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DARK JOURNEY

A novel by Elaine Cunningham (2002, Del Rey)
Book 4 in the New Jedi Order Main Sequence
27 years after Star Wars: A New Hope

Returning from a devastating victory, Jaina takes shelter in thoughts of vengeance in the Hapes Cluster.

 

 

2 stars

Read September 17th to 23rd, 2002  
    Disappointing, to say the least. For such a potentially tragic story, this one was quite boring, with poor characterization, as well.

This is yet another author whom I don't want to see in the Star Wars universe again. Although the book felt rushed, especially at the end, I cannot accept that as an excuse for such a poorly written novel. This is easily the poorest book in the New Jedi Order based on the writing quality. So why does it get higher marks than Jedi Eclipse? Because it has a lot more substance, and the author did get some stuff right. There was very little name-dropping here, which is one of the reasons I hated the Agents of Chaos series so much.

We pick up a few chapters before Star by Star ends, with Jaina piloting the frigate away from Myrkr. How large is this frigate-analog, anyway? By the name given the ship, I expected it to be as large as the frigates that we've seen in Star Wars before, like the Medical Frigate from The Empire Strikes Back. But that seems impossible, for they land the ship, maneuver it superbly, and it jumps to hyperspace so close to planets. But that's a side note. When she jumps to Coruscant (why is that so close?), she witnesses the battle for the capital of the New Republic, and then jumps out again to Hapes, home of Tenel Ka.

However, the author butchered the continuity with the preceding novel, Star by Star. The problems start right away, and never really go away. The first continuity problem that we encounter deals with Kyp's Dozen. In the previous novel, Kyp's squadron was decimated in the battle for Coruscant, and only a couple of ships made it back to Eclipse. Those ships were tracked, so Eclipse was evacuated, and Cilghal put the yammosk-jamming equipment on board the Errant Venture, a Star Destroyer, which they use to help Luke and the others escape. Here, Kyp's pilots sound like they've never participated in a battle with Luke, or are unaware of Luke's other battles. But Kyp even helped out rescuing the refugees before Coruscant! He is guarding the yammosk-jamming ship, and it sure doesn't sound like it is a Star Destroyer to me. Also, later, it sounds like the Jedi are going to regroup at Eclipse, the name of which is used a few times. This doesn't make sense if the base has been compromised.

However, I did find that the characterization was pretty good during the battle, even if the battle was poorly written. We knew what was going through Kyp and Jaina's heads, which let us in on the logic to their decisions. Jaina and Tenel Ka's logic made a certain amount of sense, though it was not really persuasive, but Han and Leia's did not. By their reasoning, their daughter could have gone to Ryloth, Barab I, Kashyyyk or any other number of worlds. Hapes wasn't that close.

A number of strange things happened while trying to get to Hapes. The whole timeline seemed skewed between the different parties involved, and a number of things (like sending Tenel Ka in the escape pod -which doesn't seem like a Yuuzhan Vong thing, but is probably very much a Nom Anor thing -or contacting the Warmaster) don't seem to have any relevance.

Once there, I don't understand Leia's attitude. First, she seems devastated to learn that Hapes is accepting refugees. That's not the Leia we know. Why that makes Hapes the next target is beyond me. Other worlds certainly opened their doors to the Coruscant refugees. Why is Hapes a more likely target, especially since there are fifty worlds to conquer there. It seems that most of them are sparsely inhabited, but there has to be more than one that is simply industrialized. Among this and other things, this author has a bad habit of stating things like they are obvious truths, when there are convincing arguments to the contrary -or at least serious doubt.

Another questionable movement is setting Han and Leia up among the refugees, instead of for example in the palace (surely Tenel Ka would have insisted) or on the Millennium Falcon (that way they wouldn't use up vital resources).

Once we finally get to Hapes, two plot threads try to play themselves out, neither one to a satisfactory conclusion. The title of the book indicates that Jaina has fallen or will fall to the Dark Side. When does this happen? According to this author, traveling the dark path simply means being in a bad mood, snapping at anybody and everybody, and just generally being miserable. I can see where Jaina did travel along the dark path, but she is still a far way from being a Dark Jedi. Heck, even Kyp followed her lead, did bad stuff, and didn't cross his imaginary lines.

