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A novel by Alan Dean Foster (2002, Del Rey)
23 years before Star Wars: A New Hope

Four Jedi attempt to make peace between the nomads and city dwellers of a planet crucial to thwart the separatist motion.



1+ stars+

Read June 14th to 21st, 2002  
    This adventure story is completely independent from what comes after it, and as such, is a huge disappointment.  However, as poorly written as most of it was, and as quiet as the plot was, it had almost enough to keep me interested.

Did I enjoy the book?  No.  Did I dislike it?  Not most of the time.  The biggest disappointment was that the book is not what it is advertised to be.  It is not a prequel to Attack of the Clones, except that it features Obi-Wan and Anakin, as well as some players in the Separatist movement. It is far removed from the way Shadow Hunter related to The Phantom Menace.  It is an independent adventure, which waylays our characters and puts them in situations where we are supposed to learn more about them from the way they react. 

But that doesn't happen, either.  We learn more about the Ansionians (there has got to be a better plural form for these people) than we do about our heroes.  And when our heroes are featured, we learn more about Luminara and Barriss than we do about the characters we are supposed to relate to through the Star Wars thread. 

This book reminded me of Cloak of Deception, in that it tried to set up a political movement, but didn't give it any passion, didn't give us any reason to care.  The separatist movement is presented by many, many people (which gets repetitive), but the scope is perhaps to large to make us care.  Or maybe it's because we already know that the Republic will fall -or do we?  Did the Empire rise up to replace it, or did the Empire form while the Republic wasn't watching?  In any case, the first move in this game isn't very interesting.

Most of the problem comes with the author, I think.  People have been heralding the return of Alan Dean Foster to the Star Wars universe.  But I didn't really enjoy Splinter of the Mind's Eye that much, and I can't see the appeal.  The writing style is poor (though not as poor as with The Crystal Star), and it seems unnaturally complicated at times.  The typesetting is terrible, with spelling, punctuation, and grammatical errors all over the place, as if it was rushed into publication. Worse, there were so many changes in the point of view that I got whiplash!  Sometimes the frame of reference changes many times in the same paragraph!  At one point, "she" is introduced, though we have no idea which "she" the author is talking about. 

I think I wish the book took place from the point of view of Anakin and Obi-Wan.  We don't know their characters well enough to see them in a secondary role.  This book should have been a tool for getting to know Anakin and the older Obi-Wan, and perhaps the secessionist movement.  At least in Cloak of Deception, Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan were a main focus, and got some action.  The prequel novels need to focus on the main characters in the saga.  As opposed to the Classic saga, where Luke, Han and Leia were way overused, and I was so happy to move on to books like the Rogue Squadron saga, the Prequels have not yet established the characters.  We don't know them inside out -and we should.  Instead, we are getting a mélange of main characters, each seemingly independent. 

I must say that what would have been a contrivance in any other book worked well here.  Our characters have to get out into the plains, search for some nomads, without using any technology, because that would be insulting (though the overclan Borokii didn't seem to appreciate the gesture, at least in what we were privy to).  And so we have the Jedi wandering the landscape.  But I wonder how much wildlife we have to meet on the way.  As I mentioned, the encounters are normally used in a book to get to know the characters, by the way they react, or their lack of reaction.

The characters that we met were rather one-note.  Anakin was reckless and headstrong.  Obi-Wan was serene and calm.  Luminara was also calm, and agile, while Barriss acted before thinking, but did what she was told, when she was told (except at the end, which seemed way out of character).

So in addition to a thin plot, we have uninteresting characters.  Not a good combination.  The actual plot places the Jedi on Ansion because that planet is voting on whether or not to leave the Republic.  The nomads, who don't belong to the government, want to stay in.  The cities feel oppressed.  And so the Jedi are ready to deal.  At the beginning, everybody expresses surprise when Luminara offers such a large proposal (I don't even know what it means).  But afterwards, the author presents it as being from the Senate.  And the Unity council from the cities agrees on it without us being witness to any debates.  If the author was going to present politics, that would have been a better way to do it.

