Now, this is what I want to read in a ST novel.
While exploring an unknown region of space, Enterprise gets caught in a conflict between the Goeg Domain and an apparent resistance group called the Tarpi. The ship is badly damaged, going to warp impossible, an repairs would take months. The commander of the Domain vessel, Laspas, offers help in piggy-packing Enterprise to one of their repair facilities. Kirk, who begins a tentative friendship with Laspas, accepts even though that means transfering control over his ship to the Goeg.
On their journey the Enterprise crew learn about the Goeg Domain which also consists of multiple species, but where the Goeg rule with authority and take what they want. So is the case when the ships happen across a destroyed civilian transport, and go on the hunt for the apparent Tarpi perpetrators - using Enterprise's photon torpedoes without consulting Kirk first.
First of all, there's the world building that's engaging and - in good ST-tradition - quite reflective of the modern political landscape. We have liberal and exploring Enterprise on the one hand, on the other an imperialistic and authoritative Goeg Domain. Practically everything's different, command style, the way orders are given, whether there's any input from the lower ranks allowed etc. But there's also the way bridges are built. Not only the literal one linking Enterprise to the Domain ship, but interpersonal relationships despite the cultural differences. A special kudos goes out for the physical descriptions of the different species which reflect their position within the Goeg society - nicely done.
Kirk finds much in common with Laspas whom he sees as a kindred spirit and with whom he can discuss the demands of being in command... one of them being at the end of the chain and therefore being removed from everyone else on board. Spock on the other hand struggles with Kirk's decision to trust Laspas - and he himself gets much consideration because he's an alien on a human ship, different (and sometimes being doubted) but still with the same rights and possibilities of advancement. Something other species on ships of the Goeg Domain can't say for themselves. And McCoy (and Chapel) befriend the doctor of the Domain ship who at first saves one of the Enterprise's crewman, but later on displays deplorable ethics against a presumed Tarpi terrorist.
Ultimately this is a novel about trust, about looking beyond orders, and about growth as a person and as a species. And I think if the Goeg authorities hadn't been as obviously paranoid to order the annihilation of an entire planet just because of a few harbouring the Tarpi, the seeds the interaction with the Enterprise crew has sown wouldn't have grown as quickly in the end. The ending of this novel remains quite open - we have one ship and one crew openly resisting the authorities, another one at least pondering their orders. But then, revolutions have to start small. I'd certainly love to see what happens next. So, how about a novel where Kirk and the Enterprise return to the Goeg Domain? What will they find then? But I guess, that's up to everyone's imagination.
It's absolutely to Leisner's credit that he (mostly) manages to introduce the Goeg Domain and its attitudes without at the same time judging them. Getting to know the people first before delving further into Goeg society certainly helped establish them as 3-dimensional characters who have dreams and hopes much reminiscent of our own and just had the bad luck of being born and growing up on the wrong side of the fence.
I highly recommend this novel. It's thought-provoking and character-driven, and will keep you engaged from page one to the finish line. Well done.