Review: “Star Wars: Lords Of The Sith” by Paul S. Kemp

Title: Lords Of The Sith
Author: Paul S. Kemp
Series: Star Wars (Canon)
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: Del Rey, 2015

New Star Wars! Always a pleasure. As you can probably tell from the title and cover art, this particular entry into the canon is focused on the most powerful duo in the Galaxy Far, Far Away: Emperor Palpatine (AKA Darth Sidious) and his apprentice Darth Vader. Or at least it’s supposed to be, according to the marketing people. But since it’s really hard to write a book focused entirely on the villains, they share the spotlight with the rebellious Free Ryloth Movement. Also, the particular scene on the cover doesn’t actually happen therein–no AT-ATs appear, for example, and the Emperor doesn’t use the Force openly unless he’s assured there will be no survivors to let slip his secret. Nevertheless, it’s an impressive visual, and does accurately depict more or less what you’re in for. The details are wrong, but the impression is accurate. Clear as mud? Good.

It’s been five years since the end of the Clone Wars,* since the Old Republic transitioned to the Galactic Empire, and the turmoil across the galaxy is still settling slowly. On Ryloth, the Republic’s benevolent military occupation has transitioned into a much more authoritarian and exploitative arrangement, much as partisan Cham Syndulla feared. His dream of a free Ryloth is once more a long way from reality, but that doesn’t mean he’ll stop fighting for it. So when word comes that the Emperor himself is planning to visit Ryloth along with his chief enforcer and mysterious right hand Darth Vader, it is an opportunity far too tempting for Cham and his Free Ryloth Movement to pass up. Without the Emperor and Vader, the Empire would be in turmoil, and Ryloth would have a chance to throw off the Imperial shackles it’s been forced into. Of course, to pull this off they’ll have to destroy an Imperial Star Destroyer, something that has never been done before, and even then there’s no guarantee that Vader and the Emperor would be taken out in the destruction. This is going to take all the resources the movement has managed to gather over the years, and even that may not be enough. Can they afford to take the shot? More importantly, can they afford not to?

As you can probably expect, I loved the book. It does have a few difficulties, though. From the title and cover, you’d expect more Vader/Palpatine focus than there actually is. Instead, while they are heavily featured, most of the novel is devoted to the heroes of the Free Ryloth Movement. You might remember them from one of the arcs of the Clone Wars television series, or because Cham Syndulla is the father of Hera Syndulla from the show Star Wars: Rebels and the novel A New Dawn. Newcomers won’t have that connection, but I think matters are adequately explained so they won’t feel lost. The book does an excellent job of getting inside Vader’s head and showing his damaged psyche, exploring how he has rationalized his past to justify his betrayal of all he held dear, every friend he ever knew. Unfortunately, we don’t get that same insight into the Emperor like I was hoping. Oh well. The other difficulty is that the ending is pretty proscribed. This is set before the original films, so Vader and the Emperor are going to emerge pretty much unscathed. There’s nothing anyone can do about that. Which means that the book really has to get you invested in the secondary characters to keep you engaged. For my money, Mr. Kemp succeeded in that, but I’ve seen some other reviewers who felt differently.

As for how this fits in with other works in the Star Wars universe, as part of the newly-rebooted official canon it’s undergone strenuous continuity checks to make sure it aligns with the rest of the works sharing that status. It ties in explicitly to The Clone Wars series, and I’m assuming the yet-unwatched Rebels series as well.** It does, however, depart significantly from previously-established Legends material. The Legends depiction of Ryloth was thrown out a couple years ago, with the planet’s appearance on The Clone Wars, and this is consistent with that, unsurprisingly. More notable is the change to the Empire’s attitude towards women. In the Legends canon, the Empire was fiercely sexist. Admiral Daala, despite her fierce ambition and competency, only got her position because she was Tarkin’s mistress. In contrast, Lords of the Sith gives us Delian Mors, a female Moff who isn’t even particularly competent. Maybe the Empire gets more sexist later, or maybe they’re discarding that element of the previous continuity. We’ll see. Mors also has the distinction of being the first homosexual character in the Star Wars universe, though that fact has almost no significance to the story.

