Balance Point, by Kathy Tyers

We do not live side by side with impurity.  Your civilization is built on abominations.  Your galaxy is polluted.  We have come to cleanse it, so that others besides our warrior caste may occupy it and live cleanly here.  It is our destiny, according to Supreme Overlord Shimrra and the priests.
-An insight on Yuuzhan Vong motives, as supplied by Warmaster Tsavong Lah

It is a dark time for the galaxy….

I feel compelled to mention that some of the things that are mentioned in this review have occurred in previous books; however, since it’s nothing that can’t be discovered by reading the first five pages in this book-or for that matter, the inside cover-I don’t feel compelled to keep quiet.  If, on the other hand, you insist on reading this review before reading any of the Star Wars:  The New Jedi Order books…I can’t help you.

Still here?  Good.  Let’s wade in.

It’s been a number of months since the last New Jedi Order hardcover, Vector Prime.  There’s been a number of books released since in paperback, covering a span of several months (perhaps close to a year).  In that time, several planets have fallen to the Yuuzhan Vong, an alien race outside of the galaxy, and are inching closer to the New Republic’s core worlds.  Han Solo and Princess Leia have separated for a time, due to a combination of Solo’s grief over the death of Chewbacca and his attempts to cope, and Leia’s feelings of responsibility towards the peoples of the Republic.  The Jedi are at a public relations low, due to some vigilante activities by some in the ranks.  Mara Jade Skywalker was poisoned, and given a reprieve against the poisoning, if not an outright cure.  Jaina Solo has joined Rogue Squadron, the elite X-wing fighter group.  Luke is trying to find a way to rally the Jedi.  And Anakin and Jacen Solo are dealing with the ramifications of helping reactivate Centerpoint Station in Corellia, in an effort to try to stop the Vong.

With the Vong’s advance, Jacen goes to join his father on the planet Duros, helping the refugees from conquered worlds.  Unknown to both, Leia is also there, spearheading the effort.  Jacen is really the core character of this book, even though all the usual suspects have plenty of time in Balance Point.  As a Jedi, Jacen has been questioning in this series of books the role a Jedi should play with the Force; he feels that using the Force for aggression is wrong-even as defenders.  This is not helped by a vision he has that seems to indicate that a pivotal moment is arriving, and that a single person falling to the dark side-or using the light wrongly-could doom the galaxy.  His internal conflict is a key component of this story.

On the other hand, don’t get the impression that none of our other main characters are out of this book.  Luke, Mara, and Anakin go looking for a missing Jedi apprentice.  Han is trying to run a settlement on Duros, both by using legitimate channels and less honest channels.  Leia is trying to hold the whole mess together, while worrying about what’s become of Han.  Jaina has her own problems, but mostly because at the beginning of the book she gets her X-wing shot out from under her.

In some ways, some of Kathy Tyers’s work makes perfect sense.  A planet is a big place-it’s perfectly realistic for Han and Leia to be completely unaware of each other’s presence, even though they’re on the same world.  On the other hand, to tie everything together requires a hefty heaping of coincidence.  I give it a pass, though, since this is a Star Wars book, and you can always make a good argument that it’s the will of the Force.

The Yuuzhan Vong, on the other hand, continue to be somewhat interesting.  Over the last few books, and spelled out in this one, they seem to be motivated by part Manifest Destiny and part Jihad.  Their whole philosophy of self mutilation and pain grow from their religious beliefs-as well as their contempt for mechanical technology.  On the other hand, I’m beginning to become concerned that the writers for the New Jedi Order are beginning to paint themselves into a corner.  They’ve spent so much time showing how merciless, how powerful, how unstoppable the Vong are, and I don’t see how the New Republic is even going to get to a stalemate, much less a victory.  It’s not like the Vong have an Emperor to toss down a convenient shaft.  (And as readers may recall, that didn’t exactly finish off the Empire…just look at the timeline at the beginning of the book to get an idea of how long that took!)

Still, the book does end with some resolutions, and a surprise for the Skywalkers which I’m hoping isn’t being set up for gratuitous use later.  The book isn’t quite as good as Vector Prime was, but it does a passable job on drawing the characters together again, and setting up for the next authors.

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