge “Star Trek” fan, my viewing interests were chiefly confined to “The Next Generation” and “Voyager.” Not to say that I think “DS9” was a poor series, but for some reason, I never got around to watching too many episodes. But I have seen enough, chiefly from the later seasons, to be familiar with the major cast, the basis of the Dominion War, and the Cardassian Occupation.
I always found the Cardassians to be an intriguing people because of their rich – and often contradictory – political and social structures and customs. This novel makes all of that come alive in such believable, workable detail that it seems like it could be real. And that’s just a testament to the world-building contained here, not to mention it’s written for non-“DS9” fans as well as non-“Trek” novel readers.
I never got much into any of the “Trek” novelizations, and I guess it was because I didn’t think the characters were properly rendered on page (at least not properly enough for me). But The Never Ending Sacrifice does a brilliant job of taking a seemingly minor character, the Cardassian orphan Rugal, and placing him in the middle of a culture he was, for many years of his life, totally removed from. Hence, his culture shock and attempts to assimilate make him a truly sympathetic (but not pathetic) character. In the same way, Rugal could have rightfully exuded angst and anger over his situation; instead, he handles everything in a mature manner that, at times, does show his age but also shows off his wisdom.
Granted, some of the characters here are from “DS9” and the “Trek” canon, but you don’t need knowledge of either of those to enjoy this book (thanks to a glossary of character names, and even Cardassian words, in the back). Plot-wise, it recounts Rugal’s attempts to reconnect with the family who gave him up as a child as he witnesses the power plays and struggles of the Cardassian state and decides where he ultimately belongs. The messages here regarding government control, free speech, family ties, and even love are timely despite their placement in a futuristic, fictional setting. Not to mention 98% of the cast is alien and they actually act like aliens as their actions and mindsets reflect an entirely different culture rather than just having the predominantly Cardassian cast act just like Humans (only with reptilian features).
In short, I loved everything about this book, from its world-building, to its characters, to its plot and its themes. It’s not a speedy read as it’s dense and meaty yet the story itself avoids preaching when it comes to its central themes, much like how The Hunger Games communicates its respective (and somewhat similar) messages without turning into a sermon. Likewise, the characters are all well-developed and lifelike, as if you’ve met people like this somewhere before (though I’d venture to guess you’ve never traveled to Cardassia Prime). Structure-wise, the chapters are few but long yet the dynamics between each character and the powers that be are so compelling, you don’t mind that the book reads much longer than what it really is in terms of page count.
If I had to truly nitpick about anything, it would be that perhaps some of the chapters could have been reduced in length, mainly because some of the general situations Rugal and others find themselves in tend to be slightly repetitive in nature and principle, though not in content. But honestly that’s not really a negative as the plot is fairly tight, so any omissions might have caused it to lose strength.
Lastly, and while I won’t give away spoilers, the ending made the entire novel totally worth the read. Sometimes when it comes to plots like the one found in The Never Ending Sacrifice, the ending is either utterly predicable or completely unsatisfying either for the characters or the readers. But not here. Granted, the more postmodernist minds among us (of which I am not) might sniff at it, calling it cliched or trite, but I thought it was 100% fitting, especially for the type of character Rugal is. You feel his struggles, his fears, his anger, his sadness, and his joy in his triumphs, so awarding him a happy ending (and that’s all I’ll say about it) was perfectly appropriate and I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. It’s slightly open-door but not so much that his character’s story arc requires a sequel. This is, I believe, intended as a stand alone novel, and it works just fine as that.
Language – Minimal to non-existent. There are a few Cardassian interjections used like swear words, but these bear no semblance to recognizable profanities.
Violence – There are executions, scenes of combat, and some character deaths, but most of these occur “off-screen” and are never described or discussed in any graphic, gory detail. Despite the lack of overt violence, this novel does possess a tense undercurrent since the Cardassians exist under a police/military state where every action and word is monitored. While this isn’t meant to be disturbing, it does generate a suspenseful tone that would probably be better understood by older readers or teens as opposed to a younger audience.
Sexual Content – None. There is an obvious attraction (that, thankfully, isn’t insta-love) between Rugal and Penelya, a young Cardassian girl, but nothing even remotely sexual happens between them. Elsewhere, a half-Bajoran, half-Cardassian character is cited as the product of an affair, but the affair itself is only eluded to and never discussed in full nor depicted in flashback.
Overall, if you’re looking for an awesome, solid sci-fi story that’s alien-focused and offers more than just space fights or exploration-type story lines, then check out The Never Ending Sacrifice. It’s well-written, tightly plotted, masterfully cast, and brilliantly timely. Don’t let the “Star Trek” title cause you to think this is just another media tie-in. Instead, you will be in for quite the literary and emotional experience. I’m very stingy with awarding five-star ratings (as I did so with this book on Goodreads) and I give them only to books I think are truly the best on all critical literary, cathartic, and thematic levels, so The Never Ending Sacrifice really does deserve every point.