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A novel by Aaron Allston (1999, Bantam Spectra)
Book 9 of the X-Wing Novels
12 years after Star Wars: A New Hope

Wedge is sent to help bring a pilot-worshiping planet into the New Republic.



1 star

Read August 10th to 13th, 2001  
    And so the X-Wing series that I have pretty much enjoyed throughout its run ends on a whimper -a clichéd whimper that looks like a lousy action movie which you watch for the effects and not the story or characters. Most of this mess should not have happened.

The main cliché at work here is the use of a plot device that gives us a chance to explore Adumari society little by little, but makes our characters look stupid while doing so. The author sends Wedge to Adumar without even a briefing on what to expect when he arrives. So he ends up shooting down some admirers (who wanted to either be shot down or shoot Wedge down), looking stupid, insulting various individuals, and losing self-respect before finally coming to the realization that he should just be himself. By then, we're halfway through the book.

It takes Wedge so long to get to this point because he's at the beginning of a mid-life crisis. He has just broken up with Qui Xux, so I knew immediately he would resume his relationship with Iella Wassiri, with whom he was getting pretty close in the last X-Wing novels. It was that obvious. He is about to leave, to slip in past Corellian defenses (the Diktat is still in charge there, and will be until Ambush at Corellia), and try to figure out where his life is going, when General Cracken arrives and gives him some new orders. Wedge is so rude, and Cracken so blind and blunt, that I was ready to put the book down right then. 

He learns that the people of Adumar adore pilots, so he must put together a team of four pilots to show off for the New Republic. Tycho, Janson and Hobbie go with him to Adumar. They later find out that Iella is working under cover for the local Intelligence mission. Their liaison to the Adumari, Tomer Darpen, fills them in on some of the rules, but not enough to make them look even dignified.

It turns out that the people of Cartann, the largest nation on Adumar, spend their life trying to build their honor, by dueling people who have more honor or prestige than they do. As Wedge notes, it is a casual disregard for life. They offer challenges in the sky, and on the ground, with the author's version of swords, the blastswords. Wedge and company go through several of these challenges, refusing what they can, until they learn that some of the other nations on Adumar use paint instead of lasers and missiles to fight their duels. The people of Cartann think this dishonorable, but some people are so anxious to fight Wedge that they accept the new conditions. They even learn that they could fight two or three times in a row like this, which is a wonder to them!

Some people are beginning to learn the ways of the New Republic, and are enjoying it. Others hate the changes being brought about by Wedge and his pilots. The leader of Cartann disapproves, but does not interfere. But Darpen is afraid the pilots will ruin the chances of Adumar in the coming negotiations. 

For Cartann also invited a delegation from Imperial space, which include a member of the 181st fighter division and the pilot who took over from Soonter Fel after his defection in In The Empire's Service. And those pilots have no problem with shooting down Adumari duelists with real weapons. The whole setup stinks, though, because it is explicitly mentioned that the Imperial delegation arrived at the same time as the New Republic pilots, but on the other side of the world. If so, they probably didn't arrive in Cartann, which would irritate them. If Cartann is that large, they certainly didn't land in the capital city, as Wedge and his pilots did. Who was being given the most respect then? And how far did the Imperials have to travel to get to that banquet the night of their arrival?

Wedge figures out that Darpen must be the head of local Intelligence, and that he has made a mess out of the job he was given. He orders Wedge to use real weapons, or they might lose to the Imperials. Wedge resolves his crisis of honor in a bar, and discovers Admiral Rogriss in that same bar, the Imperial Admiral who helped with the hunt for Zsinj with an interdictor cruiser in Solo Command. Wedge surmises that if the Imperials don't win the favor of Adumar, Rogriss will have to send for the Imperial fleet to bombard the planet into submission, so the New Republic can't get it, either.

Finally, Wedge decides to be his old self. He goes to Iella's hidden quarters, and wonders how he lost her friendship. Then he practically proposes to her with a huge and passionate kiss. A little quick after the breakup with Qui Xux? I suppose he wanted to make sure he didn't lose her. But still... 

He then realizes that he has been playing by Darpen's game, and refuses to do it any more. Instead of wearing Adumari dress, he forces his pilots to use their dress uniforms. He refuses any more challenges from the people of Adumar. And when the leader of Cartann decides to take over the world, he refuses to help. Of course, the Imperial pilots agree to help with the conquest, knowing what a good standing it would put them in with these people. 

Unbeknownst to Wedge, Darpen tells the Cartann leader that his pilots must be killed, for honor's sake. So the leader declares open season on the four pilots, and a chase begins. It is not a very interesting chase, as they hijack several vehicles, get to the air base and take off in some local fighters. They fight an unimpressive and unlikely battle against thirty enemies, and all of them survive, but the ships are not spaceworthy after that fight. So they go to ground. And there are no more ships after them then. I thought this was a free-for-all. After thirty ships fail, no more come? Why is that? 

