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A novel by Michael A. Stackpole (1999, Bantam Spectra)
Book 8 of the X-Wing Novels
9 years after Star Wars: A New Hope

The Rogues crusade to rescue Isard's former prisoners, while freeing some planets from an Imperial warlord.



3 stars

Read August 5th to 9th, 2001  
    A fun, action-packed adventure, with a surprisingly straightforward plot, which was refreshing.  The author didn't try to do too much, although he does rewrite a bit of history.

But that's fine.  As long as we can accept that Isard had access to a cloning machine (a fact that nobody seems concerned about), we can also accept that she made a clone just before she left Coruscant in The Krytos Trap, to put in charge of scattering the prisoners from her Super Star Destroyer, Lusankya.  This was to thwart Corran, in case he decided to pick a fight with the ship to rescue the people he got to know there.  In the meantime, Isard was never on the shuttle that she appropriated at the end of The Bacta War, but sent some pilot on his own, with her on the comm all the time.  But she was actually broadcasting from the planet's surface, safe from the Rogues, and quietly escaped.  I'm not sure I believe that, but I can suspend my reasoning for that part, so that the plot can continue.

Isard is taking out her revenge on more than one party here.  She is looking to destroy Rogue Squadron, while at the same time destroy a huge part of the New Republic fleet, which is just beginning to recover from Grand Admiral Thrawn's assault.  At the same time, she has hatched a plan to get rid of former Imperial Admiral Krennel, who defied her in Mandatory Retirement, and who took over Sate Pestage's little Hegemony of a dozen worlds and other assets for himself.  And so we have the setup for this book.

I love the way this book takes references from past and future stories and pastes them together.  I'm not sure I believe Isard would have known about the Camaas document (Specter of the Past), and it seems like it was put in for no reason at all.  I did like the mention of all the other warlords out there, some of whom will band together and retake Coruscant in the next books, Dark Empire.  I half expected Coruscant to fall by the end of this one, ending it on a dark note, as Solo Command did by setting up for its "sequel". It didn't, but it was ironic that it should end with a celebratory party, in that case.  

The book opens in the last stages of the fight against Thrawn.  It was really neat to find myself absorbed in the battle of Bilbringi shipyards again, in the last chapters of The Last Command.  And to experience the non-victory that was a victory for the New Republic simply because Thrawn was killed.  The surprise and happiness that they are alive, however, doesn't last long, as a man from Corran Horn's past shows up and immediately dies.  He was a prisoner and a friend when Corran was Isard's prisoner in The Krytos Trap.  This sets Corran into guilt about not yet fulfilling his promise to free the others when he got the chance.  Never mind, as the others point out, that Isard scattered the prisoners, then they were preoccupied with destroying Zsinj and then Thrawn showed up...  But it sets the stage for Rogue Squadron to go looking.

And following the path Isard left for them, they go to a moon of Commenor, where they had once staged for the hunt for Zsinj.  There, they find prisoners half dead, and another trail of breadcrumbs that would have led them to the moon Distna, deep inside Krennel's territory.  They miss this information, though Iella Wassiri and Mirax find it later, enough to confuse the issue.  They barely get out of the situation alive, with help from Mirax's father Booster Terrik, and a mysterious person who happens to be sent from Isard.  

Meanwhile, the Rogues and a New Republic task force go after one of Krennel's planets, one that would hurt him economically if taken.  The Rogues and the ground support teams, which are getting a lot more coverage in this book than they did in the original books, easily take out the planet, though Corran is shot down.  This is lucky, for Corran finds a secret lab where technicians appear to be working on a new, scaled-down Death Star.  My warning senses came on here, as this concept is one that is way too overused, and after the way it was handled in Darksaber, I would rather not see any more Death Star references.  However, it's a hoax, set up by the real Isard, who wants help from the Rogues to destroy Krennel, as well as her clone.  

The Rogues fall into the trap, which the clone thinks is because of the evidence that Iella and Mirax would later find, they are devastated in the ambush, and half the crew is rescued by Isard's squadron of TIE Defenders, a concept that originated in the computer game Rebel Assault, if I am not mistaken.  (I even got to fly one, which was every bit as exciting as Stackpole makes it seem in the text.)  

The other half of the crew are killed -well, sort of.  Because Mirax went straight to her father with evidence that Distna is a trap, Booster takes his Star Destroyer (acquired in The Bacta War) into the system and recovers all of the debris.  This is convenient, as both Isard's clone, Krennel, and the New Republic now think the Rogues are gone.  Among the debris that Booster found were the nearly dead bodies of Wes Janson and Asyr (the Bothan), Corran's fighter's wing, and the dead bodies of the two newest Rogues.  I wonder if these books are now going on for too long.  The way Luke, Han and Leia are constantly saving the galaxy, it is difficult to kill off characters in the squadron.  The new guys are the obvious ones, though I liked the way the Quarren pilot Nrin (from the Rogue Squadron comics) was reintroduced.  I wonder if he will stay with the squadron in the next books...