It was, however, refreshing to see the tables turned on Kyp, as he gets the rebellious apprentice instead of being Luke's. Kyp was much more interesting in his thoughts than Jaina ever was in this book.

The dark side powers like memory wipes and Force lightning seem to come way too easily for people who have not yet embraced the Dark Side. It took a lot of effort and time for Kyp to do this in Dark Apprentice, and a lot of anger. Even if he has refined the technique (which is a scary thought), Jaina has not. If Lowbacca ever finds out what she did to him, she's dead. While I'm on that topic, this author has a funny notion of life debts. Chewbacca had a life debt for Han Solo. That might have extended to Han's family (which I doubt, but give leeway since it has been this way for all of the expanded universe), but nowhere is it even implied (yes, Hero's Trial did it, but I disagreed vehemently there, too) that Chewie's family has to continue this forever. Every Wookie would owe somebody his or her life forever, in that case!

I would have really liked to hear from Luke on Jaina. Not having him in the dramatis personae at the beginning of the book seems to require that he speak only a couple of lines. He has lost students to the Dark Side before. Why wouldn't he at least talk to her? Jaina has to go through the Dark Side to come back (I really hope she doesn't just "come back"), like Exar Kun's masters expected of him, and just like Kyp and Luke himself did. I would accept Luke's calmness in the face of this, but I cannot accept Mara's non-reaction. Jaina was Mara's Padawan, and she should be livid, dueling Jaina instead of Kyp.

Strangely enough, I have no problem with Jaina and Kyp dueling near the end of the book. It did seem like a natural progression, and I was expecting it. But I cannot believe he would agree to a bet on the outcome, especially when he knows Jaina would not keep her word anyway. So the duel turned into another non-event.

As far as plot goes, for what it's worth, Jaina taunts the priest Harrar, and the Warmaster, calling herself the Trickster, which is one of the Vong gods. She goes to extreme methods to create a bastardization of their implants, which disrupts the yammosk into thinking every ship is her ship. She also gets the Vong frigate up and moving again, though why, in the end, is beyond me. The only time I thought Jaina was really embracing the Dark Side was when she was watching the ruthless experiments performed on the pirate, but that only lasted a couple of pages. If more of the book had been in that vein, without the shallow thoughts on Jaina's behalf, I would have been happy.

This entire plot revolved around tons and tons of technobabble! I could have skipped whole chunks of the story without missing anything. Do we have to know in detail how everything works? Troy Denning did a superb job of giving technical details in non-technical ways in Star by Star, that to have it come swarming back is annoying. The author even brings it into common phrases. Does so much of Jaina's thought have to be in terms of "frequencies, shields, passcodes" and so on when talking about people's attitudes and emotions towards her? I am in a technical field, and do no such thing -ever. To compound the problem, everything is easy to fix. They can work on it for as long as they need to, without ever hitting a real snag. Need to fix the Vong ship? No problem. Reprogram a few implants? Easy. Confuse a yammosk, without having access to the original jammer? Lowie can do it -after all, he knows things about computers. I groaned when the scientist on Gallinore offered an opinion and theory on reprogramming the Vong implants immediately upon seeing the blood sample!

In this universe, and the problem is not isolated to this book, everybody can predict everybody else. In Star by Star, Vergere easily figured out that the Jedi were not captured, but were on their way to Myrkr. Here, Harrar looks at the implants as if he knows they are infected, but simply accepts them and says they don't look like they were altered. What gave him that thought in the first place, and did he test it afterwards to be sure? The character took a nosedive in his personality in this book.

The other villain, Khalee Lah, son of the Warmaster, was apparently sent to Hapes to be killed, because he was an embarrassment to his father. The character was a complete waste. A religious fanatic, he decided when a failure was worth sacrificing his life, and nobody bothered to point out what a hypocrite he was -I guess he would take offence and kill them anyway. The final straw came when he decided to accept the disrespectful and insulting (to the gods) way out that Harrar offered him -essentially suicide. Surely he should have been insulted by the very offer? He must know that the gods would see the difference between a real sacrifice and this fake one? Yuck, and good riddance.

