The USS Enterprise gets a distress signal and diverts from it's current mission of delivering a group known as the Farmers to their new home planet. They get to the distressed ship just in time to rescue a small number of people from the ship. Turns out that the ship was carrying Andrew Deelor, a Starfleet operative and his mysterious companion Ruthe. Deelor was on the ship to work negotiations with a reclusive species known as the Choraii. The aliens live in a loose society of traveling ships made of a bubble like structure and are willing to destroy whole civilizations for the smallest amounts of metal which is crucial to their survival. It was this need for metal that brought the Choraii to the Federations attention in the first place. They massacred every adult on an outpost known as Hamlin and all the children disappeared. Now thirty five years later they have discovered that the children were taken by the Choraii and have had children of their own and Deelor's job is to negotiate for them back. The Choraii are very difficult to negotiate with as their language is music based and they do not use visuals. Through out the negotiations the crew has to deal with the Farmers who not only eschew technology but are very vocal about being stuck on the ship. A child and an older man are traded from the Choraii ship. The young one does pretty good once they figure out how to deal with him, but the older one eventually ends up dying. When approached Ruthe says it is because he grew up in a world so different that being "rescued" was too much of a shock. With the humans rescued, the ship heads to the Farmer's new world where they discover another massacre similar to what happened at Hamlin. They also discover that the only child on the world is missing. They track down the Choraii ship responsible and Ruthe negotiates for the child. The trade turns out to be Ruthe for the child. Ruthe was a child that had been "rescued" around 11 years of age and has been secretly searching for what she considers her home ship ever since. There is much discussion about the ethics, morals and rules when it comes to this complicated situation, but in the end everybody has to move on.
I have always enjoyed this book, ever since I started reading them at the age of 10. I think I liked this one so much because it featured children and Dr. Crusher, two of my favorite things at the time. I still enjoy it for it's portrayal of such an alien species, culture and environment and how one has to think a different way when dealing with them. There is all the things that make Star Trek...well Star Trek in this book and as a huge fan I love it! The allusion to the story Pied Piper of Hamelin with the children being taken, the music being how the aliens communicate (Ruthe uses a pipe to "talk" with them) and the children's reluctance to leave the Choraii environment is very well done without being to extremely blatant. The writing is pretty good, it flows nicely and switches between characters very smoothly. There is not too much character introspection, and the author did not try and read too much into very established characters. This book gave me the perfect combination of familiarity with my beloved Enterprise and loved characters and a bit of the exotic and alien with the absolutely strange and wonderful Choraii. This is why I love SciFi, this is why I love rereading old favorites and this is why I love Star Trek. Over all a solid entry into a wide and varied series. I give it 7 out of 10 grapes and recommend it to anybody who loves this show/series as much as I do.