© 1997 Diane Carey
Two captains, each without a ship. The first, Captain Picard, lost his when it plowed into the surface of Viridian III while he struggled to prevent a grief-stricken madman from destroying a world. The other's, Captain Bateson's, became a historical artifact when he was thrust into the future in the midst of a battle against a Klingon cruiser. His attempt at self-sacrifice saved a starbase from destruction and prevented a war, but his legendary ship is still not viable against the Federation’s modern foes, like the Dominion and the Borg. After running into one another (dozens of times) in “Cause and Effect”, Bateson and Picard’s fates are again linked with the creation of the USS Enterprise-E. While Picard questions his future as ship’s captain, Bateson is eager to earn the captaincy of the not-yet-commissioned Enterprise despite being ninety years behind the times. While Picard is dispatched on a secret mission inside Cardassian lines, Bateson sees cracks in the Khitomer Accords and is eager to prove himself against an old enemy. Thus the two captains struggle for their reputations at the brink of war.
Ship of the Line is a strikingly odd but fun book. Diane Carey seems to have wanted to write a classic naval adventure novel. Not only do the characters speak and think as though they're living in the Romantic period, but Captain Bateson is a walking anachronism, a man who seems to live in the heyday of the age of "iron ships and wooden men". His ship is a "clipper", and when he's not cheerfully pointing out the etymology of a given expression, he's musing on naval traditions. This combined with his status as a temporal refugee plays off well, though, because Picard relates to this man the way we would relate to someone from the 18th or 19th century. References to the Horatio Hornblower series abound: not only do quotations from various Hornblower stories start off each section, but at least two characters seem to have been named after members of Hornblower's crew, which actually spoiled part of the book for me because I knew straightaway who the turncoat in Bateson's crew was.
TNG fans in general will find a lot to appreciate it here, for Carey gives us a story of Picard and his people after they were off the air, connecting their stories to those of the then-contemporary Star Trek universe. going for it, giving TNG readers a look at their captain and his crew between ships and connecting their stories (post "All Good Things...") to Deep Space Nine's Klingon story arc. The novel takes place at the same approximate time as DS9's "Way of the Warrior": Commander Wof has already accepted a position onboard the station, but the Klingons have not yet invaded Cardassia nor revoked the Khitomer Accorrds. The Federation and the Klingon Empire are thus at peace, but Klingon belligerence strains relations.The Klingon captain whose invasion Bateson thwarted ninety years ago is enraged and humiliated that his 'vanquished' foe is alive and well, and both he and Bateson are easy for a rematch. Relations between the UFP and Klingon Empire are already strained, and the feud may be the firestarter for war. Picard is also engaged with an old enemy -- Gul Madred, the man who tortured him in "Chain of Command". He gets some marvelous comeuppance.
Carey is an efficient writer, never wasting time with extensive transitions or letting a conclusion drag out. The pace is fast, but not hurried, and there are scenes of rich, thoughtful dialogue that allow for a break in the action and give the reader a chance to savor the interplay between characters -- particularly between Picard and Captain Kirk, who Picard visits in holographic form as a way of searching his own soul. It captures an opportunity that wasn't quite taken advantage of fully in Generations.
Although I've had this novel for years, I shied away from reading it at first because I found the idea of anyone but Picard manning the Enterprise-E to be distasteful. I'm glad I gave it a chance: its quaintness ensnared my interest, and it fleshes out a hole in the TNG timeline rather nicely with a dandy 'good show'.