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A novel by Timothy Zahn (1992, Bantam Spectra)
Book 2 of the Grand Admiral Thrawn Trilogy
9 years after Star Wars: A New Hope

Han and Leia recruit new allies, as Grand Admiral Thrawn searches to expand his fleet.




Read March 1st to 11th, 2005, for the second time  
    A much weaker plot than its predecessor, as I didn't feel the story moving forward at all.

While the first book in this trilogy, Heir to the Empire, had a great setup, introducing us to a new villain, who was a true military genius, this book feels like everything has already been revealed, and we are getting more of the same thing. The big mystery of the Mount Tantiss project is revealed at the end as a cloning scheme, which is why Thrawn wanted to buy so many new ships.

There are four or five plots going on here, and I didn't feel that any of them were particularly memorable. The parts that I felt were really important occurred mostly between Luke and Mara. Unfortunately, the rest of Luke storyline was quite boring.

I dislike the way the author has made C'boath so powerful, especially in that he can cloud Luke's mind, so that only when he enters Mara's ysalamiri bubble does he realize that he has been brainwashed. More than that, he is able to make Luke actually do things against his will! C'boath seems to suggest that Luke, Leia and Mara are the only Force-sensitive people in the galaxy, even though Mara used it far less than, say, Kyp Durron would have. Even though the author didn't know about these potential Jedi, he should not have kept the list so narrow. It also begs the question of why C'boath wouldn't have sensed Luke and Leia before Thrawn came. Regardless, even though Luke knew that C'boath was insane, he tried to follow the Jedi's example. I don't see the subtlety that was apparently in trying to turn Luke to C'boath's way of thinking. Given that the way Luke solved the dispute with the Barabel (our first Barabel of the expanded universe!), he should know the best way to solve disputes, even if C'boath has more experience than he does.

I have wondered through the last book and this one why C'boath just doesn't kill the ysalamiri used to strip him of the Force. Even if he loses control of a stone when it enters the anti-Force bubble, he should be able to aim it and give it enough momentum to kill the creature, freeing him from its debilitating effects. The author seems to imply that the Jedi are helpless without the Force, despite Luke's abilities back on Myrkyr in the last book.

The way Luke and Mara leave the Jedi Master also has the typical problems associated with Luke's interpretation of the Force. It is frustrating to see Luke so idealistic, thinking that C'boath can be cured, so leaving him alone on Jomark while they take off to free Karrde. Luke knows, though Mara is the only one to admit it, that C'boath is more dangerous alive, that he will attempt to kill many more people. Therefore killing him while he is defenceless is not the same as killing in cold blood. By not killing C'boath, or at least rendering him defenceless, they allowed many more people to die at his whim, most notably at the end of the next book, but including the people he is currently subjugating.

There is rather heavy emphasis on Talon Karrde in this book, which is referenced to his knowledge of the Katana fleet, a cool concept about slave-rigged ships that disappeared into nowhere fifty years earlier. He mentions them to Mara at the beginning of the book, and she uses them as a bargaining chip to get away from Thrawn, who in turn imprisons Karrde, trying to get the information out of him. This is where the genius of Thrawn shines. Not in studying the artwork of various species. Not in suddenly grabbing information out of thin air. There are sparse clues pointing to a previously-unknown adversary who has ships belonging to the Katana fleet, otherwise known as Dark Force (meaning that the title of the book is not only referring to the Dark side of the Force in the form of C'boath). Since Iblis had three pre-Empire Dreadnaughts, Thrawn pieced together that he must know the supplier of the found Katana fleet.

General Garm Bel Iblis is one of the founders of the Rebel Alliance, but he split from it when he thought Mon Mothma was taking too much power to herself, wanting to become the new Emperor. Is it possible that few people actually knew, throughout his reign, that the Emperor was a Sith Master, and that he had control of the Force? Han and Lando, trying to figure out who framed Admiral Ackbar by putting lots of money into his bank account when an Imperial raid occurred at the end of the last book, end up on Iblis' base planet. They spend a lot of not-really interesting time there, and end up thinking that the former Corellian Senator should be rejoining the New Republic.

