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A novel by J. Gregory Keyes (2001, Del Rey)
Book 1 in the New Jedi Order: Edge of Victory
26 years after Star Wars: A New Hope

Anakin teams up with a Yuuzhan Vong in order to rescue Tahiri from their enemy's clutches.




Read March 21st to 25th, 2002  
    In what this story tries to do, if performs admirably, and it makes us think a lot more about the Yuuzhan Vong than we have been encouraged to before. Unfortunately, what the book tries to do is as little as possible.

This is definitely an Anakin Solo novel. Sure, we get Talon Karrde and his crew, Luke and Mara, and a few disgruntled Jedi, but they are all token appearances. Once the opening chapters are out of the way, this book has almost nobody except Anakin and those he comes into contact with. Now I really enjoyed the early Junior Jedi Knights, from The Golden Globe to Promises, so I was very happy to get back to Tahiri and Ikrit. This book continued along the lines of those books, making this seem like a teen reader book than a full-fledged Star Wars novel.

Here, instead of being children with an adult sense of responsibility, these two young Jedi are on the verge of adulthood. Anakin notices that Tahiri looks a lot older than when he left. Is that his sexual interest coming into play? And by the end, he tells her he loves her. It would be nice to see somebody who didn't fall in love with the person they knew in their youth. How many people actually stay with the first person they ever loved, forever?

The opening scenes provide the means to get Anakin out of the mess he charges into afterwards, so it is very important. I also imagine that it will be fairly important (at least I hope) to the next book. Luke has charged Jacen and Jaina to find Booster Terrik and Corran Horn, and try to get them to create a moving Jedi Academy with Booster's Star Destroyer, the Errant Venture. That is a plot development I love! In the meanwhile, he asks Talon Karrde to get the young Jedi off of Yavin 4. At first I was skeptical, because Anakin seems to think of the danger to the Academy first, and then we learn that there are only thirty students left on the moon! That seemed way too few, but when I remembered that Luke only had one hundred Jedi out patrolling the New Republic in Vector Prime, thirty youngsters seemed like a reasonable number. And Luke thought of it even before Anakin did.

Anakin arrives at the moon before Karrde, just as the Fallanassi mind trick that Luke learned in Tyrant's Test is failing and the Peace Brigade is landing. Anakin contacts Kam Solusar and his wife, Tionne, as well as Ikrit, and arranges for them to lead the youngsters to the safety of an out-of-the way temple. Anakin stays behind with Ikrit to fight a diversion. But because Tahiri doubles back to help him, his original plan of leaving to safety in his X-Wing does not work. Worse, Tahiri has brought Valin Horn (Corran's son) and Sannah (from Lyric's World) with her.

All of these conspire to keep Anakin on the move. He and Tahiri steal a Peace Brigade ship, but Tahiri is captured, Ikrit killed (!), and Anakin still has to keep the two other children safe. It makes him feel like he did with Chewbacca back in Vector Prime.  I like Ikrit's words of wisdom to Anakin.  I still think he has great potential for the Dark Side, and the authors seem to be writing him closer and closer to the edge all the time.  And even though Ikrit seemed way too supernatural in his force powers, it was nice to see him go out with a real bang, a true sacrifice, unlike the one Corran made, and unlike the meaningless death of Chewie.

Anakin evades pursuit from the Peace Brigade, then the Yuuzhan Vong, until he reaches the other side of the planet, where his ship is destroyed. Picking up the pieces, he desperately wants to get back to Tahiri, but can't justify leaving the kids alone with the ex-Peace Brigade pilot. Exploring a cave, Anakin comes across Qorl! Found originally in Heirs to the Force, Qorl was the one who initially captured Jacen and Jaina and brought them to the Shadow Academy. He then helped them escape, and was lost once again on Yavin 4 at the end of the first Young Jedi Knights series. Anakin leaves the young Jedi in the hands of Qorl and leaves on a makeshift speeder bike until he is close to the Jedi Temple.

