As the penultimate book in the Vanguard-series, it falls to What Judgments Come to bring some plotthreads to an end while driving others towards their climax.
After his final mission to recover navigational details in Ganz's computer for Starfleet Intelligence, his part of the story is over. After the upheaval in his life I understand his need for quiet - as underlined by his anxiety and paranoia during his stay on the Orion ship. He's lucky to have escaped alive if not entirely unscathed. So his not being too upset at being sent into exile (as opposed to prison) makes sense, even if it means only a select few know his whereabouts, adding to his isolation that's keenly felt throughout this book.
But since he's in exile on Caldos II until he dies, the planet breaks up... or Starfleet reactivates him, I'm hopeful we'll see him again in a guest appearance in one of the future novels dealing with the aftermath of Operation Vanguard. At least, he deserves some kind of happy ending...
* T'Prynn, Quinn, Pennington
After losing Bridy Mac, Quinn is in a downward spiral, rejecting help and sympathy from everyone - Tim, sympathetic waitresses, even T'Prynn who's trying to recruit him for another mission, if more for getting him back up on his feet than for the mission's success. Right now he's worse off than at the beginning of Harbinger. As said before, I don't really like him but I empathize and really hope he's able to pick himself up before it's too late.
What I really like, especially after the short story in Declassified is the bond between T'Prynn and Pennington, and also his relationship with Reyes that's grown from the events in "Reap the Whirlwind". Pennington has come a long way from the news reporter that he was in Harbinger, he's more mature, more conscious of the ramifications his reports can have... more part of the story than just reporter. I guess that happens if you get too close to the story and its protagonists. He has learned that the people in charge are living beings with virtues and flaws, each influencing the ongoing story, that sometimes those people are more important than the story. And he has learned to curb his curiosity: not everything is worth reporting, even though he needs to know context to make sense of what's happened for himself. Hence him showing up at Reyes' doorstep...
It's funny because I usually don't cast book characters, but I read that David Mack, when conceiving Vanguard, pictured Ewan McGregor as Pennington. And actually, starting with Declassified, but even more so with What Judgments Come, especially the framing scenes with Reyes, I can see McGregor as Pennington... the "Ghostwriter"!McGregor fits perfectly.
Incidentally, speaking of casting the characters, I think Mack's choice for Dr. Fisher (Morgan Freeman) works perfectly, as does Parminder Nagra as Desai. I'm not so sure about Tommy Lee Jones as Reyes, though - but from what I gathered Mack and Palmieri only settled on Jones because they didn't want to be influenced by Edward James Olmos' portrayal of Adama in Battlestar Galactica in their characterization of Reyes. So it makes sense for me to hear Olmos' voice (even if I imagine Reyes' appearance a bit different), especially when Reyes is on the witness stand in Open Secrets... But I digress.
T'Prynn has also gone a long way redeeming herself for her actions back in Harbinger. Maybe she's now even more stoic and aloof, after the removal of Sten's katra, but it's the hesitations, the little gestures, the attempts at relating to people that show her true colors. She's trying to make amends, but she's also made peace with her actions and what has happened to her. I loved her dialogues with Reyes guiding him through his spying mission, featuring two people whose world has been turned upside down by their own actions and outside influence. And while of course the information gathered was the driving force I for once had the impression that it was at least equally important to her to get Reyes out alive... something that wouldn't have mattered to her earlier on. I also especially enjoyed her relieving Tim's phantom pain in sickbay. Well, just like Pennington she's really grown on me without losing her edge as an Intelligence officer.
* Jetanien and the planet of Galactic Peace
While it was interesting to read about Jetanien, D'Tran, and Lugok's efforts to create a place where the Federation, the Romulans and the Klingons live together, it didn't really connect with the rest of the book. Of course, it sets up Star Trek V, a treaty between Romulans and Klingons etc, and especially the secrecy surrounding the meeting place, but I don't quite see yet how it ties in with what happens in the Taurus Reach. On the other hand, I could easily see some outside influence between the unrest that ultimately destroys Jetanien's efforts (at least for the moment).
While I appreciate that more people start to question Starfleet's policy of secrecy surrounding the meta-genome and Operation Vanguard (something which prompted Desai's leaving back in Declassified), it's come to a point where forces within Starfleet fight/plot against one another - as best showcased by the first attempt at Reyes' extraction.
Also, I was bothered by the need to experiment on the Wanderer - not so much that an attempt at communication is made, but rather that it's another ill-conceived attempt that is hurriedly executed without prior acknowledgement of possible consequences... just because it's possible and the need of results (be it to satisfy personal curiosity or the brass' pressure). I mean, why not wait till the mission to the Tkon-sector which could provide more of the artifacts? Why risk the escape of a pissed-off Wanderer? The whole sequence was exciting and well written - but I kept shaking my head at the stupidity of Ming and those C.o.E.-officers of the Lovell, thinking they could anticipate every possible outcome and/or outthink a being that's been around for quite a bit longer than they are. They didn't even think about how the Shedai could perceive their attempts at communication - they just bombarded the artifact with messages, turned up the volume and rotated frequencies (when everyone knows that the right frequency can lead to a crystal bursting...), all the while patting each other's shoulders for their ingenuity. Well, the crew of the Lovell - and who knows how many more in the future (Mack's writing the final part after all and he certainly doesn't shy away from catastrophes of a bigger scale) - had to pay the price.
And then there's the setup for the Defiant's disappearance which leads to "The Tholian Web" when they follow up a trail of curiously destroyed Klingon ships and a Klingon colony where everyone's dead, leaving the infrastructure intact, surrounded by Tholian artifacts (not so incidentally on the same planet that saw the first confrontation with the Klingons in the Taurus Reach back in Declassified).
Ultimately, while the characterization is as top-notch as I would expect, I wasn't too happy with Jetanien's part, Starfleet's covert operations and the shortsightedness in experimenting with the Wanderer. But make not mistake: What Judgments Come is still a very good read despite the mentionned downsides. Kudos to the writers and the concept of the whole series... which comes to an end in the next book.