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ONSLAUGHT

A novel by Michael A. Stackpole (2000, Del Rey)
Book 1 in the New Jedi Order: Dark Tide
25 years after Star Wars: A New Hope

Against the wishes of the New Republic Council, the Jedi and military scout out and battle the invading Yuuzhan Vong forces.

 

 

3 stars

Read October 22nd to 26th, 2001  
    Good, even writing all the way through makes this standard Star Wars adventure very enjoyable. It was about learning, but it seemed to lack some passion, and the division of chapters was a little annoying.

Five independent plots seems to be a little much for a book of this size. Still, Stackpole did a good job with them, making the characters interesting, while many of them even got to do important and interesting stuff.

There was the most interesting of all of them, Anakin and Mara, sent to Dantooine for some rest. Anakin needs to recover from his guilt over Chewbacca's death, and Mara has to fight off her disease. There, they meet some of the primitive natives, and reflect on how Admiral Daala's fight here in Dark Apprentice might have affected these people. 

But the most interesting aspect is how Anakin learns respect for the Force. Mara tells him, just like she told Luke in Vision of the Future, that he is using the Force to casually. He starts depending on his muscles and ingenuity almost exclusively for most of the story. This is what Tenel Ka always told him, that the Force was just another tool, not to be used more than any other. And when he does end up using it, when the Yuuzhan Vong arrive, he is more powerful than ever. This is, obviously, the author proving his own point, and I'm not sure I believe it. But it seems to be what the publishers are turning the Force into, so I can't really argue about it. If the Force flows from all living things, then it should be inexhaustible, and the power of the Jedi to grab at that power shouldn't depend on how often they use it. It sounds like the argument that sex before a football game will leave the player unable to play from exhaustion, when the argument is not even valid, let alone arguable.

But what I do like is Anakin learning who he is without the Force. Before, he always thought the Force was part of him, and he used it as such. Now he realizes that the Force is a tool, just like his muscles, and that he shouldn't rely solely upon it. For if he was ever in a ysalamiri bubble, or encountering a Yuuzhan Vong, he would be without this tool, and would be crippled. Now, he can use, say, a martial arts training, without the Force, if necessary, and do the same job. 

The description of Anakin and Mara's flight through the jungle after the Vong arrive is an excellent example of why Stackpole's books are so fun to read. We knew the Vong were testing Our Heroes, learning what they could about the Jedi, and it was written as such. Anakin normally faced a single Vong warrior at a time, defeating them, but not usually able to kill them. The ones that he does kill die because of his luck, which is a good thing, because of the difficulty Mara had fighting her warrior in Vector Prime. Anakin may be powerful in the Force, but he shouldn't have an easier time with the battle than Mara did.

But when he has to face three warriors at a time, he knows he has had it. He does an incredible job before he is taken down... it's just a good thing that Luke had that vision...

In another plot we have Leia, who as a representative of the Outer Rim worlds, tries to help them brace for the imminent invasion. She gets a cold shoulder from the New Republic Council, who thinks this is a grab for power. It is interesting to note that the New Republic is in the hands of mostly non-humans for probably the first time in several generations. And they think anything that will make them look bad is treasonous. They desperately want to show the Galaxy that they can manage it better than the humans did, or at least as well. There is nice symmetry as Leia stands before the Council at the beginning and at the end of this book, but by the end, she has the power to force them to listen to her, and to shame them if they don't. 

Leia goes to Agamar, a planet that I didn't recognize, but apparently one that had some strong connections to the Rebellion a generation ago, and gains support from that government. When I first read the name, I was afraid it was Adumar. Whew! They are still rebuilding after the Empire, but will allow refugees to come to their world. Leia has with her a Caamasi, Elegos (is he the same one from Specter of the Past?), Danni from Vector Prime, and Jaina, Jedi Knight. 

When they have to evacuate Lando's planet Dubrillion, Jaina is picked to join Rogue Squadron, and does a good job at fighting off some of the Yuuzhan Vong warships. The Rogues, under the command of Gavin Darklighter and Admiral Kre'fey, a Bothan related to the one who was disgraced in Rogue Squadron, were out searching the area for "pirates", officially, and Yuuzhan Vong invaders, unofficially. Gavin himself did some great work against a small force they had found among some destroyed freighters. 

Their route to Agamar cut off by the Vong equivalent of an Interdiction field, using dovin basals, they head to, conveniently, Dantooine, where they leave the refugees as the New Republic ship heads off to get more supplies and fighters. All the main players remain there with the refugees. At least Leia and Jaina both wonder about Anakin. It was not all chance, which would have made the book look contrived. When she learns she is going to Dantooine, Jaina thinks, "great, I wonder how Anakin and Mara are doing; I've been wanting to talk with them..."

Meanwhile, Luke and Jacen travel back to Belkadan, where some Vong virus was wrecking the planet's biosphere two months ago. The air is now breathable, and they discover that the Vong are growing starships, communication devices, and all the other living tools that they use. Not only that, but they have created slaves from the people of our Galaxy. By implanting living devices into the skin, they obtain control of the slaves through war coordinator-type beings. They have some strange pain devices that Jacen is subjected to after he is caught trying to free the slaves.

Jacen has a lot of trouble in this book. He is still confused by the events in Vector Prime. He still feels that he must go off alone to get more closely attuned to the Force, but he feels the need to help out. He still doesn't know which method is better. And when he follows his vision of the Force, he is captured and tortured. The image of Luke bristling with two lightsabers, battling Vong after Vong to rescue him was amazing. 

