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A novel by Aaron Allston (2002, Del Rey)
Book 2 in the New Jedi Order
: Enemy Lines Duology
27 years after Star Wars: A New Hope

Han and Leia stir up an underground movement, Luke discovers a Dark Side threat on Coruscant, and a final stand is made at Borleias.



3 stars

Read January 29th to February 2nd, 2003  
    Mostly plot, with little in the way of character insights, this book felt more like an amalgamation of several unrelated short stories. They were very well written, however they didn't have the impact of the previous book, except in the last chapters.

The most enjoyable section of the book, aside from the ending battle, was the thread containing Han and Leia. After taking the children and Jedi trainees to the hidden Maw base, they take off to drive support for a strong anti-Yuuzhan Vong sentiment. They spend the book in two places, really. In one, they manage to use blackmail to drive a Vong-appeasement Senator into exile. That was terrific. I really thought they were getting into a political mess, but it was written in pure Rebellion mode, so that repercussions were less of an issue.

On the second planet, they are actually captured before they can set up their resistance cell. That situation was pretty funny, as I guess they've been in enemy hands so often that it doesn't phase them at all! They managed to joke at their captors, and made me laugh. Although I enjoyed the humorous mood, I still didn't think they would behave that way. The writing was good enough, though, that I didn't really care.

R2D2 and C3PO actually get a starring role in this book, something that doesn't happen often any more. As usual, C3PO is clueless, but he was actually brave! When was the last time the droids flew the Falcon? Was it actually way back in Shadows of the Empire? Their part in the rescue of Han and Leia was even funnier, and extremely well-written. This offset the absurd inventiveness of the droids, apparently unique to the galaxy. The only part of that I had trouble with was a security droid that didn't recognize a blaster or vibro-blade, even if the database said some food looked like that. Dubious, at best. However, Leia's reaction to her breakfast of weapons was hilarious!

There was also a point early on in the book where C3PO and Lando's droid A1A discuss droid philosophy. That was strange and very funny at the same time!

Surprisingly, one of the most interesting plots comes from the redemption of Tam, the unwitting traitor from Rebel Dream, and Tarc, the young boy who looks like Anakin Solo. I was very happy to see the young boy adopted by Tam, as he needs a more stable family than Han and Leia can give him. Tam turned from a visibly distained traitor to a hero when he interrupted the Yuuzhan Vong spy.

The majority of the book, though, takes place on Coruscant. Once again, it is entirely plot-oriented, with very few insights from Luke, Mara or the Wraiths. Face and Kell are funny, but not much more. Some of the humor was inappropriate, but expected from those guys. Having Mara not know the popular ghost story of Lord Nyax is inexcusable. She should know even more local customs than Luke. Mara was there for two reasons, and I wonder if either was really necessary. The second reason was to give support to Luke so that he wasn't overcome by the Dark Energy of his opponent. The first reason was so that they could use her Imperial codes to enter the secret facility; I'm sure there was another way to do that. In there, they find a stasis chamber, along with some dead ysalamiri and what looks like a warrior on a rampage.

When the droid told us the stasis patient arrived about 13 years ago, I immediately placed it at around the time of the Callista Thread or The Crystal Star. As I don't remember any Force-users escaping except for Rolanda and Irek Ismaren, the conclusion was obvious. Still, the author led us around before making the discovery, as Nyax appeared too tall, and way too young, before the main characters figured everything out. It is nice to see those characters' arcs tied up, with Rolanda killed by her son. It was quite surprising to see that Irek was not himself, having taken a lightsaber to the head years ago, with no memory before that time. He was just using instinct throughout this story, not his more violent nature causing him to behave this way as in Children of the Jedi.

It was fun to see Luke, Mara and Tahiri, as well as the Vong, fighting this wild Dark Force user all together. I do wonder why Face and Kell didn't use their lasers to distract him for the Jedi, though. I also wonder how Luke's plot is relevant to the New Jedi Order. It never really became interesting, and I wondered constantly if we really needed another Dark Force monster. I liked seeing the Dark Side addressed, but not through the unthinking creature we meet here (of course, I didn't like the way it was addressed in Dark Journey, either -sigh...).

On the other hand, this is really the first independent story set during the Yuuzhan Vong invasion. It is the first time an author has used that backdrop to craft a story that doesn't relate to the Vong or the traitors. It doesn't focus on the invasion at all, but uses it as a storytelling aid. Interesting for that, but the plot was standard issue from the pre-NJO time.

I am glad the author didn't dwell too long on the Force Well. I don't like it, and don't think the Force can be caged like that, anyway. It didn't serve more than a small part of the story, either. When it was first introduced, I thought the Force-disturbance beneath the site of the former Jedi Temple on Coruscant was something that was put there during the prequel time, say, during the Jedi Apprentice series. It looks like it predates that by a long time. I was very happy to learn, however, that Luke has searched the remains of the Jedi Temple thoroughly!

