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
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
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.