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A novel by Aaron Allston (1999, Bantam Spectra)
Book 7 of the X-Wing Novels
6.5 years after Star Wars: A New Hope

Han Solo's task force tries to flush Zsinj out of hiding in order to destroy him.



4 stars

Read June 17th to 22nd, 2001  
    The Zsinj trilogy ends with a bang, as an ensemble cast takes on mission after mission, and the excitement never stops.  This book was well thought-out, and did an admirable job of meshing continuously with the book that follows it, which was written years earlier.

I think the best part of this book, which could not be done in the first book of the trilogy, was combining the cast, so that Rogue and Wraith squadrons were acting together, along with the various other squadrons of B-Wings, Y-Wings and A-Wings, and the various capital ships.  But first we had to get to know the pilots, and that meant focusing entire books on them.  Noticeable was the almost complete disappearance of Kell from the plot.  Did the author get tired of the character once he resolved his situation with Janson?  I don't really mind.

If there was any focus in this book, it was on Wedge, and that's a good thing.  Face also received considerable coverage, continuing the trend from the last book.  This time, Wedge transfers permanently back to the Rogues, so Face inherits the Wraiths.  And Han plays a very important part in this book, and is written extremely well.  It may have taken a while for the author to find his way in the Star Wars universe, but now I think he's ready to write several more books!

The book is non-stop action and plotting.  So many things are going on at once, that I was out of breath at some points, racing through the exciting situations.  It was very interesting to see the group lose several engagements one after another.  

The first engagement, almost at the very beginning of the book, was one of the most exciting.  On their way to liberate an Imperial planet attacked by Zsinj's forces, Solo's task force falls into a trap.  They have been working for months to try and get Zsinj to come out of hiding, and he makes an appearance here, in revenge for Solo destroying his second Super Star Destroyer.  They nearly trap the group in, but between some smart maneuvering and some great starfighter piloting, Solo just barely manages to get away.  It was a great adrenaline rush!

After the battle, which Zsinj considers to be a defeat, because Solo got away, the warlord decides to activate his brainwashed subjects, which are aliens designed to create animosity between humans and aliens.  One attacks Mon Mothma, another Admiral Ackbar, and two pilots in Rogue and Polearm squadrons turn on their comrades.  Between the other great pilots in these squadrons, the sudden traitors are killed, but not before they nearly kill Wedge and Han.  We are meant to believe that these people were brainwashed in less than a day, which I think is a ridiculous concept, since it virtually came out of nowhere.  Actually, I think we could have done without the brainwashing/ brain enhancing experiments of Zsinj altogether.  It didn't add much to the story, and the rescue of the aliens was not exciting enough read.  I think it could have been omitted completely.

The one good thing about it, however, was the attack on the testing facility, though they could have set the same trap on any other of Zsinj's facilities.  Zsinj gets worried, so he evacuates the place, and has it redecorated and corridors moved around, and adds some security modifications, because he knows that one day the Wraiths will come looking for it.  They do, and it is a spectacular example of infiltration.  They discover many of the traps, but not enough.  Every single one of them gets severe burns when they are led into an incinerator.  With help from sharpshooters on the roof and Rogue Squadron in the air, they get away, but several of them nearly die.  Shalla sees her nemesis from when she was posing as a Hawk-bat pirate, and takes him down before he can expose her as a Wraith.  All in all, it was a great read.

Wedge and his team come up with two relevant plans to the current situations.  First, they deduce what species will be next to commit treason by way of brainwashing, and with the help of the doctor they captured in the medical facility, they are able to spot signs of tampering early enough to make Zsinj's subjects useless.  Second, they think that a Han Solo replica should go from planet to planet and try to lure Zsinj out.  

They obtain a freighter similar to the Falcon (though Han says it looks nothing like the original!) and dub it the Millennium Falsehood.  Wedge and Chewbacca take it to several ports and wait for Zsinj's forces to spot it, making it look like Solo is stirring up Rebel sympathies in Zsinj territory.  One mission is nearly disastrous as the Falsehood and her escorts engage several TIEs off-planet.  At another, Face finally learns who Lara is.  He accidentally releases her identity as the spy who helped destroy Donos' squadron in the first book over an open comm, and Donos nearly kills her.  She flees, knowing that she will never be trusted again, and takes some matters into her own hands.  

Donos and Wedge try to figure out what happened back there, but Donos can't remember anything, so Wedge pulls him from the active duty list, but believes he temporarily went insane.  After a while, where Donos learns from Janson how to "have a good time and look silly doing it", and he gets to fly the Millennium Falsehood in several more missions.

