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A novel by Aaron Allston (2010, Del Rey)
Book 4 in Fate of the Jedi
42 years after Star Wars: A New Hope

Luke and Ben track Vestara to Dathomir, where they find friends and Nightsisters, while Daala's campaign against the Jedi leaves her trying to restore her popularity.



Read January 22nd to 27th, 2011  
    Easily the best Star Wars novel since The Unifying Force. The story was compact, which probably made it more easily managed. It advances the overarching storyline a little, in that there is indeed backlash against Daala, and Luke and Ben end up with Vestara in their grip, but some people might be tempted to label it more like filler, because it takes a lot of story to accomplish those goals. But then again, I don't really know what the storyline of this series is, and the story told in this novel was so engaging that it was worth just about every page. Looking back at the ratings of the previous books, I think they were overstated. This, I think, is the first full 4-star novel of the series; perhaps my standards were lowered for Outcast and Abyss.

This book finally gets rid of the pretense of following Jacen Solo's travels to find the source of his fall to the Dark Side, which is fine with me, considering how his downfall was chronicled in the Legacy of the Force series. Here, Luke and Ben follow Vestara to Dathomir, using Luke's own blood to track her, a trick he picked up from Jacen.

On the planet, the tracking scenes are well-written and interesting. Luke and Ben follow the trail of a woman from one of Dathomir's tribes, as she tries to lead them away from a meeting between two clans. One of those clans is harboring Vestara, but to them, she's incidental. This is where we get a chronicle of what happened on this planet since The Courtship of Princess Leia, even though we've been here before (was Star By Star the last time?). Males have splintered from the matriarchal clans, forming clans of their own. One of these clans, the Broken Columns, has agreed to merge on equal terms with the more traditional Raining Leaves, and the Nightsisters don't like that.

Luke didn't actually do much in the novel, until danger was present. He and Ben corner the woman trying to lead them away from the gathering, and are accepted as observers, since the head of the clan knows Luke to be a just and honorable man, based on the legends since he last shook up the planet. They are helped in this task by Han and Leia, and the scouting party they picked up at the spaceport. Han and Leia, of course, are wanted for treason for sneaking the ill Jedi off Coruscant in the last book. It's nice to see them together with Luke again.

At the lake where the meeting takes place, Luke participates in the traditional games, and generally does a lot of nothing. He is even barely perturbed when he learns the Jedi Temple on Coruscant has been attacked. Ben does most of the work, helped by his investigative training in the Legacy of the Force series. He determines early on that Vestara is lying to the sisters in her new clan, and to him. But she doesn't do anything to draw attention to herself. It looks like there might be a little romantic interest between these two, which might be interesting, especially since so many of the young adult characters have been killed off recently. It's subtle, so I might be reading more into it than the author intended. Ben is also getting good at conflict resolution, something he puts to good use. I liked the way he came up with a name for the merged clan, after getting frustrated by the politics of the discussion!

At night, they are attacked by the Nightsisters, who remotely direct stinging fireflies to those gathered. The funniest part of the book had to be Han with the flame thrower ("I gotta get me one of these!"). He was having so much fun, it was impossible not to have fun with him. Leia gets into the action with the Force, too, which was really nice to see. I wonder why the other Force-users in the group couldn't do anything similar. After it's over, the author does a regular body count, but the attack on the temple forces Han and Leia to leave (Jaina was in trouble, after all). After that, they don't even wonder about Luke and Ben anymore, much less the pending Sith threat that sent them to Dathomir in the first place.

Luke and Ben find another, more defensible location for the new clan to move to the next night, but the Nightsisters send rancors after them, all night long. This was the only part of the book that I would have liked shortened. The descriptions of the rancor attacks -wave after wave of them- was too repetitive, as was the body count afterward. When Ben forces everybody to change tactics, things became slightly more interesting, but it still went on for too long after that. I did like the way Luke traced out the Force-lines the Nightsisters were using to weave their spell, and wonder why he couldn't disrupt it, or gather help to do so.

When all is done, Vestara receives a call from her Sith brethren, who have finally arrived. She takes the Nightsisters to the Sith ships, but is followed by Luke and Ben. The Sith kidnap the nightsisters, but Vestara is left behind. The battle between the Sith and the Nightsisters is brief, which makes me believe the Sith are much stronger than Luke and his Jedi. But when Luke confronts the few remaining Sith after the rest of the shuttles have left, he comes out as being stronger. Why couldn't he have countered the Nightsisters like this? Is it because they are more subtle? Regardless, I really liked the fight between Luke, Ben, the "washed-out" Jedi candidate, and the Sith.

