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A novel by Sean Williams and Shane Dix (2003, Del Rey)
Book 2 in the New Jedi Order Force Heretic Trilogy
28 years after Star Wars: A New Hope

Luke searches through Chiss space for the wandering planet, while Leia and Han become watch a strange ceremony enfold on Bakura.



2 stars

Read May 25th to 30th, 2004  
    Maybe it's the writing style, but I found myself rather bored with this book. I'm sure lots of people liked hearing about the Ssi-Ruuk, but I didn't find anything new or surprising in this tale. Unfortunately, when I get bored, I start seeing alternate ways characters should have acted, which turns to nit-picking.

As with Remnant, the writing style left something to be desired. There were more mistakes, both in grammar and in the internal continuity -things that should have been caught by a proof-reader. Many of the cliff-hangers they leave us with, breaking form one story to the next, are not suspenseful. Of course our heroes will find a way to get out of the situations they are in. The deaths of Chewbacca and Anakin don't change that. The only character I thought might be killed was Tahiri, near the end, but I know from a writing perspective that the main characters can only be put to death in the last book of a trilogy, so even that was left hollow for me.

I suppose, compared to previous New Jedi Order books, that I expect some twists and turns. The authors only provide one turn worth mentioning, at the end of the book. As with Remnant, the characters don't have much depth, even when they are doing some "heavy thinking". Events as described in the book are exactly what they seem. When it looks like they take a turn for the worse, the reader must know that it is only for a short while, after which things will return to the original path.

The main plot here, though I can't figure out who is the Refugee mentioned in the title, takes place on Bakura. Han and Leia don't do much, which is okay, since it allows the younger generation to take center stage again, which is something I'm enjoying.

Tahiri is still feeling the effects of her partial transformation from back in Conquest. The personality of Riina, the Yuuzhan Vong, is starting to take over. I don't understand why everybody thinks this is a battle Tahiri can't win. They take the Ryn's opinion at face value. Tahiri is a strong young woman -she was raised by the Sand People of Tatooine, after all! I expect we will see a balance achieved by the end of this series, and once again, I'll reserve judgement until then. For the moment, I have little sympathy for Tahiri, since for a book and a half, she refused to seek help. It is a poor writing tool, having her suffer alone for so long, without a real reason.

Jag gets in a little time in his fighter, taking advantage of situations when possible, and generally staying alive. When the freighter came tumbling out of hyperspace nearly on collision with the Pride of Selonia, I wondered why that ship didn't have any tractor beams that could be used to deflect it, instead of so much worrying.

The spotlight of the story is on the world of Bakura. We are told, early on, in a monologue that was way too long, that the P'w'eck slaves of the Ssi-Ruuk staged a rebellion, becoming the dominant species in their empire. They did this with the help of the Ssi-Ruuk messiah, the Keeramak. I didn't like the idea of a Force prophecy back in The Phantom Menace, and I like it less here. At least the Force gives visions of the future to the Jedi. Who made this Ssi-Ruuk prophecy, and why did it actually come to pass? Where is the logic in prophecies that are fulfilled in SF books (rather than fantasy)? Regardless, the Keeramak is coming to Bakura in order to sign a peace treaty, but it doesn't want to risk assassination, because Ssi-Ruuk and P'w'eck both believe that their souls can only be preserved on consecrated worlds if they die. This is why the Ssi-Ruuk were defeated back in The Truce at Bakura, because they didn't want to lose their lives to Luke and the forces of the Rebellion. As a result, Bakura is to be consecrated. What I don't understand is why the Keeramak came to Bakura to consecrate the world. If it risked assassination to do the consecrating ceremony, why couldn't it sign the treaty in the same amount of time, and be done with it?

Aside from having plots within plots on the Bakuran side, the reason is simple: the P'w'eck rebellion was a lie, and the Keeramak is consecrating Bakura for the purpose of stealing the life of its inhabitants.

We get glimmers of the various nefarious plots from Jaina's perspective. She goes to see a teenaged girl who was imprisoned for the supposed kidnapping of the Bakuran Prime Minister Cundertol. Another too-long monologue follows, in which Melinza Thanas describes the way she grew up, the nonsensical Balance that she believes in, and the way she wants to free Bakura from the New Republic, because it takes without giving anything. Yawn. I was so bored by this "discussion".

