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A novel by Karen Traviss (2006, Del Rey)
A Republic Commando Novel
Set 21 years before Star Wars: A New Hope

A group of Commandos perform some black-ops to catch Separatist terrorists who are blowing up clone troopers on Coruscant.




Read November 7th to 24th, 2006  
    If I was expecting anything like the previous book in this series, Hard Contact, I was sure to be disappointed. The author took the characters from being naive commandos to fighters with a full year of experience, as well as removing their childhood.

The book is very long, in that it drags on for a long time before anything happens. The reader has to sympathize with the characters, and really enjoy their company, because this book is a full character novel. The story takes second place, and I think it hurts because of that: it needs more balance. Plus, I didn't like many of the characters.

Omega squad has returned in this book, along with Etain, now a Jedi Knight. In addition, we get Skirata, the person who taught the clone troopers all that they knew, and was like a father to them, and of whom we heard so much in the last book. I didn't like Skirata as a character, but he was written well enough that most of the time I could tolerate him and his fanaticism. However, the lengths to which the author has pushed the Mandalorian culture is worrying, especially since she gets to deal with Boba Fett in the Legacy of the Force series. I hope this fanaticism gets toned down for that series.

I wonder if the author realizes that she has created a cult among the various characters presented in this novel. Etain and Jusik are in so deep, and care so much for their soldiers as people, and will protect them at all costs. They believe all the Mandalorian ideals, Jusik even more than Etain.

Etain has become a powerful Jedi, but her bond with the clone troopers has made her the same as them. Instead of the fresh perspective that Hard Contact brought to the Clone Wars, this book is more along the lines of all the others of that series. We've seen Jedi disobey the Jedi Council. We've seen Jedi travel towards the Dark Side, or maybe a grey side that is whatever we saw in Shatterpoint. We've seen Jedi question their beliefs about everything, especially the war. The military tone of the novel is the same as the rest of the others. Why bother having this story? It sends us the same message that all of the other Clone Wars novels have sent: war is hell. Over and over and over again. I am tired of it (thankfully I only have one more Clone Wars novel left to read, because I have not enjoyed the series at all).

Still, the novel was well written, as well as Hard Contact. My only objection to the writing style, and it is a big one, was the overindulgence in tech-talk, acronyms, specifications on weapons and vessels, and way, way too much Mandalorian dialog. I have never enjoyed giving alien languages in their original tongue, even in The Lord of the Rings. I tend to skip over it, and there was a lot of it here. There was also a lot of swearing in this book, which may be accurate for military squads, but is inappropriate in a Star Wars book. The swears weren't what we are used to calling swears, but are instantly recognizable for what they are. I would like to see a reduction in that.

There are a lot of new characters in this novel, and none of them get the short shift. There is delta squad, which adds some mystery to the clone culture. Are there more stories about this squad? Each of them has a unique personality, and apparently they are one of the few (the only?) squads that has kept its original members since the start of the war. Then there is Ordo, one of the first clones of Jango Fett ever created. The first seven were considered to be defective by the Kaminoans, but Skirata took them under his wing, hating the Kaminoans ever since. They are more aggressive, and only follow Skirata's orders -ever. For that reason alone I didn't like the character. He was always annoying, very selfish.

Through the book, we learn more about how Skirata loves his clone troopers. And then we are shown again and again, so often that it got repetitive and boring.

This got me to wondering, though, if Skirata and Vau (one of the other Mandalorian trainers) retired from commando training, then who is training the young clones that we saw in Attack of the Clones? Here, we are told that the clones age at exactly twice the rate of normal people. I always assumed that they were rapidly aged until they were some age (say about ten), then the aging slowed until they were adults, after which they aged normally. I see no reason for the aging process to be constant, and twice seems wrong. We only saw two age groups in Attack of the Clones. If they aged at a constant rate, I would have expected to see many more. Regardless, apparently two of the best trainers are no longer on Kamino, and if one of the master cloners is being hunted by Ordo's brothers, then they might not be producing more clones for the Republic. Are the Null troopers (Ordo's group) better trained because they have been alive longer, while others are younger? Who will train the new batches of clones that the Senate no doubt ordered, after such high losses in the first year?

I liked the early part of the story, where we see Etain extracting another doomed mission, refusing to abandon even one live clone trooper, and where Omega Squad boards a pirate vessel, only to have their oxygen and escape ship blown away.

