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A novel by Troy Denning (2001, Del Rey)
Book 3 in the New Jedi Order Main Sequence
27 years after Star Wars: A New Hope

As Luke pulls the Jedi together under one banner, Anakin leads a team to destroy a new enemy weapon, and the Yuuzhan Vong set their sights on Coruscant.



5 stars

Read August 20th to 29th, 2002  

This is what I've been waiting for. Excellent characterization of all characters, a bold story, lots of action, lightsaber fighting, starfighter dogfights, and inner turmoil! There is political action and treachery as well, and some real consequences from everything that has come before. This is by far the best New Jedi Order book so far. I might even go so far as to say that this is the best Star Wars book ever!

The length of the book really makes it feel epic in scope. And since we know these characters so well already, if the book is well written, we will feel for them, and we are with them for long enough that we will experience everything with them. And this book is certainly well written! It is fantastically written. That isn't to say there aren't any problems- there are certainly things that either confused me or contradicted what I feel the characters would really do, but they are isolated, and very small in comparison to everything that was done right.

The real pleasure in this book comes from the combination of movie-style heroics, a very vibrant writing style, and incredible sacrifices for the characters. Halfway through the New Jedi Order, we are reminded that nobody is safe anymore. Some characters, even ones we expect to survive, won't. In fact, this author managed to kill off far more Jedi than all of the other Star Wars novels and comics combined!

The Yuuzhan Vong have finally finished "shaping" the vornskrs they found out about in Conquest. Talon Karrde inadvertently let the Peace Brigade know that his pets could track the Jedi by the Force (I wonder if anybody will find this out). That was all it took for the Yuuzhan Vong to mutate it into a terrible weapon. Not only can the new voxyn track Jedi, but they are tough to kill, even with a lightsaber, they spit acid, have toxic blood, poisonous fangs and tail, and emit ear-piercing and mind-numbing squeals! The Vong don't even need to keep track of these beasts, just let them loose on a planet, and they will take care of themselves. Among the casualties that we hear about are Anakin's friend Lyric (from Lyric's World) and the twins' friend Lusa (from the terrible The Crystal Star and later the Diversity Alliance series). At one point, Corran Horn was on the run, and I wondered if he would make it, either!

There are two real stories here, a localized one surrounding Anakin and his team as they try to kill the voxyn queen, and a broad, galaxy-spanning conflict involving all of the other main characters.

Anakin takes with him all of the people introduced in the Young and Junior Jedi Knights series, from Tenel Ka and Lowbacca, to Zekk, Raynar and Tahiri, as well as his brother and sister. Sure, that sounds convenient, but it also makes the story more personal. All of these characters have similar personalities to the ones they were given in the previous books. I have always liked Tenel Ka, and here she is demonstrated to be as good as ever, and siding with Jacen, as they have always been good friends. The only one with whom I had a possible exception was Tahiri, as she is described as being more emotional that she should be, given her upbringing by Tuskin Raiders. But perhaps her experience in Conquest has opened her up more. Also on Anakin's team are many other Jedi that we have heard about or barely seen in previous New Jedi Order books, including Ganner, who was forced to grow up quickly in maturity in Ruin. But the best characters are brand new, the three barabels, who have a terrific sense of humor, can do incredible things with the Force, and are very swift and strong, allowing the group some protection. It's too bad that two of them don't survive. I hope we hear from the last one again, though.

The elaborate mission to Myrkr forces the Jedi to allow Lando to hand them over to the Yuuzhan Vong for capture. The Vong commander tortures them in a very interesting and emotional scene on his ship. It was really hard to read about their pain, as descriptive as this author is. But it ended at just the right moment, before going too far. I wonder, however, how much of it was a ruse on the part of the Jedi. Was Jaina really broken, as she says? After they "win" the waiting game, nobody seems to feel that Jaina betrayed them. But I suppose it opens her more to what happens later. The Jedi go into a "battle-meld" that resembles the trick they used in the asteroids in Vector Prime. This time, Jacen leads the whole group to share thoughts. As they take over the Vong ship, they know exactly what is happening everywhere else. Pretty cool, and well presented, I hope it doesn't become a standard, because it makes them a little too powerful. If it was so advantageous, why didn't Luke and his battle group use something similar? The answer is because this allowed us to get deeper into the minds of the young Jedi around Myrkr, and they could share in the emotions of others, which brought them really close together, and made it more difficult when somebody died.