Luke, of course, gets a vision that Mara and Anakin will need their help on Dantooine, so they leave... After Luke rescues Anakin, they all join up again with Leia and the refugees at the main camp. They prepare for a ground battle, another test by the Yuuzhan Vong. In this one, Gavin, Jaina and the Rogues destroy Vong skips with a lot more ease than they did in Vector Prime, and they begin slaughtering the ground troops. Luke, Anakin and Jacen also help out, with Luke using the Force to push a dovin basal's black hole defense device down upon its own vessel, killing a war coordinator and freeing the slaves. (This isn't necessarily a good thing, because these Vong slaves are from their own galaxy, and become rabid beasts when the control is lost.)

Leaving orbit with the freighters, they are blocked once again by the big Vong battleship, but Kre'fey arrives just in time to rescue them, driving the warship off, and bringing everybody to Agamar, and then Coruscant.

The last plotline belongs to Corran Horn (or course, being a Stackpole novel) and another Jedi named Ganner. They travel to a planet in Imperial space in search of some academics. Not surprisingly, they come across more Yuuzhan Vong, and more slaves from Our Galaxy. But they also recover the body of a long-dead Vong, probably from the espionage scout trip that took place in the time of Rogue Planet, if I am correct about where Vergere went in that book.

The interesting part about that plotline, though it doesn't merge with the others, is the difference in philosophy between Ganner and Corran. Ganner follows Kyp's way of thinking, taking the law into their own hands, and using the Force for show as well as for defence. I wonder where this will lead. As ruckus as Corran was when he underwent his Jedi training in I, Jedi, he has settled down and become a powerful master of the Force. His son is studying to be a Jedi, as well. 

I don't really like the way the New Jedi Order authors seem to be treating the Force as magic. The Jedi can use it like wizards in classic fantasy. Now, it seems to carry a penalty when it's used, just like it does in fantasy books. But people like Ganner and Kyp don't get penalized, so it is slightly inconsistent. I also don't like the division of powers. Sure, one person might be stronger than another in a certain area, but the Force Powers seem to be like learned spells. Each Power is specifically defined, and I'm with Jacen about this -I don't think that's the way the Force works.

The other annoying part about this book is the way the five different plots intertwine. They each get a short chapter. I am used to the way authors use chapters to divide up the separate plotlines, but this was taken to the extreme. The plots were presented in sequence, so that I knew that if I was reading about Corran in one chapter, I would be reading about Anakin in the next, and so on. It was a guarantee! Giving us two chapters in a row about the same characters would have been nice, as it happened near the end, when everybody came together.

The characters were very well developed, though, in their respective chapters. Unfortunately, they never got beyond the "interesting" phase, to the "passionate" phase. Leia got frustrated early on, and didn't fight back. Luke sent his Jedi out on fact-finding missions, and we got a glimmer of why he is still the only Jedi Master. It was written well, but was missing some of the passion, even though it was told through the wide eyes of Jacen Solo. The only glimmer of passion I got was from Anakin and Mara (no, not that kind -though I wonder if the one time Luke and Mara were alone will result in her pregnancy, which I know is coming in a few books). 

It was a standard adventure, but it was well done, and I loved the exploration. It is obvious setup, and that's hard to do. This one did a very good job of it. We will have to see what happens to the conclusion of this short series. The politicians have finally capitulated to Leia's demands, which is nice to see. At least we didn't have to listen to long-winded speeches here. I like it when an author respects his audience enough to know when to skip the pages-long speeches and say that the character told others what she knew. Period.

The military is now on alert, and it seems that they have developed tactics to effectively battle the Yuuzhan Vong. It just takes a lot of manpower to do that. The Rogues don't seem to be as good as they used to be, but I liked the way Wedge and Tycho showed up at the end. With the "old-timers" coming out of retirement to face the threat, those who remember the last threat, maybe the New Republic stands a chance. I look forward to the possibility of Admiral Ackbar taking command again. And with Jaina as a permanent Rogue, with Gavin and Inyri left over from the old Rogues, maybe they'll do better than that, before it's too late...

I already mentioned the parts that I liked best about this book, Luke's brandishing two lightsabers, and Anakin protecting Mara and their discussions. But one point I think brought home how different this series is from any other, at least in this Duology, is the way Luke looks up at Rogue Squadron as they lift off to defend the refugees. He looks up with longing, and I was surprised that I actually expected him to by flying an X-Wing! I am not used to Luke asking a Lieutenant where he should be, taking part in ground defenses! 

Most of this book was very good. It just seemed a little standard. It was not as good as the beginning of Vector Prime, but much, much better than the second half of that book. It was very stable, very steady. It just followed standard plotting, which I would like to see less of. Still, an excellent start to the real invasion.

As an end note, I have discovered the advantage of taking down the names of people and places in my reviews. I was just recently looking over my review of Crimson Empire II, and discovered that there was a mysterious person manipulating the members of the Imperial Council. His name? Nom Anor. Was this discussed in the comic session before the New Jedi Order was written, or did they take it because it seemed like a cool and consistent character for what happened in Vector Prime? I wonder about the behind-the-scenes with these books. You never know when a familiar name will pop up. Nom Anor here is discussed as the idea of factions pop up among the Yuuzhan Vong. I wonder how the factions, families, interact, and if that will become a weakness the New Republic will be able to exploit...
 
   

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