One of the comments that is repeated throughout this book is the fact that the New Republic took (and subsequently destroyed) two of the four cruisers that were protecting Bakura, back in Ambush at Corellia, leaving the planet weakly protected. I wondered why they didn't simply build new ships. They have the resources, and it has been years since The Corellian Crisis.

What really bugged me, and may have set me against what followed, was the way Jaina forced her way into the prison. As in previous books, the Jedi (in this case Jaina) exert their influence whenever they feel like it, ignoring the law. Jaina didn't even have a shred of a thought that Thanas might be innocent, except that the Prime Minister indicated that she might not be behind the kidnapping. At least Cundertol mentioned the fact that Jaina broke the law- severely.

The short adventure with Thanas felt like a Young Jedi Knights novel, which is to say, simplistic and underdeveloped. I don't know why Jaina and the others were so surprised by the tracer that was planted in Thanas' waistband. It was obvious when she was allowed to escape. A better plan to get rid of the tracer might have been to attach it to the floating jungle of theirs, and let it wander free on the wind. Of course, having Jaina take it allows her to be captured and brought before the Deputy Prime Minister, who gloats that he will be in charge, now (cue menacing laughter). I don't know why he wanted Cundertol dead, except for personal power, because the Prime Minister had the same stated intentions as Harris. Harris' plot doesn't make much difference, anyway, because even if the whole Senate had been killed, the Keeramak went on with the ceremony, anyway. I wondered why Jaina couldn't use her lightsaber to cut her way out of the sealed room, if she wanted to, or why Tahiri couldn't use her lightsaber to cut through the bomb, even as a last resort.

Of course, what nobody knew -and still don't, by the end of the book- is that Cundertol sold his soul to the Ssi-Ruuk, who placed it in a droid body similar to Guri's, from Shadows of the Empire (except that it looked just like Cundertol, of course). He initiated the treaty so that the Ssi-Ruuk could take the souls of the Bakurans, in return.

Because... the whole consecration ceremony is held so that the Ssi-Ruuk could do proper battle on Bakura, as the P'w'eck rebellion was a lie. They allow some fighting to take place, enough to convince everybody that the Ssi-Ruuk who suddenly emerge are a threat. Then, in a turnaround that I saw from early on, but fully appreciate, the P'w'eck change sides again! Having tasted freedom once, they won't go back to being slaves of the Ssi-Ruuk. This, along with Jag's "surrender" and attack on the capital ship from within its shields, were the only parts of the book that I truly enjoyed through and through.

The second plot in this book, of course, takes place from Luke's point of view, although Jacen gets the most time. This plot is secondary, taking up much less space, and felt like filler, mostly.

I liked the initial part of this story, where Luke and his gang travel from planet to planet in search of Zonoma Sekot, or legends of a wandering planet. The planet passed through so many systems, disrupting life and ecology. We never get a reason for the sudden change of heart of the wild and vicious creatures in the first chapter, but I liked the fight and the realizations that came out of it.

Once they are ordered to the Chiss homeworld, however, things slow to a halt. The Chiss are mysterious, and don't have the same values that the rest of the Galaxy has. We get it. Why does Mara have to insist on names, after being told repeatedly that names don't matter, only their positions. Throughout this section of the book, much of the dialog was stilted and immature. I expected the Chiss we met here to be at least similar to those we've met before: crisp, short on small-talk, and secretive. Instead, their dialog needed some real polishing, like the prequel movies.

Decisions and ultimatums seemed to be completely random, and the characters very casual about delivering them, both at Bakura and Csilla. "How long could a search take?" asks one character (I realize that he didn't care, since he was planning on killing them, anyway -but it is representative of other similar remarks). Nobody seems to have a real basis for their decisions, beyond what the writers ascribe to tem, and which is not always logical.

The hitch in their search, because there always has to be a hitch, is that the Chiss library is full of books, instead of electronic databases. Huh? As usual, the explanation given is suspect. How can books be safer than electronic data? Does nobody make backups, that all of their data can be destroyed by a catastrophe in one area? We don't yet know how long electronic data lasts, but it can be copied exceptionally fast, and takes much less room. Paper only lasts a few hundred years, if it is really good quality, and is easily lost or torn. The Chiss claim that electronic data is easily destroyed by the ice -surely paper is just as vulnerable? Speaking of which, on an ice planet (which the authors describe as making Hoth seem tropical), where do they get all the paper? If they are concerned, maybe they should use both paper and electronic books.

