Another of the early Dell books, Blood Oath has some of the same weaknesses of the debut entry, Voices. However, it is a much stronger novel, and fits far more securely within Babylon 5's universe than did its predecessor.
Ambassador G'Kar receives a message from the Narn Homeworld. Mi'Ra, the daughter of the Narn he sent into disgrace years before, has become frustrated with the failure of the Assassins' Guild to fulfill her father's contract. Now she is taking matters into her own hands, and declaring a Shon'Kar against G'Kar - a blood oath, honored in Narn society, to destroy the Ambassador or die trying.
Out of desperation, G'Kar fakes his own death, using his connections to secure covert transport back to the Homeworld to deal with his enemies permanently. He does not make this journey alone, however. Captain Sheridan, desiring to strengthen diplomatic ties while at the same time investigating G'Kar's mysterious "death," has sent along representatives to attend the Ambassador's funeral and to pay respects to the Narn ruling body. Of course, both Mr. Garibaldi and Susan Ivanova are liable to be less than happy with the Ambassador once they realize that the rumors of his death have been greatly exaggerated.
All that is as nothing to the dangers all of them will face on the inhospitable surface of Narn. Once word leaks out that G'Kar is, after all, alive, Mi'Ra's blood oath will come boiling back to the surface - with a vengeance!
John Vornholt previously wrote Voices, the first original novel set in the Babylon 5 universe. Voices was a decidedly mixed bag, to say the least. It had a promising story, but Vornholt's writing varied wildly in quality, and the characterizations often seemed to miss the mark.
The good news is that Blood Oath is a much stronger piece. The story is more focused than Voices' fractured and jumpy narrative. The writing is also tighter, and generally avoids the amateurish feel of some of Voices' chapters. The plot develops in a reasonably organic fashion, and the pace is fast without seeming rushed.
Best of all, this actually feels like a Babylon 5 story. While Voices often diverged wildly from the rules established within the television series, Blood Oath generally plays fair with the television series' rules. The Narn society we see in Blood Oath feels like a natural extension of what we saw in the series proper, with a lot of evident thought going into the portrayal of the Narn Homeworld. There is real detail in many of the passages set on Narn, with a genuine effort being made to flesh out an alien society in a convincing manner.
The story also benefits from its ties to series continuity. The plot is a direct sequel to The Parliament of Dreams. In that first season episode, G'Kar attempted to evade an assassination attempt contracted by an old enemy. Here, we learn more about that enemy, and why G'Kar was targeted. The answers are consistent with G'Kar's first season character. The early G'Kar was often selfish, manipulative, and an outright bastard. I had no difficulty believing that an even younger, more ambitious G'Kar would be capable of the despicable actions referenced in this novel.
Better still, Vornholt seems aware that G'Kar's character has evolved since those early episodes. The G'Kar seen in this novel is quite a thoughtful character. His first impulse upon receiving Mi'Ra's data crystal may be a selfish desire to get her before she gets him. He quickly moves on in his thinking, however. It is clear quite early in the novel that the Ambassador would prefer to find a peaceful solution to his dilemma. Vornholt even writes a brief monologue for G'Kar as he evades his pursuers, a speech that I could easily envision Andreas Katsulas delivering.
Finally, it does seem appropriate that, at this point in the series, G'Kar should have to face down some of the personal demons in his past. He is soon to face far greater threats on behalf of his people. It seems only right that he begin the process of atoning for his past selfishness before the series moves him on to his later role. Atoning for the wrongs he committed against his past rival makes him just a little more worthy of his evolution into a spiritual leader - an evolution that has already begun, with the revelations of Chrysalis, and that will be kicked into high gear with the very next installment...
Though Vornholt writes rather well for G'Kar, he still struggles with some of the other characters. Obligatory Russian references aside, I never quite believed that the Susan in this novel was the Susan Ivanova of the series. She just seemed a little too soft for the series' Susan, with that magnificent Ivanova wit all but completely absent.
Garibaldi's characterization is also problematic, which is something of a surprise given that Vornholt wrote the character quite well in Voices. In this book, we see Garibaldi being consistently too trusting of strangers. During a point in the book in which he has his men checking every Narn on the station for links to G'kar's death, Garibaldi sees a Narn priest and decides not to stop him. Garibaldi allows a stranger into the diplomatic party after only the most cursory check. Finally, near the end of the novel, Garibaldi is again too trusting of a seemingly helpful stranger. Season One Garibaldi would not have been this naive, let alone the edgier, angrier Season Two Garibaldi.
Also, Vornholt's unhealthy fixation on Talia continues. Fortunately, Talia is only a minor character in this novel. However, every time Talia is featured in the novel, Vornholt can't resist describing her as "lovely" or "attractive" in virtually every other sentence. It does get a bit distracting after a while.
Despite these issues, Vornholt still makes a good effort at creating a convincing Narn Homeworld. He writes well for G'Kar, and does a generally better job at tying his second Babylon 5 novel into the series continuity than he did with his first. Given the improvement seen between Voices and Blood Oath, I'm almost sorry that Vornholt wrote no future Babylon 5 novels. Almost.