CONTENT: Mild profanity. This is Star Wars, so they keep it tame. Strong violence, occasionally gory or disturbing. Some sexual innuendo, but nothing too explicit. There’s the implication that a character was a sex slave before escaping to the resistance, and we meet another character still in that situation.

*The opening crawl states that it’s set “Eight years after the Clone Wars ravaged the galaxy,” which would imply eight years after Revenge of the Sith, but an interview with the publisher made clear that this was referring to the start of the war, or Attack of the Clones. This makes little sense, either grammatically or thematically, so I’m racking it up to aftereffects of a change made late in the production of the novel. Maybe I’m wrong though, who knows….

**Since I don’t have cable, I’m waiting for the home release to catch up on that.

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Review: “The Rose Of The West ” by Mark Bondurant

Title: The Rose Of The West
Author: Mark Bondurant
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: Bongo Books, 2014

You’ve gotta love a good steampunk western, and Mark Bondurant’s debut novel certainly delivers. The pace is a bit leisurely in the first half, and a couple artifacts from previous versions of the story occasionally pop up, but on the whole I really enjoyed this one. I received my copy in exchange for an honest review through the Goodreads FirstReads program.

Deke Hayden is product of the American West, raised among the Paiutes and fighting by their side against Mexico and their allies after his parents were killed. Now he’s seventeen and on a mission to see the big cities of the East. Kay Mapleton is a girl alone in the world, her family having died off one by one. She’s not hurting for money, as her grandmother’s estate proved quite substantial, but a seventeen-year-old girl cannot live alone and living with her aunt’s family holds no appeal. Instead, she sets out west to find her father, disappeared ten years previous. It would of course be smarter for both of our young protagonists to wait for the Great War between the North and the South to end before setting out, but youth should be allowed some measure of foolishness….

Like I said, I really enjoyed the book. Steampunk is a genre I’ve not explored nearly as much as I’d like, but I’ve been a fan so far. The characters were likeable enough, and I found myself caught up in their adventures despite there being very little mystery as to how things would turn out after the spoiler-ridden introduction. The plot is leisurely, definitely more focused on the journey than the destination, but that’s okay sometimes–I certainly think the book would suffer from any attempt to shorten it or make it conform to the traditional “three act” structure. I will admit that there a few flaws, though, despite my enjoyment.

Now, I love a good alternate history–it’s one of my favorite genres, in fact–but it involves walking a tightrope between changing things enough to warrant the effort and keeping things recognizable. Additionally, you have to identify the inciting incident for the change and tell us what happened to set history onto a different path. This is one of the few places the author suffers a misstep. In the world that’s presented here, the Civil War was somehow delayed until the late 1880s/early 1890s. We aren’t told why, but its easy to rationalize that it had something to do with the increase in steam-driven technology. What’s more difficult to rationalize away is the fact that despite this delay the Presidents of the warring factions are still Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis. Delaying the Civil War by almost thirty years should make both men too old to fill their historical roles when it finally goes down, or at least force some sort of change, but when he appears in the book Lincoln acts like his normal self (inasmuch as a dead historical character I’ve only read about can “act like his normal self). In my humble opinion, it would have been better to adjust the birth of steam technology backwards than to adjust the war forwards–had there been no mention of the date, that’s the assumption I would have made. The only other quibble I have is that there are a few artifacts from a previous version of the story–namely, references to the characters’ future exploits that then have no place in the future described by the coda. Details below, involving mild spoilers.* Again, a minor quibble and easy to ignore if you aren’t paying close attention, but it bugged me a bit.

CONTENT: Mild profanity, not widespread. Some strong violence and the implication of torture. No explicit sexual content, but plenty of low-detail implied sexual material including the rape and attempted murder of a character along with numerous references to prostitution and related activities.

*Specifically, there are numerous references to the “Hayden Gang,” and at one point it is stated that “It was the first flight of the Hayden Gang from the law, a foreshadow of their trials in the long years to come.” Except that the coda describes their future as legal and aboveboard mine owners, growing rich and having kids.

