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Star Trek: Picard: Second Self is the fourth Picard novel and marks Una McCormack's return to this branch of the tie-in literature following 2020's The Last Best Hope. It is set in-between Seasons One and Two and, like The Last Best Hope, serves as a prelude to the then-new Season.

In the aftermath of the events at Coppelius, Raffi Musiker finds herself not only vindicated by having helped uncover and expose the truth behind the Mars Incident, but also at a personal and professional crossroads. She has an opportunity to return to Starfleet Intelligence, or to join Picard in a quiet career ensconced in the halls of academia at Starfleet Academy.

However, the decision is ultimately made for her when an old Dominion War-era Tal Shiar contact reaches out asking for immediate aid. With the help of Cristóbal Rios and Elnor, and assistance from Picard, Raffi decides to take on this critical mission – and is forced to confront not only her own ghosts from the War, but old ghosts from the Bajoran Occupation which are about to break into the light of day...

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This book contains the following tropes:

  • Advertised Extra: Jean-Luc Picard, which has been the norm for the post-Last Best Hope novels. Elnor likewise has a relatively minor supporting role despite his billing on the front cover.
  • Anachronic Order: The book begins in 2399, then jumps back to the final days and immediate aftermath of the Dominion War (2375), and from there to the height of the Bajoran Occupation (2340). The narrative then works its way back through 2375 before ultimately concluding in 2399.
  • Author Appeal: McCormack, Cardassians, you know how it goes.
  • Call to Agriculture: Garak spends the last decades of his life as a simple country vedek, looking after a group of Bajoran children in the Caanta valley.
  • The Cameo: Enabran Tain and Mila briefly appear at the end of Garak's 2340 narrative.
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  • Canon Welding: McCormack re-canonizes elements of the Deep Space Nine Relaunch, from the Cardassian governmental leadership role (the Castellan), the broad strokes of the post-Dominion War rebuilding and logistical challenges Cardassia faced (such as was detailed during A Stitch in Time), and Garak becoming the Union's Ambassador to the Federation.
  • Cannot Tell a Lie: Elnor, though thanks to the 'tutelage' of Raffi and others, the young Qowat Milat's getting better at exploiting Exact Words and Loophole Abuse. That said, he still has a long way to go.
  • Everyone Has Standards: During the 2375 segment, Raffi and fellow Romulan Affairs officers watch live coverage of the Battle of Cardassia (as they're deployed along the Romulan-Cardassian front and thus aren't participating in the final offensive). Raffi and nearly all her colleagues react in genuine horror at the footage of the Dominion's final, vindictive pogrom across the Cardassian homeworld. The handful that approve of the Cardassian's Laser-Guided Karma get subjected to a collective Death Glare and What the Hell, Hero?.
  • Fake Guest Star: Garak, much like he was during Deep Space Nine.
  • The Gadfly: Garak as ever enjoys taunting his companions about sensitive topics like Romulus' destruction, substance abuse, and past murders.
  • I Hate Past Me: Given all his character development over the course of Deep Space Nine, 2399 Garak unsurprisingly feels regret and shame towards his 2340 counterpart.
  • Interquel: The book is set during the 18 month gap between Seasons One and Two and sets up elements of the latter (ex. Elnor enrolling in Starfleet Academy, Rios commanding the Stargazer, etc.).
  • Killed Off for Real: Garak dies of natural causes after being sent decades in the past to live out the rest of his life as a Bajoran vedek.
  • Magic Plastic Surgery: 2399 Garak has altered his appearance to appear Bajoran (so as to evade the Bajoran, Federation, and Cardassian law enforcement personnel looking for him. It ends up being very important to the twist of the Stable Time Loop.
  • Make an Example of Them: Implied to be one factor of Toze Falus' obsession with bringing Garak to justice. He's not the only Obsidian Order veteran who was active during the Occupation, but with the Order wiped out by the Dominion, Garak's the last known high-ranking survivor — to say nothing of Enabran Tain's son. He is the embodiment of the Order's worst excesses and cruelty, ergo he gets the collective, symbolic blame for their war crimes.
  • Nazi Hunter: Bajoran archaeologist Toze Falus is revealed to be an operative of the Koma Tath, a division of Bajoran Intelligence tasked with bringing Occupation war criminals to justice if they're still alive. Getting Garak in particular has been a longtime personal goal for Toze.
  • "Not So Different" Remark:
    • In his final communique from the past, Garak deduces Raffi's substance addiction problems from his own experience and offers her words of encouragement for overcoming it.
