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A novel by Greg Keyes (2003, Del Rey)
Book 7 in the New Jedi Order Main Sequence
29 years after Star Wars: A New Hope

Tahiri and Corran bring a Yuuzhan Vong prophet, shaper and priest to Zonoma Sekot.




Read October 31st to November 6th, 2004  
    Entertaining, but not all that engrossing. The characters seemed rather out of character, though strangely enough, there were a number of good character moments!

This story is about Zonoma Sekot, and what it means to the Yuuzhan Vong. The Force Heretic trilogy, specifically, Reunion, was about what the planet meant to the Jedi and the New Republic; this one shows the other side.

The book was also a showcase for Tahiri, as she continues to grow into the Riina/Tahiri merged personality. Through the course of the story, she encounters Nen Yim, and has to decide what she wants to do with her life. Revenge is in both her and Riina, for what the shaper did to her. But the Jedi way forbids killing out of revenge. Nen Yim is smart enough to avoid the topic of the Shaping, once they have agreed not to kill each other. One of the most poignant moments is when the two of them realize that Riina's memories actually come from Nen Yim! They both have reason to hate the Master Shaper from Conquest.

This author, of course, wrote Conquest and Rebirth, and thus, by writer tradition, continues the threads from both of those books, which have been barely touched upon since. Nom Anor is reminded several times here of how he ran from Anakin Solo in Rebirth. Corran Horn returns as a major character for the first time since that book, as well, and takes on Tahiri as his Padawan, thus continuing the relationship they started in that book, as well. It seems to me that we haven't heard nearly enough about the Master-Padawan relationship in the New Jedi Order. It was advertised when the series started that Luke's formation of the new Jedi Council, and the one-on-one teacher-student relationship would be a major force of change, but the authors didn't seem to know what to do with it, and it was strained and broken even before it got established. It's nice to see that some are still using it, even if it is barely a couple of sentences.

The title of the book comes from Nom Anor's prophecy of Zonoma Sekot as a planet where the Shamed Ones will be redeemed, while he is still their prophet. At the same time, Nen Yim is given a Sekotan ship to study, and confirms that it would be a danger to the Yuuzhan Vong. Strangely, it also shared Vong biology at the cellular level. She contacts Harrar, the priest, and the Prophet, and they enlist the help of the Galactic Alliance to take them there. The authors of nearly all these books continue to write excellently for the Yuuzhan Vong, while the Alliance parts come across as extraneous. I liked the heretofore unmentioned predecessor to Supreme Overlord Shimrra, Quoreal. Throughout the story, we get the sense that Quoreal was the one who attacked Zonoma Sekot back in Rogue Planet, and who realized something about this galaxy that has not yet been revealed to us. With only one book left after this one, I hope we get some satisfying answers. I get the feeling that Zonoma Sekot was once part of the Yuuzhan Vong homeworld. But how would they then explain all the Legends, the lack of a presence in the Force, and the flight between galaxies for generations? Did they leave this galaxy, then return by accident?

I enjoyed the escape from Coruscant, especially the way Corran discovered that the Sekotan ship was alive in the Force, and responded so well to the Jedi skills, the way it responded to Anakin Skywalker's touch, even though the ship was not made for Corran.

Much of the rest of the story takes place on Zonoma Sekot itself. While I do think either Nen Yim or especially Harrar should have recognized Nom Anor through his masquer, through body language or something, I can excuse that. Once they arrive on the planet, Nom Anor is actually the only one to act like himself. Harrar didn't really take offence at Corran cutting down trees for a shelter, while in Conquest, Vua Rapung said any kind of creation by technical means, even fire, was a sin, and was mortally offended by it. As Nom Anor says, Harrar even joked about using the technology of the hyperdrive engines, something no Yuuzhan Vong would do. Meanwhile, Nen Yim seemed like an incredible genius, able to deduce critical insect niches and habits in only a couple of days, if that. Doesn't it usually take seasons for that?

However, I thoroughly enjoyed both the philosophical discussions between Harrar and Corran, especially about Ithor and destroying life, and between Tahiri and Nen Yim, about life itself. I did wonder about Nen Yim's analogy to the fruit with a worm in it -I thought the Yuuzhan Vong would enjoy that kind of thing, especially if it gave them pain?

I was not satisfied with the reason given for Sekot never finding the group before the Yuuzhan Vong shuttle arrived. The planet had trouble finding them? Hasn't it been established that Sekot could find anybody anywhere on the planet? Even if that isn't true, the planet is intimately linked to its ships, one of whom died coming back to its source. The explanation was very weak. Still, that doesn't explain Luke and Jacen sitting around doing nothing when they know Corran and Tahiri are on the planet, possibly in trouble. They could have started orbiting the planet, using the Force to pinpoint the Jedi. Surely it would have been easier to find them along a line-of-sight rather than through the planet?