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Review: “The Circuit: Executor Rising” by Rhett C. Bruno

Title: Executor Rising
Author: Rhett C. Bruno
Series: The Circuit #1
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: Diversion Books, 2015

(EDIT: The book has been given another proof-reading and re-released by a different publisher, so the author asked me to update the information found here. I’ve not seen the new version, but I’m told that the only difference is that it’s been proofread once again to catch those pesky typographical errors that seem to always slip past even the best of us.)

Reading works from debut authors can be a game of Russian Roulette, especially if the book has been self-published (This book is not, in fact, self-published, but I thought it was for some reason.) You sometimes find a gem, and other times you wind up beating your head against the wall wishing you’d never won that giveaway. This time, I’m pleased to say, I found something quite enjoyable. Unlike most of the relatively-unknown books and authors I’ve featured in these reviews, I didn’t actually seek this one out. Mr. Bruno was apparently trolling Goodreads reviews, found the one I did of Ancillary Justice, and figured I’d be a good candidate to review his own book. He was incredibly courteous, and of course I cannot speak highly enough of anyone who gives me free books, but beyond that the book was actually very enjoyable. Not perfect, there are some minor quibbles to be hashed out, but very enjoyable nevertheless.

It’s been five hundred years since the Earth was rendered uninhabitable, but humanity remains unbowed. We’ve spread throughout the solar system, scrounging and scraping a meager living wherever we can aided by the Kepler Circuit, a series of space stations set up by the Ancients of Earth before the planet burned. The stations of the Circuit are linked by the Solar Arks, traveling at nearly the speed of light from world to world distributing supplies and resources without bias. Most of the solar system is controlled by the New Earth Tribunal, a fanatically religious sect forged around the idea that the Ancients ruined the Earth with their technological and scientific hunger for knowledge that was not theirs to attain. They believe that all humans are linked together into a New-Agey collective spirit that remains tied to the Earth, and that someday the Earth will heal itself and we will be able to return home if we prove ourselves worthy. This has not, of course, stopped them from continuing to mine the Gravitum from the core of the Earth, allowing for humanity’s continued existence away from our home planet. Cassius Vale is an ex-Tribune, exiled to his home on the moon of Titan for heresy until the Tribunal is forced to ask for his help dealing with a string of attacks on their transports. Little do they realize that Vale himself is responsible for the attacks, or that these hijackings are only just the beginnings of his plan to bring down the Tribunal he has come to hate. ADIM is an android built in secret by Vale to further his plans. The Tribunal has outlawed all robotics research, declaring such artificial life to be abominations that have no place in helping us reclaim the Earth, even waging a genocidal war to wipe out as many of them as possible. ADIM is wholly devoted to his creator, and for his part Vale sees ADIM as a surrogate son. Together, they may very well bring down civilization as the Tribunal has shaped it for centuries. Sage Volus is an Executor for the Tribunal, operating behind the scenes to find and destroy their enemies wherever they hide. Her latest mission takes her to Ceres Prime, the asteroid colony that constitutes the largest threat to Tribunal domination of the entirety of the solar system. Talon Rayne is a Ceresian miner, formerly a general and bodyguard for one of the clan leaders who dominate the colony before a failed assassination attempt left him slowly dying and obsessed with providing  a better life for his daughter before he succumbs. These four characters are on a collision course with one another, and when the dust finally settles fate only knows who will be left standing.

Like I said, I really enjoyed this. It was really a great story, especially for a debut work. The prose was simple but cinematic, and you could “see” everything that happened very vividly. I understand the author is currently studying screenwriting, so the visual focus may have something to do with that. The characters were well-formed and complex, not the two-dimensional cardboard cutouts that populate the horde of mediocre fiction the age of internet publishing has unleashed upon us. There were minor issues of grammar, punctuation, and word choice, but much less than I’ve seen in other Indie works. (“He was a shadow of his formal self” vs. “former self,” things like that.)

