And now, another sidestep to the novels for author Kathryn M. Drennan's account of Sinclair's first year on Minbar.
After his confrontation with Neroon (Grey 17 Is Missing), Marcus travels to Minbar to recover from his wounds. While there, he sits near the statue of Valen and reflects on all that has happened: Sinclair's journey back in time to become Valen, Sinclair's replacement with Delenn. Finally, Marcus allows his thoughts to drift back more than a year, to when he first met Sinclair.
We then flash back even further than Marcus, to see a Sinclair who is increasingly frustrated by his post to Minbar. His sleep is troubled by nightmare recollections of what happened to him at the Battle of the Line. His waking hours are troubled by his inability to get communications through to either Babylon 5 or Earth, and by Earth's refusal to send him a diplomatic staff. Deciding that his new Ambassadorial post was really just a bad joke by new Earth Alliance President Clark, he resigns... forcing Delenn, Rathenn, and the Minbari President, Jenimer, to reveal the true reason the Minbari requested his appointment. His Ambassadorial post is a cover. The real reason he is there is to act as head of the Anla'shok, the Minbari Rangers. He is told of the Shadows and of the coming war. Offered the chance to help stop the Shadows, he can do nothing but accept.
Sinclair's new position on Minbar is not without complications, however. President Clark's administration is using the press to paint Sinclair as a traitor to his own species. Minbari Warrior Caste leader, and recent Grey Council appointee, Neroon finds the idea of a human leading the Rangers to be an abomination. And the Vorlon advisor, known as Ulkesh, seems determined to control Sinclair's every choice and movement, to the point of attempting to forbid Sinclair any contact with his friends on Babylon 5 and attempting to halt his relationship with his fiancée, Catherine Sakai.
This novel was written by Kathryn M. Drennan, series creator J. Michael Straczynski's "spousal overunit" and writer of the first season episode By Any Means Necessary. The latter credit is especially noteworthy with regard to this novel, as it was almost certainly the best character episode made for Jeffrey Sinclair. Unsurprisingly, Straczynski later noted that Drennan was very fond of both the character of Sinclair and of Michael O'Hare's portrayal.
All of which is a roundabout way of observing that Drennan has an excellent handle on the character. It's not just that she's a "fan" of Sinclair. Techno-Mage trilogy author Jeanne Cavelos appears from her writing to be a "fan" of Sheridan, but Cavelos' love of the Sheridan character leads to a certain blindness on her part to the character's flaws, which in turn actually reduces the effectiveness of her writing for Sheridan. Drennan, on the other hand, possesses a firm perspective on Sinclair. She seems to know the character, in a way that perhaps even JMS does not, and she brings out both the character's strengths and weaknesses.
The main body of the novel opens with Sinclair still settling into his new life on Minbar. Drennan takes time to establish his discomfort in his new surroundings. This includes many details that add to the novel's verisimilitude, such as a day that does not accord to a human 24-hour day (the Minbari day is noted to be a little over 20 hours long) and Sinclair's need to stick to bland foods as Minbari meat is not suited to the human digestive system. There are also psychological issues for Sinclair, who on-screen never did get the chance to fully reconcile his past fighting the Minbari with his present.
The first scene from Sinclair's viewpoint is a dream sequence, in which he relives the Battle of the Line, the moment that marked him out from the rest of humanity forever. Mixed in with his memories of the battle are bits of knowledge gained since, as in his mind's eye he sees a hooded Minbari menacingly telling him, "We claim your soul!" When he awakens, a mild conversation with the eternally pleasant Rathenn takes a bad turn when Rathenn mentions Branmer, the Minbari hero who led the attack on the line, leading to a sudden stiffness and abruptness on Sinclair's part. An excellent first chapter, demonstrating that Sinclair's emotional issues - tantalizingly glimpsed here and there in some of the first season's best moments - have not been forgotten.
Drennan also utilizes the character of Neroon to good effect. Sinclair and Neroon's interactions in Legacies were fascinating, as I mentioned in my review of both that episode and Grey 17 Is Missing. By the end of the episode, there was a mutual respect; but despite this, anytime the two characters were on-screen together, it seemed to be all either man could do to keep from tearing the other apart.
Here, we are allowed to see both facets of these two characters. Neroon puts obstacles in Sinclair's path at every turn. He protests Sinclair's appointment to the Rangers. He is firmly against Sinclair's being named Entil-Zha, only acceding to honoring Sinclair with that title when Jenimer plays on Neroon's own sense of honor in a way that leaves him little choice. Still, Neroon is obliged to acknowledge respect for Sinclair a few times in the novel, notably when Sinclair navigates a solution (once again working "within the rules") to the problem of a part of the ceremony that should prove fatal to humans.
Finally, the events of the novel provide some explanations as to how Sinclair changed between Chrysalis and War Without End. In War Without End, Sinclair appeared far more subdued than he had previously. The buried anger was gone, and in its place was a sense of peace, tinged by more than a small amount of sadness. The reasons for that sadness are made abundantly clear by the end of this novel. The Sinclair Marcus observes near the end of his time on Minbar lines up very well with the Sinclair we saw at the beginning of War Without End: walking alone, with the cowl of his robe over his head to make his face invisible, taking care not to touch or be touched by anyone around him - isolating himself, even more than he did in early Season One. Sinclair accepts that he has a role to play, but the cost of that role (even before he learns of his destiny) is crushing.
The novel also provides us with a look at a pre-third season Marcus. The incidents Marcus has only briefly described on television are dramatized here on the page, including his relationship with his brother and his job on a mining planet. This is a very different Marcus than the exuberant man we have grown to know. He's more reserved, much less inclined to jokes and quips. However, the change, as presented, is reasonable. Like our Marcus, "businessman Marcus" is all about his duties. He uses his job to hide from himself and the world, as his brother tries to force him to see. Later Marcus - our Marcus - is also all about his Ranger duties. He buries himself in the Rangers, and when that is not enough in jokes, literary references, and a "clown act," to try to hide from his pain and guilt. We have glimpsed this in certain Season Three episodes (notably Ceremonies of Light & Dark), and it does gibe with the characterization seen here. Marcus joins the Rangers out of guilt, and ultimately there is a sense that Marcus is in the right place, in the right job, but for the wrong reasons... which may play into his ultimate fate, as well.
The first half of the book is unimpeachable. We see that Sinclair is still wrestling with his post-traumatic-stress symptoms, and we see how life on Minbar effects that. We see Marcus' pre-Ranger life, and can make the connection between his earlier life and who he will become. We tie into various Season Two episodes (there is rarely a point in this novel where we are not aware of approximately where in Season Two the events are falling), and it is all quite effective.
Unfortunately, somewhere in the second half, the novel starts to feel rushed. We never do see Sinclair overcome his issues concerning the Minbari, and particularly the Minbari Warrior Caste. Those issues just seem to disappear between chapters. The sense I get is that the material was perhaps too much for a single novel. Sinclair's time as Ranger One might have made a better Del Rey trilogy later. Among other complaints: What about Season Three? I'm assuming Sinclair did more than just sit on his hands after Marcus left for Zagros 7, so the story is left feeling incomplete.
In fairness, these are hardly crippling minuses (particularly when compared to some of the earlier Dell novels). For the characterization of Sinclair and Marcus, for the way Drennan is able to weave her story in and out of the events of Season Two of the series, and simply for dealing with some of the implications of the Sinclair/Sheridan change between Seasons One and Two, this book is a definite "must-read" for Babylon 5 fans, if not quite the flawless work it is sometimes held up to be.