Monthly Archives: April 2013

Rebel Stand, by Aaron Allston

rebelstandI’m not a politician anymore, Han.  I’m just pretending to be one.  I’ve come over to the scoundrel side of the Force.
-Princess Leia Organa Solo

When we last left off, Luke and Mara, along with one Jedi student, Tahiri, and the intelligence unit Wraith Squadron, landed on the captured world of Coruscant.  In the meantime, Wedge Antilles was keeping things interesting on Borleias for the Yuuzhan Vong by apparently creating a superweapon designed to blow up their worldships, while at the same time building up the image of Jaina Solo as the incarnation of their trickster goddess.  And Han and Leia were off attempting to keep worlds from supporting the Vong.

Rebel Stand covers all this territory, but the biggest thrust is on Luke’s group, as they explore the new reality of the former capitol of the Republic.  They quickly come to the conclusion that Coruscant as they knew it is gone forever, as they begin to see what the Vong are doing to the hi-tech world (not entirely surprising; given the Vong’s hatred of machines, one can understand how much they’d love to reshape this world).  However, there are a couple of details that must be attended to; survivors on Coruscant are being stalked by a being they call Lord Nyax, a being of childhood stories…and not nice stories; and a frequent thorn in the side of the Republic is here as well, and fares better than I really expected.

On another front, I have mixed feelings about the portions centering on Han and Leia.  I’m perfectly fine with their activities (and for the most part, they sideline the character of Tarc, who to be honest I never really liked).  Their banter, though seemed a little forced to me; I could see it just fine a few books ago, but given the recent tragedies that have slammed them, it doesn’t seem quite right to me.  On the other hand, I can’t deny that I liked the interplay between the two (there’s a lovely segment where they demonstrate that they aren’t impressed by the idea of being tortured, given that both were tortured by the quintessential Star Wars villain, a long time ago).

Jaina’s plot doesn’t get advanced all that much, which may be for the best for now.  Too many plots spoil the broth….  Even so, there’s time enough for a turning point, perhaps, with Kyp and Jag.  Wedge gets a chance to shine again in the latter portion of Rebel Stand as well, demonstrating his full strategy for Borleias (and demonstrating the most unique use of a Super Star Destroyer I’ve ever read about).  He also gets to deal with certain unexpected situations that don’t turn out as well as planned.

Rebel Stand also hits us with a concept we haven’t seen too much of in the New Jedi Order, and that’s the Dark Side of the Force.  We’ve really only seen the subtle temptations or the shades of gray that might stand between it and the Light, but it is once more demonstrated that a being in full possession of the Dark Side is an incredibly dangerous threat.  There’s also continuity referred to in here that I don’t recall reading about, unless it was something in the Young Jedi Knights books, which I’ve never read (or worse, the comic books).

The only flaw with this book (and by extension, the Enemy Lines duology) is that it doesn’t seem to really advance the main plot of the New Jedi Order.  Oh, there’s a couple things that will likely carry over, but it seems like it was just like the action on Borleias-a holding action.  On the other hand, it’s about as self contained a duology as we’ll get in the New Jedi Order, and that’s why I don’t really have any problems with these books.  If you’re money-short, you can probably skip these books without too much problem, but otherwise, I’d recommend reading them; if for no other reason, they’re fun to read, and that’s something that’s been lacking in the New Jedi Order for quite some time.

Categories: New Jedi Order, Star Wars | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Captains Outrageous (or, For Doom the Bell Tolls), by Roy V. Young

captainsI don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m mad!  Really mad!  I want to wring that blasted wizard’s neck!  I’m so mad that if I had to fight watervards for the opportunity to catch that charlatan, I’d go cheerfully, with one hand tied behind my back, all the while singing “The Ballad of Count Yor” in falsetto fortissimo, including the three-part harmony for eunuch choirs!
-Captain Yor, unwisely tempting the Three Weird Sisters of Destiny

Once upon a time, as strange as it may seem, TSR published novels that had nothing to do with Dungeons and Dragons.