Once the story moved to Coruscant, there was a lot of manipulating of the characters, locations, good guys and bad guys. Skirata arranges a black ops mission, as well as shore leave for regular troopers, as camouflage. They set up in a Hutt's hotel, and start looking for shipments of explosives, in a long waiting game. Once they discover a dealer, they make contact and set up a point of sale. Once they deliver, they attack, and take out the terrorists. There is no real suspense, as everything goes as planned, more or less. The interest is supposed to come from the characters, but by that point, I was just ready for the mission to be over.

In Hard Contact, I wondered if Etain and Darman would have been able to figure out how to have sex, because they were both naive about the world around them. I guess it wasn't a problem, after all, as here, they have lots of it. Strange that the characters can swear in alien languages, but the sex has to happen off-screen. I would rather have it the other way. Inevitably, Etain gets pregnant -I had never thought about it, but I suppose I assumed the clones were sterile, because they would have no need of reproduction. Etain keeps it a secret from everybody except Skirata, and he she only tells at the end. So there was a short moment of suspense in the final attack, when Darman gets caught on fire. That sacrifice would have made the story more compelling, but apparently the commando armor is much stronger than anything we saw in any of the movies, as it repels not only fire and projectiles, but all sorts of powerful laser blasts. I'll bet the regular troopers wish they had that armor!

Darman is not the only commando who gets female attentions. The clones are growing up. This allows Etain and Ordo to act as a couple out for a stroll on one mission. There, they trap a Gurlinan, the same one from Hard Contact -how coincidental is that? Tension is supposed to come out of that scene, because Etain uses the special "check" command on him, for which he will apparently never forgive her. I don't see the problem with it, especially as she prevented Ordo from killing Jinart -she used it properly. Contrary to what Etain says, Ordo said nothing that explained why she shouldn't use the command.

When they bring Jinart back to their headquarters, they all get stupid, discussing all of their plans right in front of her, even knowing that she is telepathically linked to her partner and is likely relaying all of the information to him at that moment. They trust her implicitly, not even knowing that she might be working for the separatists, now, or could use the information she gained to blackmail the Republic even worse. The Gurlinans have been waiting less than a year for humans to leave, and it doesn't sound like the Republic has full control over it, anyway. Other planets had to wait much longer.

I was fully interested in the clone culture when the book started. As we got deeper in, I realized how much of a cult it was. Neither Skirata nor Ordo were fully correct in any of their assessments, just from their only very selfish points of view (which Skirata fully admits). So often, Etain things "Kal was absolutely right", and she is so wrong. She is just so deep into his cult that she can't think objectively. He chews her out for getting pregnant, and she just stands in front of him, taking every word at face value. I would be happy if, in the next book (assuming there is one), she would realize how her desire to like Skirata and to have him like her tainted her views.

So often I wanted Etain to take Kal's head off, but she is so insecure, even though she thinks the opposite and even the author seems to think so. But she "knows what the Force wants from her," whatever that means. More like she selfishly knows what she wants, which is more believable, and more acceptable. I have never found the Jedi "no attachment" rule to make sense, so I have no problem with the Jedi breaking it. I fully expect Etain and Darman's son to appear in the Legacy series.

The copy of the book I have came with the short story "Targets", which takes place before Triple Zero. Because of that, it is fully enjoyable as omega squad still retains some of that naiveté they displayed in Hard Contact. They have not been forcefully matured because of what they had to do and go through in the black ops mission. The story tells us exactly what happened during the "spaceport siege" that we hear about a lot in this novel. There was a group of terrorists taking over spaceport, as we would expect, and the squad is called in to take them out without harming a Senator. Many of the major characters from Triple Zero are introduced here, including Skirata and the head of Coruscant security. Here, Fi jumps onto a live grenade, saving several members of the police force. He won't get the drink they owed him until the end of Triple Zero. It turns out that the terrorists actually wanted a different hostage to be killed by republic forces, a member of CorSec, the Corporate Sector Authority member, which would have had dire consequences for the Republic. But wasn't the Corporate Sector set up by the Emperor? And CorSec has been used for Corellian Security in the expanded universe. Oops.

So while this novel was written well, I found that it dragged on for far too long almost throughout, and there were many characters that I didn't like. How many times can we see a Jedi turn against the Jedi way? War is depressing, especially for the people doing the fighting, but can't we have another type of story? I certainly hope that upcoming novels can take a different tone.


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