All this was buildup, and though it was pretty solid most of the way, it seemed both long and short at the same time. I liked the descriptions of the chase, but I think the only reason for such a long one was to get Anakin to "the other side" of the moon. Because we knew that Qorl made his home there, and we had to get to him. The journey back to the Temple was excruciatingly slow, and very dull, even though it didn't take a lot of time. It was mostly a description of clips, to show that Anakin was tired, that he was still on a mission, to show that he was still watchful for pursuit. It was nice to get it out of the way quickly, but the descriptions seemed stilted.

This is not much of a surprise, because just about everything in this book is given very quick and cursory explanation and description. This book was extremely easy to read -it offered no glaring continuity or technology errors, and every passage ran smoothly to the next. But it didn't seem to do much... It is almost like reading a movie. Much of the dialog is cheesy, descriptions unnecessarily simplified, like in an adolescent novel.

Anakin, however, is very well characterized. We knew he was ruthless with the Vong from Onslaught, which still has his best battle scene. But he has also grown since then. He fights Yuuzhan Vong through the forest, leaving a trail of them in his wake, and fighting them indirectly most of the time, just like Jacen did. But in the end, he is captured anyway. The odds were just too much for even a Solo to overcome. Fortunately, fate is on his side, because we finally get a look at the non-elite Yuuzhan Vong.

Vua Rapuung is a Shamed One, but he believes he is falsely Shamed. Here, we finally get some division in the Vong, as we see that there are heretics, people who believe there are no gods. For a people so fanatical about their religion, even hearing blasphemy is a cause for death. Vua is stuck in the middle. He had a forbidden lover, rejected her before they were found out, and she cast a virus on him that caused his body to reject his implants, the sign of a Shamed One.

Vua was characterized magnificently. His lack of understanding of the New Republic is only slightly smaller than Anakin's ignorance of the Vong -sorry, the Yuuzhan Vong. He tries to reason with Anakin by asking if Luke is a hybrid mechanical -he has a mechanical hand, after all. Does the Force result from implants -a very good question for a race that doesn't understand. These are the type of questions that Anakin asks, as well. Only Anakin was willing to respond patiently to Vua's questions. Vua is not willing to explain life as he knows it to an infidel. But once he realizes that Anakin needs this information, he divulges it a little at a time. In this way, we learn so much about the Vong, much that could have been given to us piece by piece in the books leading up to this. But other than Vector Prime (and a little bit in Onslaught), we have seen nothing from the Vong point of view except strategy. And from that, we learned nothing about their culture. This book, however, is a book about culture.

For we are introduced to yet another Vong caste. What's left? In Vector Prime, we were introduced to the Political caste, though we didn't know it then. In Onslaught and Ruin, we found the Warrior caste taking control. The Religious caste found its way into Hero's Trial, though we didn't learn much about it. Here, we get the scientists of the Yuuzhan Vong. The Shapers modify life to suit Vong purposes. Like scientists who study ways to create new tools in the New Republic, the Shapers are the ones who create everything the Vong use.

The scary part of this is that they have captured Tahiri, and they plan to shape her into a Yuuzhan Vong Jedi. And they nearly succeed. If Anakin had not intervened in a timely manner, they would have their Vong Jedi. So what happens now, that Jedi will certainly be captured and given to Shapers in the future? This could be disastrous to Luke and the Jedi Order.

The parts of the book dealing with Tahiri were short enough that we saw her changing over time, but long enough to give us an idea of more Vong culture. The best way to view a society is through its heretics, for they view everything in a skeptical light. Combined with what we learn from Vua, this provides some great insights into the Vong invasion. Even without the information from the Shapers, Anakin muses about the nature of the Vong.

And it is a very interesting segment of the book. Anakin contemplates the Vong and the Force, musing over possibilities that are surprising in their depth. They made me think about both these forces, and what they mean, and what the future will be for both.