The story reminded me of Prelude to Rebellion, where we have the city-dwellers and technologists, but they are not allowed to expand. The (non-nomadic) country dwellers, like Ki-Adi-Mundi, kept them in check, and that is what was causing the split.  Once again, the situation was elevated by intervention by an outside force, and a Hutt.

When we finally get to the Borokii, the ones who loosely rule the nomads, they accept the proposal seemingly without hesitation, and certainly with little debate.  The Jedi are called back in a very short time to hear the agreement.  It seems that the nomads and the city dwellers are not so different after all.

During the meetings at the beginning and the end, and many places in between, the Jedi are ambushed over and over again by the minions of Soergg, a Hutt who is being paid to keep the Jedi from turning the Council vote against secession. He and his major-domo, Ogomoor, were very uninteresting, as they kept railing against their failure to kill or capture the Jedi. 

The Jedi get some Alwari (nomad) guides when Barriss is kidnapped.  The people are employed to kidnap her because they have mental instabilities, and as such should be able to sneak up on a Jedi.  Barriss is able to escape by healing their mental problems, and gaining instant friends in the process.  This is another example of an author twisting the Force to his own needs.  The Jedi can sense danger; they don't need a mind to focus on it, especially one that must be stable. A disturbance in the Force can be caused by anything, even a falling rock.

However, I did like the technique that Barriss to heal the kidnappers.  It is a technique that is often used, from the Classic Star Trek episode The Empath, to the numerous times Luke or Cilghal used the technique in "future" books, and many fantasy books, as well.  But it is a technique, taking the other person's pain and then dissipating it, that I usually enjoy experiencing through the characters, and in this case, it was no exception.

The Force doesn't play much part in the book at all.  The Alwari do all the sensing, because they know the land.  Even while battling, we are told that the Jedi didn't "see" something coming.  When Anakin searches for movement, why didn't he use the Force? Even if he couldn't localize it, he should have been able to tell that it was dangerous. What has he learned in the last ten years -and why did he have to jump to get his lightsaber instead of just pulling toward him?  That should have been instinct by now. He kept making all sorts of mistakes that even young Obi-Wan would not have made as early as The Rising Force.

On the plains, we meet up with bat-like creatures that swarm and could eat through a landspeeder, underwater creatures that use suction as a means of propulsion and feeding, others that bound on the wind and feed off other animals, as well as creatures larger than elephants that stampede through an encampment. It's lucky that they didn't meet the bat-like creatures at night; they would not have survived. And through it all, we learn more about the guides and the annoying Tooqui than we do about the Jedi.  This is mainly because the events are described, but the emotions feel like they were inserted afterwards.  We get the point that Anakin is conflicted -but there has to be more to him than that. 

I also had trouble with the way the characters talked.  I admit that I don't know Anakin very well, but I couldn't put the words into the actor's mouth.  The Hutt spoke on way too much, and didn't sound very Huttish.  Was he speaking basic?  I thought that was very difficult for a Hutt.  Only Obi-Wan seemed to work, and only part of the time.  I liked the way Obi-Wan was characterized from the outside point of view.  Luminara always sees him composed, doing new things as if he's done them for decades already, like riding the suubatar.  But when we get it from his own point of view, he sounds very generic.

When we meet the various Alwari clans, the Jedi are forced to do some spectacular feat.  This was embarrassing at first, and then got repetitious.  When the Jedi were captured by the trading clan, it was very obvious that Tooqui would be saving them.  And I have to wonder, if three Jedi could force a path through the herd of the Borokii to rescue Luminara, why couldn't four Jedi push their way to the center of the herd and claim the white wool?

And then we come to the "big battle", where we are supposed to be in suspense about Obi-Wan agreeing to destroy the enemy of the Borokii. Who actually thought Obi-Wan was agreeing to do battle?  I can't imagine any reader thinking that.  It was obvious that since the Borokii never mentioned doing battle, but only "taking care of" the enemy, that Obi-Wan would sue for peace.