I did have two character-related complaints; one a matter of taste and one I think is more a case of semi-universally accepted practice. I’ll start with this latter one: Cassius Vale is too perfect. He’s an interesting character, don’t get me wrong–I was fascinated by his character, sympathized with him, even occasionally found myself rooting for him despite my misgivings with his work (I’ll address that in a minute), but he really had little standing in his way. No, that’s not it exactly. He had all kinds of things standing in his way, a whole slew of obstacles to overcome before he can unleash his plan to bring down the tribune…and every single domino falls just the way he plans it. Every single thing that happens is according to his design, or at least easily dealt with. He’s got an incredibly complex scheme running here, and not a single wrench gets thrown into it. Maybe this isn’t as much a problem as I think it is; it certainly didn’t significantly detract from my enjoyment of the story, but I would have preferred to see him have to adapt on the fly to changing conditions in order to achieve his goals. A more minor complaint, more a matter of taste, is that while I enjoyed all of the POV characters found here, I found most of them very hard to root for. Cassius Vale is a snarky antihero with a tragedy in his past, and I think I’ve adequately demonstrated my weakness for those characters, but he’s ruthlessly pursuing a vendetta that cost countless innocent lives. ADIM is awesome, but working towards the same ends as Vale. Sage Volus is a kickass secret agent, again with a tragedy smouldering in her past, but she’s completely drank the Tribunal’s Kool-Aid and believes their crap wholeheartedly.* I like these characters, but I don’t necessarily want theirs goals to be achieved. The only character I can root for without reservation is Talon Rayne, and even there I have to wonder what use his bosses have for the Gravitum shipment they’re forcing him to hijack. But who knows, other readers may see this same issue as one of the strengths of the book–heaven knows that it can’t be easy to write a character you like even if you don’t want him to win.

The world Bruno has created here is incredibly complex, and I believe he at least is very familiar with its ins and outs. I could have used a little more information at times though. I had serious questions about a number of things as I read. Most of those were eventually answered, but having that happen sooner would have been nice. I would have been significantly more confused than I was if it weren’t for the book’s blurb that set the scene. That said, Bruno did manage to almost completely avoid that dreaded practice of “infodumping.” For some, that’s a cardinal sin. I don’t believe so myself, if it’s done well and manages to be engaging, but enough people have embraced that doctrine that a writer must think twice before employing it. Thankfully, he also managed to avoid the rookie mistake that many a writer has fallen prey to in their efforts to avoid this dreaded practice: characters telling each other things they should already know in an effort to inform the reader. “As you know, Bob, if Doctor Neffario manages to get his hands on the MacGuffin device he’ll end life on the planet Damsellus!” I would have liked to have been told what exactly happened to leave the Earth a barren cinder–it’s somewhat implied that it was a result of mining the core for Gravitum, but if that were the case I think the Tribunal would stop the mining as part of their efforts to make the Earth habitable again. Unless that’s just rhetoric to keep the unwashed masses in line, of course.

Some of the science is wonky, or at least under-explained–you can break the rules of physics, but you should acknowledge doing it and offer some explanation. Some examples: the ease of communication between Vale and ADIM, even across vast distances. Elsewhere in the book it is implied that distance affects the ease and clarity of communication, but ADIM has a communicator with seemingly infinite range built into his head? Seems like that device should be pretty big, if it’s possible at all in this universe. Or maybe not, it just seemed a little inconsistent to me is all. Then there’s the Circuit itself. Everything is described as if it stays stationary relative to each other, but all of those planets are orbiting the sun at different speeds. I assumed the Circuit was a teleportation network like the Stargates in that universe, but it’s revealed towards the end that instead they are space stations that allow the Solar Arks to pick up and drop off people and cargo without ever slowing down from their near-light speed. The routes of those Solar Arks take must be convoluted as all get out and subject to some killer calculations. Again, not insurmountable, but some acknowledgement of the issue and a throwaway line about how it works would be nice.

CONTENT: R-rated language, pervasive but not gratuitous. Some brutal violence. Some fairly strong sexual innuendo, but I don’t recall it becoming very explicit.