If the Vong have been traveling for millennia, this begs the question Why? Were they rounded up and kicked out of their original galaxy? Could it be that they traveled for a thousand generations aimlessly, developing this fanatical religion, until one of their leaders crafted a vision? We learn that the Vong worldships are dying, something that is stressed again at the end of the book. This vision of a new galaxy to be conquered would have given them purpose, something they might not have had for a long time. Then, presumably, Nom Anor was sent out, as well as Shadao Shai's relatives and the ones who attacked in Rogue Planet. When they found that the people were conquerable, they attacked? If this is true, what happens if the Vong found out that it was their leader who crafted the vision, instead of the gods? Would they betray him? Surrender, like the Minbari of Babylon 5? We already see a potential set of allies in the Shamed Ones, who begin to worship Anakin and the Jedi by the end.

Anakin muses on the Force, too. He wonders if the Force is a manifestation of something larger. Perhaps they have a different power where the Vong come from, something that gives them the ability to manipulate biology without using mechanical technology, even so much as a match or a lever. Perhaps that is the equivalent of the Force where they come from, but they don't even know it. For to manipulate things genetically, they must know that there are genes. What kind of instruments did they use to find that out? What created those instruments, and the ones used to create the originals? Everything they have was given to them by their gods. Even the protocols they use to do things -there are set ways to go about doing basic war and invasion and scientific research. But research is not as we know it. They simply use what they know and apply it to their new subjects. But the protocols were developed for Vong, not humans. The heretics succeed with Tahiri because they are heretics. They apply scientific principles that we might use. The non-heretics needing something different, would submit to the religious caste to pray for new protocols! Thinking of something new on your own is not permitted. I don't think this is completely accurate with respect to the older books, but it is not in direct contradiction, either. Small things like adjusting the strength of the dovin basals night not count in that category, I think.

Anakin and Vua infiltrate the Vong camp, which sits exactly where the Jedi Academy was, except that everything, from the trees to the Massassi Temples, are gone! Another landscape changed forever, just like Nar Shadda. I am really wondering what we will have left by the end of this!

Anakin takes on the guise of a slave, and Vua returns after being "lost" in the wilderness. They are both put to work, and Anakin finally comes into the employ of a Shamed One who harvests lambent crystals. They are living glowglobes, but they are close enough to crystal form that Anakin thinks he can use one to fix his broken lightsaber, which he damaged by severing a dovin basal. When he harvests one of his own, he comes to an epiphany regarding the Vong, and suddenly he can sense them -not using the Force, but in another inexplicable way. I don't understand what happened, as I didn't see him come to any conclusions. What makes him a new breed of Jedi? (And I am afraid that, having been spoiled about a couple of things in Star by Star, this new sensation may be obsolete.) Was it the crystal that helped him? If so, did Anakin harvest more when Booster Terrik arrived, before the base was destroyed?

Anakin and Vua charge into the Shaper laboratories, intent on finding Tahiri and the object of Vua's vengeance. Vua sacrifices his life for the two Jedi to escape, but Tahiri nearly kills Anakin, not knowing who he is for a moment. The Shaper who controlled her is forced to confess that she caused Vua's body to reject his implants, making him a Shamed One, but Tahiri decapitates her with a dark energy. Only Anakin's confession of love for her brings her back to him. She says she is confused by all the brainwashing, but I didn't seen any evidence of it, in a real sense. Maybe this book could have been longer, and let us see Tahiri revert back and forth between personalities. As it is, her knowledge of the Vong language, and her implanted memories could prove a great boon to the defense of the New Republic.

The last-minute rescue by the ex-Peace Brigade and Qorl, then by Karrde out in space, and finally by Booster, kind of mutes the good battles we had on the ground in the rescue of Tahiri. It seems way too convenient, even using the Force as a crutch. From Anakin and Tahiri's uprooting of the forest to serve their needs, I don't think we've seen such supernatural Force abilities since Dark Empire! Didn't Anakin learn anything about treating the forest properly from his experience with the fire? He was being selfish again, and the life he claims to protect suffered for it.

However, I did enjoy seeing Karrde's anguish at the destruction of almost all of his ships, and the way Booster came charging in, forcing the Vong to retreat for a time. They have both become real philanthropists! Could it be because of their relationships with the new Mara and Mirax's relationship with Corran, and their relationship with Luke? I like Karrde's comment on getting his own Star Destroyer when this was all over!

