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A novel by Sean Williams and Shane Dix (2003, Del Rey)
Book 3 in the New Jedi Order Force Heretic Trilogy
28 years after Star Wars: A New Hope

Luke and Jacen try to convince a sentient planet to join the war, as Han and Leia fight to save a communications outpost.



3 stars

Read June 1st to 10th, 2004  
    By far the best of the trilogy in terms of writing style, although the dialog still needed work, and the story was fairly predictable.

The writing style in this book was such a vast improvement over the last two books, I'm amazed that these are the same authors. There was very little reader manipulation, and the long descriptions given were mini works of art. The descriptions are what made this book readable, and more enjoyable than the previous ones. In fact, I wish the authors had included more of it, because that seems to be what they do best. The dialog, however, feels like it comes out of the Jedi Apprentice series, aimed at preteens. It is clichéd, immature, and needs a lot of work to get up to the level of the best New Jedi Order books.

The best description in this book comes from the landing on Zonoma Sekot. The Jedi arrive in total awe of the planet, the life energy surrounding them. I especially loved seeing Zonoma Sekot again for the first time. Considering how much I disliked Rogue Planet, here it takes on a new light, as Luke and the others learn what transpired here decades ago. My favorite moment comes at Luke's realization that his father and Obi-Wan visited this world before it disappeared from known space. I think this is because the information is divulged over a long time, several chapters, as opposed to the long monologues we were given in Refugee, for example.

The story that takes place on Zonoma Sekot was fairly standard, however. I didn't like the apparent strife among the people of Zonoma Sekot, which seemed to come out of the blue, as with the Chiss, Imperials, and Bakurans in Remnant and Refugee, but the way that it turned out to be a test was not original, either. I had a lot of questions about the kidnapping of Danni (and of the anthropologist -why did they try to take several people, when the leader states that he only wanted one?), because so many things seemed out of place. But when the Magister was also kidnapped, my suspicions turned to Sekot itself, and when the kidnappers didn't behave like kidnappers among the rogue boras trees, I knew the whole thing was a setup. One of the things that tipped me off was the use of a blindfold on the Magister -since she is able to communicate with the planet so naturally, Sekot should be able to tell her where she is going, thus making the blindfold meaningless. And if the lightning rod is pressed hard against the Magister's temple, what good does it do to press harder?

The part that comes after the test was the most engaging part of the story. While Saba is relegated to a violence-lover, and Mara is always overly angry (why, to both characters?), it is Jacen and Luke that get the planet's attention. Luke is confronted by an image of sandy-haired Anakin Skywalker, as he was in The Phantom Menace (it even -cringe- talks like him) and more importantly, Rogue Planet, while Jacen talks to an image of Vergere. Most interesting were the different reactions of those two Jedi to Sekot's offer to join the war, with its living ships and analysis of the Yuuzhan Vong attacks. Even though Luke worries that the planet could turn to the dark side (reminiscent of Anakin's path towards killing that might have started right on this world back in Rogue Planet), his thoughts of his son Ben lead him to accept. Jacen, on the other hand, came to Zonoma Sekot looking for something more spiritual, an end to the war without resorting to violence. He cannot accept Sekot's offer of more war machines.

Unfortunately, the powerful sacrifice that Jacen makes (potentially trillions of lives lost) is completely ruined by having Sekot decide to join the war effort anyway. All consequences of his morally just decision were shunted aside because the overall story required the planet to join the war.

I was disappointed that we were not offered something unique in solving the war. With only two books left in this series, I can only see a trivial ending, which sweeps the Yuuzhan Vong threat away, and I shudder to think what might happen. Zonoma Sekot offers living ships. Given that the Galactic Alliance ships have been more than holding their own in this trilogy, I wonder why we need them. The living planet has enormous powers for destruction, but it lacks the mobility of a starship- even with planetary shields and inertial dampeners, it shouldn't be able to travel system to system indefinitely. I wonder, like Jacen, what Sekot can offer to justify its participation.

