Tag Archives: thriller

Review: “Star Wars–Battlefront: Twilight Company” by Alexander Freed

Title: Battlefront: Twilight Company
Author: Alexander Freed
Series: Star Wars (Official Canon)Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: Del Rey, 2015

Not going to lie, I am insanely excited for the new Battlefront game. Nevertheless, video game tie-ins are always a touchy proposition. For every Halo: The Fall Of Reach there are a dozen that don’t work nearly as well. This one? This one manages to be not only a great tie-in, not only a great Star Wars novel, but a surprisingly solid military novel in general.

In a galaxy torn by war, few have seen more death and destruction than the troops of Twilight Company. Every time there’s a dirty, dangerous job to do, it seems Twilight draws the short straw. Twilight has its fair share of ideologues, same as any unit in the Rebellion, but that’s not Sergeant Hazram Namir. Namir doesn’t fight because he believes in the Rebellion, he’s not even sure he believes the Rebellion is fundamentally different from the Empire. Namir joined Twilight because fighting was all he’d ever known, and the Rebellion was as good a cause as any. Now he fights for his brothers in arms, his adopted family. Lately, however, Namir can’t shake the feeling that Twilight deserves better than he can give it….

This is not your average Star Wars novel. Instead of mythic heroes waving lightsabers in the face of capital-E Evil, Alexander Freed offers up a tale of ordinary men and women wrestling with that age-old question that eventually occurs to every soldier: just what is worth fighting—and dying—for? The result is a remarkably mature and nuanced entry into a franchise more often known for stark moral divides. The bodycount is high, which on the one hand accurately reflects the game it’s hyping, but on the other hand is odd for a Star Wars novel. Like I said, though, this is far from a typical Star Wars novel. This is a gritty, bloodstained war story that has more in common with Saving Private Ryan than it does the mythic tones of most Star Wars stories. At the same time, though, this is still pure Star Wars. It’s just that here we take the spotlight off of the more mythic characters and focus on the ordinary men, women and aliens living and dying around them in the background. If you’re after a light, cheerful read in which Good triumphs over Evil with only minor setbacks, you should look elsewhere. Bottom line: If you’re more interested in an examination of the cost of war on those who fight and die in the mud, then this is well worth the cost of admission.

CONTENT: Strong violence, occasionally gruesome, and with a massive bodycount that includes a not insignificant number of the named protagonists. Mild profanity. Mild sexual innuendo.

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Review: “Star Wars–Jedi Council: Acts Of War” by Randy Stradley & Davide Fabbri

Title: Jedi Council: Acts Of War
Writer: Randy Stradley
Artist: Davide Fabbri
Series: Star Wars: Jedi Council #1-4 (Legends Canon)
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: Dark Horse Comics, 2001

Shifting gears a bit, this time out we’re visiting a setting a little closer to the events of the films. The Dark Horse Comics miniseries Jedi Council: Acts Of War takes place only a year before the events of Star Wars–Episode I: The Phantom Menace (that’s 33 BBY, if you’re keeping track). This story was published as a standalone collection, and reprinted in Star Wars Omnibus: Rise Of The Sith.

Before the galaxy was engulfed in the Clone Wars, transforming the Jedi into generals, they served to keep peace across the galaxy-spanning Republic. One such threat comes in the form of the Yinchorri, a warlike species newly accepted into galactic society. When the Yinchorri begin trying to carve out a small empire for themselves among the stars, Jedi Master Mace Windu dispatched a pair of Jedi to manage the crisis. Their mutilated bodies were soon delivered to the office of Chancellor Valorum. Now the Council must mount a full-scale expedition to end this threat to peace in the galaxy, as well as seeking to uncover just who is pulling the strings of the Yinchorri….

This was a well-executed story. It can be somewhat difficult to keep an appropriate degree of tension in stories featuring characters you know will survive based on later appearances (Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan, Mace, Adi, etc.), but the large cast keeps this from being an issue. Each of the characters here is well developed, and some of the new characters introduced in this miniseries would go on to become fan favorites across the franchise. The art is also of high quality, serving the story well. Is the story essential? Not particularly. It’s the first appearance of K’kruhk, though, and Randy Stradley enjoys returning to the character of Micah Giett on occasion in the pages of Tales. Plus, it’s always fun watching Palpatine’s labyrinthine plots to pave the way for his eventual rise….

CONTENT: Moderate violence, occasionally a bit gruesome. No profanity. No sexual content.

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Review: “Windswept” by Adam Rakunas

Title: Windswept
Author: Adam Rakunas
Series: Windswept #1
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: Angry Robot, 2015

In the distant future, everything runs on molasses, rendering sugar cane the lifeblood of human civilization. Corporate interests control the starways, staffed by an indentured workforce, while the Union takes every opportunity to convince said workforce to breach their contracts and jump ship. Out at the edge of settled space, Union recruiter Padma Mehta is particularly eager to add new Breaches to her headcount—thirty-three more recruits and she’ll get a bonus that will allow her to buy her favorite rum refinery and retire. Of course, it’s never that easy. Santee is a backwater, barely kept afloat by the supply of molasses sent up the elevator, so when Padma catches wind of forty potential Breaches she jumps at the opportunity…right out of the frying pan and into the fire. Now she’s dodging corporate hit squads, running from the police, and wading through sewage in an attempt to save the planet from a crop-killing plague…and the corporate response that would doom every soul on Santee to a fiery death.