The books are incompatible with the actual search that the Jedi performed, anyway. How did Luke and Jacen input so much data onto a computer, cataloguing it in such a way that they could perform a search of the data? If Wyn Fel was so good at writing searches, she must have had experience in the electronic format. Who got the job of translating the data from the survey probes, which must have been millions of pages long, from its initial digital storage? Then, Jacen must have rescanned it to do his search! I'm sorry, I don't believe the Chiss to be so inefficient. It just doesn't make sense to add the word "book" into the story at this point, except for shock value. Have the authors ever done a search of digital journals? It is just as time-consuming as one from paper, so it would not have made any difference to the outcome, and it would have made little difference to the story.

In order to make the Chiss story more lively, the authors decided to insert a random attack on Baron Soonter Fel (see Blood and Honor), and the Jedi. On an ice barge to retrieve Mara's ship (couldn't Tekli have flown it?), rivals to Fel attack, believing, as the Bakurans do, that they should remain independent. Luke and the others manage to trick the Chiss into setting down and boarding, but fire the cannons as a distraction, so that they begin to fight! Huh? Shouldn't they have at least pointed the cannons at the landed fighters? Saba and Mara get to do some fancy flying, but it was terrible how they managed to rout the Chiss in their own environment. I was never a fan of the Chiss species, from its initial introduction back in Vision of the Future, but any respect that I had for them is destroyed in this book, as I observe their inefficiencies.

In the end, however, everything turns out fine, as expected, in a nice package. The Chiss suddenly decide to offer their assistance, and Baron Fell offers his! Where did this come from? The Jedi saved his life, but how did that change his opinion of the Galactic Alliance? I don't remember the meetings between him and Luke and Mara from Vision of the Future, but he mentions their last meeting -I wonder if he means that tale, or some details from Survivor's Quest?

There is one set of character developments that I did appreciate, and that was the continuing growth of Jacen and Danni's relationship. I liked Tenel Ka, but Danni is by now a more developed character. Jacen seems to be sexually aroused by her at the beginning of the book, something which doesn't happen often in a Star Wars story: he notices that her arms were crossed "under her breasts"! In case anybody thinks I am imagining this, the authors later describe Mara as standing with her arms "across her chest", which doesn't have any sexual connotations. The difference is small, but very subjective! Regardless, I liked the way they grew together, and especially their discussions -although Danni sure got the short end of the stick when she tried to pour her heart out to him. Jacen suddenly stands up and races out to solve the problem of Zonoma Sekot!

Whatever their search methods, they find that their wandering planet entered orbit around a gas giant orbiting a star in the Unknown Regions. Presumably, the next book will give us our first visit to the planet since Rogue Planet. (I don't understand why everybody is so boggled by the idea of a planet going through hyperspace, as the Corellian system is well known to have done the same thing.)

I liked the way the authors address the Yuuzhan Vong presence in Ssi-Ruuvi space from Luke's point of view, although the Jedi don't recognize it. The Vong obviously recognized the threat the Ssi-Ruuvi presented (from Nom Anor's scouting, I'd guess). While they attacked the New Republic in Vector Prime, they skirted the edge of the galaxy around Chiss space so they could infiltrate the second-greatest military presence. I do wonder how they managed the infiltration, however, as we were told in Balance Point that the maskers for non-human physiques were only perfected at that time, not at the beginning of the invasion.

Speaking of the Yuuzhan Vong, Nom Anor gets a few token chapters here, where he poses as a Prophet, and manages to gain followers, finally acquiring one with access to Supreme Overlord Shimrra's chambers. I liked those sequences, but they were far too few. I also wonder what his goal is... to replace Shimrra? I can't tell what his effort is for, yet, and why he is so willing to destroy his own society by spreading such heresy as following the Jedi.

I had high hopes for Leia's trip to check out systems that were out of communication with the rest of the galaxy, but it seems that they are only going to three planets in three books. I can't see how they can consider the trip to be successful, if they return to the galactic conflict by The Final Prophecy. Worse, they are being directed by a network of Ryn, which has sprung up into a successful organization in only a few years. The way the cliches were piling up in this book, I fully expect that Droma will turn out to be the "anonymous" head of the Ryn network.

This book was less-than-enjoyable, although I'm sure lots of people got a lot out of it. I found it could have used some major polishing. Still, there were good moments interspersed along the way.


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