I suppose it makes sense, though, that the planet would join in eventually, since Luke's arguments were correct: that if the galaxy fell, Sekot would not survive long trying to defend itself from the entire Vong fleet, when they came. Apparently, the alien intruders remember their encounter with the living planet from when they were repelled back in Rogue Planet, because they have been searching for it ever since. Miraculously, the Yuuzhan Vong arrived just before the Jedi did! It seemed to me that the Vong are not the type to study legends and rumors from various planets, the way Luke did. So how did they find it? I thought perhaps that one of the Ferroans, living on the planet, had called to them, but that seems unlikely. There was no real dissent among them. Their guides seemed unreasonably grumpy, but other Ferroans they met, like the one who cared for the living dirigible, were very nice and accommodating.

Completely separate in terms of storyline, Han and Leia make their way to the planet they were referred to at the end of Refugee, but can't find their contact. Coincidentally, however, they meet Han's old Ryn friend Droma. Despite being just as annoying and un-funny as he was when we first met him, I was really fooled by Droma -I was ready to rescind my comment from my last review about him being the Ryn leader, based on his story and actions here. Of course, in the end, I was right, he just withheld that information from Han. Despite Tahiri's "explanation" at the end of the book, it is only the writers' desire that kept him from divulging this information, because no other excuses make sense.

Regardless, Droma doesn't make much difference here, except to get the Falcon to the other side of the galaxy, to a communications post that services the Unknown Regions. Han and Leia jump at the chance to defend it, of course, because it is the only way the Chiss, and thus Luke, can talk with the rest of the galaxy.

Despite what the commander of the Star Destroyer in The Empire Strikes Back said, the Millennium Falcon could not travel to "the other side of the galaxy" in such a short time. It has been established elsewhere that it takes time, and multiple jump vectors, to go from system to system, and much more to travel all the way across the galaxy! The battle should have been long over by the time they arrived.

I wondered why the Vong exerted so much effort trying to destroy a small communications base, and the explanation here doesn't make much sense, either. If their objective was to make it look like the Chiss attacked, in order to sow more dissent and confusion, then they should have abandoned it as soon as the Imperials arrived and blew their cover.

Still, the battles, being mostly in the "descriptive" category, were well written, and were mostly enjoyable. I liked seeing Pellaeon again, even though much of what we saw from him was astonishment at what others were doing. The destruction of the communications tower didn't have the effect they wanted, making the Vong turn around and leave. I wouldn't normally care, except that nobody mentions this -they think their "decoy" mission was a success. Vorrik, however, blew up his ship instead of ordering a retreat. Jag's manoeuvres were the only things of great interest in the space battle.

On the surface of the orphaned planet, however, we find more life! It's amazing how in this universe life can exist absolutely anywhere, including a planet far from any star. Somehow, it developed life, as well as intelligence. These creatures managed to befriend the communications outpost, and hide them in a subterranean nesting ground while they were under attack. The Falcon helps defend some of the creatures from the Yuuzhan Vong, thus proving themselves worthy (yet another test...), and are led to the outpost, too.

We are misled by Leia and her Noghri bodyguards into thinking the Noghri from the outpost was a traitor, but he proves himself loyal at the end. The traitor seems to be a no-name Ugnaught who doesn't matter in the end. The purpose of the traitor was to make us suspicious of the Noghri. I, for one, was happy to see one of that species who wasn't a bodyguard to Leia. The life dept from the entire species is getting a little ridiculous, especially since they don't do much in the way of guarding her properly.

The only really novel thing about their time on the ground was the way Leia's original plan of having the Star Destroyers bombard the area around them as the Falcon was under attack didn't work. The message was completely garbled, forcing them to another plan. Of course, communications resumed shortly afterwards. I was confused over the whole communications problem. If the Falcon was receiving telemetry and updates from orbit, why couldn't anybody trace it? A secure channel means that it cannot be decoded, but what does it have to do with origin and destination? Those can be diffuse, but a message doesn't need to be decoded in order to determine where it is coming from, and the "secure" nature was attributed to the problem.

