Ossus Library Index Star Wars Timeline




A novel by Matthew Stover (2002, Del Rey)
Book 5 in the New Jedi Order Main Sequence
27 years after Star Wars: A New Hope

Jacen Solo is subjected to Vuuzhan Vong methods to try and turn him to their allegiance.



4 stars

Read May 23rd to 27th, 2003  
    The book starts out fantastic, and ends merely "good". The author has a terrific ability to write character. I have never had such a great time inside somebody's head before.

With this book, we once again backtrack to the end of Star By Star. Where Dark Journey dealt with Jaina, and the Enemy Lines duology dealt with the other heroes, this one deals solely with Jacen, after the Jedi infiltration group was forced to leave him behind.

The entire story is a mind game, played between Jacen and Vergere, the enigmatic former Jedi who appears to be helping the Yuuzhan Vong in most of the previous stories. There is not much to analyze, because most of the text happens inside Jacen's head. As I mentioned, this author knows how to write characters well. It was really nice to get a novel where we can see the characters think, not just from an external point of view, but to discover their inner person. This was not simply a description of events; we get to participate in those events.

The first part of the novel is the best. For half of it, Jacen is suspended in the Embrace of Pain, similar to what happened to him in Onslaught. This time, however, Vergere keeps him company, and heals his hurts with her special tears. She guides him so that he embraces the pain, and grows stronger because of it.

The most shocking revelation that occurs here is how the Yuuzhan Vong fit into the Force. I am embarrassed that it never even occurred to me, that the Force could be like a spectrum of light, and that the people of this Galaxy could "see" so much of it, but that they might be blind to a certain bandwidth. The Yuuzhan Vong fit into this bandwidth. I really like the idea! It also explains the different affinities that the various Jedi have. Corran Horn, for example, is blind to the small "wavelengths" that control telekinesis. Jacen could see more into the area where he could communicate with animals, while Jaina had stronger senses in the wavelength for technical stuff. It also makes sense that Anakin's lambent crystal, obtained in Conquest, allowed him to vaguely sense the Vong. For Jacen, it is the residue of the telepathic creature that linked him to the infant world brain. It would be akin to donning infrared glasses -which also show a distorted view of the world. It takes an extra device, and experience, to fit everything together. Wonderful!

I was really impressed with the way Jacen took to the next phase of his training, resisting the pain given off by the dhuryam (world brain), and teaching it how to cooperate, treating the slaves as a medic, and becoming indispensable to the Nursery where the brain for reshaping the Vong homeworld was being nurtured. By the end, he goes into a murderous rage, killing all the competitor dhuryams, and nearly killing his own. I loved the way he convinced the amphistaffs that he was actually one of their own polyps, so that they wouldn't attack him!

The new Vong homeworld is, of course, transformed from Coruscant. It was inevitable that this would happen, since the center tends to remain in the center. Coruscant was always the center of civilization in this Galaxy. Jacen is once again lured into learning situations by Vergere, until he uses the Dark Side of the Force to combat Nom Anor and his army (as well as Vergere), finally regaining his link to the Force. It is unfortunately never explained how Vergere was able to strip the Force from him in the first place, nor how he was able to regain its control. However, given that Callista found she could touch only the Dark Side after losing her powers, in Darksaber, I suppose there is come continuity there. Ulic Qel-Droma couldn't touch either side in Redemption.

There are all sorts of terrific conversations about the Force in the first two parts of the book. Fans have been asking these same questions for ages, and since it is becoming easier all the time for people to return from the Dark Side (where it killed Vader), it's a welcome discussion. Like all philosophy, there are no answers to be found in these discussions. I'm not sure Vergere has found all the answers that she pretends to know, either. Calling the Dark Side only the uncontrolled part of the Force has some merit, because there is darkness in all of us, especially humans, that shows itself when we lose control. But I disagree that it defines who we are, our true selves. However, her answer is a good one.

Vergere's moth analogy was not entirely applicable to Jacen, either. She states that the moth needs to struggle out of its cocoon or else it can't survive. Helping it out of the cocoon will kill it, or at least leave it crippled. However, Jacen should have been able to come up with dozens of other arguments regarding animals that require a helping hand to survive -humans among them!

