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A novel by Karen Traviss (2004, Del Rey)
A Republic Commando Novel
Set 21 years before Star Wars: A New Hope

A team of clone commandos and a Jedi Padawan attempt to destroy a research complex making an anti-clone virus.



Read October 21st to 29th, 2006  
    By a long shot, this is the best Clone Wars novel that I've read, so far.

I was skeptical of a novel written based on a game. Although The Ruins of Dantooine turned out alright, and the first Dark Forces trade paperback was also good, the second and third ones nearly turned me off those kinds of novels for good.

There is nothing to worry about in this book. The author is an excellent writer, and I am happy, for now, that she is continuing to write for the Star Wars universe.

This story follows four clone commandos, each of whom was the only survivor of their previous squad, and a Jedi Padawan who lost her master to the Trade Federation while he was trying to reform the local government.

All five of the main characters are given lots of time, with Darman and Padawan Etain getting the most. Even the main bad guy, a Mandalorian who thinks that cloning Jango Fett was the worst thing the Republic could do, lets us get to know him.

There is actually not much of a story, as the novel is a military character story. The clones have been sent to the planet Qiilura in order to destroy a lab that is researching a virus that would target only clone troopers. The Republic wants the mastermind behind the virus taken alive.

Character-wise, Etain is a Padawan who has no self-esteem, and has trouble summoning the Force for any purposes herself, including saving herself from a rapist at the beginning of the novel -she relies on darkness and leafy crops to do that. She gets more training from Darman than she did from her master, I think. Not in the Force, of course, but in concentration and fighting technique.

Darman was separated from his current squad when their ship crashed, and he stayed on board later to gather more weapons. He meets up with Etain at a farmhouse, and they try to make their way to a rendezvous point with the others.

One of the things I really liked about this book was how their plans kept changing. They went through not only plans A, B, and C, but they must have gone through most of the alphabet, as they said, until they were really just making it up as they went along. They even made mistakes that made their work much more difficult, as when they influenced the Weequay to believe there were two squads, so that Ghez Hokan sought to protect both the research facility and his decoy.

The book is also memorable, I think, because the characters learn as they go. The commandos learn to become a team, to gain from each others' strengths. Etain learns self-confidence, primarily because the clones were bred to think of her as a commander, and they actually listened to her suggestions. She also learns to care about them. This is displayed as one of the reasons that Jedi cannot have attachments, but I think it is different, because typically she wouldn't have to send casual friends or lovers out to die, whereas these were her troops. As such, they were no less important to her, though. I wondered at one point if she and Darman would become intimate. That would have been funny, I think, as neither of them have any idea how to go about it.

The others in the squad are the leader, Niner, and Fi and Atin. Each one had their own personalities, strengths and weaknesses. Atin was grouchy because he had already survived the deaths of two sets of squad-mates, and had a large scar across half his face. I think my favorite moment in the whole book was the quiet talk between Etain and Atin, as she tried to eliminate his guilt. His reaction to the idea that she had made her own lightsaber was quiet and very memorable: "Impressive."

I liked the way the clones had to adapt to their inexperienced commander, and the way that Etain led them to do it. Although she kept thinking she was inept, the fact was that she wasn't. If Anakin had thought that Obi-Wan was holding him back in Attack of the Clones, then Etain should feel that her Master was holding her back even more. She didn't even know that there was a war, or a clone army, and yet when the clones looked up to her, she acted like a leader, except for her self-depreciation. She also proved herself just by taking some of Darman's load, carrying his extra pack without effort by using the Force.

Etain uses the Force throughout, earning more respect from both the clones and the ever critical Jinart, a shape-shifting alien, as she dug a huge hole into rodent tunnels, diverted debris from an explosion, and influenced the minds of several people.

The assault on the complex was well-written and quite enjoyable, like the rest of the book. The destruction of the communications center was as fun as it was unorthodox, diverting mining explosives into the complex. "P for Plenty" is right -anything that they could overdo, they overdid.

Darman and Atin worked their way into the complex through the rodent tunnels into the drains, and captured the lead scientist, dragging her out again the same way. The blast doors, meant to prevent the virus from getting out, also prevented Hokan from getting back in. Darman was able to set some very powerful explosives, and Hokan couldn't even rescue any of the virus, nor the remaining scientists, who died either from sniper fire or the explosion. If anything, I think that is a weak part of the book, as everything occurred too neatly wrapped-up. Of course, now Palpatine has the mastermind behind a potential clone virus...

The showdown between Mandalorian Hokan and the Mandalorian clones was also quick and a little disappointing. They didn't get to meet face to face except for a brief instant. It was a battle of the sharpshooters, instead of a more personal battle, which I expected. Still, Etain got to remove Hokan's head with her lightsaber, her second real kill, not including the Weequay she sent to his certain death. It was nice to see a Padawan's first kill, something I always advocated for Obi-Wan in the Jedi Apprentice series. The emotional effects there would have been worth exploring. Here, it is briefly explored, but is necessarily brief because of the war.

The commandos had their own jargon, which was neat at first, but got tiring after a while. There was so much specialized terminology that it almost got in the way of the story at times. It did seem rather realistic, in a way, though.

I could get used to the author's style in more Star Wars books. There is at least one more Republic Commando novel, so I know that we'll see the clones again. I wonder what kind of Jedi commander Etain will become, if her new Master allows her to take the trials.


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