Luke and Ben take Vestara into orbit, where they are approached by the Sith ships, waiting. Why does this story have to end on a cliff-hanger? It isn't required, and lessens the existing story. Even after reading the excerpt from the first chapter of the next book, I think it could have ended another way. On the other hand, it did whet my appetite for Allies!

There is another small sub-plot that takes place on Dathomir, and even though it involves some strange parenting by Han and Leia, and some incompetence by C3PO (he should know better, after the twins and Anakin), it was still fun, and interesting. And it was nice to see Zekk again, even though we don't really get to see him. I understand the novel that was supposed to introduce us to Zekk's survival and meeting with the female Hapan operative was cancelled, which is unfortunate, because he just shows up with very little explanation.

Allana is every bit as rambunctious as Jacen and Jaina ever were, and every bit as trying on C3PO's circuits, though, as I said, he should know better by now. To be fair, it's not really her fault, to begin with. After all, Han and Leia leave her alone under the supervision of C3PO and R2D2 on board the Millennium Falcon as they go help Luke and Ben. Of course, they don't tell her that Zekk and his girlfriend are also watching over her. And R2D2 gets suspicious of something (what?), and goes out on his own searching for something. Allana and her pet nexu (remember from Omen?) sneak out of the one unsecured hatch (how could C3PO forget about the top hatch?), and search for the overdue droid. Allana picks the right garage almost immediately, and through a window, thinks she sees what she thinks might be a covered astromech droid. Of course, it could be the Force leading her there.

So the next night, she sneaks out again, and lets C3PO know by calling to him in the cockpit from outside. She sets a fire to sneak into the locked-up workshop, and sees a giant shuttle -obviously Vestara's, and also finds R2D2, with a restraining bolt on him. She can't get it off, and has to fight off the shady mechanic. The fight was pretty well done, considering it was between a one-eyed hefty man and a little girl. In the end, Zekk barely helps out at all, trying to keep himself invisible to Allana, even at risk to C3PO and the girl herself! It's R2D2 who saves them, after (presumably) Zekk gets the restraining bolt off.

And then, as the twins did in Assault at Selonia, Allana flies the Millennium Falcon away from the very angry mechanic and into the forest, where she lands to rendezvous with Han and Leia. It would have been nice if the author mentioned the fact, because all the kids seem to get to do this sort of thing. Also, she helped him fly the ship in the last book.

Back on Coruscant, Daala's vendetta against the Jedi is drawing some heat from the public. She's not used to having to justify herself, apparently. Still, after yet another mad Jedi escapes from the Senate building, right under her assistant's lockdown procedures, and is taken into custody by Cilghal, instead of the police, Daala sends the Mandalorians against the Jedi Temple. The fight, from Jaina's point of view, was also very well written, and quite enjoyable. Then we get to see Raynar in action again, better than he's ever been.  But Jaina is still more cool! Why are the Jedi still allowing the former younglings who were affected by the Maw entity to roam free, where they might endanger someone, and be captured by Daala's forces? Shouldn't they be constrained to the Temple?

This is where we get another strange plot twist, in that the Senator from Kuat (a favorite place for villains, it appears, after the one from the New Jedi Order) is trying to discredit Daala, as well as Jag Fel, so that an Imperial Moff embarrassed at the end of Fate of the Jedi (Invincible) would become Emperor of the combined Galactic Alliance/Empire. To this end, she stages an attack on Han, Leia, Jaina and Jag (as well as Allana) while they are at dinner, using a psychotic ex-Imperial and a bunch of YVH droids, making it seem like Daala was involved. I don't know how this will play out, and I'm not sure we needed this at all. It seems that the political storyline was winding down too much for the authors, so they needed to add another complication.

Yet as a result of Daala's decreasing popularity, Han and Leia get a temporary pardon for their actions in the last book, so they can become intermediaries between the Jedi and the government. Unfortunately, while it was fun to see these two in action again, it feels once again like the current book is throwing out some setup that was done previously. Leia doesn't even mention the damage done to the Temple, and Han should be piping mad that Jaina was endangered like this. We also get a scene with Tahiri in prison, which also feels like the authors set up too many plots in this series. For Tahiri still hasn't gone to trial for the murder of Pellaeon, but the government is pressing for a trial after Admiral Niathal commits suicide instead of being brought to trial herself for collusion with Jacen.

Lots going on here, but the most interesting parts by far belonged to Ben Skywalker. Fortunately, the rest of the story, even if it might digress from the previous books, or fail in some logic, were really well written, and fun and interesting at the same time. This made the book very easy to read, and has somewhat restored my faith in these authors to pull off some really good storytelling.


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