I really enjoyed seeing the infiltration of the world-ship on Myrkr. I wonder how the Jedi knew to go for the world-ship, and not the planet, which would have been my target. I suppose the call of the captive Jedi helped them decide. It is also the captive Jedi that forced them to land in the wrong area of the ship, forcing a long and arduous journey to get to the cloning lab. To everybody's surprise, the captives are Dark Jedi, making their task even more difficult. Most of the group resents the Dark Jedi for endangering the mission simply for being so far from the labs! Zekk even knows them from his time in the Shadow Academy. The Dark Jedi, however, lead them towards the cloning labs, through mazes and slave-cities that the Vong use to train their Jedi-hunting voxyn.

The best part of the team's efforts came in the form of fighting and guessing the Vong movements. It's about time that we see some countermeasures to the Yuuzhan Vong weapons, like the sticky-blorash jelly and the various poisons. I really felt like it was real, the way it was described. I am also glad that one of the NJO authors has finally remembered Jacen's affinity for animals, and Lowie's computer skills. I am very glad that the specializations so apparent in the Young Jedi Knights has disappeared (where it seemed that they could do nothing else), but it is nice to see some remnant.

The journey through the world-ship takes its toll, as they are constantly hunted. It's really exciting to see how none of the Jedi died before coming close to their target (except for their pilot). Suddenly, two Jedi die in the tunnels. Then, one by one, their group falls to attrition, as Vong and voxyn keep up the pace, and the Jedi start getting tired and low on ammunition. The group very quickly went from sixteen to ten or eleven between the time they entered the feral voxyn nests and the cloning lab. Poor Raynar -we don't even know if he survived when the Dark Jedi took off and abandoned the rest of the group. I have trouble believing that the author just put them in to die, and I suspect we'll see them returning eventually. The group manages to destroy the lab, but the queen gets away. The group is split up, and they finally manage to steal a ship and kill the queen. But the cost!

I wonder what prevents the shapers from creating more voxyn queens? They did it once; they should be able to do it again, given enough time. It does seem quite convenient that there was only one of the creatures. I know they won't, but could the Vong clone a clone? The quality might be lower, but it might be better than nothing. However, given how much time it took to train the voxyn, they might think it not worth the while.

And we come to the price of victory. Just like I was spoiled to Chewbacca's death by the Star Wars Insider well before reading Vector Prime, I was spoiled similarly by an unshielded article in the same magazine to another death, which is why I cancelled my subscription!













Anakin's death was magnificent! It is such the opposite of Chewie's death that I absolutely loved it! Anakin was badly hurt rescuing Jaina from an ambush, and the wound continued to get worse as they tracked closer to the cloning lab. It got to the point that he knew that he had to sacrifice himself for the others to escape, becoming one with the Force to inflict so much damage on the Vong forces. Anything that I say would be insignificant compared to the description in the book, so all I can do is praise the author for doing such a beautiful job. The only thing missing was a thought of Chewbacca in his mind as he died. I said at the end of Rebirth that since Anakin and Tahiri were falling in love, one of them had to die. I figured it would be the minor character of Tahiri, an obvious choice. I'm glad the authors decided to go the other route -it's much more powerful.

As good as that was, however, it still pales in comparison to the follow-up. We see the resonance in the Force come to Luke first, and he nearly gives in to rage himself. Again, the description is incredibly beautiful, and brings tears to my eyes re-reading it. The Force then reveals Anakin's death to Leia, and as a result Han, which was almost as good. Wow! That chapter was so powerful. This author managed to undo the damage that Luceno did to the character of Han Solo in Hero's Trial, as he now promises to be the strong one. He feels himself retreating back into grief, and sees that Leia will not be able to pull him out this time. So he has to bring her back! (In fairness, however, he probably couldn't have been so strong if he hadn't gone through that previous experience.)

I wonder why Anakin's body didn't fade into the Force. Was he too young? Jaina goes back to retrieve it, being bitter and full of rage at Anakin, Jacen (who forced her to leave) and the Yuuzhan Vong. She gives into her rage, and uses the Dark Side of the Force to defeat many Vong. I have a feeling that more of this is what awaits us in Dark Journey. I liked seeing Vergere use the lightsaber to absorb the Force-lightning, just as Obi-Wan did in Attack of the Clones, which only came out six months after this book! Clearly inside knowledge!

Jaina's fall to the Dark Side (which might not be complete) is so gradual that I was not surprised when it finally happened. She was getting so frustrated, and it built up until her brother was killed. She ends up in the ship with the survivors, and has to leave Jacen behind as he is captured and a fleet of Vong warships arrives, preventing a rescue. As Dark Journey is likely to continue Jaina's side of the story, so Traitor will likely continue Jacen's side, as it will probably take a full book to get him out of this mess, if he indeed does.

