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A novel by Walter Jon Williams (2002, Del Rey)
Book 6 in the New Jedi Order Main Sequence
28 years after Star Wars: A New Hope

As the New Republic attempts to re-establish its government, both the Jedi and the military regroup and lay a trap for the Yuuzhan Vong.



4 stars

Read August 25th to 30th, 2003  
    Another great book in the New Jedi Order series, with a little bit of everything, from politics, battles and Jedi. It is not as well written as Star By Star was, but it is just as broad in scope.

Like Star By Star, this book tells a complex story, and has a rousing conclusion. The plot is interweaved between politics, war and people, with none of these taking more of the spotlight than any other. Compared to other authors, who would propose an idea and take it as a logical progression, this author would have his characters present many ideas, involving many people, and debate the various merits, choosing the best one, rejecting others logically. The only exception was the formation and style of the Jedi Council, which was decided upon very quickly.

The early part of this book is mainly discussion, with a few skirmishes to appease the people who enjoy battle scenes. Most of the book takes advantage of a lull in the action, where both sides of the war are regrouping. The Yuuzhan Vong are much more overextended than we thought they were, and barely have the resources to hold onto those planets that they occupy. The skirmishes that the New Republic military engages in help to put this on display.

The human side of the story is well told. Luke is the focus of this story, since he is trying to put together a new Jedi Council. His relationship with Mara also brings a new element into the Star Wars universe: sex. The authors are playing it as much as they can, since they seem to have missed out on Han and Leia's sex life. I like Mara's purr, and the way she turns an anxious Luke around.

Luke has to convince the potential new Heads of State that the Jedi Council is necessary. I like the way Rodan put Luke in his place, because he was absolutely right. The Jedi under Luke have never been part of the New Republic, yet they act like the government should sponsor their activities. While Rodan might have been a little too harsh on Luke himself, he at least he was right in saying that the Jedi should get jobs of their own. In Jedi Search, Mon Mothma said that the Jedi were from all walks of life, and while that ended up being wrong, it certainly makes sense. They should, however, be loyal to the Jedi first. That is one thing they could take from the Empire: a clear chain of command.

As for the new Jedi Council, I don't know if it will really work the way it was formulated. It seems too cumbersome, and I don't really know what it is supposed to do. They had two meetings, and one vote, but it was shown that their voting was irrelevant. So just what policies do they have a say in?

I find it amazing how I could enjoy a book so much when Han and Leia are barely in it at all. Han gets a cool battle sequence at the very beginning, and they retrieved some maps from the former Empire, as well as having some very interesting discussions about whether they really want the help of the Empire, because of what it would want in return. However, the author really seemed to be stretching things to figure out where to put them. As I said after reading Jedi Eclipse, I really don't mind if the next generation takes over the stories in these books, because they are the more interesting ones, now.

The Chief of State is elected in a very shady way, with the bribes and blackmail by Lando and Talon Karrde. I wonder if this will come back into the public eye, the way Luke and Mara imply it will. Cal Omas is, of course, pro-Jedi, and single-handedly turns the opinions of everybody that we hear about concerning the Jedi. I'm not sure the military had any misguided notions about what the good the Jedi were doing, but it was good to present it to the press. Mara even got to do some spy work, feeding misinformation to the Yuuzhan Vong spies and thwarting an assassination attempt on Cal Omas himself.

More politics come from the Yuuzhan Vong side of the story. I loved the way we got to see their leaders function, with more time on Overlord Shimra than we've had up until now. Shimra doesn't seem to be completely Yuuzhan Vong. He is overly large, with some form of telepathy -would he be a Vong form of Jedi, able to influence their minds? He seems to be a real sham, something that didn't take Nom Anor long to find out. I anticipate that he will be the real downfall of the Vong. If their religion and devotion to the gods was shaken because Shimra is revealed as a fake, or if they take a new leader who advocates peace, then they might fall apart all at once. It's about time that we learned some real history behind the Yuuzhan Vong. What I've seen so far has some small contradictions in it, but they could easily be explained if we were to be given a concrete history.

The last passage of the book indicates that Shimra has at least a dual-personality. I don't really know what to make of this yet. However, I do think that Nom Anor will contribute to the downfall of the Yuuzhan Vong, in revealing the truth about their leader. He was never enamoured of the principles of pain, and always looked out for himself. He could easily take refuge among the Shamed Ones who worship the Jedi, and even come to control them.

One thing that I want to stress that I do not want to see happen, is for Shimra's Shamed One jester, Onimi (who last appeared in disguise as a shaper in Rebirth) to end it all. If he ends up being part of the cult of the Shamed Ones, and kills Shimra, it would be way too reminiscent of The Last Command with the noghri killing Thrawn. Please, no.

