There were some good spots mixed in here, but they kept taking me
by surprise. This book was a task at tedium, intermixed with some
interesting parts, though it fulfills some crucial roles. The quality
went up and down repeatedly, but in general, I like where the series is
The acknowledgements recognize the late Brian Daley, who was apparently a
good friend of this author. This book seems to be a tribute to him,
because it uses so many of the elements that Daley set up, and bringing up
Han's past in such detail from the Corporate Sector days.
It is very obvious that this author is a fan of the franchise. He has
detailed knowledge of so many of the things that happened in earlier novels,
not just the New Jedi Order, but all of the books. I like continuity,
but this author stretched it to the brim. If we got rid of all the
name-dropping from other books, the novel would have been half as long!
At least I got good use out of my Star Wars Encyclopedia!
In fact, a lot of this book seems to be made with the sole purpose of
name-dropping, and much of it was taken from things that I really didn't want
to be reminded of. He mentions Hethrir from the Crystal
asteroid race in Return to Ord Mantell (when has a good story been told on
that planet?), the Qella ship from the Black Fleet
Crisis, and Bria is
mentioned way too often for my tastes. At least Mara ridicules Luke's
search for his mother in the Shield of Lies set. Even when not being
reminded about Han's past, we are forced to sit through the backgrounds of
Intelligence members and pilots, most of whom came to active service during
the Black Fleet Crisis. At times I felt like I was reading Tolkien, but
without the depth!
Add to that the fact that so many of the lines (especially the cheesy ones)
were lifted directly from the movies, and I could almost see the author
smirking in a self-satisfied way, so happy with himself. The first one
may have been neat, but it was way overblown.
Still, the book was very easy to read. I really enjoyed the
beginning, with Chewbacca's memorial service and the Yuuzhan Vong plotting,
and especially the introduction of Vergere. I don't know why she ejected
at the end of the book -I thought she would want to help; maybe she'll return
in the next book. There is a key phrase when Elan and Vergere are
talking about the Jedi. People must "know how and when to use the
Force, or not use it", she says, belying her true identity as a Jedi for
those of us who remember Obi-Wan and Anakin Skywalker's search for her in the
very boring Rogue Planet. But for most of the book, she sits around,
letting everybody think she is a pet. Very interesting... I want
to know more!
Han did some real reflecting on life after Chewie's memorial service.
It was really heartwarming to see all of his relatives and friends -even the
droids, recalling him so fondly. It was neat to see this from C3PO's
perspective, as he contemplates mortality in a small subplot.
Unfortunately, Han decides that the way to get over Chewie is to run away,
like he's been doing for the last six months. There were several ways
that the author could have taken Han on his road to reconciliation.
Turning towards his family would have been one, and I think that could have
been very interesting, trying to isolate them in the face of the Vong
invasion, doing everything he could to protect them. But I don't think
sending Han back to his old days with old friends was the way to do it.
It seems to me like the author simply wanted to send Han out on another
adventure, and "old days" is just another phrase for "don't tie-me-down days".
Fortunately, the adventure didn't really feel forced, like it could
have. Unfortunately, it reminded me too much of Han Solo at Star's End
and the other books written by Daley, which were alright, but not great, to
begin with. His old friend Roa shows up and plots a course to an unknown
place, telling Han that he's hunting down Reck Desh (how did they create that
name?), an old buddy who has turned traitor, ripening planets for the Vong to
take. Han goes with them, and they end up on Ord Mantell, just the place
where Leia is visiting, trying to set up homes for refugees, and just the
place where the Vong will attack next! Wow, I couldn't have predicted
what was happening next!
I don't mind coincidences, but this is a little too much. It reminds
me of the similar coincidence in Specter of the
Past, where Han and Leia take
a contrived vacation. Surprisingly, it didn't bother me that Han ended
up on the same ship as the Vong spy afterwards.
The battle around Ord Mantell was told dispassionately, nowhere near as
good as Stackpole's battles, such as the ones in Onslaught or
Vong are forced to retreat, but not before they take hundreds of prisoners,
including Roa. Somehow, Han managed to hold onto collapsing railings
when that stupid (and ridiculous) vacuum weapon of the Vong sucked at the
space station. He races to the shuttlebay after help from a furred Ryn
species, and takes off with a ship full of refugees.
Somehow, at the controls of an unfamiliar shuttle, unarmed, Han is able to
defeat four coral skippers by pulling maneuvers that would shake the Falcon
apart. In previous books, the much more maneuverable X- and A-wings had
trouble matching speed and moves with the Vong enemy; how did Han manage it in
a full shuttle not meant for dogfighting? This is where my rating really
went down from three to two stars. He successfully lands the shuttle on
While on the space station, Han had met with another acquaintance from his
Corporate Sector days. The guy doesn't tell Han why he is helping him
-it can't be just for his own sake- but arranges for Han to go to jail after a
bar brawl with Bossk (hasn't somebody killed this idiot yet -after the humiliation
at Boba Fett's hands in Slave Ship, it's a wonder). Then he tells Han
where Reck and his Peace Brigade will strike next, so Han boards a ship for
Bilbringi, leaving Leia with some pretty harsh words. By the end of the
book, it looks like Han and Leia are going to be separated from their
marriage. That's not like Han. He didn't even think of her when
Ord Mantell was attacked! That is definitely not the Han Solo that we
know, not even from the "old days".