Before heading to the other main plot of this book, I am deeply interested in what Vergere is up to. She was a Jedi in Cloak of Deception and Rogue Planet, and she is not hunted by the voxyn. She works against her own people, but didn't betray the Jedi when she knew where they were. She is working against Nom Anor, but with Tsavong Lah. And when she finally captures Jacen, is that really what she wanted, or does she have some plans that we cannot yet fathom? I am sure a future book will follow this up, but I hope they have a really good explanation. I don't want to be disappointed by this one.

The other plotline deals with the turning point in the war. It seems like several turning points, but the climax of the book is like a terrific movie-ending climax. It was so visual, so well described, and so realistic.

On Eclipse, the new Jedi base, Luke makes the decision to rally the Jedi under one banner, and take the fight to the Yuuzhan Vong. They rescue millions of hostages (with help from Wedge and a couple of special Star Destroyers) that were being held until the Jedi surrendered. They create tactics to use the Force to push bombs and steel slabs into enemy ships (courtesy of Kyp Durron and another barabel Saba Sebatyne), gather a cloaking screen around them by using the Force to collect photons, and capture several Yammosks! Danni Quee (from Vector Prime) creates a Yammosk locator using gravity waves, and Cilghal is able to create a Yammosk jammer which she uses to rescue Luke, Leia and Han from Coruscant right at the end of the book. I wonder if she prematurely gave away the existence of this counter-weapon, though.

We also see much-needed political wrangling. I loved the interactions between Borsk Fey'lya and his allies and rivals. Decreasing in popularity, he suddenly extends his support to the Jedi. The uproars in the senate were wonderfully crafted. It shows just how ineffective the Senate has become, reflecting my own thoughts in several pre-NJO books. In just 25 years, it became even less effective than it had been in Palpatine's time. No wonder the New Order must have been somewhat welcomed by many. As Leia states, and Luke reiterates later (when they decide to fire through the refugee ships), is this New Republic worth saving?

Senator Viqi Shesh embodies that corruption. However, she seems to feel the heat of her betrayals near the beginning of the book. She seems to know that she is being used, which prompts her to take action, first to try and assassinate Borsk, and then Luke and Mara's child, Ben, in the care of Han and Leia. She obviously can see that Tsavong Lah is going to discard her, because she openly shows herself to be a traitor, knowing that the Vong will not keep their promises to her, and she has lost any hope to gain the power she craves. So she goes after Han, Leia and Ben full force, right until the end, instead of trying to rectify her mistakes. Typically Kuati!

All of the battles and political mess that the author give us leads to one final climax: the Battle for Coruscant. This battle takes up nearly two hundred pages, save for occasional moments at Myrkr. And every page of it is magnificent, putting us right in the thick of everything. We see things from every perspective, including Coruscant at city level. If anybody was disappointed in the way Coruscant fell to the New Republic in Wedge's Gamble, this ought to correct that.

I couldn't begin to describe the battle if I wanted to. It is just too large. We easily feel the tension as the Vong fleet moves closer and closer to the planet. It's a good thing that Han and Leia discovered the hidden fleet near Borleais, or else there would have been no hope at all. Every time the battle groups regrouped, we notice that they have moved closer to Coruscant. Thanks to Lando's battle droids, and his tactical expertise, the planetary defense network is able to fend off some of the enemy fleet.

But the fact that the Vong fleet is using refugee ships as a front line divides the military, also dividing the senate, and probably whole families. Knowing that the refugee ships will be destroyed anyway, many generals fire through them to get at the enemy, but many others refuse. They must destroy enough of the fleet to keep the planetary shields up, which of course doesn't happen. First the mine network is destroyed, doing its job. But there aren't nearly enough. The orbital weapons platforms are taken down. And while this is happening, the planetary shield is constantly bombarded -mostly by the refugee ships. It overloads, and the enemy pours into Coruscant's skies! Wow! That was terrific! Borsk of course knows that they cannot surrender at any cost. But that's what I thought the senate was going to do. I figured Coruscant would survive only because of surrender. But the battle was so believably described, that I almost believed that the New Republic would survive, and maybe Borsk thought so, too. But hope would arise and then disappear again. And when we realized that Coruscant must fall, it was really disheartening!

