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A novel by J. Gregory Keyes (2001, Del Rey)
Book 2 in the New Jedi Order: Edge of Victory
26 years after Star Wars: A New Hope

Mara deals with a recurrence of her disease, as the three Solo children harass the Yuuzhan Vong with their parents and other colleagues.



4 stars

Read March 26th to 31st, 2002  
    Action-packed, galaxy-oriented, and a pleasure to read.  Definitely the best New Jedi Order novel so far.  I did wonder if it had too many plotlines, but since none of them were bungled in any way, I am satisfied.

If anybody complained about a lack of action in Conquest, the first book in this series, they should change their minds with this book.  The first half of the book is non-stop action, of the best kind.  There is snappy dialog, descriptive battles (not as detailed as in a Stackpole novel, but that can be a good thing sometimes), and often ambiguous bad guys (at least at first).

I really can't believe this is the same author as in Conquest.  There was no childish or adolescent dialog here, no simple explanations, and we saw more than one or two characters.  Things here dealt with events on a galactic scale, not a personal one, though all the characters got a lot to do.  Where Conquest was a small, isolated adventure, not very related to the overall New Jedi Order plot, Rebirth is a grand, ambitious story with big repercussions. 

Even so, the author managed to keep everything grounded.  Except for one point where he had to explain Han's hydrogen explosion plan afterwards, so that even the characters were guessing at what happened (reminiscent of the ending of Vector Prime), everything remained very realistic and true to a fun Star Wars tale.  All of the characters were most definitely in character, and what came out of that was a large amount of humor.

Yes, humor, unlike any we've seen since the original Trilogy.  This author is funny!  R2D2 and C3PO were hilarious, from launching missiles out of the Millennium Falcon to the end.  But it doesn't stop there.  He states things almost under his breath.  Whether it's Booster calling the little Jedi brats, or Corran telling himself that he finally understood the look Kam Solusar gave him before he left with Anakin and Tahiri, I was actually laughing out loud, because it was so realistic and in character.

All of the plots that move through this book are unrelated, except that they have the Yuuzhan Vong at their heart.  And therein lies my only real complaint about this book.  The chapters were set up as if each plotline was written separately and then cut into chunks and intertwined.  Because we would move from Luke and Mara in one chapter, to Han and Leia in another, to Anakin and Tahiri in another, to the Yuuzhan Vong shapers in the next, and so on, until we came back to Luke and Mara.  Perhaps it would have been better to make the chapters longer, or vary the order in which the focus was changed, as the author did near the end.  And perhaps have the plotlines mix in terms of story every once in a while.  However, this book was well-written enough that this is a minor gripe.

If the New Republic senate was passively trying to rid themselves of the Jedi in Conquest, here they become much more active, to the point where they have ordered the arrest of Luke Skywalker!  He and Mara flee Coruscant, with Jaina's help, as she's flying in her X-Wing, trying to get her agility back after temporarily losing her eyesight in Balance Point.  Cilghal the Mon Calamari Jedi healer helps Mara through the troubled times, because the Vong disease has come back.  Or rather, the tears that Vergere gave her in Hero's Trial start attacking the baby in her womb, and so she must stop her remedy.  She focuses her entire self around protecting the baby, and nearly dies because of that.  But with Luke's help and support in the Force, she survives, and delivers the little baby, Ben.  Luke gets in some really nice thoughts about the Force, and has visions that can be both scary and enlightening.  I grew just as concerned as he did, because I honestly didn't know if Mara survived into future books.  I do wonder about the effect Mara's pain had on the three Solo children, though.  It nearly immobilized them.  Good thing they weren't in a duel, as Anakin was earlier, because he would have then lost the fight.  It just seems strange that it would have such a huge effect on them.

Luke asked Jaina to check up on Kyp Durron, because now that the Senate has moved against him, Kyp might want to hear what Luke has to say.  She finds him, and he presents her with some startling information.  The Vong, it appears, have created a superweapon that can take apart a star.  But readers of Conquest think differently, I'm sure.  I did.  I figured Kyp thought this was a superweapon, and that it would actually turn out to be a worldship, since we learned that the Vong worldships were dying in the last book, and it is stressed here that a new one is being built.  I didn't like the thought of a new superweapon, but was excited to see what would happen when they learned this was a worldship instead.  Things blew up, but not as I expected.  The battle for the ship was immense, and was quite intense and very exciting.  Jaina convinces Wedge and Admiral Kre'fey, as well as Rogue squadron, to join the attack.  After the ship is destroyed, Gavin, Wedge and Jaina are not impressed with Kyp, because he knew that this was a worldship, and he lied to her and the others.  Lower-ranked soldiers are happy that they dealt a blow against the Vong, especially the ones who have lost their worlds, and they think it is finally a payback moment.  Jaina leaves Kyp in a very angry state. 

