Although Precipice was an exciting and easy reading experience, it didn't quite meet my expectations. Open Secrets might not have been as fast paced, it was a much more introspective book which I find I prefer. Again, as its predecessor, Precipice is quite neatly divided into a few different plotthreads which only come together at the end. So I am going to follow this division in this review.
* T'Prynn and Pennington
T'Prynn isn't really a likeable character for me. Then again, I'm not sure whether she's even meant to be. Her motivations to leave Vulcan (and essentially escape a court-martial) are, as Pennington points out, quite selfish. She wants to find evidence that could, if not exonerate her completely, then at least get her back into the good graces of Starfleet. Of course, she's great at what she does. She has listening devices everywhere, can turn simple ships into well protected advanced observation vessels, reveal information (such as that Reyes's alive) etc. She's a kick-ass spy, she's still as driven as before, if perhaps not quite as malevolent... and she still moves among those shades of grey that, I guess, define spy work.
Right now, I'm not sure whether T'Prynn has gained something as a character from the loss of her fiancé's katra... perhaps a bit more focus, perhaps a bit of a restored moral compass, but she lost something as well which was quite nicely portrayed when she found she couldn't play the piano as she did back in Reap the Whirlwind. The technique's surely still there, but there's more to playing an instrument than the mere mechanics. It always has been an outlet to her internal struggle, her emotions - and since that's over, the soul of her play is gone, too.
Pennington remains quite uninteresting as a character. Why does he join T'Prynn? Curiosity? The need for a story which he doesn't write in the end anyway? As much as he might have been the slighted character in the beginning of the series, he's just boring now, I'm afraid.
* Quinn, Bridy Mac
First of all, I'd have loved to have seen Quinn's transition into Starfleet Intelligence. Other than that, his background story that got introduced here, was a rather generic tragic-hero one. His way of thinking out of the box fits in with spy-work, I guess, so it wasn't too much of a leap. On the other hand turning Quinn from the drunk unfit man into superfit guerilla-fighter - that's a bit of a stretch, even if we haven't heard from him in a year (since he didn't appear in Open Secrets). Bridy Mac remained too much in the background - how did she get roped into spywork? How did she cope with what happened on Jinoteur? I think both characters suffer a bit from the time jumps in this book and the last.
What happens on the planet, though, with the Klingons, the Shedai, Zett... that works really well, is suitably colorful and horrifying, and it advances the story.
* Reyes, diplomacy...
First of all, I became a huge Reyes-fan with Open Secrets (or rather with his actions in Reap the Whirlwind), so it's always good to see him. Second, I enjoyed this first, if ill-conceived, attempt of Gorkon's at negotiating a peace between the major powers in the Taurus Reach. I wonder, though, how he could perceive that a peace negotiated at gun-point could even work. Neither Reyes nor the Tholian were there voluntarily, neither of them are capable of making decisions... so, how could Gorkon think that this would work? At least Gorkon was noble enough to set them free at the end - even though Reyes was wanted by the Klingons. I'd have loved to see how Reyes got on Ganz's ship, though. And where did Ganz (and/or the Klingons) get the empty artifact from?
Also very interesting are the beginnings of the negotiations on Nimbus III. I'm looking forward to reading more about that since only at the end of Precipice all 3 representatives were finally present. I'd love to know, though, how Jetanien justified his absence from Vanguard, given that the situation there is rather volatile.
* on Vanguard
Up until the theft of the artifact this was perhaps the most boring facet of Precipice. I liked that Desai was moving on - even if Jackson remained quite 2-dimensional, a placeholder if you will... and we as readers of course know that Reyes isn't dead. Desai's reaction when T'Prynn told her that Reyes was alive was interesting on quite a few levels: shock, disbelief - one can't help but wonder if it's because of the fact that he's alive or that T'Prynn is the one who found out, a certain kind of guilt - well, she was in bed with someone else when she heard etc. What I don't get, though, is how anyone can think that Reyes would collude with the enemy... even Desai wasn't sure. Hello? It's one thing to reveal a huge coverup, it's a quite different thing to work with a known enemy. It shouldn't have needed a second thought that Reyes was not voluntarily staying with the Klingons and was somehow threatened into revealing security details of the Vault.
The Shedai mystery comes to the forefront in the last pages again. That was some seriously good stuff, using the second artifact, the attack by the Wanderer etc. That's where Mack excels... action, surprising twists and turns... He knows how to advance a plot and to shock his readers. But he isn't a master of the quiet times, of introspection and these are what Precipice, and especially the parts on Vanguard, is lacking.
* allusions to previous novels such as "The Vulcan Academy Murders", Big Bang Theory, Star Wars (the Skylla) etc.
* There were some mistakes with the set dates in the book - for example right at the beginning: One day the Tholian gets captured, and while the title says only 1 days passed, Reyes said a week passed since Ezthrene was introduced. The same applies to the too short timeframe the Myrdoniae-artifact was investigated on Vanguard... a bit off-putting I thought. If you use exact dates, then use them correctly.
Well, Precipice certainly ups the ante again plotwise. Now that (nearly) everyone is back on Vanguard and the various plotthreads once again intertwine I'm looking forward to a complex and exciting series finale... only 2 novels and 1 anthology left to go after all.