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A novel by Timothy Zahn (1997, Bantam Spectra)
Book 1 of Star Wars: The Hand of Thrawn Duology
19 years after Star Wars: A New Hope

An ancient report implicating the Bothans in genocide threatens to tear the New Republic apart, while it appears that Grand Admiral Thrawn has returned to revive the dying Empire.




Read August 16th to 20th, 1999  
    This book was both better and worse than the middle-ground rating suggests.  It smells like setup!  The New Republic is changing, the Empire is dying, Luke senses that he's using the Force too readily for his own purposes, and thus resolves to change, and Han and Leia take a vacation on a world that is about to explode into chaos –twice.  Oh, wait, that last part has been a plot point in almost every Star Wars book.

  Starting on way too many clichés, and too many far-fetched situations, the premise gets launched with a massive amount of suspension of disbelief.  A scavenger is caught digging up a valuable datacard thrown from the explosion that destroyed the Emperor's storehouse on Wayland ten years ago, in the last Zahn Star Wars book.  The Noghri have colonized the planet, and Leia is vacationing there.  She catches the scavenger (with the Noghri's help), grabs the half-destroyed datacards, but lets him go, only to realize that the information he might have gleaned from the cards is very dangerous.  Of course, he has read the news and spreads it.  But I don't know why that's important, because Leia tells the Senate anyway: that a group of Bothans sabotaged the shield generator on the planet Caamas so that the Empire could destroy the planet by bombardment over forty years ago. 

  This sparks outrage, and the issue is used as grounds for old grudges, which begin to flare again, and could start a civil war.  Having a scavenger find the catalyst data card on a Noghri-occupied planet, with Leia and Talon Karrde being there at that moment is bad enough.  Then we are led to believe this document is the largest threat the New Republic has ever faced.  And we are shown how the New Republic begins to tear itself apart, proving the premise.

  Fortunately, we come to the Imperials.  The dynamics between Fleet Admiral Pellaeon, Moff Disra and Major Tierce is terrific.  Add the con man playing Grand Admiral Thrawn, and you have incredibly intelligent interplay, and the Specter of the Past, as well.    For nobody in the Empire or the New Republic except Disra and Tierce know that Thrawn isn't the real thing.

  The Imperial side of the story is the one worth reading.  All the suspicions, the plotting and backstabbing was really very intriguing.  Will it work?  Have to read the second book to find out.  Likely not, since the good guys have to win.

  The good guys are written second-rate, but all they are supposed to do is react.  There are three plots to get a copy of the intact Caamas document to extract punishment from the Bothans who were involved.  It seems half the galaxy wants the whole Bothan race to pay, while the other half thinks it shouldn't.  Obtaining the fully intact document should help diffuse the situation, allowing the individuals to pay for their involvement.

  There are a few twists and turns along the way, as expected, and most of it is well written.  Many spots, however, seem completely unnecessary, such as Luke's attack on the pirate base.  Did that tell us anything, except perhaps that it's a mistake not to use the Force when surrounded by enemies?  There were also many single-scene sections, where the purpose is to show how dangerous the situation is.  I tend not to like giving two or three pages just to show how unknown characters start a riot.  Ah, well.

  The bad guys were much more interesting to read about than the good guys, though I enjoyed meeting up with Corran Horn and Booster Terrik again.

  One more thing that I found wearying, though unavoidable, was that Zahn made it seem that the characters he created in the other Thrawn Trilogy should feature most prominently.  It's clearly stating that other authors couldn't use them for very long.  It would have been nice if all the authors were able to use some of his characters more often, rather than creating new ones for the job.  After all this time being absent, all the characters from the original Thrawn trilogy have reappeared. 

  This feels like a transition novel -the last of the old ones -and it is steering the New Republic and the Empire into new storytelling territory.  We'll have to see how all this pans out.  I'm anxious to start the concluding book.  So far, all I smell is setup.


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