This novel is another excellent entry about Cardassia by McCormack and closely follows "A Stitch in Time" and "The Never-Ending Sacrifice".
Tthere's a new political movement coming to power, Cardassia First, populist, isolationist, xenophobic, just on the eve of the withdrawal of the Federation from Cardassian soil. Civil Unrest is threatening, just as a Bajoran Starfleet officer is killed. Then Nan Bacco is assassinated, and the withdrawal put into question by the pro-tem UFP president. Garak and Picard work tirelessly to prevent open civil war on Cardassia and maintain the shaky alliance between the UFP and Cardassia.
Cardassia is a perfect example for a state that has never really known democracy, just an oligarchy or dictatorship, and now, still fighting the effects of the Dominion War, poverty, pollution etc, it's on the brink to fall back into old systems. I appreciate the matter-of-fact way of story-telling instead of swinging the moral hammer, because, yes, we see this every day, and how many states that only recently embraced democracy have fallen back into the abyss?
Garak's one of the most complex figures in all of Star Trek. He's a murderer, a spy, he dragged (together with Sisko) the Romulans into the Dominion War... but somehow he retained or regained a (shrewd as it might be) moral compass. He's not acting out of a need to prove himself or to gain advantage for himself, but for the good of Cardassia. And right now, what he perceives as the good of Cardassia aligns itself with reality. Let's see what happens when he's actually in power.
I enjoyed the letters which start almost every chapter, sent and unsent, by Garak to Bashir (and one to Parmak, his closest friend on Cardassia) because they bring insight into his thoughts and anguish. I loved the painting by Ziyal which is sort of his shrine to her and how he uses his memory of her to remain within moral borders. And I love Bashir's one reply warning Garak not to become his father.
McCormack leaves the reader to figure out all the emotional intricacies, just as she did in The Never-Ending Sacrifice. Her prose isn't really made for action-sequences, but it's perfect for relaying emotions, motivations... and slowly captivating her readers until they're hooked and can't put the novel down until it's finished.
This, together with A Stitch in Time and The Never-Ending Sacrifice is certainly a must-read novel regarding Cardassia.