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A novel by Kathy Tyers (2000, Del Rey)
Book 2 in the New Jedi Order Main Sequence
26 years after Star Wars: A New Hope

Leia tries to cultivate a planet for refugees, as Luke and Mara search for a missing Padawan.



4 stars

Read January 24th to 28th, 2002  
    Nice and steady, a stable read from beginning to end. Not great, but very good, and without any low points to speak of.

Where Vector Prime started out incredibly well, but then got bogged down in nonsense and confusing subplots, Onslaught and Ruin were concerned mainly with discovering what the Yuuzhan Vong were about, and Hero's Trial and Jedi Eclipse dealt with Han Solo's "recovery" and the disinformation campaigns of the Vong, Balance Point goes much smaller in scope, and I think it succeeds better for that. 

The entire story (except for a few scenes on Coruscant) takes place on or around Duro. There is no hopping from place to place, planet to planet, going off on wild adventures that don't seem to fit the story. Things progress in a logical manner, people make decisions -right or wrong- and face the consequences. Nothing was contrived. Nothing seemed superfluous. Very little really shone out as superb, but absolutely nothing had me ready to put the book down, either, as has been the case in every single New Jedi Order book so far.

And my favorite part of this book: the Yuuzhan Vong get a complete victory, losing only a few thousand captives, albeit the most important ones. There is no New Republic victory here, aside from allowing our main characters to escape. This is the first one-sided victory we have seen so far; the New Republic lost, and the cost to the Vong was very low. 

I was troubled at first by the continued estrangement of Han and Leia, and the reappearance of Droma, whom I thought had departed by the end of the last book. Fortunately, he only reappeared as a minor character, and was significantly less annoying than in the last two books. Han and Leia's estrangement should have ended in Jedi Eclipse, so I guess the author had to make a plausible way to finish with that plot element. For a third of the book, Han and Leia are both on the planet Duro, bare kilometers away, and they don't even know it. This is stretching things quite a bit, and I was not impressed with it. But it is explained plausibly enough, that everyone knew Leia and Han were on the planet, and assumed that they knew each other was there, also. It is strange that nobody would have casually mentioned Han to Leia, though, when she was in contact with others around her. Han had problems in his Complex 32, and Leia had problems at Gateway, and they both spoke with the same damage control people. Wouldn't something have been given away? Even though she was in constant contact with a New Republic admiral, and Luke and the council knew that she was on Duro, the military could not find her? Another stretch. 

But it all pays off when Han has to evacuate his complex because of a plastic and metal eating insect. When Leia finally finds out that Han has been here all along, she feels guilty and terrible, and all those emotions that she has pent up inside come gushing out. Han is reluctant, but when Droma abandons him and the twins stand there reproachfully, he gives in. The best part about it was not that their lives were in great danger, but that circumstances forced them back together. Leia even went through decontamination with Han, having her hair shaved off in the process. I'm glad the estrangement is over with.

There is a small unrelated bit that takes place on Coruscant at the beginning of the book, and I hope it is setup for something down the road. I liked Luke's council -in fact, I've always liked his councils, in all the New Jedi Order books so far. He learns that a Padawan went missing while investigating something at Duro's orbital cities, and so he decides to go there with Mara and Anakin. I know that he really wanted to go see Leia and Han again, and this was the perfect excuse. Before they go, however, Mara and Anakin investigate a potential Vong infiltrator at a cafe on Coruscant. That they have found Vong agents on the governing world is disconcerting, and increases the threat significantly. They manage to capture her alive, but when she regains consciousness, she kills herself. Anakin and Mara work really well together. They showed how they complement each other, even though Anakin is over-eager to use the Force, both on Coruscant and back on Dantooine in Onslaught. I would like to see more of that.

I also love Love Stories, and Luke and Mara have been portrayed as being very much in love all the times that we see them. Luke is shown to be the one more in love, and he worries just the right amount. Mara holds back a little, because she is still not used to giving up her independence, but she compromises, letting him worry and teasing him about it. But once she was revealed as being pregnant, their story really started to blossom. The banter back and forth, the caresses, Luke trying even harder to protect her, but also trying to reign himself in, was a joy to read about. Mara developed instincts that surprised her, finally realizing why mothers go to extreme lengths to protect their children. 

The way Mara's pregnancy was revealed was a lot of fun, too, though with foreknowledge of her pregnancy, I knew what it was immediately (another reason to avoid spoilers as much as possible!). It started out as an annoyance, for Mara is so well attuned to her body, after suffering her illness. Then it turned to concern, that maybe the illness had returned. But after getting ready to flush it out, the concern and worry turn to surprise, then love. And instantly, after worrying about what it might turn out to be because of the illness, she becomes fiercely protective, with an intensity that surprised even her. 

They make their way to one of Duro's orbiting cities and begin their search in disguise. They find a world ripe for Vong taking. Members of the Peace Brigade have obviously been here, inciting people to secede from the New Republic, get rid of the refugees that have settled on the planet, and welcome the Yuuzhan Vong as the Hutts once did. Luke, Mara and Anakin stage a demonstration so that Jaina can go rescue Jacen, who was being held as a gift to the Vong, and they manage to escape in time to join the fight as the planet is invaded.