Getting the help of Iella, who earlier refused to disobey her boss, is relatively easy this time. At first, she refuses, even though her love's life is about to be cut short. Realistic? I don't think so. But then the mission documentarian (yes, a documentarian!) shows her a recording of Darpen telling the Cartann leader to kill Wedge, and she changes her mind. She goes with the pilots to a neighboring nation, who is allied against Cartann. I think she would have been more useful staying where she was, with her contacts. 

Wedge manages to gather the remaining Adumari nations together, and they stage a preemptive strike against Cartann. They succeed, not that I was worried. The only real resistance they encountered was from the TIE Interceptors the Imperial pilots were flying. But once they recover their X-Wings, the battle turns and they are easily victorious. 

But the war is not over. The decisive outcome means the people of Adumar have sided with the New Republic. Rogriss leaves his Star Destroyer, for some reason, to come down to the surface. But the Destroyer leaves orbit, going to get reinforcements. Was it a mutiny? Could I think Rogriss could have kept his promise to leave Adumar peacefully and join another Imperial faction, without compromising his honor. Instead, he alone seeks sanctuary with the New Republic, and none of his officers defect with him, as has normally happened when the respected ship leader decides not to serve anymore. It has happened so often in other stories, where entire ships have defected. At the least, he could have found a planet and settled down like Daala did in Planet of Twilight, which was happening at the same time.

So we get another battle, this time between a small New Republic fleet and the reinforced Imperial fleet. Why the Imperials didn't expect more resistance is something I cannot explain. If the New Republic was going to admit Adumar into its folds, they would protect it, and they knew (from Rogriss' defection, if nothing else) that the New Republic would be expecting them. They did send in some TIE Defenders, which made their debut in Isard's Revenge, which made Wedge's job very much harder. 

But by sowing propaganda in the news feeds, the Imperials were led to believe that Adumar was still fighting a bloody civil war. And somehow the fact that these were lies made them go away. Certainly, they lost many TIE Bombers because of overconfidence, but a single Star Destroyer could bombard the planet's surface much more easily, even while being attacked by starfighters (the Mon Calamari cruiser apparently didn't enter the fight). And it's not as if they were facing Rogue Squadron. The author didn't even dignify us with a last look at some of the beloved characters that made up a real X-Wing novel.

The characters we did get were one-note, not even consistently written from the last books this author wrote. Janson was a womanizer, and was constantly cracking jokes and sarcastic one-liners. The action and fights seemed to stop to give him time to do this. Hobbie was always depressed, expecting the worst from any situation. But he didn't even get much time to do that. Tycho fared better, though he didn't get too much time, either. And he was shot down in almost every encounter they had with live guns! 

There was a local fighter champion who was assigned as their guide, who obviously wanted a relationship with Wedge. It was obvious to me what her signals meant, though the author felt the need to spell it out for the readers. She was a master at the blastsword art, and helped protect them in many situations. But she got jealous of Iella, even though the relationship was supposed to be secret. If Cheriss could figure it out, couldn't the others? Wedge never checked to see if he was being followed. She is critically injured just before Cartann's leader announces his plan for the forceful unification of their world, so she conveniently can't help Wedge with his flight to the airbase. 

I did like the situations where Wedge defies Darpen, because, as I mentioned during my review of Hung Out, I love to see such idiots and bullies get their dues. But, as with that book, this was just a minor part of a very tedious book. The battles were alright, but way too technical with "the craft dipped to the right" and then "he shifted over just a notch", and "they were not quite lined up right", closing in by centimeters, and so on, that it looked like they were extended with more words just to drag the story onwards. And no, Darpen was not killed, but the recording of him asking for Wedge's death was sent to his superiors at Intelligence. Once the story is out, he will probably be killed for treason. 

This was certainly not a terrible book, but it is far from being a good book. I cannot recommend it, even though it contains a critical part of the Star Wars mythology: the reactivation of the relationship between Wedge and Iella. This is the piece I was missing when I read Union, where I expected Wedge to still be with Qui Xux. But thank goodness that relationship was done with. I felt like the X-Wing authors teamed up against Anderson's storyline from Jedi Search. They didn't like it, so Stackpole began really budding Wedge with Iella in Isard's Revenge, and Allston re-cemented it here, giving Anderson a stuck-out tongue along the way. I feel the same way.

I just wish it could have been put together in a better package. Much better. The concept of plopping a character into an unfamiliar situation is too well-worn to work here, when continuity (not to mention interest!) requires that Wedge get a full briefing from Cracken or others. With that, the whole situation could have been resolved without having to tell this story. 


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