*Do I detect the mold of Mara Jade in this character? Methinks I do! That’s okay, if you have to imitate somebody, Timothy Zahn is one of the greats. There are other loans from Star Wars, such as the name Talon (not-Karrde) or the Hands and Executors (though their roles are modified/flipped.)

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Mini-Review: “Star Wars–The Last Battle Of Colonel Jace Malcom” by Alexander Freed

Title: The Last Battle Of Colonel Jace Malcom
Author: Alexander Freed
Artist: David Rabbitte
Series: Star Wars (Legends canon)
Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: Titan Magazines, 2012

Once again, I offer up an exclusive short story from the pages of Star Wars Insider magazine! This time, Alexander Freed gives us a tale from the era of the MMORPG Star Wars: The Old Republic featuring the seriously-badass Col. Jace Malcom. You don’t know Col. Malcom? You might have met him without realizing it, if you watched any of the cinematic trailers for the game. If not, that’s okay, I’ll introduce you. So far as I know, the only place to find this tale is in the pages of Star Wars Insider issue #137, so you may have some trouble finding it, but its worth the trouble if you have any interest.

Okay, background. Like the game it’s tied to, this story is set about three and a half millenia before the films we grew up on, in an age when the Old Republic is locked in an eternal struggle with the resurgent Sith Empire for dominance in the Galaxy Far, Far Away. Interestingly, the design aesthetics of the Sith Empire are the same as those favored by Palpatine’s New Order, reinforcing once again his political mastery–he managed to turn the Old Republic into the Sith Empire, complete with their imagery. Now, either this is intentional and the citizens of the GFFA are complete dunces who are ignorant of their history (unlikely, since this is a millenia-long intermittent conflict that would be a gold mine as a setting for entertainment holos) or the designers on The Old Republic are really lazy. I could give you the whole historical basis for the conflict, but you don’t really need it to enjoy the story. Bottom line: the Old Republic is locked in battle with the Sith Empire across the galaxy, and ‘ a stalemate. Oh, and Col. Malcom? He’s a hardened soldier fighting for the Republic. Again, I could give you his history, but I think this gives you all the information you need….

That’s right, this is a guy badass enough to attack a full-blown Sith Lord with a knife. Not a lightsaber-based knife–a regular steel knife. Not somebody I want to mess with….

The mission is simple, yet vital–destroy an Imperial airfield in preparation for a renewed Republic offensive on the barren world of Kalandis VII. Col. Malcom and his Spec-Force troops have done it a hundred times on a hundred planets….but this time it’s different. This time, it’s the last battle of Col. Malcom’s personal war against the Empire. And he’d like to go out with a bang….

The story was fun, and stands on its own fairly well. The galactic political and strategic situation aren’t that important to understanding what’s going on, because this is war on the smallest scale possible–we go here, and blow this up. We do our job, everyone else does theirs, and the Sith Empire gets a bloody nose. I’d seen Malcom in action in the cinematic trailers, though I didn’t know his name at the time. (He also appears in the Return trailer, here) He’s a fascinating character, and I look forward to finding out more about him as I read and play more of the media set in this era.

The Old Republic is the sole remaining producer of Legends-grade canon material, with everything else switching over to the newer official canon. This tale falls squarely in the former category, set three thousand six hundred and forty-one years before the events of Star Wars: Episode IV–A New Hope. That’s 3,641 BBY, for my fellow Star Wars geeks. For more Malcom, check out the trailers I linked, the novel The Old Republic: Annihilation, and of course, the game itself.

CONTENT: I don’t recall any profanity, but any that appears would be minor. Some violence. No sexual content.

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Mini-Review: “Star Wars–Heist” by Timothy Zahn

Title: Heist
Author: Timothy Zahn
Artist: Brian Rood
Series: Star Wars (Legends canon)
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: Titan Magazines, 2012

Here’s another exclusive short story from the pages of Star Wars Insider magazine! This time, Timothy Zahn serves up a short tale introducing the twin con artists Bink and Tavia from his novel Scoundrels and novella Winner Lose All. So far as I know, the only place to find this tale is in the pages of Star Wars Insider issue #138, so if you decide to try and track it down I wish you luck getting your hands on it.