Windswept is definitely a roller coaster of a novel, with a breakneck pace that refuses to slow down and let you think. This serves the novel well, especially as it helps gloss over the odd plot hole or uncharacteristically foolish action a given character might take in service to the plot. (Notably, a character picks up a fallen enemy’s gun, removes the magazine and pockets it, then throws the gun itself away. Why? Because the upcoming fight scene wouldn’t be as interesting if she were armed, but that magazine is going to be essential to solving a problem in the near future…The character does at least have the grace to question why she discarded the pistol, chalking it up to sleep deprivation clouding her judgement. There’s also a jarring moment where a character announces that she’s got to be at work in fifteen minutes, then a page later reflects on the fact that she’s going to be able to kick back and relax the rest of the night.) There’s not a lot of such gloss needed, but then it may have worked and I missed some examples. On the whole, though, the book was a very fun thrill ride through a future that looks like no other I’ve ever seen. A worthy debut, and I shall watch for future works from Mr. Rakunas.

CONTENT: R-rated profanity, prevalent but not gratuitous. Strong violence. Moderately explicit sexual content.

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Review: “Star Wars–Dawn Of The Jedi Vol. III: Force War” by John Ostrander & Jan Duursema

Title: Force War
Story & Script: John Ostrander
Story & Art: Jan Duursema
Series: Star Wars: Dawn Of The Jedi Volume III (Issues #11-15)
Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: Dark Horse Comics, 2014

Here we go again, diving one last time into the ancient history of the Star Wars universe. Obviously, this will contain spoilers for the previous volumes of the series, Force Storm and Prisoner Of Bogan.

Jumping forward a year from where we left our heroes, we find the Tython system embroiled in  full-scale war. The Rakata have arrived in force, capturing several of the outlying planets before being turned back by the combined forces of the Je’daii and the other Tythans under the command of Daegan Lok. Wielding Forcesabers modeled on that carried by former Force Hound Xesh, the Je’daii walk a fine line in the Force, drawing increasingly on the Dark Side to power their weapons and carry them through battle unscathed. Despite the endless battles facing him and his friends, Xesh is finding himself increasingly in balance as he learns to touch the Light Side of the Force as well as the Dark, helped in no small measure by his growing relationship with Shae Koda. Fighting together the Tythans have managed to stymie the Rakatan advance, but at heavy cost. What they don’t know, however, is that the Rakata want far more than just Tython. They want the Infinity Gate buried beneath it, an ancient piece of tech that would unlock any and every world in the galaxy for conquest….

As with the previous entries, I absolutely loved this one. The one-year jump forward glossed over a number of events that I would have enjoyed getting to see, but given the timing of the license shifting to Marvel, I suspect that this was the only way to get to the conclusion Ostrander & Duursema envisioned before running out of time. I’d love to have a lot more of this series, obviously, but given that events didn’t allow that to happen, this was an incredible conclusion to the series. I would enjoy seeing how the Je’daii evolve into the order we see at the start of the Tales Of The Jedi comics, but that is naught but a pipe dream now that all the relevant media has been relegated to Legends status.

CONTENT: Some violence. Mildly explicit sexual content. Mild to no profanity.

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Review: “Star Wars–Rebels: Kallus’ Hunt” by Martin Fisher & Bob Molesworth

Title: Kallus’ Hunt
Writer: Martin Fisher
Artist: Bob Molesworth
Series: Star Wars: Rebels
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: Egmont UK Ltd., 2015

Once again, here’s a short comic from the Star Wars Rebels magazine! This time we focus on Imperial Security Bureau agent Kallus. As with previous comics, this was originally published in Germany before being translated and published in the UK in Star Wars Rebels Magazine #4. I believe it’s slated for stateside publication, but I’ve no confirmation of that yet.

It’s not often we get to root for Agent Kallus, but this story offers you that opportunity and allows a deeper insight into his character. He’s still a cruel and prejudiced officer, still the man that oversaw the extermination of the Lasat, but here we see he’s also a true believer in the Empire as a force for order in a chaotic galaxy. There are Imperial officers who are corrupt and out for their own personal gain, but Kallus will do whatever is necessary to bring such men to Imperial justice.

I liked this one. It’s always a pleasure to see the Galaxy Far, Far Away become more nuanced, to get to root for the villains against even worse baddies on occasion. There’s not necessarily a lot here, but what there is suggests a rich history for all characters involved–one I hope we get to explore some other time. As usual, Fisher writes the characters spot-on so that you can almost hear their voices in your head, and Molesworth’s art is better than could realistically be expected from such a publication.

CONTENT: Mild violence. No profanity. No sexual content.