Meanwhile, Lara once more dons her Imperial persona, Gara Petothel, and comes to be in Zsinj's employ, intent on sabotaging his flagship.  She and her astromech droid take control of all of the maintenance droids, and are able to set up programs whereby they could sabotage the hyperdrive, some sensors and other systems.  She also gets to fly a TIE fighter, which she uses against Wedge in the next mission.  She tries not to destroy the ship, and manages to get a message across to Wedge telling him of her plan and where Zsinj hopes to strike against Solo next.  For both Han and Zsinj are watching the battle from afar, as Zsinj wants to destroy Han's flagship, but Han waits for the Iron Fist to show up first.  Neither does, and the Falsehood is nearly destroyed.  But with a huge bomb released from her underside, and all the support fighters, they are able to destroy one of Zsinj's capital ships and get away.  Still neither leader will jump in to join the fray.  

So when Wedge and Han think Lara's bait is too good to pass on, they decide to turn the tables on Zsinj.  And this is by far the best battle in a book full of terrific battle scenes!  Han is able to borrow the use of an Imperial Interdictor Cruiser, to prevent Zsinj from going into hyperspace.  He defends it with two of the New Republic's Imperial Star Destroyers, and goes after Zsinj's flagship with starfighters, at least two Mon Calamari cruisers, and a whole slew of other craft!  The battle was huge, and I thought it was going to end there.  But Zsinj actually managed to get away by sending one of his Star Destroyers on a collision course with the Interdictor, and manages to barely pull out of the gravity well. The Imperial Admiral (who is also looking to destroy Zsinj, and pulls a temporary truce to help Solo) then takes off, saying it was a good effort, and Han is completely distressed.  

Fortunately for them, Lara was able to direct the Iron Fist slightly off course and disable the hyperdrive.  She sends out a message for Solo, who then jumps in with his battered fleet.  This battle was still really exciting, though nowhere near as much as the one just previous.  Han follows Zsinj into an asteroid field and is able to pummel the ship for a while longer.  The image of so many capital ships fighting and running away and turning and making such bold maneuvers was terrific.  

However, Zsinj has two more tricks up his sleeve.  One is the Nightcloak, a device that will be used in The Courtship of Princess Leia, and the other is the compiled debris of the Super Star Destroyer that was destroyed in the last book.  Between the two of them, one hiding the Iron Fist, and the other supplying a huge explosion and debris field, it looks like Zsinj's ship was destroyed.  This provides a satisfactory conclusion while still allowing Zsinj to do what he does in the following book.  I was worried that this wasn't possible.  And sure enough, Han tells Zsinj to kiss a Wookie, as the warlord makes final remarks to Han from an escaping shuttle, ensuring animosity in the next story.

The loose ends are all tied up by the end of the book, too.  Lara was able to rescue the aliens being tested aboard Zsinj's ship, though the escape was not very interesting.  She rejoins the Wraiths for a final moment, just to save Wedge's life, and appears to be killed.  But Donos had proposed a romantic relationship before he found out who she was, so it appeared that she faked her death and arranged to meet Donos on some out-of-the-way planet, if he was still interested.  And we know that he had already forgiven her.

The Baron Fel setup was not as interesting as it first seemed.  It turns out that he was an actor (Face's rival) designed to lure Wedge into a vengeful trap, because Fel abandoned the Rogues sometime after Mandatory Retirement.  I was not enamored of the setup to get the Rogues and Wraiths out of Iron Fist's path, but it sort of made sense.  They flew against terrific TIE pilots, some of whom were robotic, and designed to explode and take out several enemy pilots.  The new special TIEs didn't seem any better than the old ones, either.

One of the funniest parts of the book was Wedge's revenge.  There was plenty of humourous banter back and forth between the pilots, and several instances throughout the trilogy where the pilots played practical jokes on one another and take revenge.  But when Wedge decided to take revenge on Janson for one too many pranks, he got the pilot back very good.  Pretending to bring an Ewok into the squadron in a box, he let Janson think he could help train and feed it, to make the illusion from the last book seem more real.  When the "Ewok" gets loose, Wedge and Janson get covered with cleaning fluid, so are forced to strip and smear Ewok food all over their naked bodies.  Wedge obviously cleaned off while Janson followed the trail of the Ewok into the pilot's lounge.  When he had wandered around enough, Wedge turned on the lights and showed Janson to the squadron.  Payback is not quite the appropriate word...

All the events and characters in this book seemed very real.  The battles were terrifically written, and the ensemble cast made it seem more realistic.  The addition of Han Solo to the cast was a great idea, as it made the battles more personal between him and Zsinj.  If the rest of the X-Wing series is like this, I will be very happy.


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