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A novel by Michael P. Kube-McDowell (1996, Bantam Spectra)
Book 1 of The Black Fleet Crisis
16 years after Star Wars: A New Hope

A potential enemy assesses the strength of the New Republic.



Read February 2nd to 12th, 2015 in hardcover  
    The writing was very strong, and actually made the book a joy to read. However, several aspects made the story a little annoying.

Spoiler review:

As noted below, the first book in this trilogy was very well written. I quite enjoyed the author’s descriptions and most of his characterizations, even when the characters in question died within a few pages of their introduction. A lot happens here, and it really brought me back to a simpler time in the Star Wars universe.

I’m not sure about the idea of having an intelligence agency that can do whatever it wants, whenever it wants, without anybody’s approval. It’s lucky they have somebody like Drayson in that position, as he is not inclined to abuse the power he has. He knows a lot about the Yevethans, and guesses a lot more. My main question is why he doesn’t use any of that information to guide Leia in her negotiations with Nil Spaar. He told some people that the list of missing ships was never transmitted from the Yevethan ship, but nobody told Leia, which surely would have made her more suspicious. Why does nobody release a statement identifying the destroyed ship as an astronavigation survey ship? Why do they not investigate possible “repeated requests” to lower the shield and dispute Spaar’s claims? People have been watching the ship nonstop for communications –they would actually know.

Leia is far from incompetent, but here she is written as such. From the very beginning, she allows the Senate members to manipulate her, and although she agrees to the terms of Spaar’s conference, she doesn’t let anybody help her, barely even listening to the people she claims to trust the most. The negotiations were doomed to fail, more so because she didn’t take anybody’s advice. Drayson cannot tell her what he knows, because it was obtained illegally, but he could certainly find a way to help her ask the pertinent questions.

Because Nil Spaar had an evil plan when he invited Leia to sit down and talk with him. He was waiting for the New Republic’s curiosity to get the better of them, and launch an expedition to his home cluster to see what he was hiding, even though he’d been telling Leia all along that they wanted to be left alone. Of course, they did, as favor upon favor was called, and the aforementioned astro-cartography ship penetrated one of the star systems in the Koornacht cluster, getting immediately destroyed, causing Spaar to suddenly stop his meetings and declare the New Republic to be liars and hypocrites.

This sparks the worst part about this book: Leia’s self-imposed exile. She blames herself for everything, even when she knows subconsciously that Spaar must have been planning this all along. She sulks, when we know she is so much stronger than this. It was frustrating that she wouldn’t even consider listening to her advisors, as she considered all-too-privately quitting her job. I couldn’t believe any of it, though I agree she’s been in power for too long as a leader –too long in office tends to make people possessive about certain things, and that is never good for the general public.

As the Yevethan ship leaves, Spaar initiates his campaign to wipe out all non-Yevethan settlements within the cluster. We get a point-of-view from a couple of worlds, whose characters die to show us how brutal the Yevethans are. One survives, taking his TIE fighter into interstellar space without a hyperdrive. Distances in Star Wars are always exaggerated, with Hoth and Bespin close enough to reach in hours without a hyperdrive, the Maw cluster close enough to Kessel to fly from one to another in minutes, and here, where one TIE can exit the Koornacht star cluster in hours, without running out of air. But the character serves as a witness to the atrocities, of the Yevetha, and shows Admiral Ackbar (I love his half-submerged home!), Han, Drayson and Leia that something needs to be done.

The retrieval of the nearly-dead colonist serves as an act of war, as the Yevetha reveal that they have control of dozens of Star Destroyers captured when the Empire left, after the Battle of Endor –the Black Fleet. Some Senate members who are tired of Leia being in charge give Spaar control of the New Republic emergency broadcast system, which he uses to make all sorts of false accusations that the gullible senate and population will believe.

Fortunately, the New Republic has a new fleet of peacekeeping ships designed for just such a threat, even though everybody questions it and the need for it. I was really confused by the attack that opens the book, demonstrating the tactical genius of Admiral Abhat. If it was just a demonstration, who was firing at the ships? And if they really did see the laser explode how much did those resources cost, especially since the cannon was hammering one of the fleet’s cruisers? They hang around the area, and Han even gets to take control of it for a short while, before Leia comes to her senses and reinstates Abhat.

Luke isn’t featured in the main plot yet, as he is off doing some soul searching. I’m not sure why, really, as his move is very extreme. While he says he will tell the academy trainees of his decision himself, he instead rockets off in the middle of the night without a word. Then he returns to Coruscant, where he essentially tells Han and Leia to leave him alone, rebuilds an old fortress that apparently belonged to Vader, and goes into deep meditation. It’s rather mystical when a woman appears in the sealed fortress, and Luke has no Force power over her. She uses a variant of the Force called the White Current, and she tells Luke that his mother was one of her people.

Of course we know this is not true, but the author wouldn’t have known at the time that the prequel trilogy would deal with Padmé. Still, this doesn’t make the story false, because Akanah only makes a claim that can’t be verified. She takes him off planet, where they go to visit the last known location of her people, who moved after the Empire came for them. They are attacked, and she gets mad at Luke for killing her attackers. At the end of the chapter, it is obvious that she created the illusion of the attackers, but for what purpose, we don’t know.

Lando’s story is also very interesting, though it was more tiring now since I know it has absolutely nothing to do with the main plot. He absurdly walked into Admiral Drayson’s office telling the man that he’s bored! So Drayson hands him an assignment, to oversee a project that would try and capture a ship that could be a lost Vagabond. The ship is rumored to be the starship that the Alderaanians placed all of their weapons aboard and sent into space. But it could be something else entirely, which of course is closer to the truth. Lando kidnaps R2D2 and C3PO from the Jedi Academy, and they discover the code to approaching and boarding the ship safely. The relationship between Lando and the commander in charge of the mission was fun to read about.

Chewbacca does not feature into this book, as he takes the refurbished Falcon back to Kashyyyk to visit his family. It's not a bad thing, because most authors don't know what to do with his character.

In general, the author wrote all the relationships in a way that was really enjoyable. His descriptions of places and ships were terrific. And I liked the way he gave Nil Spaar’s point of view a menacing tone. He’s almost sneering in his thoughts. This was really the last crisis-of-the-week story for the Expanded Universe. Everything that came afterward tried to be epic. I kind of like these smaller stories, though both have their place, especially when well-written like this story was.


4 stars

Read September 22nd to 24th, 1998 in softcover  
    Terrific writing style, coupled with good suspense and solid characterization make this book a welcome change from the last one.  I was riveted to every page.  I don't know how each plot is going to turn out, but I'm sure they'll all converge in the last pages of the last book.  All the characters were put to good use, and the action stayed true to the original Star Wars!  Loved it!.  

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