Han and Jacen started the story at a complex trying to make the planet habitable again. Duro was poisoned by industrial waste during the Imperial years, so they moved up to orbital cities. They were doing well, though they had a lot of problems associated with a brand-new complex on a hostile world. The worst problem was the fact that supplies were not reaching them, but being diverted to some of the orbital cities. Communications were not reliable in the poisoned atmosphere or by ground cables, which kept corroding. And Randa, the Hutt from Jedi Eclipse, kept hogging the comm. array whenever somebody got through, trying to get word about his home, Nal Hutta. Leia had problems of her own at Gateway, mostly through the squabbling of various directors of the reclamation projects, who wanted funds diverted to their part of the project.

But the biggest problem they face is the fact that Nom Anor, Yuuzhan Vong executor, is in disguise on Duro, working to help reclaim the planet, which is in the Vong best interest, and making new creatures which can devour the habitable domes. He tests out his new creatures on Han's dome; fortunately, Jacen and others are able to first delay the dome breakdown (by having the children collect the worms), and then evacuate the dome early enough to get everyone out in time. 

Jaina enters the story in a unique way. The author obviously had no use for her as a Rogue Squadron pilot, so she went and injured Jaina, inflicting her with temporary blindness. She is sent to Han's settlement, full of fury for the military, herself for getting into this situation, and her mother for being untraceable by the military. She puts most of the blame on her mother, for passing her aside all the time, in the care of Winter, C3PO or Chewbacca. Mainly this is because the other authors didn't know what to do with these kids until they were older, but it is very true. Plus, she is headstrong and proud, just like her mother, so they clash often.

After decontamination (because of the eggs of the insects that attacked the dome), they all end up in the employ of their mother. Jacen is sent up to the Duro cities to ask about the rerouted shipments, where he is held as a "guest", ready to be given to the Yuuzhan Vong upon their arrival. 

I really didn't know where the creators of this series were taking Jacen. I hated the way he was being portrayed, though it is no fault of the authors. He has been leaning away from the Force for a while, and here he decides to never use it again. I have not enjoyed his characterization since Vector Prime, where he argues about the Force with Anakin. Kathy Tyers, however, does a great job describing his indecision, and the massive conflict inside him. And just when it is getting tiresome, a decision is made!

I did, however, like the way everybody disapproved of Jacen's decision, but let him make it himself. Only his sister kept pushing him, telling him he was being stupid. He really is a hypocrite in this book, as he points out many times to himself, and Jaina doesn't mind telling him, either! He despises the use of the Force for trivial things, like Mara has always believed. But he thinks every use of the force is aggressive, so it shouldn't be used at all. For me the argument is like the one about eating meat. It is fine to believe that people shouldn't eat meat, but then to go on and say that we shouldn't eat vegetables or fruits, either, because they contain the seeds for the next generation of plants, is extreme. I am glad he spent most of the book trying to figure it out, instead of preaching it to all the other Jedi. A meat-eater myself, I think he's dead wrong, something I think he figured out by the end. 

Luke didn't like Jacen's decision, but abided by it, advising him on possible repercussions. There is foreshadowing in Luke's thoughts about Jacen, which I liked. He says that Jacen's reluctance to use the Force could end up killing somebody close, which nearly happens. I wonder how much foreshadowing occurs when Luke thinks how he could ever tell Leia and Han that one of their children was killed in the service of the Jedi...

All three children are getting powerful, so they seem to be able to handle more missions, and could be sent out alone more often as the situation gets more desperate. Anakin is not only powerful, but also bold. All three of them have leanings towards the Dark Side, so they had better be careful, especially in the dark times. Jacen seems least likely, Jaina most likely, with her anger. But Anakin is riskiest, because of the power he commands. He could become another Emperor! 

After dealing with characters for so long, maneuvering things into position, allowing us to learn not only about the situation on Duro, but also about the characters we think we know, observing how they have changed because of this invasion, the Yuuzhan Vong appear. The first thing they do is ram an orbital city, letting one of their creatures devour it, pulling it out of orbit. But they claim not to want the cities, even though the orbiting habitats are technological and not biological. This is part of their duplicity, as they get the defense forces to stand down, not risking any more of the orbital cities. Anakin, Luke and Mara, after finding out that the missing Padawan has been killed, take to their respective ships and harass the coralskippers until told to stand down. 

Jacen and Jaina make it to the surface in time to see most of Gateway captured. Han and the Ryn lead a way to the old industrial mines, to which they think they can access a hidden cargo ship, but Leia goes back for a laser drill, which could help them dig and protect them. She is captured and tortured by Warmaster Tsavong Lah, which draws Jacen and Jaina to her. Leia manages to get messages out to Jaina about the Vong's plans for the orbital cities and the Core using the Force, who gets them to Mara, who manages to force her way to see the New Republic admiral, who orders his forces to quietly redeploy. 

