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A novel by Shane Dix and Sean Williams (2003, Del Rey)
Book 1 in the New Jedi Order Force Heretic Trilogy
28 years after Star Wars: A New Hope

Luke leads a team into the Empire looking for information, while Leia attempts to renew ties with systems that have been isolated from the rest of the galaxy.



3 stars

Read May 18th to 23rd, 2004  
    A decent story, with lasting consequences, but it wasn't terribly compelling, and the writing style needs some work.

My chief complaint about this book is the way it was written. Not nearly as bad as, for example, The Bounty Hunter Wars (nothing could be as bad as that), or the Agents of Chaos duology, the style actually reminded me of many older, Ballantine-era books. That's not to say that the writing style was poor, because it wasn't. It just wasn't as polished as most of the recent New Jedi Order novels. The authors used way too many clichés in their writing, as well as too many standard expressions, slightly modified so that they has Star Wars references in them instead of our everyday references.

The authors also used too many standard plot devices, which were either annoying or transparent. For example, why did the entire gang of people in the meeting with Han and Leia go to see Tahiri in the hospital when they found out she had collapsed? Yes, they were all concerned, and it might have worked well in a visual medium, but to read about such a large group moving from one place in the city to another, when only one or two of them had any relevance, is disruptive to the plotting. It would have been better if everybody was concerned, but they would ask Jaina to keep them posted, instead. The characters all seem to misuse their positions of power whenever they feel like it. As for transparent, the authors used several attempts to mislead the readers, but it was obvious where they were going, anyway. When Jacen became depressed about the Yuuzhan Vong slave transport not "taking the bait", or Danni's outburst about the poison not working on the pilots, I knew that the next time we visited these characters, their concerns would have been for nothing, that they had nothing to worry about. Compare this to the better books in this series, where the authors would have made real wrinkles in the plans -the poison wouldn't have worked, for example. These aren't huge complaints, they just make the book seem a little less mature.

There was a lot of good in this book, which made the complaints that I have seem relatively minor. Most of the good stuff comes in terms of the plots, simple though they are, and the way the characters were used in the plots. I am amazed at how mainstream Saba Sebatyne has become, considering that she was only introduced in Star By Star. I really like her character, and the way she is put to use in the various books. This book opens with her firing on an unknown type of ship, only realizing after it is destroyed that it carried the remnants of her people, after the Yuuzhan Vong destroyed her planet.

The Yuuzhan Vong destroy a lot of planets in this book -or at least we find out about their destruction in this book. It seems that after the trap the Galactic Alliance (which rose out of the ashes of the New Republic) laid for the Vong in Destiny's Way, the Vong are trying to regroup, and taking care of minor planets at the same time, sort of destroying the free peoples of the galaxy by atrophy. I wondered, after reading this book, if these authors were charged with the task of removing all remaining threats to the peace that will presumably come to pass at the end of this series. The Empire has been reduced considerably, the Yevetha (The Black Fleet Crisis) were obliterated, along with the Firrerreos (The Crystal Star). I'm sure, by the end of this trilogy, the Ssi-Ruuk (The Truce at Bakura) will also no longer pose a threat. It makes me wonder what kinds of stories we will see in the post-New Jedi Order books. Political ones, hopefully, but written better than the Prequel-era books like Cloak of Deception.