Just when I thought the battle couldn't get any better, the author made a martyr out of Borsk. As the Yuuzhan Vong take over the planet, he invites Tsavong Lah to join him at the Imperial Palace, so that he can surrender personally. Unfortunately, Lah doesn't take the bait, and Borsk is forced to blow himself up without taking the warlord with him. But he does take all of the "data towers", which house all the sensitive records of the New Republic, and most of the Imperial Palace with him, along with thousands of Vong soldiers. Even though we've loved to hate Borsk over the years, his end was also very emotional.

I can't wait to hear what happens to Coruscant after the battle. Now that the center of government is destroyed, I wonder if the Vong will remake the planet, similar to what happened to Nar Shadda. Or is there still too much potential information for them to destroy it? Will Coruscant survive the New Jedi Order? I suppose part of that question will be answered starting with Rebel Dream.

As amazing as Anakin's mission, and the battle for Coruscant were, there are several things that I almost could not overcome. Both plots probably should have ended much earlier than they did. I am not saying that the book was too long, only that their stories went too far.

I don't believe for a moment that Leia and Han would remain on Coruscant when they knew an attack was coming. Even if Leia had complete trust in the military (which she does not), she no longer trusts the government. The senate could easily render the military ineffective, as it essentially does at the very end. She would have been off planet long ago, especially with Ben in their care. I also do not believe that Han would let the Falcon sit in a cargo bay for so long, especially with the battle near, without checking on it several times a day.

All of this was an excuse to get little Ben in mortal danger. For Han and Leia are attacked by a Viqi Shesh who no longer has anything to lose, and in the confusion of the panicked spaceport, they manage to let C3PO and Ben get lost as they go after this new personal enemy. The pair ends up launching on an evacuating transport, which is captured by the Yuuzhan Vong. Lando gets to use his new battle droids -Vong hunters- to rescue the baby. The good part about this is that C3PO gets to be a hero again, mimicking the baby so that Shesh goes after a decoy.  Meanwhile, Luke and Mara also go after the ship, but don't make it, and crash their X-Wings in Coruscant's only Sea, and nearly dying when a Vong drop-ship tries to land on them. Han and Leia pick them up in the Falcon, where Cilghal helps them escape. I don't think that part was necessary at all, but it was also so well written that I didn't mind in the slightest, and it gave us a point of view to see the last defense of the planet from the inside, and have a final conversation with Borsk.

The plot on Myrkr went on for too long, as well. They should have been able to kill the voxyn queen at the cloning facility. As it was, the cloning facility was way too complex, and the author didn't put enough guideposts in to let us wander around. Anakin's movements before his death were so confusing, I had to read it three times, very carefully, to figure it out. We didn't really need to see the group split up. But it does give Jaina time to fume and use the Dark Side without Jacen knowing about it, while she retrieves Anakin's body.

I was initially complaining that the author had some trouble with writing the technical side of the story, especially the strike team's landing on the world-ship, which was rather confusing. But by the halfway mark, except for the sequence above, he more than made up for that! However, all the way through the novel, almost without exception, he nailed characterization head-on. It was magnificent to read the characters, because they were exactly who they should be. And he was able to sprinkle past continuity throughout the book as well, without it intruding. This is the way to do it, not the sloppy way it was done in Jedi Eclipse. (I've just recently found out that James Luceno will likely be writing the NJO series finale -please no! Or else let him grow up and write maturely!)

If the large, galaxy-spanning events make the book seem epic, it is the little things that make this novel work so beautifully. From the author mentioning that the girls seemed to swarm around Anakin because he was so handsome, to Han's thoughts that he had been gone for too long, selfishly thinking only of Chewie's death, the thematic element of the dejarik game whenever we were seeing events from Tsavong Lah's point of view, to Han finally realizing that the Millennium Falcon's co-pilot's seat was way too big for Leia, among so many others, everything just felt right!

It is interesting to see how far the New Republic has come in two years. They are able to fight off coral-skippers like they were TIE-Interceptors. The Jedi have found a new base and already lost it. The Errant Venture is still carrying around all the young Jedi, and probably will for the remainder of the war. And now the New Republic military is without a home base, without its chief of state, and has splintered, evacuating senators from their home sector, abandoning Coruscant.

This book has left us with three hanging plots, and I expect the next four books to deliver us from these cliffs with as much enthusiasm as this author did. Despite its few faults, the themes, the characters, the story, not to mention the energetic and descriptive writing style, make this a Star Wars book not to miss. All that, and the cover artwork is superior to most of the books in this series, too! More great art like this, as well, please!


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