Once he has enough information, Nom Anor reveals himself. When Nen Yim came to her startling discovery, but didn't tell anybody, it was obvious that she would be killed. When the Shaper gave Nom Anor access to her qhasa with all the sensitive information, it was also obvious that he would use it, including the "protocols" she had developed for killing the planet if it was a threat. I didn't like the way Harrar was dealt with, though. His fall from the cliff was uninspired, and I get the feeling that he might not be dead, after all.

Unforgivable in this plot is the way the Jedi forget to use the Force. There is no excuse for Tahiri having to think about using it, even if she is still suffering from the effects of her split personality. She could have easily deflected Nom Anor's poison, which should have been reflex. Similarly, Corran didn't need to levitate to get down the shaft to Nom Anor, he could have pushed the floor away from him as he would deflect sticks and stones. When he was stuck in the elevator, couldn't he have Force-jumped to the opening? There are many, many more instances where the Jedi could have used the Force to save them a lot of trouble.

I also wonder why killing Nom Anor while he wasn't attacking would be a Dark Side act. They know that he cannot be redeemed, that he would escape the first chance he got. To prevent other certain deaths at his hands, he should be killed. Tahiri would not have been killing him in cold blood, or murder. At the very least, I am happy that the author didn't fall into the cliché of having Tahiri decide against killing him, only to have her kill him in self-defence after he attacked her.

Regardless, Nom Anor escapes from her twice, and he succeeds in poisoning Sekot, though the planet was able to neutralize the poison. I wondered if Tahiri could have found Nen Yim's qhasa and understand it, having the Shaper's memories, and reverse some of the damage. That might have to wait for the next book, however. This plot ends on yet another cliff-hanger, with the planet in hyperspace, heading for an unknown destination.

The other plot that takes place in this book deals with Wedge and Jaina, and their fleets. Wedge uses Duro as an effective diversion for the Galactic Alliance to take back the shipyards at Fondor. The Duro's comparison of Wedge's "betrayal" to Kyp Durron's seduction of Jaina in order to destroy the worldship earlier in the series is heavily flawed, as Kyp was a rogue, while Wedge and his superiors gave this plan a lot of thought.

Assuming that the Vong will anticipate another trick like this, Wedge attacks Bilbringi, last seen in The Last Command, intending to retake it, not use it as a diversion, if possible. Unfortunately, the Vong have released a new weapon that destroys the entire Holonet system, so communications is now impossible anywhere in the galaxy. After all the work Han and Leia did in the last books to restore communications! I really like this development.

Wedge slugs it out waiting for an opportunity to leave the system, sending Jag out to contact the other fleets, though he never returns in time. What does Admiral Pellaeon mean when he says they didn't have enough time to get the fleet ready for lightspeed? Isn't that what they were waiting for?

I don't understand Han and Leia's mission in this, and I think their whole unlikely plot should have been excised from the book. Han is shown to be a complete pushover, not understanding people, or motivations, and not wanting to act on information. The Galactic Alliance didn't have any choice but to act on the message from the Prophet. They have to take every chance for peace they can. There was also too much false-swearing, especially early on, from Corran, Han, and Jaina.

Instead of helping the fleets to communicate with each other, to possibly help coordinate with Wedge, Han plunges directly into the battle. As the Falcon is the fastest ship in the fleet (still?), wouldn't the battle at Bilbringi have been won if Han had reported to Bel Iblis and Pellaeon and brought the much-needed help? Instead, he attacks a Vong Interdictor, somehow sneaking up on it. I guess ships don't have sensors anymore, even unmanned ones that could detect new arrivals. Wedge didn't see them, either, and nobody on Zonoma Sekot -even a Star Destroyer- didn't detect a Vong ship enter orbit there.

Leia needs to practise with the Force more, too. She should have known that Jaina was not in the middle of the system in the fight, but somewhere along the rim. For Jaina was captured while investigating a space weapons platform, initially cloaked. Her Force-alertness was slow, too. As expected, though, they entered the battle and turned the tide, in time for Wedge to make a full retreat. I take it from the last chapter that he didn't have time to pick up the escape pods carrying Pash Cracken and the others?

There was definitely a lot of good material here, but it was presented in a way that felt like it was Star Wars "lite". It was a good book, but the characters were forced into situations that seemed unnatural, given their Force abilities. There were a lot of clichéd moments, as well, especially in the way of "last minute rescues". I hope the next, and last, book can restore the brilliance of this series, but given the author, I don't expect too much.


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