The weakest part of the book is the third part, which is unfortunate, because that's usually what leaves us with the strongest impression. After so much soul searching, we get weird action. Jacen pretends to become one of the Vong gods -one of the twin gods, as Jaina had pretended to be. Her pretense in Dark Journey is probably what lets Tsavong Lah to allow Nom Anor and Vergere to proceed with this strange plan in the first place.

Most of the third part comes from the point of view of Ganner Rhysode, the young Jedi who was initially brash, then became wizened through his experiences in Onslaught and Ruin. He tracks down the faintest of rumors to find Jacen, and is then taken back to Coruscant to be sacrificed. Jacen somehow convinces the Vong to make Ganner into a practice sacrifice, where his sister would be the real one. I have a lot of trouble believing that Nom Anor would allow this, especially since he knows that Ganner is lying. His skepticism should tell him that Jacen must have made a deal with him. I think the problem comes because we don't get to see Jacen's final conversion, how he convinces the Vong that he actually believes he is the avatar of their god, and why Nom Anor believes him, too.

Instead of destroying the world brain, his "friend" dhuryam, as expected, he seduces it, reminding it how to compromise, so that the world that the Vong envision will not come to pass exactly the way they thought it would. They will be forced to renounce their fanatical ways or die in the process. This should prove interesting in future books.

Even after a full book dedicated to Vergere and her student, we don't know much about her. I really want to know why she turned against the New Republic, to the point where she returned to Tsavong Lah when she could have stayed away. Of course, after her failure with converting Jacen, she can never return to them. I wonder what the New Republic will do with her. Presumably, her first meeting with Luke Skywalker should be very interesting. It is pretty obvious that once Vergere learned of Skywalker and his niece and nephew, she wanted a chance to train them, because she knew the potential that their grandfather had. It's strange that she had never taken the time to learn about the person behind Darth Vader since the invasion began.

My first impression of Jacen's new attitude was that he had come to agree with Vergere about the New Republic, but that image was shattered when he captured and exposed his true self to Ganner. Jacen seems to have learned more than perhaps even Yoda knew about the Force. My major worry about this book is how powerful Jacen became. Future books will almost certainly tone down his abilities. My other worry is that they won't, and that he will be so powerful that future stories will have to go out of their way to contrive some instance where he cannot act the way he did here.

Parts of this book were necessarily inconsistent with the early parts of this series, even up to the last few books. How can the Yuuzhan Vong not know that Vergere has Force powers, after listening in on her conversations with Jacen? She actually tells Jacen that she feels the Force, she tells Nom Anor that she removed Jacen's Force abilities, and she and Jacen have conversations about the Force with such intimate knowledge that she must have had Jedi training. We already know that from stories such as Cloak of Deception and Rogue Planet, but the Vong should be smart enough to figure that out from the not-so-subtle clues presented here. So if they know this, why is she not held prisoner? Why do they not study and sacrifice her? Why do they not turn her into a weapon to use against the Jedi, the way they shaped the voxyn?

While I debated giving this book a lower mark because of the weak third part and the lack of information on Vergere, including her service to the Vong, I thought the first part of the book was so amazing, so thought-provoking, and dove into the mind of a character like no Star Wars book has ever done before, that it gets balanced out. I am not fond of using the present tense in the narrative, as happens often enough here, but it seems to be in line with the philosophical aspects of the book, so it was less intrusive.

This is not a book to read for people who want to see grand starfighter or lightsaber battles -Ganner's fatal sacrifice for Jacen is the only one of that sort, aside from Jacen's rampage in the Nursery. There are no X-Wings here (except on the beautiful cover). I wonder if the book is better off for that. This book is almost pure character, and it was terrific because of that. Most of this comes from Jacen, but we get a little from Ganner, as well, as he learns what a hero really is. He seems to get a little too powerful, but he dies the same way that Anakin did in Star By Star, and that can only be a good thing.


Back to Top

All Star Wars material and covers are Copyright Lucasfilm Ltd and the publishers.
All reviews and page designs at this site Copyright (c)  by Warren Dunn, all rights reserved.