This is the cover of Starfleet Academy The Assassination Game by Alan Gratz. The illustration is by Craig M. Staggs
Starfleet Academy The Assassination Game by Alan Gratz is the fourth novel in the series and is set in the Star Trek Reboot Universe that was started with the 2009 movie directed by J. J. Abrams. This series of novels targets those aged 12 and above though it is certainly also recommended for older readers who want their fix of the new Star Trek.
The story starts with cadet’s Kirk and McCoy joining the ‘Assassination Game’, an impromptu competition at the academy wherein cadets need to kill each other with a spork, McCoy’s reason to join is to impress upon Nadja Luther, the game’s organizer. Kirk meanwhile has gotten embroiled in a fight with a Varkolak, a species hated by most, who attends the a medical symposium held at the academy.
After an explosion almost kills the president of the federation at the opening of the symposium the blame quickly falls on the Varkolak. Meanwhile Uhura is on assignment for Spock, she needs to infiltrate the Graviton Society, a secret club within Starfleet that tries to alter federation policy against any perceived threats. Members of the society suspect Spock being an infiltrator and set with the help of cadet Hikaru Sulu to lure him out. Unbeknown to the society Sulu has also been working for Spock.
The Graviton society nonetheless manages to turn opinion against the visiting Varkolak after a second explosion kills thirteen people. McCoy and Kirk tackle the case of the bombings from opposite ends of that of Spock and Uhura. After finding a lead to makes them suspect a Tellarite named Daagen they successfully manage to tie him to the Graviton Society but not before they prove he is innocent of the bombing and McCoy finds himself accused as the bomber. While Starfleet mobilizes to counter the Varkolak armada that has come to the rescue of the visiting Varkolak Kirk, Uhura, Spock, Sulu and even Chekov must try their best to catch the real perpetrator who turns out to be Nadja Luther.
The story ends with Spock professing his love to Uhura, which basically explains the last details that was missing from the Star Trek movie.
The Assassination Game tries its hands at a great many popular themes that may appeal to young readers, as such it doesn’t take too much risk when it comes to controversial subjects such as death and sex like earlier Starfleet Academy novels (The Delta Anomaly), it pushes these things more to the background. The concept of the secretive Graviton Society seems to me too similar to Section 31, my best guess is that the author originally wanted to write about that but didn’t want to alienate new readers who aren’t familiar with that organization.
The author does manage to include humor very aptly and with much recurrence, the ’assassination game’ that is being played allows certain characters to show up pretty much at any time and that they are trying to ‘kill’ Kirk with a spork is used effectively as a running joke. Perhaps the author’s experience with young adult novels does give him an edge over the previous attempts of writers in the series. His repeated use of phrases and situations from earlier Star Trek shows such the The Original Series and The Next Generation shows that he has much knowledge on the subject.
His introduction of Sulu into the franchise is effective and he manages to give the character considerable depth, the return of cadet Chekov is especially pleasing as he seems so much like the character of the movie. The author has also not forgotten previous characters introduced in the series such Tikhonov and Finnegan. With the fleshing out of Spock’s character we also learn a bit more about the workings of Starfleet behind the scenes.
I have a few gripes with the novel. The villain, Nadja Luther, has motives that seem a bit contrived and shoehorned to fit the story, also it was already clear quite early on that she was the perpetrator of the bombings, at least the author tried to connect the dots with making sure the characters in the story find the leads in a plausible fashion. Another drawback of the story is the main protagonist Kirk, he still seems a little wooden compared to Spock, Uhura and McCoy. His constant womanizing is funny but his background is little explored, the author goes into his childhood a little bit in order to make him sympathize with the antagonist’s motives but the details that are given are already known.
Overall this novel is along with The Edge among the best in the series, perhaps even the best. Now I haven’t gone into the plot too much so not to spoiler too much. This book is a definite recommendation as a summer read. It is a shame it is over so quickly.
Score; 8.5 / 10.
Author; Alan Gratz.
Cover illustrator; Craig M. Staggs.