The only surprise came in that the two tribes decided to do battle after all.  But I can't figure out how four Jedi (sorry- two Jedi and two Padawans, but I can't see the difference, especially to tribes who don't know any better) could stop dozens (or hundreds?) of people from fighting each other.  Imagine two lines like in Braveheart, with just four people trying to keep them apart.  If they were intent on doing battle with each other, just go around the Jedi!  It was stressed at the beginning of the book (in another battle, which was better written) that the Jedi could be overwhelmed by numbers.  Well, what happened here?  They didn't seem to be overwhelmed.  The entire narrative was just stupid and terribly written.  And once again, we didn't get to see the debates that took place.  We got a general narration for generic characters.  Dull.

The battle in the streets once the Jedi returned to the city wasn't much better.  It could have been a lot of fun, but it was passionless instead.  And I wasn't very surprised that the Borokii decided to send an honor guard that saved them at the last minute.  It didn't seem like these Jedi deserved to be saved. 

It is true that expectation colored my view of this book.  But that doesn't remove the fact that the mission was way too easy once they reached their goals, and that the middle part, which kept them away from their goal, was rather dull.  The author was more interested in describing his new creations, on this new planet, than in dealing with our characters as real people.  There were numerous commentaries by one character or another (especially Luminara) about the others, especially Anakin.  But the commentaries were vague, or things that we already knew. There was no emotion behind it.

We were missing some conclusion to their adventure, as well.  There were no good-byes to their new friends.  Soergg didn't get his well-deserved retribution, especially since Barriss blew the opportunity (and why the elusiveness of describing him; I thought it would have been much more of a shock that he had brought a weapon into the council chamber).  And was Tooqui right in his assessment of the Jedi -that they would not take him along when they left?  I am sure they must have left him behind, but how did he react?

Finally, I don't know how this is supposed to be a prequel to Attack of the Clones. Does the title of this book refer to anything that happened here, or does it refer to the movie that followed it? Since the book ends with a cliff-hanger on the political front, I must believe the title refers to what happens in the future, and doesn't in any way describe this book. Pity. 

I was really hoping to see Anakin rescue Obi-Wan from a "nightmare of gundarks", as mentioned in the movie.  Or what about Anakin's "recurring" nightmares?  His longing for Padmé is obvious, but why not mention it? Strange.  And if Anakin hates politics so much, why does he thank Palpatine in the movie for teaching him about it?

I suppose I should mention something about the separatists, Shu Mai and senator Mousul. They are shown to be ruthless, while some of their colleagues were impatient, others very patient, powerful- and they have a mysterious backer. Could it be Darth Sidious?  No, it's Count Dooku. I can't figure out why his identity would be kept secret until the last page. It would have been more interesting to see his development.  The separatists want Ansion to withdraw from the Republic because through a network of treaties, other planets would follow suite, leading to an avalanche.  It's a good thing that Palpatine has a backup plan.

I almost forgot to mention the aliens, the Ansionians themselves.  I liked the fact that they were really alien, and that the author remembered that they were alien.  They actually looked alien, with alien mannerisms and some alien thoughts.  Their ideals, even traditions, though, seemed too human.  They were able to comment on humanity (like having the wrong number of fingers, almost no hair, or questioning why a bath would refresh them), but most of the time it felt rather forced.

In short, I could have done without this book.  It had its moments, but not nearly enough of them.  Looking back over this review, I had very few positive things to say about the book.  Some of the poor grade comes from expectations (I could probably have brought it up a little farther if I didn't expect a movie-like story), but more comes from a thin story, thin characterization, and a writing style that I just could not enjoy. Blame the author, but I am not sure the story could have held its own with any other author, either, because there was not much to it. A disappointment, to say the least. I can see how other people might enjoy it, but I didn't learn anything about the characters, or the universe, that was very interesting. Only about Ansion, and of that, I am not very interested.

The movie is almost certainly not as bad as the rating suggests.

Except for the lightsaber battles, and a few instances along the way, this could have taken place with any people in any fantasy universe. And that, I think, is the main problem. There was very little Star Wars in it.


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