Everyone knows you don’t pull a heist on board a starliner–there’s a limited pool of suspects, and nowhere to run with the loot. It’s foolish, and incredibly risky. Unless, of course, your mark doesn’t realize he’s been robbed….

All in all, not a bad tale. Bink and Tavia are interesting characters, unsurprisingly since they’re Zahn creations, and Bink manages to keep a sense of humor to her internal dialogue that’s always welcome. The plot is a little elementary, as the magazine format doesn’t really allow for the convoluted plots that Zahn is known for, but solid nevertheless. Unless you’re familiar with the characters from the aforementioned tales, though, I can’t really see this holding a whole lot of interest for a newcomer to the franchise.

Like the previous stories it’s tied to, this story is part of the now-defunct Legends canon, set sometime in the couple years leading up to the destruction of the Death Star. The specific date is never given, though the Wookieepedia biographies of the characters place these events prior to either of the other two tales. Scoundrels was set soon after the events of A New Hope, so in the interest of spacing things out I placed Winner Lose All a year before that. Continuing that strategy, in the absence of other information I’m gonna say this is probably set about two years before the Battle of Yavin (BBY, for my fellow geeks).

CONTENT: No profanity or violence. Minor sexual innuendo and flirting.

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Review: “Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Angel–The Hollower” by Christopher Golden & Hector Gomez

Title: Angel: The Hollower
Writer: Christopher Golden
Artist: Hector Gomez
Series: Buffy The Vampire Slayer (Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Angel miniseries)
Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: Dark Horse Comics, 2000

And so we come to Angel: The Hollower, Dark Horse’s first tale focused specially on everyone’s favorite vampire-with-a-soul. The Hollower was originally published as a three-issue miniseries, available either in its own collection or in Buffy The Vampire Slayer Omnibus Volume IV.

According the the mythology of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the process of conversion involves a person’s soul being banished from their body and replaced with a demon. The resulting creature retains the memories and some of the emotions of that person, but without any of the pity or morality that comes with having a soul–the original person you may have known is dead and gone, and the vampire left in their place would just love to eat your face. The demon is the only thing keeping the vampire’s dead body alive and moving, and were it to be destroyed or banished somehow the body would disappear in a cloud of dust just as effectively as if a certain spunky Slayer had rammed Mr. Pointy through their non-functioning heart.

Angel, however, is a special case. After becoming a vampire he cut a swath of destruction and cruelty across the world, taking a perverse joy in torturing his victims to their limits before feeding on them or turning them into vampires themselves. All that ended when a clan of gypsies laid a cruel curse on him in vengeance for his preying on one of their own–Angel’s human soul was returned to his body, existing alongside the demon in a constant struggle for control. Even more torturous, his conscience was returned along with his soul. For the past hundred years Angel has lived a solitary existence, attempting to atone for all the pain he has caused while never allowing himself a moment of perfect happiness lest the curse rear its ugly head once again and return him  to the soulless killer he once was….

As it turns out, besides the Slayer, vampires have only one natural predator: the Hollower, a tentacle beast that exists by sucking the demons from vampires and leaving their empty bodies to disappear in a puff of dust. Sounds like a potential ally, right? Guess again. Once it has ingested enough vampires, it spews forth those captive demons once again to inhabit whatever bodies they can find, forming an army of enslaved newly-turned vampires. Angel fought the thing once before, back before he was re-ensouled, and merely managed to chase it away to feed somewhere else. Now its shown up in Sunnydale, and Angel is forced to face the possibility that this could be his final redemption, his way to escape the demon forever….unless he plays the hero and kills it before it can possess the entire town, of course.

On the whole, this was an interesting tale. There were a few inconsistencies, such as Angel stating that he thought the Hollower destroyed forever, then in the flashback detailing their earlier encounter stating that it was only injured and would someday return, but oh well. Otherwise I enjoyed it, and I’m always happy to see Spike and Dru make an appearance. The good news is that Hector Gomez’s art was stellar this time around, from Buffy to Angel’s Errol Flynn ‘stache he sports in the flashbacks, everyone was definitely themselves. The dialogue was always spot-on, and I thought Golden and Gomez even managed to nail a number of the characters’ particular mannerisms. Timeline-wise, this is set soon after the sprawling Bad Blood arc (detailed here, here, and here), or in other words somewhere in the middle of Buffy‘s third season.

