This follows the events laid out in the ENT duology The Romulan War by Michael A. Martin. I was severely disappointed with those books and was wondering if Bennett would be able to improve on a series I think has slid downhill since the series finale. While ACOF isn't earth-shattering, it restores my faith that perhaps the ENT line can be saved.
The story takes place after the Romulan War and many of the ENT regulars have moved up in the chain of command and moved away from their friends. Archer is now an admiral and the Enterprise is a museum exhibit. T'Pol and Reed have their own commands and the rest of the crew has taken posts on these new ships. All except Trip, who is still working for Section 31. His story has been the heart of the post-finale ENT books. Since the books rewrite the episode These Are The Voyages... and establish that Trip faked his death in order to go undercover in the Romulan Empire, the character has moved from a lovable Texan to a man dealing with having a dark and shadowy job. He wants to help the Federation but isn't sure what the cost to himself will be.
The main focus, as befitting the title Rise Of The Federation, is the difficulties the young interstellar faces. A threat from the Orions is forcing the Federation to chose what kind of entity it will be: aggressive or peaceful. While we know the answer, this is virtually an unexplored era of Trek history and it will be interesting to see the details that will make the Federation into what it eventually becomes in TOS and TNG.
The book is less scientific than Bennett's other works, focusing instead on politics and intrigue. I really enjoyed this book and I'm looking forward to more from this mini-series. I'm hoping the editors have learned from their mistake on The Romulan War, in which a pivotal era in Trek lore, mainly the war with the Romulans, was an eight year event that got shoved into two books. Bennett's book takes place over seven months but he handled it well and it didn't feel like major issues or events were handled "off-page." This book is definitely a build-up and since Bennett is writing the sequel, I expect this storyline to be handled much more fluidly. He has a good handle on the characters and we can see that the characters have matured somewhat from their last on-screen appearances. If Bennett's new novels keep up their good direction, the series can regain its footing.