At first I thought Iblis came out of the blue, but the New Republic really needed a new ally, somebody who comes from the outside. The circumstances behind his appearance had a nice twist to it. Unfortunately, it feels like an add-on to the story, only tenuously connected, really.

Meanwhile, Mara and Luke audaciously board the Imperial Star Destroyer Chimaera and free Karrde. It was a really cool sequence, where Luke used his lightsaber, and Mara used her knowledge of back-door systems from her Emperor's Hand training, to get through the garbage chute to the prison level, where Karrde is being held. Thrawn had picked up the empty Millennium Falcon orbiting Endor, where Leia and Chewie had left it, and once they are discovered, they manage to use it to escape. The interplay between Luke and Mara was well-written. Even though she wants to carry out the Emperor's last command of killing him, we can see that she really doesn't want to do it anyway, through all of the rationalizations she makes. 

Leia gets the most interesting part of this book, I think. She goes to the homeworld of the Nogrhi, in an attempt to convince them that they should forsake the Empire. Leia learned about a new culture, and that knowledge took a while to gain. She realized almost immediately that she should not have come, but she was left with no choice but to stay and learn about them, because Grand Admiral Thrawn arrived at just that moment to try and figure out why the Nogrhi teams kept failing to capture her. While Thrawn's timing in going to Honoghr seemed a little suspicious, like so many meetings in Heir to the Empire, his suspicions about Kabarach were very well-founded, especially every time he visited the village. As the only survivor of the Kashyyyk mission, it makes a lot of sense to meet with this Nogrhi, and it would be important to someone like Thrawn to see his surroundings. I like the way, however, he came to the wrong conclusion, thinking that Kabarach was imprisoned by the Wookies and gave them information.

Unfortunately, after Thrawn leaves, Leia's explanation of how the decontamination droid was poisoning the land of Honoghr was very complicated, and I don't see the Nogrhi really understanding it, since I had to read it a couple of times. I also don't understand, once the matter had been settled, why the Nogrhi wanted Leia to bring them some of the poison from Coruscant. They seemed to want the cylinder that came out of the decon droid, which contained the poison. If they wanted that, they could have disabled any of the other decon droids. But why would they want the poison to help them grow crops? I believe they wanted some sort of antidote, but that is not what the text states -I read it three times trying to get a different interpretation out, and failed.

I realize that I spent a lot of time complaining about the book in this review. The above rating suggests, however, that I did quite enjoy it. Most of what I liked, however, was in little things. Luke and Mara's interaction, and Leia's with the Nogrhi (until the end) are examples of how the author impressed me. Little plot points also made this novel worth reading. I like the introduction of Delta Source here, giving us another mystery that doesn't get solved until the next book. Also, even though Thrawn loses every single battle in this book, he comes out looking stronger than ever. A strange turn of fate.

In retrospect, I'm sure nobody thought it unlikely that Vader had a real human right hand through the Battle of Yavin, and that the Emperor took that hand from him after the destruction of the first Death Star. As we now know from Attack of the Clones, however, Vader -Anakin Skywalker- lost his right hand a lot earlier than the events in A New Hope!

The big conclusion to the novel comes after Han and Lando return to Coruscant, at the same time as Luke, Mara and Karrde. Karrde, being grateful to Luke for rescuing him, offers the Katana fleet to the New Republic. But with Ackbar's arrest and Fel'ya's political posturing, by the time they get there, only fifteen of the two hundred ships remain. Thrawn got there first, after apprehending Bel Iblis' contact. The battle is quick, especially after Karrde's people arrive, and Bel Iblis' ships arrive. Han gets to destroy a Star Destroyer by slamming one of the Dreadnaughts into it. They gain control of the master slave circuit from the main ship, but are boarded by Imperial troops. They eventually win control of the ship, but realize that every face they encountered was the same -clones.

It was quite a gripping conclusion, with a different feel than in many books. The battle was short, allowing the remaining ships to fall into New Republic hands, and discrediting Fey'lya at the same time. It is just unfortunate that the rest of the book was not as gripping. Hopefully, the final book in the trilogy lives up to the memory of being an amazing conclusion.



5 stars

Also read June 21st to 28th, 1993  

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