Earlier in the book, it seems like Kyp is actually lusting after Jaina!  I don't think the New Jedi Order would go so far as to create a Dark Jedi based on sex, but I wonder how far they would go...  He even asks her to be his apprentice, but she rejects that offer, and after the end of the book, I don't think she'll ever speak to him again, let alone consider it.  On the other hand, once the battle gets going, Jaina gets a case of hero-worship -her thought that she was flying with Wedge Antilles was an amazing whoop of joy!

There is more sexual tension in another plotline, and I wondered if it would get another character killed.  After he rescued Tahiri in Conquest, Anakin felt something different towards her, and wasn't sure how to put it.  He had noticed her, for the first time, and saw that she was turning into a woman.  After her ordeal, which has her shaken a lot less than I would have liked, she is going stir-crazy, so she joins Corran and Anakin on a supply run.  On Eriadu (where there is a great tribute to the disappointing Cloak of Deception by having a giant statue of Tarkin), Tahiri and Anakin chase after a Jedi in trouble.  They can't save him from Peace Brigade members, and are arrested, but they manage to receive a warning about the next Vong target, Yag'Dhul, where Rogue Squadron launched its war against Thyferra in The Bacta War.  Might the Yuuzhan Vong do the same?

When they escape the prison, I was afraid Tahiri was really going to turn to the Dark Side.  Corran takes off as they are about to be impounded by security space forces, wondering what these kids have gotten him into now.  They manage to jump to lightspeed.  Anakin was devious enough to set coordinates to Yad'Dhul while he had the chance, which gets Corran even more angry with him, but it's funny to watch the situation get out of hand.  They land inside an asteroid field that turns out to be a Vong fleet.  Their ship destroyed, they cut their way inside a scout ship and take it over.  It was nice to see Anakin still retains his ability to sense the Vong through the lambent in his lightsaber.  The ship jumps into the Yag'Dhul system, and Tahiri uses her knowledge of the Vong language to pilot it close to the space station, where they surrender.  Impounded again, they warn the resident Givins about the Vong fleet, and escape when the fleet attacks. 

And here is where it gets interesting.  Nom Anor captures them, but the humans now have enough information about how the Yuuzhan Vong operate that they are able to manipulate the warriors!  Tahiri explains to the warriors that Nom Anor refused to accept a challenge, and that brings a chorus of new challenges from the warrior ranks.  Anakin steps in and duels, but also manages to cut an escape route for them before beheading the lead warrior.  Nom Anor, however, has been humiliated, so is "forced" to kill all the witnesses, all the warriors.  It really shows how different he is from the other Vong.  Now that his stature has been reduced even farther, I wonder what his role will be in the future.  The invasion of Yag'Dhul is stopped because of the attack on the shipwomb by Jaina and Rogue Squadron, so Nom Anor should be even more disgraced, for it was his plan to threaten the bacta world.

Stuffed in a locker together, I knew that something would happen between Anakin and Tahiri.  I had wondered, when they were talking through their spacesuits, if Anakin actually became aroused when he started feeling "awkward".  I think this is indeed the case, for he kisses her when in close quarters in the locker.  It makes for an interesting twist.  As I said in the previous book, I don't know of any Star Wars character (except Han, and perhaps Luke) who has had more than one love before getting married, and it would be nice to see various partners for these young people.  But since they have fallen love, which may or may not be followed up in the next book, I really thought she would be killed.  That is the normal fate for characters who fall in love -one always has to die before the book is out.  I was pleasantly surprised, but am worried that there will be no follow-up to this small plot.  There are many more books to come, so I hope to be surprised.