After the initial sections of the book, where we are introduced to everybody, and brought up to speed with the galactic situation, the real missions get going. Leia and Han take Jaina, Jag Fel and Tahiri (among others) on a mission to restore diplomatic relations with planets that seemed to get cut off from the rest of the galaxy because of the war. With a lull in the major fighting, they decided it was time to bring the Galactic Alliance to the minor representatives. They set out for Galantos, which is on the border of Yevethan space. Han, naturally, is not disposed to going there, since he was tortured by the Yevethans, but is overruled by Leia. In short, we learn that the Fia, who live on Galantos, are hiding something. It should be obvious to the reader that they are dealing with the Yuuzhan Vong, as it should be clear to Leia, though she doesn't pick up on it. As soon as the Fia said that they Yevetha were no longer a threat, or something to be even worried about, I knew that the Vong had destroyed those aliens. It should have been Han and Leia's first thought, as well. When Tahiri found the medallion depicting the Vong god, it shouldn't have taken Jag to figure it out. I really hoped that the Fia had been dealing with the Peace Brigade, as turned out to be the case, because I would not have believed the Yuuzhan Vong sleeping in a soft bed, and losing a medallion between the mattresses (which is a cheap trick by the authors, regardless).

I didn't like the introduction of the Ryn as a spy network who can get into anything, anywhere. How is it that Tahiri didn't recognize the species -if I recall correctly, they are fur-covered, similar to Wookies, which is why Han took a liking to Droma to begin with. It is understandable how they accessed the Millennium Falcon's computers, given that Han had a Ryn partner for a while, and he doesn't seem to change his codes often, but what is the excuse for Jag's ship? Why did they need the guidance of a spy to go to Galantos, or to move on to Bakura after that? Surely the characters could have figured a better reason to go there on their own? As for the identity of the spy, I really thought it would have been a Fallassani, since one of them even managed to get into Luke's retreat on Coruscant back in Before the Storm. After all, they at least herald from that part of the galaxy! I had hoped that we were finished with the Ryn for good.

On the other side of the galaxy, but still bordering the Unknown Regions, Luke's mission is to find Zonoma Sekot, which he thinks can help end the war with the least amount of bloodshed. Their first stop being Bastion, heart of the Imperial Remnant, they find it under attack. The rest of their part of the book allows Luke, and especially Jacen, to help the Empire repel the Vong attack. Most of it was politics, which made it a much more interesting story than the non-mystery in the Galantos system. I like the way the Jedi are starting to fight as a team, though I don't know if I agree with putting so many Jedi together on one ship, either the Jade shadow, or later in the rescue attempt. It reminded me of the Outbound Flight project, the demise of which is detailed in Survivor's Quest.

The battle at Borosk was a standard space battle, and was fun to read, but the majority of the text made it more personal, as Jacen and Saba, among others, try to rescue Imperial citizens from the slave ship. The details were interesting, but not worth repeating. After Saba and Danni infiltrate the slave ship, they poison the pilots, but not before word of their attack is sent to the Vong fleet. Saba decides to create a hole in the ship, venting everybody, so that Mara can catch them in her tractor beam, successfully recovering many potential slaves. I couldn't help but wonder if they would have been better off cutting into the cockpit, and flying the ship into the hold of the Dreadnought, instead. Even if they didn't think they could handle the controls, it should have been mentioned. What was their original plan, anyway? They would have needed to operate the controls to dock and get the captives out, regardless.

Most of the book was made enjoyable by the character work, and not the plots. Jaina and Jag continue their romance, which is taking its time, but is a terrific change from the way people seem to fall in love in two pages in other books. They managed to find time alone, to get in some sweaty physical stuff by sparring against each other, and to get some cocky and playful banter. Jacen and Danni Quee finally rekindle their romance, though I'm not entirely sure that was a logical progression. Jacen had a crush on the woman (ten years older than him) way back in Onslaught, but she dismissed him then. I suppose his more mature exploits since then have made him more attractive to her, now. Still, it's very nice to see. Is there going to be a double wedding for the twins at the end of this? (I am kidding, and hope that something like that does not come to pass.)

Tahiri is the other character who gets some development, but I have to reserve judgement until we find out more about what's happening. It seems that the implants she received in Conquest are beginning to exert an influence over her once again. In her grief over Anakin's death, she is losing control. I wonder why it took the authors two years of Star Wars time before addressing Tahiri's grief; the fact that nobody noticed it until now is suspicious. However, I am glad that they are addressing it at all -better late than never, and a trilogy is a good place to do it.