The other plot, which I enjoyed much more, was that of the Yuuzhan Vong
religious caste trying to figure out the Jedi, and trying to remove them from
the scene. We have seen the political factions fail (but at a high cost
to the New Republic), and the warrior caste also fail (at an even higher
cost). Now we get to see the religious caste fail (at apparently no cost
to the New Republic). With this book, the Vong are appearing to be more
and more like the Zirzh from Timothy Zahn's Conqueror's
one failure, each commander is relieved, sent to an inconsequential job.
How does that make sense militarily? Curiously, Nom Anor (from Vector
Prime, and earlier, from Crimson Empire II) doesn't get this treatment.
He is simply "not held in favor" like he used to be. The Vong
seem to be very arbitrary about who they demote.
The religious caste allows the New Republic to win several battles,
allowing an agent to "defect" from the Vong. This makes it
seem like Elan is really defecting, though thankfully, it doesn't convince
everyone. She has held inside her some short-lived microbial weapon that she
plans to exhale into a room full of Jedi. She has the ultimate bait for
them: the cure to Mara's illness. Luke and the other Jedi, of course,
must take the chance that she's telling the truth.
Elan is allowed to take her pet with her. Vergere is a companion, but
even Elan doesn't know what Vergere is, really. I really want to know
more about what happened to her in the last fifty years! The two are
taken from stronghold to stronghold, but are attacked at every step of the
way, even on Wayland, where the Noghri now live. There is obviously a
traitor in the midst of the New Republic Intelligence.
I really enjoyed the talk of the Vong from the Intelligence point of
view. I think they may be setting up for Allston's books, which I
understand will include Wraith Squadron. They discuss whether the Vong
could have actually come from another galaxy, or could they be from an
unexplored part of our own? They also discuss who could have possibly
attacked the Chiss, as was reported in Ruin and hinted at in
Vision of the Future. I liked the speculation a lot, and hope we get some answers in
the near future.
The climactic chapters, where Elan is taken aboard the Queen of Empire
highliner (the same ship Han is on) and everybody is fighting for her, begin
to redeem this book, but it was too late by this time (and the last few pages
just brought it back down). I was really interested when the
Intelligence agents were mostly killed, and inadvertently left Elan in Han's
lap (though I was not interested in his Sabaac game). His attitude
towards her was spot-on, written just perfectly. He wasn't interested in
keeping her alive, except that somebody he knew took a blaster shot to protect
her. That's the Han Solo that we know. I also liked the ooglith
unmasker that was presented in this section, a very neat and obvious predator
of the ooglith masker. I really liked that.
Han's escape (because of Luke, Mara and Leia's timely arrival in another
dispassionate battle) was also well written. He goes after Elan after
she is taken by Han's nemesis Reck, and he figures out that Elan was an
assassin just by looking at what she had done. For Reck and his Peace
Brigade took it upon themselves to recapture the "defector", and Nom
Anor had to send in a warship to make sure this didn't happen. Things
got a little out of control for the Vong religious caste, and Elan chose to
accept help from the wrong man -Han Solo. Reck ends up dead, and so does
Elan, succumbing to her own poison. I was wondering if Vergere would
reveal herself when Han caught on, but for some reason, she escaped. I
know that we can't have pre-Empire Jedi hanging around, like Ikrit from The
Golden Globe, but it would have been interesting. Instead, Vergere is more
subtle, which is also very nice -she mentally tells Han about the airborne
poison, without him knowing where the thought came from.
The denouement brought us back to lackluster, reverting to the style of
the middle of the book. We get a made-up conflict between Han and Leia,
even as he is reconciling with Anakin about Chewie's death (important point
number one). Han leaves
for more adventure (and presumably rescue of Roa) with his new sidekick, the
Ryn called Droma (I wonder if he's related to Ulic Qel-Droma?). Don't we
have enough species now, without introducing yet another? I certainly
hope Droma doesn't become a permanent character. Somebody mentioned that
he might be the new Jar-Jar for the expanded universe. While I don't
mind Jar-Jar, I really dislike Droma.
This book focuses almost exclusively on Han, for the most part ignoring the
next generation. Let's give him and the others, who are getting older
now, a rest
and take up with the new generation. They have been fully established;
let them inherit the galaxy. There are not many characters to deal with
in this book, so it's hard to say anything about character development.
Han developed -or should I say undeveloped? The others were mere
backgrounds. As for Mara, she's healed by the tears that Vergere
produced and gave to Han. It's almost an afterthought, but it's
important point number two.
It was good to see Han reconciled in a way that I am sure many people will
be happy with -as long as he's reconciled by the end of the duology. I
was never a fan of Han Solo, and only marginally enjoyed the two trilogies
centering on him. But this felt like an excuse to go adventuring
again. I really enjoyed the other aspects of the book, however.
It's too bad they were not touched on often enough. This book was much
more focused than the others in the New Jedi Order. Though we get a
couple of battles, there is no sense of galactic urgency, and for that, there
appears to be a hole in the book.