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Review: “Star Wars–Dawn Of The Jedi Vol. II: Prisoner Of Bogan” by John Ostrander & Jan Duursema

Title: Prisoner Of Bogan
Story & Script: John Ostrander
Story & Art: Jan Duursema
Series: Star Wars: Dawn Of The Jedi Volume II (Issues #6-10)
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: Dark Horse Comics, 2013

Continuing my project to work through the backlog of Star Wars comics I’ve yet to read (or haven’t read for a long time,) we jump once more into the ancient history of the Galaxy Far, Far Away….You may recall my review of the first volume way back when, but here’s a quick recap. Over twenty thousand years before the rise of the Empire, the Je’daii and their descendants inhabit the Tython system. Instead of the polarized Light and Dark alignments seen in later eras of the timeline, the Je’daii strive for balance in all things. When the Force is out of balance, the planet itself rises against its inhabitants. Elsewhere in the galaxy, the Rakatan Infinite Empire spreads across the stars fueled by the Dark Side of the Force, finding worlds rich in the Force and stripping them for their own use. Their Force-sensitive hunters have seen a vision of Tython, and Force H0und Xesh was dispatched to find this world and guide his masters there. Xesh’s craft inexplicably crashed on arrival, killing all but the Hound himself and triggering a massive Force Storm. Now with his memories clouded by amnesia but still immersed in darkness, Xesh has been banished to Bogan until he can find balance in the Force. Also on Bogan is Daegan Lok, a mad Je’daii obsessed with a vision of invading armies carrying blades of energy and strengthened by the Dark Side of the Force. In Xesh, Lok sees proof of his vision’s veracity. The council won’t see reason, so he’s going to have to force them to take him seriously….even if he has to conquer Tython to do it!

Again, the team of Ostrander and Duursema is one of my absolute favorite in comics. I will read anything with their names on it, and have never yet been disappointed. This series is no different. Everything is fresh and different, yet you can see the future looming over the (distant) horizon at times. It’s fun to see some meat fleshed out on the bones of Star Wars‘s prehistory we’ve been given glimpses of before–the Rakata, the Kwa, etc. The similarities to other eras are fun, but even more interesting are the differences. The Je’daii are just as worried about being too in tune with the light as they are the dark, and if it takes channeling some anger to ignite a Forcesaber, well, they really want that energy blade to work. It’ll be interesting to see how this all wraps up next volume, as I suspect that the vision for this series was cut short by the impending move to Marvel. There were a few minor inconsistencies though. It was implied early on that only certain species were visited by each Tho Yor, and that there were a limited number of these ancient vessels. This volume, we have members of other species in the Tythan system. Not a problem, per se, but how? Also, Hawk Ryo seems a bit ambivalent on what he saw in the Rift. At times he admits to sharing Lok’s vision, then other times denies it with a passion. A relic of a rewrite forced by the impending loss of their license? Maybe. Without giving spoilers, the first scene here with Trill and her Rakatan boss is inconsistent with the revelation near the end of the book. Again, I suspect a shift in direction mid-series to accommodate the shorter run.

CONTENT: Some violence. Mild profanity. Mild sexual innuendo, including scantily clad females of various (mostly humanoid) species.

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Review: “The Rewind Files” by Claire Willett

Title: The Rewind Files
Author: Claire Willett
Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: Retrofit Publishing, 2015

Time travel stories are the bomb, especially when they’re done well. On that note, you should read this one.

Sometime in the twenty-second century, humanity discovered time travel. Predictably, we set out to undo a lot of history’s more appalling moments. Also predictably, this was a horrible idea. History unraveled, and thus was born the Agency responsible for fixing the timeline. Regina Bellows is perfectly happy being a desk jockey, staying safely in the twenty-second century and watching operations in the late twentieth through her instruments as field agents patch various decaying points in the timeline…until she discovers evidence of a conspiracy deliberately manipulating the timeline for their own ends. Soon she’s on her own, back in the twentieth century, trying to figure out just what’s so important about Richard Nixon, arguably the most boring President our country’s ever had….

This was fun. If you’re at all a history buff, you really ought to read this. Obviously a basic working knowledge of mid-20th century American history would benefit you in understanding what’s going on and where the timelines are differing, but at a pinch anything you need to know can be gleaned from a quick trip to Wikipedia. The book was painstakingly researched, and that degree of care is obvious in all elements of the story. The plot keeps you moving at all times, and there were only a couple points where I saw the next twist coming. Even then, it was a matter of outsmarting the characters, seeing a consequence to their actions that didn’t occur to them at the time. The time travel mechanic is consistently applied all the way through, with only one minor potential plot hole that occurred to me later—something that could probably be explained away fairly easily, but wasn’t actually addressed. My only real complaint is that as a fan of Reagan I was slightly offended by the characterization of his alternate-history self as a warmonger and corporate stooge. For a debut novel, that’s impressive. I would heartily recommend giving this one a read.

CONTENT: Brief R-rated profanity, most of the book falls in the PG-13 range. Mild violence. Mild sexual innuendo.

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