CONTENT: Mild profanity. No real sexual content, but some flirting and innuendo as well as a couple instances of scantily-clad females. Violence consistent with the Buffy television show, both vampiric and otherwise. Occult-wise, these are Buffyverse vampires. I leave it to you to decide whether that counts.

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Review: “Star Wars: Heir To The Jedi” by Kevin Hearne

Title: Heir To The Jedi
Author: Kevin Hearne
Series: Star Wars (Rebooted canon, though it would fit equally well with the Legends stuff)
Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: Del Rey, 2015

Who’s up for more adventures in that Galaxy Far, Far Away? I know I always am! Heir To The Jedi has the honor of being the first novel in the newly rebooted canon to feature one of the “main three” characters from the films, as Tarkin was focused on that stellar baddie and A New Dawn was busy setting up the Star Wars: Rebels television series. The funny thing is, this still fits perfectly well with the older canon, which isn’t surprising since it was ordered before the cut. In fact, it was originally supposed to close out the Empire And Rebellion so-called trilogy, now a duology with the omission of this volume. The series isn’t really hurt by this though–the stories bore no relation to each other, and were a trilogy only by virtue of theme: first-person narratives, each focusing on one of the “big three” characters. As far as I’m concerned, this can “count” for both universes, both the official one overseen by the Lucasfilm Story Group and the more tumultuous “Legends” canon that came before.

The Death Star has been destroyed, but the Empire lives on. Though they’ve bloodied the Empire’s nose, the Rebel Alliance finds itself in an extremely tenuous situation, on the run and strapped for cash. The Empire has them outnumbered and outgunned in nearly every way, leaving the Alliance desperate for any advantage they can muster. So when word comes that a brilliant cryptographer under Imperial “protection” would like to defect, they have little room to refuse. Luke hasn’t had much time to train with the Force–in fact, without Ben around to train him, he has absolutely no idea what he’s doing–but he’s still one of the best pilots in the Rebellion. Alongside Nakari Kelen, newly-recruited Rebel and a crack shot with her slugthrower, Luke is dispatched to an alien world to stage a rescue under the very nose of the Empire….

There are a lot of terms I could use to describe this particular adventure, but I think the best one to pick would be “fun.” Remember the sense of unadulterated adventure you felt watching the original films for the first time? That’s what you get with this book, minus the whining Luke does through most of the first movie. That callow youth who yearned for something, anything to take him away from the sun-scorched sands of Tatooine is gone, sobered by the loss of friends both new and old. In his place stands an awkward young man just beginning to understand his place in the galaxy, conscious of his connection to the mystical Force but unsure how to proceed with learning to tap into it. No longer the boy he was, not yet the man he will become, this is Luke Skywalker at a crossroads, and anything can happen next….Or, you know, not. Because while this is all new territory, it was conceived before the reboot came down. Even leaving that aside, we know what the status quo is at the beginning of Empire. The game isn’t going to be changed by this book. But that’s okay. There are still things to be learned here. We can watch Luke take his first solo steps towards realizing his fate as a Jedi, cringe at his awkwardness with the entire field of romance, and cry with him when that romance proves doomed.* For the first time, we can really get inside Luke’s head as he narrates the entire adventure in the first-person POV. And who knew? His internal dialogue is remarkably entertaining! Bottom line, this is Star Wars at its best, as you remember it. I heartily recommend picking this one up.

As for when this happens, the closest I can nail it down is “shortly after” Star Wars IV: A New Hope. I’d say at least a couple months later, probably not more than a year. It’s pretty vague.

CONTENT: Mild profanity, mostly fictional. I don’t actually recall any whatsoever, but there’s usually a little bit. Some violence, usually not too disturbing. Some flirting, but no real sexual content.

*That’s not a spoiler–Luke is single at the beginning of Empire, so any romance set before that is doomed….

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