The Rogues are "requested" to train for Isard in the TIE Defenders, so that they can be inserted into Krennel's command, ready for them to betray him.  They know that Isard (the real one) has an ulterior motive, but until they get the chance to escape, they don't have much choice, and they know this is the best and least bloody way to rescue the Lusankya prisoners, whom they now know are being kept under the clone's watchful eye on Krennel's headquarters.  

Does this sound confusing?  It wasn't while reading it.  The setting really determined who we were reading about, though the real Isard wasn't used much.  

Almost no time is spent on the planet, for Admiral Ackbar's fleet arrives in-system shortly after Wedge and his Rogues do.  Unfortunately, Krennel has planned to attack Coruscant while the "rebel" fleet takes a world away from the Hegemony.  So his entire fleet is ready for battle when Ackbar arrives.  The battle is pretty well described, and all the ships take a big beating.  This is probably how the other warlords were able to take Coruscant away from the New Republic shortly after that.  Fortunately, Ackbar learned some things from Thrawn.  When Krennel powers up his Interdictor Star Destroyer, Ackbar calls for the rest of his fleet, which use the gravity wells to land squarely in the middle of the battle, just as Thrawn did in attacking whole worlds.  The move of genius...

On the ground, Corran infiltrates the prison to keep his promise to the Lusankya prisoners, and gets caught in a crossfire.  With the help of some ground troops, who bypassed the battle in orbit (and use their new Nohgri allies), they get out safe and sound.  Wedge, meanwhile, chases the Isard clone's shuttle, knowing that it wasn't her flying, that she was using the same trick her real self used at the end of The Bacta War.  Wedge figures it out, downs the shuttle, and destroys the location where the clone is hiding out.  

The real Isard, after reneging on her promise to give the Rogues ground support in their mission, happily uses her spies within the New Republic to gain access to her beloved Super Star Destroyer.  Lucky for us, Iella, Mirax and Booster figured out her trick.  Isard had kept out of the spotlight, and didn't let Wedge tell his bosses (like Ackbar) that she was involved.  But a cute subplot with Corran's astromech droid Whistler, gave them the edge.  They meet her in her private room there, and after way too much conversation, Iella kills her (in self defense, of course).  Finally, both Isards are dead!

There is another subplot involving Gavin and Asyr.  They want to get married and adopt some children (mating not being possible between them), so I knew that one of them was bound to die.  The author avoided this cliché by having Asyr nearly die and never tell anybody that she lived.  She had been abused by the senator Borsk Fey'lya about being a hero and how she was supposed to be a model Bothan, and she should get serious and marry a Bothan so she could have Bothan children of her own.  So at the end, she goes off to try and change society, leaving Gavin with a broken heart, as he and the rest of the Rogues leave their respects for a fallen comrade.  I wonder if Asyr showed up unnoticed by me in Vision of the Future.

I was put off by the concept of an Isard clone (and the rewriting of history for this to happen), and by the death of only unknown pilots.  Too bad he could not have been brave and really kill Janson off.  That would have had some effect.  And wasn't Nawara Ven, the Twi'lek, killed off in Solo Command?  (Maybe not; I get confused on the two Twi'lek's in Rogue Squadron.)  It was nice to see the return of General Dodonna, from the Battle of Yavin, but I wonder what the real point of that is.  He won't be leading any battles at his age.  

Continuity was nice, as Stackpole filled in many of the gaps between the Thrawn trilogy and the Dark Empire trilogy.  It shows how the New Republic fleet was weakened to the point where the warlords could take over Coruscant.  Wedge gets a promotion to General (I wondered when that would happen), and there is some setup for Wedge and Iella's relationship (though I wonder how he gets suddenly into a relationship with Qui Xux in the Jedi Academy trilogy soon afterwards), where they will be already married in Union.  I wish the retaking of Coruscant after the events of Dark Empire were covered in a book like this one.

The last complaint I have is with the writer of the back of the book.  Who writes these things -does he even read the book?  The Rogues were not going to Krennel's planet to rescue comrades, but former Lusankya prisoners.  And they were held in well-kept prison cells, not a sadistic prison camp.  What's the reason for this deception?

Battle scenes are what Stackpole seems to do best.  He makes some interesting characters, who do some interesting things, but the battles are the most fun to read. The book was fun, and quite entertaining.  There were no moments where I was bored, even though I think Stackpole goes into too much detail on tiny little things (and the wall Corran cut through with his lightsaber must have been completely hollow for his plan to work, which is not likely given the security of the rest of that floor).  So it was another successful Rogue Squadron story.  Bring on the next!


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