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A novel by Troy Denning (2005, Del Rey)
Book 1 in the Dark Nest Trilogy
30 years after Star Wars: A New Hope

The surviving members of the Myrkr Vong attack are drawn into a conflict between the Chiss and a collective-mind insect hive.



Read April 25th to May 7th, 2007  
    This was a difficult book to get through, especially at the beginning. This author can write some good stuff, and is great at the details. Unfortunately, at least for getting into the story, the details were just too alien for me.

My favorite parts of the book are those that take place outside the collective hives, especially the moments between Luke and Mara. I still can't believe how well these two characters are written. Their love for each other really shines through. The authors also use subtle sexual references between them, which never happened with Han and Leia.

There is a gap between the end of the New Jedi Order series and this one. Suddenly, Ben Skywalker is eight years old! And he's quite rebellious, even shying away from the Force.

The author uses the story to showcase what the New Jedi Order has actually become, and how Luke is coming to terms with it -or not. He uses the Light and Dark sides of the Force, including Force Lightning. He condones the torture of one of the insects. He does not like what he and the other Jedi have become. They are also becoming servants to the Galactic Alliance, which none of them like. I enjoy all of this questioning, and I am genuinely interested in where it is going. I wondered if George Lucas took exception to the new view of the Force, and asked the authors to bring it back in line with his vision.

The plot of the story revolves around a border dispute between the insect Killiks and the Chiss. I think it's funny that everybody calls them bugs or Kind, until the Killik Twilight painting is shown, after which everybody calls them Killiks -even the people who weren't there when the painting was discussed. The painting, of course, is the one Han and Leia went to so much trouble obtaining in Tatooine Ghost, written by the same author. It depicts an insectile nesting structure that predated human colonization of Alderaan. Through the story, the Killiks claim to have spanned the galaxy, and build Centerpoint Station and the Maw black hole cluster. The narration, though, tells us that they were there when those things were built, and probably swept away to this dark corner of the galaxy by those same creators. Their collective memory is rather fluid.

We also get some hints of the mysteries left behind by other books. The Empire of the Hand from Vision of the Future was gone in the New Jedi Order book Refugee.  Apparently, it is important that Baron Fel had an unknown, secret, son. The big question is whether it actually means anything.

The insect hives are important because the young Jedi who survived the mission from Star by Star are mysteriously called to the colony, and all but Tenel Ka actually go. Jaina and Zekk are most susceptible, but Tahiri leaves Zonoma Sekot (we get a small glimpse of the humiliated Vong), and Jacen leaves the Fallassani to go. Jacen has certainly grown even more powerful in the Force. He has learned to communicate across time and to do things the other Jedi cannot do. He has been exploring all the various ways the Force is used in the galaxy.

It is Raynar Thul, who disappeared in Star by Star, who has summoned them. He was mortally wounded in a crash when the fighter the dark Jedi stole with him on it entered the colony. The insects managed to heal him, but he joined with them, as a hybrid. The colony, which has a hive mind, adopted his Jedi principles, suddenly starting to care for their wounded and the wounded of their enemies. The various hives joined together, and he became the leader, the UnuThul. Like the Tribbles, as described by Worf in Trials and Tribbillations, the Colony suddenly began devastating its landscape in order to survive, as its population exploded. The Chiss don't like the colony on their back doorstep, and have poisoned the nearest colonies.

All throughout, there is the sense that something is very wrong. The young Jedi, with the exception of Jacen, become Joiners, humanoids who are seriously influenced by the hive minds. Luke, Mara, Han and Leia go to investigate the disappearance of the Jedi, and are impeded throughout their search. But we learn a lot about the hives in the process. There was so much detail, however, and it was so alien a society, that it was difficult to become interested enough in it to really care about it. Especially when we learned about what it did with the Jedi, and how they deny the very reality that someone is out to kill Luke and the others.

I like the way Han draws the conclusion that Jaina and the others are looking for a cause, much as Leia had led the Rebel Alliance against the Empire, so she is more easily influenced by the plight of the colony. A true Jedi, as Luke explains, should look at both sides of a conflict dispassionately.

In the end, they discover a Dark Nest, which took on the attitudes of the two dark Jedi, Welk and Lomi Plo. In a battle reminiscent in scale and detail of Star by Star, but not as momentous, Luke and the others enter the dark nest and kill probably thousands of dark blue Killiks, and Welk. Lomi Plo escapes as does the Twilek Jedi Alema Rar, who appears to have gone over to the Dark Side. When Raynar finally arrives, he is furious, and incoherent. Leia has to guide him through a series of illogical conclusions to get him to agree to her plan of relocation, as far from the Chiss border as she can get him (Since he chooses not to remember rescuing the dark Jedi from the crash, she convinces him that when a nest absorbs too many Chiss joiners, it becomes a Dark Nest -ha!).

It is pretty clear, from the beginning of the story, that the Galactic Alliance is crumbling. It didn't even last as long as the New Republic. Through his journey, Han decides that Leia is in her element back doing diplomatic tasks like making peace between battling enemies. But the best part of this: Leia finally decides to become a full-fledged Jedi, giving up her co-pilot duties of the Millennium Falcon, and diplomacy. It's about time! The next question is what Luke will do with the Jedi Order. I love the way the Academy has been relocated to Ossus! Very appropriate.

There is another tiny plot in this book, which I hope will become larger in the next book. The title, The Unseen Queen, most likely applies to Lomi Plo, but could also apply to Padmé Amidala. Luke and Leia still don't know their mother's identity, but Luke has stumbled on a memory of R2D2's that contains her image, and of her speaking to Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi, presumably from Revenge of the Sith.

There are so many little elements like this in the book, that it is hard not to like, if it wasn't for the main plot. The character touches were amazing. I think Saba Sebatyne is my new favorite expanded universe character. I love the way she can embrace her violent nature without even coming close to the Dark Side.

Other things really bugged me, mostly with the main plot. I didn't like all the swearing, even if it uses different words than we consider to be swears. The writing style seemed much too contemporary, using so many slang terms and phrases that are used now, but will not survive the test of time ("stop that chest-heaving thing..." and so on). Most of all, I don't like the idea of Jedi being brainwashed like these so easily were, nor that Raynar, through the will of the hive, is stronger in the Force than Luke (I wonder if Jacen is stronger).

So I'm really torn about this book. I think all of the small points are going to be important, and they were really well written. I only wish the main plot was a little less mixed up (the collective mind is one thing, but the conscious/ subconsious hive/ dark nest concept is weird). Regardless, the book had enough really good points that it is worth recommending. Plus, it is undoubtedly essential reading before moving into the Legacy of the Force series.


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