March 16, 2007

Three Reviews

Since they're all becoming a bit of a blur, here I will review the most recent three stories in the "New Jedi Order" series I've been reading. First, a quick reset. When last we left, the three young Jedi who get most of the attention are all kids of Han and Leia's. Luke and Mara have a little one named Ben, but he's still just an infant. The three kids of Han and Leia are the twins, Jacen and Jaina, and then their younger, more powerful brother Anakin. Anakin was probably the most fun to follow, but then the cabal of writers and idiots in charge of the series decided to kill him off in the last book.

First in the sequence is "Dark Journey" by Elaine Cunningham. This book largely follows events in Jaina's life after she escaped from behind enemy lines, leaving behind Anakin's dead body and her brother Jacen, who was captured with the help of Vergere, a force-strong alien female who somehow manages to gain the trust of the Vong while sometimes helping and sometimes hurting the New Republic. There's a lot of grieving, but since Anakin isn't an established Movie Main Character, it doesn't just overwhelm the book like Chewie's death overwhelmed two or three books in the series.

Most of the action takes place in the Hapes cluster, which was last visited in Dave Wolverton's "Courtship of Princess Leia", which I read and reviewed over a year ago. This book isn't quite so good. The only real plot point here is the new triangular relationship established between Jacen, Kyp Durron (a fairly strong Jedi who flirted with the Dark side in past books) and Jag Fel (a character who brings to mind Miles' father from the Bujold series, but without nearly the pages needed to flesh him out), who is not Force-sensitive at all but still a very good pilot. From an overall series standpoint, virtually nothing happens here except maybe a new wrinkle/strategy for fighting the Vong, which a good book from the X-wing series could develop in ten pages and then get on with life, and the book's slow pace is indicative of that.

Jaina has not been drawn in this series as a very interesting or sympathetic character (at least for me), and this book is no exception. Since she is the central character, the book is therefore bound to rank low on my list, regardless of its other merits, which I think are relatively few. Aside from the plot points I've mentioned above, the rest of the book is either a poor shadow of the X-wing series or a tedious examination of the family suffering felt by Han, Leia and everyone around them, which I saw more than enough of previously.

Now, this book isn't laughably bad like, say, the immensely disappointing "The Crystal Star" from the post-Jedi series (one of a handful of books in which a kidnapping or potential kidnapping of the young twins is a central theme), which I haven't reviewed on this blog yet, but it is at the bottom of the middle tier. There's a BIG GAP between the middle tier and the few books in the bottom tier of Star Wars literature.

On to the next in the sequence, a two-book set called "Enemy Lines" by Aaron Allston, who did very good work with Michael Stackpole in the X-wing series, which I mentioned above and read/reviewed earlier. This story is basically a logical continuation of X-wing, in that it focuses on Wedge Antilles and his squadron of pilots, only now they're fighting the Vong instead of the remnants of the Empire. Allston's strength is the nuts and bolts of a big fight in space, the strategy and tactics of both sides. That's most of what this book is about.

The major plot points: Jaina and Jag now have a real relationship, and everyone is now moving on past the death of Anakin. Missing twin, presumed dead Jacen, isn't mentioned much. The potential kidnapping of Ben (Luke and Mara's force-strong infant) has apparently (blessedly) been limited to only one mention in one book, not here. Also, there are so many people in the New Republic trying to cut deals with the Vong invaders that the old guard of the rebellion (including Luke, Leia, Han, Lando and Wedge) feel like they basically have to start up a new rebellion in secret against the remnants of the New Republic and the Vong, so that will change the politics of the whole series in a good way, I think, give it some life. The refugee crisis is still immense, but this book isn't really burdened with that nearly so much compared to the first several books of the series.

Oh, there is a side plot in which Luke and Mara visit the new shattered world of Coruscant to confront some weird, semi-robotic dark Jedi presence while trying to stay clear of all of the occupying forces, etc. It was really just an excuse to get some of the New Republic Intelligence guys together from the X-wing series for a reunion, so I didn't mind so much that the whole thing was basically a meaningless loop. If the larger plot isn't being advanced, as long as the books are amusing, I'm okay. That's the difference between Allston's book and Cunningham's.

Finally, a book that may go into the top part of the middle tier is Matt Stover's "Traitor", in which we follow Jacen's path since his capture at the end of four books ago in the series. This one is largely an exploration of Vergere, a Yoda-like figure who annoyingly loves to have socratic dialogues with everyone that can be interpreted many ways. Every once in a while, she will say something direct which has some effect, but it can take several pages of slogging through dialogue like "Everything I say is a lie, isn't it?" or "Who is the teacher and who is the student? What is the difference?" until you get to that point.

Anyway, Vergere takes on a new "training" of Jacen, promising her masters, the ones in charge of the Vong invasion, that she will turn him into a willing ally and important sacrifice to their gods. She achieves this transformation by essentially torturing him for weeks until he learns to ignore pain, which makes it easier for him to cope with whatever the Vong throw at him. Then she somehow robs him of his Force awareness and makes him bond with the brain that will eventually be the heart of the new Vong homeworld. It isn't clear whether she is doing this to help or hurt him or the Vong, and by the end of the book, it still isn't clear what her agenda is. Jacen gets through it and throws a big monkey wrench into the Vong homeworld, the effects of which we'll see in later books, I suppose.

Ultimately, Jacen comes out of it very confused about light-side vs dark-side of the Force issues, and we learn Vergere is as powerful in the Force as any Jedi, but she doesn't see much of a distinction between "sides" of the Force and doesn't consider herself anything close to a Jedi. The issues explored in this book have the potential to completely revolutionize the whole Jedi order, and maybe in the end, this book will be the true heart and meaning of the whole series. If so, it ranks pretty high in my book. I'm worried that Jacen will just be "deeper" now but everything else will go on as if nothing much happened, in which case I will look back on this story with annoyance. Kind of like the Star Trek: TNG episode where they discovered warp drive is ripping holes in the fabric of the Universe and vowed never to use it lightly again, a change in policy that was never ever mentioned again as they spent every episode warping about the galaxy from here to there, etc.

I'm not sure if this one was a page-turner because the plot developments were interesting or because I was trying to cut through all of the stupid socratic dialogue (even Anakin's ghost showed up, but he was talking like Vergere!) to get to the point. Fix that problem, and I'd put this in the top tier, especially if its significance casts a shadow on the rest of the series and beyond. At the very least, I can say that I've got enough desire now to see the rest of the series through, something I didn't have so much after "Dark Journey" (which caused me to take a break of at least a few months).

Posted by Observer at March 16, 2007 07:24 AM

Comments on entries can only be made in pop-up windows while those entries are still on the main index page. Sorry for the inconvenience this causes, but this blocks about 99.99% of the spam the blog receives.

Just wait until you get around to reading the post-New Jedi Order novels. They're going to introduce a new sith lord, Darth Whiny McEmo, really takes after his grandfather this sith lord does.

Posted by: on March 16, 2007 12:33 PM