Regardless, they decide to pretend to sacrifice the outpost to the Yuuzhan Vong, as mentioned, so that the attackers would move on to other targets. The ground battle that ensues was fairly well-written, but didn't contain anything new or very interesting. There was little, if any, difference between this surface battle and any other, even though the atmosphere was nearly-frozen hydrogen and methane. The harsh conditions were mentioned, but didn't affect the speeder bikes, and the Jedi were just as deadly, and able to move just fine within the thick atmosphere, and their bulky suits -even after Jaina's was punctured. Finally, having the detonators on the control tower malfunction, requiring a sacrifice to set it off, was clichéd, though it did allow the Noghri to prove himself loyal.

Tahiri's internal journey comes to a conclusion here. I must admit that I didn't really enjoy her personal battle, or the metaphors in her mental landscape, but I think I like the person she has become with the merging of the old Tahiri and Riina, the Yuuzhan Vong personality. When she wakes up, she is able to get a landing party to the surface of the planet, with the approval of Vorrik, after promising him a double-cross. Of course, she is allied with the Jedi, so it is more like a triple-cross.

Finally, we have Nom Anor. It was good to see the former executor wonder about why he was creating an uprising of the heretics. I have wondered about that, too. What is his goal? To usurp Shimrra? To become powerful, of course, but to what end? The question is never really answered, so presumably we will get an answer later. For the most part, I enjoyed his journey, and the way he was able to get so many rivals in trouble- and killed. He has done the Galactic Alliance a favor, ridding Shimrra's court of so many top advisors. The rest of his storyline cannot compare, however, to the final scene, as his infiltration of Shimrra's court is discovered. As sympathetic to him as I have become, it was very satisfying to watch all of his hopes die with his agent! I am sure he will rise again, however. I did wonder why the Yuuzhan Vong cannot trace a villip signal. They can trace the Galactic Alliance signals, so the concept is not foreign to them. Shouldn't they have been able to trace Nom Anor's location? I expected him to be captured after his agent was discovered.

There was a lot to like about this story, though I didn't expect too much of a change from the previous books. This one is a "good" book, but nothing more. There were a couple of moments where it shone, but for the most part, it was barely engaging. I continue to enjoy the addition of female characters to the Star Wars universe. These authors have consciously given us many females, although much of the dialog was fairly androgynous. Actually, much of the dialog, especially incidental stuff, was given arbitrarily to any character. For example, I wondered why it was the anthropologist who mentioned that Zonoma Sekot was passing into eclipse of the gas giant it orbited, as opposed to the astronomer in the group, Danni Quee?

There were more grammatical errors in this book. I understand that some books are rushed into production, but that is not an excuse for confusing he/she/it on more than one occasion (Tahiri is definitely not a "he").

Once again, I must applaud the use of the younger generation. It is too bad that only the Solo children (with a couple of friends) were featured in pre-New Jedi Order novels (excluding the Young and Junior Jedi Knights), because they are proving their worth. If the franchise continues much farther into the future, we will need more younger characters, or else we will be featuring geriatric Jedi. I liked the relationship that developed between Jaina and Jag, and that he finally shed his inhibitions as she lay near death inside Tahiri's mind. I wondered how physical the authors were allowed to let the relationship to get, before they have to get married... On the other hand, nobody yet knows how to treat the younger children. The New Jedi Order authors have proven that they don't know any better what to do with Ben than their predecessors knew what to do with the Solo children as youngsters. Aside from curing Mara of her disease, what was the importance of Ben's birth, that a book was even named after the event? I think Mara should have stayed with him, so that he at least keeps a mother, especially since Mara hasn't been contributing much to these later stories.

This book concludes the stories that it set out with, and if they are not completely satisfying, they at least move the story forward, and keep us guessing as to the next step in the war. Zonoma Sekot has been found, and has joined the war on the side of the Galactic Alliance. Han and Leia have returned to Mon Calamari, after which other people will continue their work. Considering that they only visited two real communications blackout areas, I cannot consider their mission to be a success. but at least they found out about the Ryn network, and will incorporate it into the Intelligence division. These novels were entertaining, which is probably all the authors wanted. I would have liked them to be engrossing, as well. However, I will settle for simply entertaining. The story progresses, and I do look forward to what happens next.


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