There are two more characters in this plot, one of them the admirable Tahiri. I am growing to like her almost as much as I liked Tenel Ka in the Young Jedi Knights. I like the way she fights, and I like the way she thinks. I like her attitude as a Jedi, and towards Jaina after Anakin died. She can also think like a Yuuzhan Vong, and this is how they defeat Lord Nyax, because he cannot see the Vong in the Force. After her escapade in Conquest, she can think and feel like a Yuuzhan Vong. Luke confirms that Nyax is dead, and I hope that is so. It seems that Coruscant is dead, as well. I can't figure out why the Vong are moving it into a new orbit, but presumably it is to speed up the shaping. I don't think there will be any Coruscant in the Post NJO time.

The other character is one that I really enjoyed, for once. Viqi Shesh gets her due, but only as she is trying to escape servitude. She is forced to accompany the Vong as they investigate the Jedi down on the surface, all the while plotting to escape from the the Vong and the Jedi. When her hunting party is killed by Nyax, including their voxyn, she manages to escape. I liked the description of her escape, as we got into her mind. It was actually similar to the descent into Coruscant we got in Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter. She manages to find an escape craft, but is unable to get it out of a collapsed tunnel. Then she is forced back to serve the Vong, gets captured by Face and Kell, but escapes again as they are assaulted by Nyax. Finally, she jumps off a balcony to avoid being killed by either the Vong commander or Mara. Actually, I thought perhaps she might have been given the idea to jump by Mara, who would have killed her, anyway. I just didn't think it was necessary for our heroes to be present when she died. It would have been much more interesting to leave Mara and Luke in the unknown.

In orbit around Coruscant, Tsavong Lah discovers that many shapers were in on the plot to have his body reject his arm implant, and punishes them accordingly, feeding them to rancors! Repercussions should appear in Destiny's Way, I hope. He commented on the Jedi down on the surface, but I would have liked to see his thoughts on Lord Nyax, and the loss of squadrons of his ships in that battle.

The bookends to this book take place back on Borleias. For most of the beginning, the story resembles Rebel Dream too much. Most of the same things happen, with Jaina and her group finding new tricks to get around the Vong defenses. There was some neat stuff, but I wondered if her character was going to do anything else. The simple answer is no. Simply teasing the Vong is not really enough.

The end of the book picks up on the action front, and is as good a climactic battle as almost any of the best. Star by Star had a more tense battle, because the outcome was unknown, and the tactics were not divulged ahead of time. It was extremely agonizing to read. This one was very exciting, but had very little of the tension from that book. Most of the tactics were not revealed until they were used, too, but they also seemed rather simplified.

I enjoyed the deceptions used in these books, however. The pipefighters really seemed to frighten the Vong, when they were not even a threat. This might teach Tsavong Lah not to trust his Peace Brigade as much, which is a good side-effect. Jaina also gets to have some fun playing with the Vong who want to capture her, sending him on a wild goose chase into a minefield, giving her "gravitic signature" to a missile, instead of braving it herself. The Vong pilot in charge had some interesting insights, as well. I loved the way he assigned his type of reasoning to Jaina, showing that he knows nothing about the motivations of non-Vong species!

At first I disagreed with using the Lusankya as a battering ram -after all, it is one of their most powerful ships, and definitely their largest. It didn't make sense to sacrifice it. However, given their resources, it was certainly the best choice. Rebel Dream and Errant Venture are considerably smaller, and would not have allowed eight kilometers of explosions inside the worldship after it impacted. The Mon Mothma (I don't remember when she died, to be given a Star Destroyer in her name) is an interdictor, much more valuable than even a Super Star Destroyer. Add to that the fact that the New Republic "government" decided to sacrifice her anyway in the last book, and it made a lot of sense, even if I hate to lose her (opposite to Wedge's reaction), because that makes the loss to the fleet more devastating.

I wonder if it would have been a better ending to have Commander Davip be forced to sacrifice himself to keep the ship on course as it impacted. I really wasn't sure he was going to survive, as it was written. I suppose that makes the story more real, as we don't know who will survive and who won't. The authors can tease us any way they want to.

Which brings me to Wedge. Him leaving the base last really stretched logic, and was just an excuse to torment the reader. I didn't believe he would act in this way, however it was written pretty well, that I didn't care too much. His hero status has just been improved once more, as he took on two squadrons of coral-skippers in a damaged X-Wing with no astromech droid! He is rescued by Rogue Squadron, where I thought the Millennium Falcon should have come racing out of nowhere to do it, making it reminiscent of the ending of A New Hope.

The whole of this book felt like little more than a bunch of short stories bunched together, intertwined. None of the stories had anything to do with the others. At least every other NJO novel, no matter writing style or content, felt like a cohesive whole. Not this one. I think one of the major problems was the frequent change of viewpoints, especially with so many of them being very short, even less than a page. That settled down during Luke's mission and Han and Leia's rescue, but for the rest of the book, I found it too much.

Overall, the author does action really well. The Force is written like so many of the past authors, hit-and-miss. The characters didn't get much to do except react to situations and create situations of their own. I would rather get inside their heads. This is not a character novel. We need action novels too, every once in a while, though. This one was good, and felt a lot like Classic Star Wars. I enjoyed seeing the classic character s take charge once again (but where was Lando this time?), though I still think it is time for them to move over and develop the next generation (what's left of them) into the lead roles. In the next book, we finally find Jacen's fate...


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