    • Feji tries this with Soukara in the climax, pointing out the Bajorans know full well what the Romulan diaspora refugees are going through. However, Soukara angrily and bitterly points out a crucial difference: The Bajorans at least had the hope and the dream that they could oust the Cardassians and reclaim their homeworld. By contrast, the Romulans don't have that luxury or dream, because Romulus burned with its own sun when it went nova.
  • Put on a Bus: Of the Picard main characters, Jurati, Soji, and Seven are absent from the events of the novel. Justified, as ''The Star Gazer'' will establish that Jurati and Soju are on a diplomatic goodwill tour for the Synthetics. Seven's whereabouts during this time period (and her and Raffi's burgeoning romantic relationship), likewise, were also previously covered in the Picard audio drama No Man's Land.
  • Rewatch Bonus: The twist behind the Stable Time Loop offers plenty of reread bonuses. For example, 2340 Garak's interactions with Vedek Saba Taan (and why he's able to get under Garak's skin so easily) take on a much different context knowing 'Saba' is actually 2399 Garak.
  • Set Right What Once Went Wrong: Subverted. 2399 Garak's trip back to 2340 is a chance at restitution, but it's also ultimately closing out a Stable Time Loop; it's the aftermath that plays it straight with the subversion. Even with his knowledge of the future, Garak makes no attempt to try and change history to prevent his exile, Tain's downfall, or the Dominion's Cardassian genocide. It's implied Garak's priority was protecting Caanta Valley, but with his customary pragmatism, Garak would also know trying to alter the timeline could instead backfire spectacularly for Cardassia. Given Garak's patriotism, Picard and Raffi also both remark on how much of a sacrifice it must've been for Garak to forcibly sit back and let events to come play out.
  • Stealth Sequel: Officially, Second Self is a Picard novel meant to bridge the gap between Seasons One and Two and serve as a prelude to the latter. Unofficially, it's ultimately really more of a stealth Deep Space Nine sequel, picking up on the post-Domninion War fate of the Cardassians in the new canon and revealing the ultimate fate of Elim Garak.
  • Stable Time Loop: The mystery behind Ordeve and what really happened during the Occupation is ultimately revealed to be a complicated one involving Garak.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome:
    • Despite having been vindicated about what really happened at Mars (to say nothing of exposing a Romulan infiltrator at the top level of Starfleet Intelligence), Raffi's old colleagues at Romulan Affairs are not happy or pleased about it. They endured ridicule and career damage from her conspiracy theories and that resentment's festered for over 15 years. It's implied this is one factor that ultimately convinces Raffi not to return to Intelligence and to instead accept the posting aboard Excelsior.
      • Likewise, Raffi's vindication doesn't automatically heal the rift with her son. Even now knowing his mother was utlimately right, Gabe has continued to disown her.
    • While Garak became one of the Federation's biggest advocates on post-Dominion War Cardassia, it doesn't change that he was an Obsidian Order operative once upon a time and was active during the Occupation. Once the Bajoran Government gains irrefutable proof of atrocities Garak directly committed, ally to the Federation/Bajor or not, they want his head. The post-war Cardassian government, eager to keep the peace, reluctantly but ultimately decides to extradite him (it also doesn't work as Garak, as always, is two steps ahead of everyone).
  • Trapped in the Past: A variation. 2399 Garak uses the Orb of the Restitution to travel back to 2340 to close out the Stable Time Loop. He remains behind to ensure the Ordeve children survive the massacre and most of the remainder of the Occupation. Garak ultimately dies in 2357.
  • Ungrateful Bastard: Multiple examples.
    • While the full extent of Garak's involvement in the defeat of the Dominion is likely never to be known (such as his involvement in the events of "In the Pale Moonlight"), he certainly contributed much to it. The attempt by both the Cardassians and Bajorans to prosecute him for war crimes is likely to come off as this to readers.
    • The Bureau of Romulan Affairs AKA Raffi's old colleagues are decidedly cool to her for making them look like fools in front of the rest of the Federation after the Mars Incident. The thing is that she exposed a massive Romulan conspiracy that destroyed a Federation world as well as a high-ranking infiltrator in Starfleet Intelligence. It is pettiness unbecoming Starfleet.
    • Raffi's son, Gabriel, doesn't care that his mother exposed the forces behind one of the worst terrorist attacks in Federation history and still disowns her.
  • "Well Done, Son" Guy: 2340 Garak unsurprisingly, as it's still early in his Obsidian Order career and he's thus still intent on doing his duty and pleasing Tain.
  • Write Back to the Future: In the novel's epilogue, Raffi receives a letter 2399 Garak wrote after having traveled back to the height of the Bajoran Occupation. He offers up final revelations and encouragement.
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