The other plot that takes place on Hapes I originally hated, but it turned out to be the best-written part of the book. For some reason, Ta Chume decides that her son should marry Jaina to provide some stability and a way to defend Hapes. Does the author really believe we are stupid enough to wonder if Jaina will accept the proposal that Leia declined in The Courtship of Princess Leia? The idea is ridiculous, but somehow it played out reasonably well. Given Jaina's knowledge of Ta Chume's schemes, and all the anger in her heart, it actually became a remote possibility, though we knew she would have to turn it down.

The politics were a nice change -a good change- but I was confused about Jaina's change of heart. The whole end of the book seemed to be rushed, but since Jaina's "fall", she and Tenel Ka have not shared thoughts, and she should not have known what the girl was going to do. Tenel Ka's sacrifice was one of the highlights of the book, but it didn't last nearly long enough. Tenel Ka has made a different sacrifice than Anakin did. She can no longer fight at the front lines, but she has the power of the Hapes Consortium behind her now, meaning she can make a difference. Now that her connection with Jacen (whom she secretly loved even when he outgrew his infatuation with her) is gone, she can be the queen she couldn't be before. She puts it into effect right away, engaging her murdered mother's new starships against the invading Vong ships (not quite a fleet).

We didn't get to see the battle, except a few poor remarks from Jaina's point of view, but we didn't need to. That likely would have involved more technobabble. Instead, she realizes that she has been traveling the dark path, and promises to reform. A few token words from Kyp tell her it is a long road back. Sure. She knew she was traveling the dark path before, and didn't care. Where did Kyp's revelation come from, suddenly deciding that he would help create a Jedi Council?

There is one more character in this novel, an Imperial, one whom Jaina felt butterflies even at the mention of his name, since Ithor in Ruin. Jagged Fel appears and seems to want a romantic relationship, since he keeps going back for more and more abuse from Jaina. His character was used mostly to show us how "bad" she has become, but nonetheless it was nice to see the scouts for the Imperials and the Chiss. I expect to see them come out for the full-fledged ending battle of this series. I am not sure about Jaina's Force-connection to him, though. Their relationship grew even as she was fighting him away? Seems rather soap-opera-ish to me, and not the way to develop a loving relationship.

For people who have led the fight for so long, I suppose it's nice to see them have a small breather. But why did they hang around Hapes for so long, when I'm sure they're wondering about the regrouping of the fleet, the Admirals gone AWOL with the senators from their own sectors, and the next regrouping of the Jedi. A chapter in the middle of the book gives closure to Anakin's body, cremated like Vader and Qui-Gon Jinn. Unfortunately, the funeral -or wake- was way too short, even shorter than Chewie's in Hero's Trial. Luke and Mara were eager to leave Hapes, but then returned for the funeral? Did they find Ben, who I assume was on the Errant Venture?

For that matter, why did we have to return to Hapes; it was never all that interesting to begin with. This book felt aimless, and didn't do a good job convincing us of the threat to Hapes, Jaina's path down the dark road, or anything else. The only person treated well was Kyp Durron. The rest we could have done without. This includes Han's fight and amnesia, which was supposed to be funny, I think, but provided a clich for no reason, as we already knew that Ta Chume was after Jaina, and not Leia.

I was disturbed to be informed that this author wrote a short story that takes place right in the middle of this book, for Star Wars Gamer magazine. Since I stopped subscribing to those magazines (because of the less and less professional production in the editing department, and the infinite spoilers they now provide), I am out of the loop, and will not get to read them unless an anthology is produced. This is a pure publicity gambit, and not something made for the fans. The book could have easily incorporated a couple more chapters -very easily since it was so short.

I wish we could have dealt with such potentially devastating topics in a better novel, with a better author. I was not really interested, and read the novel fifty pages at a time, without ever succumbing to "suspense" which in the previous novel made me read well past my self-imposed limit. Judging a book by its cover can be disappointing, which this novel illustrates. Jaina is beautiful, and the cover is beautiful. The book, however, is not.

 
   

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