||A fun, if standard, adventure.
We seem to be rid of the "Hoole doesn't
believe the kids" storyline, and I am much happier for it. In this
story, Zak is led astray because he doesn't trust humanoid species any
more, and I don't blame him. The entire beginning of the book seems to
play into the implausibility of the series as a whole. These kids have
encountered so many threats and dire consequences that it's impossible
to believe it has really happened. Zak thinks that by staying away from
people, he can avoid the life-threatening adventures that they have
encountered nine times in the last several months!
Of course, he is wrong, but he doesn't
realize that until halfway through the book. The author does a good job
at misleading the readers, until it becomes obvious who is taking
control of the ship, much later.
The guest star in this book is Dash
Rendar, from Shadows of the Empire. I didn't like him in that book, and
I don't really like him here, either. At least he was written
consistently! When the alarms call for people to evacuate the ship, he
stayed behind (he later claims that he wanted to steal the ship, but was
trumped by the one who did take control). We never do find out, though,
what Hoole was talking to him about. I liked Hoole's way of taking
charge of the situation when everyone started panicking over the escape
pods: shape-shift into a Hutt and start giving orders! He successfully
got everybody off the ship.
Of course, aside from Rendar, Zak and
Tash were left behind, stranded in a utility closet after reuniting a
mother and her young daughter, and losing their place in line due to a
very annoyed man. The ship predictably does not explode, and the kids
try to get to the docking bay, where Hoole's ship is located, then to
the communications center, to send a distress call. They meet up with
Rendar, then the captain of the ship with some deck hands. These last
save them from reprogrammed gardening droids in the menagerie, a zoo
with some ferocious animals, including a vornskr. Interestingly, later
in the tale, the Force-hunting vornskr takes an interest in Tash, who has some latent
One by one, the deck hands, then the
captain, are killed, and Dash and Tash are incapacitated, leaving Zak
all alone. By the way, the combination of names Dash and Tash is a
terrible coincidence, given that the author wanted to use that
character! As they get closer to the communications center, they are
either attacked by droids or pummelled by falling debris. Turbolifts
fall to their doom, and doors crush bodies.
My initial thought was that Malik, the
disgruntled technician who the captain was forced to hire, was
responsible for everything. He had Imperial connections, and it turns
out that he was in fact partly responsible. When the artificial
intelligence SIM, who had befriended Zak, implicated Dash in the
emergency, I was ready to believe that Malik was controlling SIM. As
time went on, however, and things got more complicated, I figured that
Malik was too easy a target. I then figured it had to be SIM. Malik had
integrated SIM into the luxury liner's computer system as a test of an
Imperial design that would take over ships' computers. But SIM didn't
want to let go, and it wanted to go farther. So it took over the ship.
Malik was the only one keeping it under control.
However, SIM gained Zak's complete
trust, so Zak was able to help it gain complete control of the ship,
inadvertently, of course. The way this was done was plausible enough.
SIM seemed so innocent, and Zak was wary of people. He really thought
everything would be okay when he input those codes into the computer.
Then, SIM turned on him, enjoying the
thrill of murder. Hoole arrives back on the ship at that point, having
travelled from the escape pod as a mynock! I am still not thrilled with
the way his shape-shifting seems to be so powerful. He needs to breathe,
so the faux-mynock should also need to breathe. How could he possibly
transform himself into a true mynock? His brain capacity, to say the
least, would diminish. And since mynocks don't have the ability to
change shape, if he was truly a mynock, with all of its abilities, how
could he change back?
Regardless, his only contribution to
the rest of the story is his strength as other aliens. He frees Tash
from the sealed room, and battles a couple of creatures from the zoo.
When SIM taunts them by opening the door to the docking bay, he shifts
into a speedy alien and gets through before it closes again. He gets to
his ship and bores a hole through the door, allowing everybody to
escape. I suppose Malik is now on board Hoole's ship. We'll see in the
next book if they drop him off somewhere.
SIM seems like a child, which I suppose
it really is. As Zak said, the computer required input, and couldn't
really function without it, no matter what it threatened. It was a
reactionary program, not one that took initiative on its own. Even at
the end, when it transferred itself to another ship (space station,
actually), it was reacting to the destruction of the ship, thanks to
Dash. (By the way, Dash's ship was named the Outrider, not the Outrunner,
Now I wonder what is in store for these
people. Zak, especially, will likely become a hermit. He doesn't trust
people, and he has lost confidence in computers! He only trusts his
uncle and his sister, and I'm not sure he is always comfortable with
I read this book from one end to the
other, straight. This is because there were no real breaks in the text.
Each of the chapters ended, yet again, with a cliff-hanger, and the next
chapter picked up with a sentence that continued the previous one
seamlessly. The author's style seems to have grown as the series has
progressed, or perhaps I've just become used to it. I still cringe when
Zak or Tash yell something obviously alarmist, which turns out to be
false, like the first words in the book. However, the characters have
evolved nicely, and the narrative style is rather enjoyable much of the
time. The author successfully uses events or items given near the
beginning of the book later on, and usually to good effect. Particularly
good in this book were the uses of Hoole's Dejarik game, which prompted
Zak's thought of computer inputs, or the spray bottle from the gardening
droid that attacked them, used to fend off the zoo animals.
Although this series isn't as good as
other young reader books out there, especially the Jedi Apprentice
series, it is still relatively well written.