Yet another plotline revolves around Han, Leia and Jacen, who are at first trying to set up a safe route for retreating Jedi, and then start harassing Vong shipping lanes, looking for collaborators.  This plot may be the least interesting, but it is the most fun, as we get a lot of dog-fighting out of it.  Han flies the Falcon like he was twenty-five years younger.  There is a cool scene where Jacen is nearly sold to the Vong as he and Han walk into a trap. Fortunately, they are bailed out by Karrde, whom they had outside for just this purpose. They find out that many supply shipments come from Kuat, where the suspicious Senate councilor comes from, but are unable to prove anything.  Finally, in a strange turnaround, Vergere comes back into the story, for two pages, returning to the Vong instead of her galaxy-mates, and revealing to Warmaster Tsavong Lah that Jacen is on Han's ship.  The Warmaster sends out an interdictor cruiser and engages them in the next shipment.  Even with Karrde's help, they almost don't make it, but some ingenious thinking and flying get them out with lots of repairs.

Han and Jacen get a good talk in here. On the verge of yelling, Han finally tells Jacen what he thinks of his son's philosophy. He tells Jacen that while he is on Han's ship, he will do what the Captain tells him to. If he doesn't agree, he can debark at the next stop! I loved this speech. It is really what I've been wanting to yell at Jacen for a while, now. But Jacen has some good points, too. Like Han before the Battle of Yavin, "he needs to find his own way, no one can choose it for him."

On the Yuuzhan Vong side of things, aside from seeing Vergere return, we finally get to see the immense leader of the Vong, Overlord Shimrra, as Nen Yim continues her heretical work and gains his notice.  She starts off trying new methods to save the worldship she has been exiled to, something their leader has sacrificed, as we learn at the end.  When she asks for help, she receives a Master Shaper who seems completely crazy.  He hinders her work, and seems to simply enjoy having power.  As we learn by the end, he was the Overlord's jester, a deformed Vong, who should have been destroyed at birth, but for some reason, was not.  So he probably did enjoy the power he was given, after all.  But as she plots to kill him, he gives her the codes to the Vong brain of knowledge, the brain of the Worldship.  She discovers nothing immediately useful there, but gains all sorts of other knowledge.  When she's brought to the Overlord, I still wondered if this man might be the creator of the vision, or an heir to that creator.  He tasks Nen Yim with finding out all the protocols that the gods didn't give the Vong, which is much the same as saying she should create her own from scratch.  So I wonder if he created this idea of taking over the galaxy, and his is the voice of the gods, and that there are no Vong gods...  I wonder if Yim will become the voice of a new set of gods.  She is now intent on vengeance against the infidels, and I fear her wrath!

As I said, there are many plots weaved through this book.  Perhaps too many, but they were written skillfully enough that I am not bothered by that.  We see no sign of the Vornskr hunters that could hunt Jedi, but I suppose, like the captured Vong spy at the beginning of Balance Point, that will be used in a future book.  I am glad we get a follow up to Anakin's ability to sense the Vong, and at lease a mention of Tahiri's ordeals, but I still wish she would have a transcribed discussion with Luke about it, and that they could retrieve some of the Vong implanted memories. 

But maybe that would have overwhelmed the book!  I like having the Errant Venture Star Destroyer traipsing around the galaxy with the Jedi Academy on board, and I fear that it will not last long enough, since Tionne and Kam found a hidden planet in the galaxy's deep core. 

But the book was incredibly well written, and that's a nice change from most of the other New Jedi Order books.  It was mainly a set of independent plot lines, running around creating havoc, but we also get a clear victory for the New Republic, even if it is tainted by Kyp's deception.  And we get hope in the form of Luke and Mara's son, who seems to have cured his mother once and for all of the Vong disease. 

I am glad that we keep getting a Yuuzhan Vong perspective, because we need to learn more about them and their way of life, make them into real villains, not one note bad guys.  I hope we see more of Nen Yim.  I want to know how old they grow to be, when they left their homeworld, and when they started planning this conquest.  At least we now have some hope, because we know that the worldships are dying, that their people may be in trouble if we keep the war going for too long.  We have the Shamed Ones, who actually aided Corran and Anakin to deceive her own species, and that gives us hope as well.  My own hope is that they can keep up this kind of quality in the next books, hopefully all the way to the end of the series.  And I am interested in Luke's vision of a Coruscant that is not the one that he remembers...  Does that mean the Vong will start to reshape the ruling planet?  Wow, that could upset things.  For the first time, now that we have a clear "excellent" book, I look forward with hope, at the rest of the series.  Not perfect, and still a little too short, but by far the best NJO book so far.


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