One part of the story that I really liked was a throwaway moment in this book, but hopefully will become a larger issue in the next one. Karrde's plan did backfire, but not in the way that everybody expected, and I don't even think they know about it yet. Karrde used his Vornskr pets to track down the Jedi, in order to rescue them. The Peace Brigade was watching his every move, so they found out about these animals, and told the Yuuzhan Vong! Now, the Vong hold Myrkr, and have all the animals they want for shaping. This could be pretty disastrous for any hiding Jedi...

I have a few other comments regarding the other characters in the book. I liked the return of Tahiri, and it's nice to see that she's growing up. She and the others are growing too fast, perhaps, but desperate situations make adults into young people pretty quickly. I found Tahiri to be a little too talkative at the beginning, probably just to make a point, and to contrast something at the end of the book.

Luke and Mara are being treated very consistently. Their relationship is pretty mushy, and though I kind of like that, if it goes on for too long like that, it could get tiring pretty quickly. It does serve to announce Mara's pregnancy, though, in a wonderful jaw-dropping scene. And in the time it takes for this book to progress, she might have moved quite a bit closer to term, so the rest of the galaxy would know, too.

I also enjoyed Luke's confrontation with the Senate and Fey'lya. The Senate knew that the Vong were heading for Yavin, but never warned Luke. Under the guise of allowing mining operations in the gas giant, the Council had deniability, but just barely. I wonder what Luke will make of this betrayal. Better yet, I wonder what Kyp and the other Jedi will make of it. Will Luke finally go on the offensive? If we were to get extreme, would Luke abandon the New Republic altogether? I wondered if Fey'lya might have informed the Vong as to the location of the Jedi Academy in the first place. It would be consistent, even though he must know that it would be a temporary peace offering at the most. I know that Fey'lya is not as naive s to believe the Vong will stay where they are now.

Other than those, there were really no other characters to deal with. We should get more Jedi and Shaper characterization in the next book, and I look forward to that.

This is a classic tale of joining forces with an enemy to achieve goals that lie in the same general direction. Enjoyable, entertaining, but not a superb story overall. Aside from the abominable Agents of Chaos duology, the New Jedi order seems to be pretty consistent on the level of story and writing. They are mostly good, never great (except for the first half of Vector Prime). This book gets nudged up in rank simply because of all the good material we were given about the Yuuzhan Vong, making us think about their relationship with the Force. Most of this information was given grudgingly from Vua, so it was done in a way that didn't seem like exposition. That seems to be a rarity in the Star Wars universe, these days.

I wonder what the title of the book is meant to represent. There was no real conquest in this book, except of Yavin 4. That is not really conquest, when compared to what the Vong have already conquered. And whose Edge of Victory is it? I hope we find out in Rebirth. This book would have been better if we had been given a glimpse of Luke and the others, completing the bookend that was started at the beginning. The book was short enough. As it is, it seems rather incomplete -or rushed at the end. We wrapped up the Karrde storyline, as well as Anakin and Tahiri's, but a discussion with Luke would have wrapped up the whole book better, by dealing with Tahiri's healing and Anakin's leaving Coruscant without permission. However, the book was very easy to read, which is a nice change after reading several recently in a style that I did not enjoy.

I recall that this book replaced the Knightfall Trilogy, which would have dealt a dark blow to the Jedi.  From the information I have been able to find, that series was cancelled by Lucasfilm because the New Jedi Order was getting too dark.  We needed an interlude where we are not overwhelmed.  At least we see that the Vong do not have quite the united front that we were led to believe.  They may not be invincible, as we were led to believe.  Still, I long to know what the old trilogy would have done.  This author does a good job of filling in the gap that would have been left behind, but I think that serves only to get the Jedi Academy off Yavin 4 and leave the Vong in possession of that moon.  Because that is all this book really does.  Apparently, the first Knightfall book was already mostly written... I wonder how it would have changed the fall of Yavin 4.  I am picturing a huge fight, where many Jedi are killed, with a sad retreat from the moon.  But we'll never know.  This book may seem rushed because it was rushed.  That might mean more hope for the next book, with a well written book and a good (and fleshed-out) story.


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