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SHIELD OF LIES

A novel by Michael P. Kube-McDowell (1996, Bantam Spectra)
Book 2 of The Black Fleet Crisis
16 years after Star Wars: A New Hope

War erupts on both the political and military fronts, as Luke searches for his mother, and Lando and the droids chase after a vagabond ship.

 

 

4 stars

Read January 1st to 9th, 2016  
    Once again, I enjoyed the writing style of this author. Unfortunately, two thirds of this book were forgettable. The part that dealt with the politics almost made up for it, as it was very interesting, and we can feel that something is going to change, soon.

Spoiler review:

This book was frustrating in that I didn’t find that there was enough of anything. It pushed all three stories forward, but only marginally. Luke and Lando’s stories are not memorable, even though they involve scenarios that could have been good opportunities for character development. It’s only Leia’s story that really has some urgency to it, and it backfires on her, though not as badly as it seems by the end of the book.

In the Lando section of the book, he, Lobot, R2D2 and C3PO try to figure out the ship they have boarded. It’s basically a bunch of speculations about how to communicate with it, and how to get inside. Eventually, they find a way to burn through the self-healing walls and get into another chamber, but that one becomes dangerous. When the ship stops, Lando burns through a bunch more walls to activate an antenna to the outside. The room he finds himself in contains a history of the Qella species (including one exhibit that spouts fire to show how they destroyed themselves, nearly destroying the watchers). The story barely progressed, and once again was distracting because I knew that it had zero impact on the overall arc of the trilogy. There are a couple of external viewpoints that I appreciated, one from the researchers who go to explore the Qella homeworld, most of whom die and are encased in the ice, as well as the discovery of the Vagabond by an Imperial patrol near the Core, which shows how frontier the Empire is by this point in the saga.

Luke’s story didn’t fare that much better, but at least he discovers something about himself. Unfortunately, this is the book that really starts the discussion of how much Dark Side energy Luke carries within him, which continues into the future of the novels as far as they go. Akanah tried once again to convince him that he does not need his lightsaber, that he could protect himself using the White, even from those who try to kill him –and they wouldn’t be harmed. Luke doesn’t bring up the obvious counter-argument, which is to fight for others, as the people who want to kill him would certainly go after others afterwards. But Akanah feels the shame and guilt of any life that is lost (I wonder how she feels about animals), and so refuses to kill, and doesn’t want Luke to kill, either.

They travel to a couple more planets, one to collect information from a former contact who left many years ago, and another which Akanah lies to Luke about, as she goes to find her father, not the Fallassani. It’s sad that her father doesn’t remember her, having traded long-term memory for blissful drugs. But it allows her to open up to Luke finally, and they become more trusting. Still, they haven’t found anything, and the search is not actually all that interesting. Fortunately, the author’s writing skills help out here, making the story pass quickly. Luke, for his part, does a search on Akanah, her people, and the ship they were supposed to have purchased to get offworld. There are some interesting prospects, but for the moment, it only leads to more searches.

When we finally get to Leia’s section, it’s like a breath of fresh air. The characters are no longer isolated, with almost nothing to do. Here, Leia’s actions have consequences. The opening scenes are a little forced, but who hasn’t wanted to take an attention-grabbing cell-phone off a loved one and throw it into the ocean? Han has always been very down-to-earth.

Leia is still reeling from the humiliation she received from Nil Spaar in Before the Storm, who is currently basking on his homeworld as the glorious Yevethan leader, with women offering to mate with him and men offering their blood. Leia still has to fend off the senate and deal somehow with a response to what the Yevethans did within their cluster –wiping out all non-Yevethan life so that they could settle there.

The fleet is sent to ensure that the Yevethans don’t try to move into other sectors, and Admiral Drayson shows Abhat how to find independent intelligence. Still, when they try to send robotic and human scouts through every inhabited system in the Koornacht cluster, only about half of them survive, yet they still get a good picture of what is happening there.

Leia then allows the military to plan a daring strike, a feint to draw out the Yevethan forces, followed by an all-out attack. Unfortunately, the Yevethans have already prepared for that, so their defending ships send out communications from prisoners on board, asking the New Republic to stop the attack, otherwise they will be killed. So many of the New Republic forces refuse to fire on the ships that the attack is a total failure.

The only thing left for her to do is send in another strategist, and she decides to send Han. Unfortunately, one of the disgruntled senators takes that moment to send intelligence information to Nil Spaar, so that the Yevethan forces capture Han. With that, the senate now thinks the situation has become too personal for Leia, and sets up a vote of no confidence.

Admiral Ackbar has taken a personal interest in the young pilot who escaped from one of the planets attacked by the Yevethans. He tries unsuccessfully to get him into the fighter corps -he is ineligible due to the fact that his homeworld is not in the New Republic. Ackbar pleads with Leia, who brilliantly signs a petition to allow his world to join. He is part of the mission to deliver Han, but will have to arrive at his destination without his leader. Even Ackbar, who mourns the old days, has to learn to play by the new, more civilized, rules than existed back in the days of the rebellion.

The book ends with Han being interrogated by Nil Spaar, who obviously doesn’t realize how much Han has been through in the last thirty years. It’s nice to see Han’s sarcastic wit taking center stage here, even though he is undoubtedly frightened.

For the middle book in a trilogy, this one moved the story forward, but not much more than that. I think dividing the book into the three main sections was a poor choice, as I would have probably been more forgiving had the different points of view been integrated, as in the first book. As it stands, I was impatient to get out of Lando’s section, then Luke’s, hoping that Leia’s would be worth it, otherwise the book would have been a bust. But the third part really elevates the story, enough to make the book worthwhile.
 

 

4 stars

Read September 24th to 28th, 1998  
    Still an excellent book, to continue the series.  I found switching between the different plotlines was distracting, though.  I don't know how they are going to dig themselves out of this mess, but I think Luke will be the key.  I just hope this magic "white" doesn't do it.  I think there's too much magic being used in the Star Wars universe already.  I don't think it's necessary.  And I seriously think whatever is revealed about Luke's mother (Amidala -I know that much about the Prequels), will not be consistent with what we discover in The Phantom Menace.  I also think this ship that Lando's chasing is going to be part of the key to winning.  An unknown force that could suddenly change the tide of the war.  That would be better than magic.  
   

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