Outside our main characters, Grand Admiral Pellaeon gets a lot of time, as well. He is nearly killed at Bastion, but thanks to the Jedi, he is completely healed by the end of the book. It was a lot of fun watching Jacen try to have a logical discussion with an Imperial Moff, but watching Pellaeon get involved, from inside his bacta tank, was even better. It was a smart move by the authors to depict the battle from his point of view, watching through several screens, while still immersed in the healing fluid.

Both Tahiri and Pellaeon's dream sequences were quite similar, leading me to believe the authors think this is how near-death experiences should be depicted. Both were awakened by a distant call, when they were close to giving in. It would have been nice to see some stylistic differences between the two.

It is interesting that the Young Jedi characters are getting a lot of time in these books. I like that a lot. I've said before that it may be time for the regular characters to be moved to the sidelines, as Admiral Ackbar and Wedge have (bringing them out of retirement only for one last grand stand). The various authors have done a good job at integrating the next generation into these plots.

These authors seem to have gone out of their way to create female characters, which I also think is great. The only place where it seems suspicious is in the Imperial service, where it has been established that even in this time period, females don't make it very far. The authors even give us a female Yuuzhan Vong warrior, which has been too rare in other books.

The Yuuzhan Vong point of view is short, as this book continues Nom Anor's plight, after his disgraces in the last couple of books. He takes up residence with some hidden Shamed Ones, giving us an observation of the cult of the Jedi that has sprung up since Anakin's actions rescuing Tahiri in Conquest. This may show us a taste of how the Yuuzhan Vong will be defeated in the end, through the inside, rather than by force. If the quote at the beginning of this book is to be trusted, then I am quite hopeful. At least Luke and the other high-ranking officials realize that exterminating the Vong would be a bad idea, for their moral center, as well as for what would happen after the war. I hope they can continue along these lines, and give us a logical conclusion to the series. The Galactic Alliance seems to have better and better ships and pilots, because the Vong coralskippers seem to have been reduced to TIE fighter status. The main characters barely lost anybody in the dogfights, while the skips were easy targets, for Jedi and non-Jedi alike.

I thought it was cool that the authors threw in some names just for the sake of continuity. Specifically, we get references to planets from the Jedi Apprentice series, such as Melida/Daan, from Defenders of the Dead. I wondered why the planet still had two names, though, when Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan left it with a stable government in The Uncertain Path -shouldn't they have decided on a single name by now? There was also Rutan and Senali, from The Shattered Peace, which, although pacified by Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan, was recently divided again by the Peace Brigade.

We leave this book with Han and Leia going to Bakura, and Luke leading his group to the Unknown Regions. Although we got closure to the Imperial story, with Pellaeon going on the offensive after joining the Galactic Alliance, and sending a Star Destroyer with Luke, I wish we had seen the reconciliation between Leia and the Fia, instead of getting it second hand. Considering we were given less relevant material earlier in the book, I don't see why this was given the short shrift.

Finally, I want once again to question the style of the authors. The authors don't break their story into chapters, instead giving us little section breaks between points of view. I can live with that, though I prefer chapters, myself -except that they divide the book into four "parts", which don't seem to have any bearing on what has happened. They appeared to be placed more-or-less randomly in the book. There were also some outright errors in the book, which I think should have been caught. Mon Calamari is once referred to as Coruscant, for example. I thought somebody mentioned that the New Republic once helped the Chiss, but I wonder when that happened. Jag also wishes Jaina could see the Chiss capital of Csillia again -when did she see it the first time? There are other examples scattered through the book.

I realize the authors had no input into the covers of the books, but I wonder who is responsible for the hideous artwork.

So in all, this was a decent book, good enough to continue the series, and even add to it. The character work and the battle elements were well-used, though the writing could have used some additional smoothing. I hope in the next books, we get fewer disposable characters like Jaina's Chiss wingmate, as well as fewer clichés.


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