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Rugal is from the episode "Cardassians," a boy who has grown up with Bajoran parents but whose father, Kotan Pa'Dar, long believed he was dead in the bombing that killed his wife. Once it's discovered he's alive, and the separation was part of a political game instigated by Gul Dukat, Starfleet Commander Benjamin Sisko ultimately makes the ruling that he must return to Cardassia with his father. Thus begins an odyssey for Rugal on a planet he doesn't want to be on, with people he can't stand, and he must live far away from the people he loves. He tries to stay in touch with his Bajoran parents as they try to get him home, but that ultimately proves futile. So he scrapes out a life that he can at least tolerate, finding a young Cardassian woman who is also not happy with her current status, and does the best he can. Events move from the fall of the Cardassian military rule to an unholy alliance with the evil Dominion and then the catastrophic war between the Dominion and most other Alpha Quadrant states. All the while, Rugal tries to make something of his life on Cardassia, trying to become a man who proves that not all Cardassians are evil thugs, and to resist being absorbed into a Cardassian society that spits out its people in the never-ending sacrifice.
The Never-Ending Sacrifice starts extremely slowly, and for a while there I was wondering whether I was going to be able to get through it. She starts with a bit of a summary of the episode that introduced Rugal, with thoughts going through Rugal's mind as he first sets foot on Cardassia. Rugal initially resists liking anything about Cardassia, determined to remain unhappy and sulky as he expects his stay on Cardassia to be short-lived. His Bajoran parents are trying to get somebody in the Bajoran government to intervene on his behalf and set him free. This stage of the book isn't as interesting as the rest of it.
Rugal never really does settle in, though he does become more comfortable with actually living on Cardassia, and once he sort of comes to terms with that (despite never giving up the determination that he will return to Bajor), the book gets much more interesting as he begins to build a life there. He meets Penelya, a young orphan girl who has been taken in by her aunt and uncle to be groomed to take over the family estates back on her home colony, and their relationship develops very nicely throughout the book.
I also liked his relationship with his father, Kotan. It's never easy, and Kotan often gives in to him because he just wants Rugal to be happy to be his son, but Rugal is determined to hold his grudge against his father. As the book moves on, their relationship changes in a very logical, and beautifully told manner. Whether or not he can grow to love his father, he does grow to respect him, especially in regards to both of their relationship with Kotan's mother, Geleth. She's the best character in the novel, spiteful and dismissive of her son's ability even as she drives him to move even higher in the government. She treats Rugal horribly, but, underneath, there appears to be some kind of respect or some other type of feeling, culminating with her choosing him to make her traditional Cardassian death-bed confession speech to.
As interesting as the characters are in the book, however, what's really neat for the Trek fan is seeing all of the galaxy-spanning events of the television series from the Cardassian side. Before, we only saw things when they impacted the crew of Deep Space Nine, but Rugal and Kotan give us the Cardassian view of things. The timeline jumps forward occasionally, with McCormack having to then summarize what happened in the months between the time periods (a device I really don't like, but understand why it has to be used) and we see the devastation that's caused by the end of the Dominion War and how it affects Rugal.
McCormack is widely considered in Trek circles to be the expert on Cardassia, having written a couple of books that highlight the society, and the atmosphere she portrays in The Never-Ending Sacrifice is almost overwhelming in its oppressiveness. Life on Cardassia is hard, with the land being almost grey from overuse; with security cameras monitoring everything, making it so you can't even make dissident statements in your own home without first sweeping for listening devices. When Rugal eventually gets to a colony world where both humans and Cardassians lived, the dissonance between the way both races lived is almost palpable.
The Never-Ending Sacrifice is a wonderful book overall, but it is marred with a slow beginning and a seemingly incessant need to have Rugal (or somebody in the book) meet and deal with almost every major Cardassian character from the series. Otherwise, this is a book that most Trek fans (and certainly any DS9 fans) will be unable to put down once you get past the opening few pages.
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