This is a good time to point out that the author has a strange narrative style at times. Most of the book is extremely well-written, but I really wonder if the Yuuzhan Vong can say things like the word "duped". The phrase "she knew which option she would bet on" comes up in the thoughts of at least two characters. Similar strange colloquialisms turn up among the New Republic pilots and politicians, and I wonder why. The narrative also seemed out of place whenever the author is describing large events, like the destruction of the Vong fleet in the minefield at the end, or the defection of the senators in the election of the Head of State, as if these things had to be told, but they were getting in the way of the rest of the story the author wanted to tell. They were not bad, just not as tight as the rest of the book, and felt out of place.

Another strange occurrence is the missing chapter that became the e-book Ylesia. I know exactly where it fits, because it looks like a giant chunk of the book is missing. Was it cut simply to make an e-book out of it? It doesn't make sense. Jaina references it as a debacle, so I have to assume that their intelligence went wrong somewhere.

I was very happy to see the continuation of Vergere's philosophical discussions from Traitor, but this time, most of it takes place between her and Luke. It was a unique discussion, one that had to take place, because of the difference in the philosophy between the new and the old Jedi. It implies, though, that Luke has not been in touch with the other Jedi from the old order, like Brand (from Dark Empire II), or Ikrit (from The Golden Globe). More importantly, however, it brings the books in line with the latest movie, Attack of the Clones. Up until now, the books have been written in a vacuum, not knowing how the Jedi used to live. The concept of Jedi marriage and children had a very interesting (though way too brief) discussion. The author is able to present Vergere's way of life, and weave that into the continuity of the movies.

Like Luke, I never quite figured out where Vergere's loyalties lay. Her journey is now over, and I can honestly say that even despite Traitor, she didn't live up to her potential. The authors made her so enigmatic that they couldn't manage to reconcile her. Why did she change loyalties so often? She should have asked to see Luke right away, when she found out about him. She seemed to actively plot against the New Republic. Did she think the New Republic defeated the Old? Was she so uncertain about the state of affairs that she sought refuge with the Vong because they were familiar? Looking back, I suppose she was at least consistent in that she was always after Jacen, even when she was chasing the Millennium Falcon in Rebirth. I wondered if the Force sent her a vision of Jacen.

At least we now know what happened at Zonama Sekot, back in the mess that was Rogue Planet. I wouldn't say that Vergere's story was anticlimactic, as it follows a logical progression. I would say that it had about as much interest to me as Rogue Planet did. I was confused at how she could blame herself for the war, especially considering her actions in previous books.

Vergere's openness on her discussion of her past seems out of character, but I suppose it was the only way to finally hear it. On Zonama Sekot, the Vong attacked as they usually do, but the living planet fought them back, explaining the large scars that were seen in Rogue Planet. She tried to be an ambassador to the Vong, but ended up giving them what little information she knew about the strength of the Republic. She tried to influence policy, hiding her Force abilities, but when the person to whom she had been assigned had died, she became the familiar of Elan, who had no rank to enforce policy. In my review of Rogue Planet, I wondered why nobody had heard from each of the adversaries. I still wonder about that. How could the Vong have been hanging around outside the galaxy, and only have Nom Anor for information -and he was only there long after the Civil War had ended.

The battle at the end of the book is reminiscent of the Battle for Coruscant at the end of Star By Star, but it lacks the rich detail present in that book. This author focused too much on counting ships, especially in the initial battle with the Millennium Falcon, and then with Jaina's attack on the high commander at Obroa-Skai. I wonder if the author was trying to be more like Michael Stackpole in giving so many (too many) technical details on the ships.

Once again, I must express my displeasure at cutting back and forth between characters, like we were watching a movie. We could have done without Ackbar's shrill of despair that he hadn't foreseen Tsavong Lah's attack on the moon, or cutting back and forth to Jacen and Luke, and the others. That being said, the battle was really exciting. The return of Ackbar, probably the only time we will see him in the New Jedi Order, was well-played. The characters were realistic, and even though Ackbar is quite old, his mind is as sharp as ever.

Using the maps of the Deep Core that Han and Leia retrieved from the Empire, Ackbar found the perfect place to lay a trap, in an isolated star system with only one entrance or exit hyperspace lane. (I do think that the authors have been treating the hyperspace lanes too much like highways; I don't think they are that rigid. However, it seems to work, as long as they are given the flexibility for future stories.) The spies that Mara found are given scraps of information, the government goes into hiding, and the Vong jump at the chance to destroy the Chief of State as well as a whole lot of Jedi, including Jacen and Jaina Solo.

Although many of the New Republic forces are destroyed, they have an overwhelming number of ships, thanks to a lull in the war and an increase in production. The only thing they really needed was trained personnel, which seemed to come a little too quickly -but I guess the people of the New Republic did what was needed and used what they had. They did a good job, too, as the Vong forces were decimated. Their military is now in tatters, and I wonder how long it will be before the New Republic is able to take back some of their planets.

The only thing missing from this big battle was the presence of Wedge and Tycho. Where were they, since their big victory in Rebel Dream and Rebel Stand? Their unusual tactics could have helped the New Republic from losing even the low number of casualties they did.