Jacen finally comes to a decision about the Force when he discovers Leia being tortured by the Warmaster. He taps into the Force completely, creates a swirling vortex and impales some of the Vong, crashing things into others, confusing their sights and knocking them down. This is the way the Jedi should have fought the Vong in the first place. Instead of dueling them like Mara did in Vector Prime, and the way Corran Horn did in Ruin, this is the way to do it! And I hope the Jedi figure this out. It makes so much more sense, and is something that the Vong can not battle against. The Warmaster is injured, but he has a sudden respect for Jacen. Leia is rescued, but is very near death by the time they get her to the Millennium Falcon

With the help of the Jedi, they get the huge cargo hauler and the Falcon into hyperspace, but all feels quite hopeless.

But the final moments of the book are haunting: Tsavong Lah tells the New Republic that they will end their invasion at Duro ... if ... the people of this galaxy give up all the Jedi, every single one, especially Jacen. 

The people are so afraid of the Jedi, and of the Yuuzhan Vong, that many will probably accept this at face value, even for the chance at peace. But we learned here that peace means different things to the Vong than it does to the rest of us. At least the New Republic military should know not to trust the Vong, though. They know that any deals made with the Vong will not be honored. It is not stated that the New Republic cruiser survived the Duro invasion (it is implied that it didn't), but the commander should have been able to get off a communiqué warning his superiors of the Vong duplicity. Thus they should know that the Warmaster's pledge of peace in exchange for the Jedi is false. I think it is time Luke began evacuating Yavin 4! 

From the things that happen in this book, our heroes now know a lot of what the Yuuzhan Vong want for this galaxy. Conversion for the "worthy", destruction of all mechanical things, abominations that imitate life, and honor- scars because that is how the gods created the Yuuzhan Vong, are among the top things. Slaves seem to also be a large part of this invasion. That Kyp was able to thwart them by allowing a complete evacuation of a planet, even though the Vong destroyed it, tells us something. 

I wonder what the creators of this series have planned for the aftermath of this war. So many worlds, key players, have fallen and been remade. How will they recover? Unlike after the Empire was destroyed, whole worlds are gone, just like Alderaan. Perhaps they can create genetically adapting microbes to restore a planet to its original fauna, but they would have to rebuild the whole thing from scratch! Not only are we told that Nal Hutta has fallen, but Nar Shadda -a mini-Coruscant, and part of the mythos for such a very long time, is being completely destroyed. Ithor's destruction was stunning, but by the end, what worlds will they have left? Will there only be worlds like Hoth and Tattooine, and other extremes like that? 

I liked the reference to the "fact" that Palpatine would never have been invaded during the rule of the Empire. People always blame the current leaders, and think that maybe it wasn't so bad under the Empire, after all... I also enjoyed the reference to the Ssi-ruuk. It was unfortunate that it had to come from the same author who wrote The Truce at Bakura, and not somebody else. But it was a good point, wondering what the Vong would have thought about stealing life-energies and placing them in mechanical bodies. That would have been a worse offense than simple mechanicals!

Finally, I'm glad the Force is back. After two books without it, and without the young Jedi, I was worried. But Tyers does a great job with the Force. It is never overblown or invincible. It is always useful, especially in Luke's hands. It was only used in excess twice, by Mara in the tunnel and Jacen at the end, and both times, it was justifiable, since both suffered because of its use. 

The Vong point of view was toned down quite a bit from other books. Most of the story took place from the eyes of our main characters. This is a good thing, I think, because the Vong culture looks like it could get stale very quickly. Nom Anor is the different one, however. He doesn't seem to subscribe to the same philosophy as the others. He very much wants to stay alive, and doesn't mind sacrificing people and things to stay that way. The look of surprise on his face, first when he encounters Mara, and then Jacen, after he thought the former should have been dead and the latter should have been in custody, was priceless. I think after Anor got away, Mara will have a hard time keeping from thinking of revenge, now that she knows he was the one who poisoned her. We'll have to see which instinct is stronger... protection of her child, or revenge on what seems to have become her nemesis.

The book covers a lot of ground without actually leaving one planet, and without resorting to characters other than our main heroes, which is a feat I enjoy reading. No characters were wasted here, except for Viqi Shesh.  I don't like it that even without using the Force, somehow Jacen can detect that the New Republic senator is trouble. At least somebody is on their guard now.  That's about as much politics as we get in this book.  

Randa even sacrifices his life, proving that there is more to the Hutts than Leia thought, even though it was in vain. Lando's wife Tendra gets mentioned here, and the reasons for her absence from Vector Prime. Centerpoint station becomes inoperable, as expected, but the Vong do not know that yet, and it is a detraction from their attacking Corellia and Coruscant for the moment.

This was not a stellar book, but it was very enjoyable. It took me a while to accept that Han and Leia were still estranged, and I was disappointed at Droma's reappearance, but they turned out to be necessary, and were resolved in a much better way than would have happened if Jedi Eclipse had gone on for longer. I decided to push the book up to four stars (barely) after Jacen's battle with the Warmaster, but I think most of the book was worth it, after all. The book was well-paced, leaving us wanting more at the end of each section, and it was very character-driven. The action scenes were also good, but could have been better. If we could crank it up a notch further, I would be very happy.


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