The discussions with Vergere allowed Luke to grow in this book. Because of her, he was able to hold onto his definition of the Force, at least for the time being. He is also able to start an aggressive fight against the Yuuzhan Vong for the first time, dedicating himself to the fight. I only wish he would learn from Han and Leia's experiences in child-rearing. That couple didn't see much of their children's formative years. It seems that Luke and Mara are doing the exact same thing with Ben, because the authors don't know how to weave the infants into the stories. I don't know how to rectify this, but I think it needs to be dealt with.

Hopefully the novels that follow the end of the New Jedi Order will have political overtones, rather than action plots, so we can see how the galactic union is rebuilt. The Galaxy has been through so many wars over the last twenty-five years (and more, with the Clone Wars), that it really needs a break.

Jacen as a character didn't have much time to delve into his philosophy from Traitor, but the author still did a good job in keeping us in his mind, about his ideas, his beliefs, and his actions. Only his choice at the end of the book, his futile attempt to save his sister, seemed strange -but typical, given that she is his twin sister. As he says later, it was an emotional choice, but one that Vergere warned was dangerous. His superior Force abilities allowed him to coordinate a battle the way Joruus C'boath did in the Thrawn Trilogy. The meld was neat, and a further growth of the Jedi.

Jacen's Vongsense allowed him to sense the Yuuzhan Vong, but didn't really help him out. The only really interesting part of that was his continuing connection to the world brain on what used to be Coruscant. Even that seems to be wasted. I expected that the Vong would really "learn some lessons", as Jacen said in Traitor, but if the extent of their lessons is to adapt to an itching fungus and a flood of waste, I'll be quite disappointed. That being said, the world-brain really is developing Jacen's sense of humor, something we haven't seen in him since the Young Jedi Knights ended, with Crisis at Crystal Reef.

Jaina continues her death-wish tactics in the fighter, but she is so darn good at snub-fighter fighting, that it is a joy to "watch" her. Since her decent into darkness in Dark Journey, she has never come truly back into the light of her friends and family. Hopefully the devotion of her new squadron, as well as the warm reception after she was rescued from the moon, will bring some of her levity back.

Vergere made a choice that was not devoid of emotion, as well. Diving a stolen snub-fighter into the little moon to incinerate the Vong and deprive them of air, she sacrificed herself to save Jacen. I guess she discovered the way to survive the afterlife, something that was unknown to the Jedi in the time of The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones -except to Qui-Gon Jinn.

Tsavong Lah meets his end in this book. Leading his ground forces with Voxyn to kill as many Jedi as he could was the only way to redeem himself in the eyes of the gods once he realized that Nom Anor's data had led him into a trap. I think he should have died a more anonymous death from Vergere's sacrifice, rather than the implausible and uninteresting duel with Jaina. There is no way he should have lost that duel, with her trapped that way.

I was very happy to see that the secondary characters are getting a lot of time in these books, especially this one. General Farlander was (I had to look the name up in the Encyclopedia to be sure) the pilot that we all played in the X-Wing video game. Tesar the barabel was a very welcome character, and I liked the expanded role the Wookie senator played.

The most touching part of the book was surprisingly the Jedi Knighting ceremony. Luke's statements to each Jedi were really written from the heart, as a tribute to the survivors of the Myrkr mission in Star By Star. The actual ceremony was rather cheesy, but what political functions aren't?!?

We are nearing the conclusion of the New Jedi Order, and I can see many possibilities for how it can end. This book was not just a collection of plots, which would have been good enough. It also had a lot of setup for continuing the story. I hope that many of the leads we get here are followed through (though I won't be surprised if many of them are not).

The most threatening of these plots is Alpha Red, the virus that could wipe out the Yuuzhan Vong like the Emperor's Plagues would have done to numerous species not too long ago. The most interesting is the rewriting of the constitution of the New Republic, which would give it a new name, and a style of government that is less paralyzing. Thus, when a threat like the invasion of Naboo, the Separatists, Palpatine, the implication of the Chief of State, or the invasion of the Yuuzhan Vong came along, the forces of this new commonwealth could be quickly mobilized. The creators of this series obviously think that the New Republic was at its end because of the bickering it was able to do through the last ten years worth of novels. I tend to agree with them. It is time for a change, and that may come in the next few books.

Finally, I don't think I've commented on the covers of the novels since Dark Journey. I thought this cover, so busy in contrast, was really great. It portrayed so much that went on, with the terrific X-Wing fighters (I guess the new designs just didn't compare!), Luke, Jaina, and even a bearded Jacen! I'd like more of these covers, compared to the Force Heretic ones.

Instead of sacrificing a big character on the side of the New Republic, this author instead chose to sacrifice one of the enemy, though I was wondering if Lowbacca was going to get it at the end. The author also did a lot of manoeuvring, creating governments and the Jedi Council, as well as describing a huge battle at the climax. These types of books are very necessary, and I love the broadness of the plots. I just hope that the characters are not sacrificed in order to further the plots. Stories like Traitor are very necessary, and I hope the writers remember that. This book, however, was an excellent continuation of the series. I look forward to the next books.


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