One of the better ones was Captains Outrageous.  This was an only semi-serious novel set in the land of Leiblein; this book has a fairly serious threat to that world sitting on the top of the world; due to an agreement between some of the old gods, there is a great bell located there:  and if it rung three times true by the chosen mallet…well, game over.  For everything.  For the most part, the world ignored the legend.  But a wizard, urged on by a dragon’s promises and feeling humiliated by the Royal Court of Bretilya, has decided to find the mallet, and ring the bell.

Enter the three captains:  Dword Ecklundson of Norlandia, an icy, barbaric land.  Trebor Blackburn, a massive loremaster whose knowledge is equaled only by his fighting skill.  And “Count” Yor, a man with knowledge of sorcery, and yet filled with reluctance to use it due to an oath taken long ago.  The three set out to catch the wizard Bosamp before he can fulfill his dread goal.  On the way they take with them the young Prince Rodney (the youngest son, naturally, with attitude to match), accompanied by Sir Dudley.  They fight enchantments, Kundi assassins, snowsnakes-and oh yes, Bosamp.

Sounds like a high adventure novel, doesn’t it?  Well, don’t get that impression.  While the plot may sound suitably dramatic, this is not to be confused with a serious book!  The puns fly fast and furious, the wizard isn’t exactly Gandalf, and the three captains are constantly trading jokes with each other.  Even the situations they find themselves in tend to be humorous (a favorite scene involves the creature Furbelow, the guardian of Bosamp’s former residence:  “Poltroons!  You have sealed your doom!  At this very moment, I am entering your names onto the list of the Eternally Afflicted!  Lucky for you, I have the most exacting penmanship, so should you choose to turn and run away even now, despite the aspersions cast on mighty Bosamp, you might just barely escape deaths of unimaginable, drawn-out agony!  Flee now or pay later!”

Young does an excellent job on keeping the attention of the reader in this book.  Humor interspersed with drama make this a great read.  Yor gets the most back story in this book, and it is heavily implied that he’s going to be at the center of rather interesting events in the future.  Young follows this book up with Yor’s Revenge, which continues the story of the three captains.  That book also implied that at least one other would be forthcoming, but unfortunately, no new book was released.  This also means that most bookstores no longer stock this book.

But should you happen across Captains Outrageous and Yor’s Revenge in some used bookstore or a library somewhere, it’ll be worth your time to read them if you like adventure with a funny bone.  I’d rank it right up there with Robert Asprin’s Myth books (which I’m bound to review in the near future).

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This Gray Spirit, by Heather Jarman

mgamma2The Cardassians aren’t our enemies any longer.  They’ve never been your enemy.  Your people served alongside them in the war.
Do you know their minds?
Bajorans aren’t telepaths, if that’s what you’re asking.
Do you have knowledge of their goals-their strategy?
I’m assuming they’re here to meet with the First Minister, but outside that, no, I haven’t tapped into their database or spied on their private discussions.
Then they are your enemy.  The unknown is always the enemy, Lieutenant.
-Lieutenant Ro Laren and Taran’atar, Chief of Security of DS9

You gotta love a book that starts out with an excerpt from Burning Hearts of Qo’noS.  It’s not central to the plot, but I just had to say it.

Mission Gamma continues with This Gray Spirit; it seems that Tennyson’s Ulysses is going to be the continuing inspiration for Mission Gamma, as both books thus far have opened with quotes from that work.  The last book ended on a very high note, having resolved issues both personal and galactic.  But this is DS9, the most edgy of the Treks out there, so as you might guess…things start to get a little out of hand.

There are about four plots moving along on this one; two center on the station, and two in the Gamma Quadrant.  I’ll cover the Defiant situation first; after all, the arc is called “Mission Gamma”.  The situation begins when the Defiant gets walloped by an attack by nanobots that cripple the ship.  It seems that the ship has blundered into a disagreement between a pair of races known as the Yrythny and the Cheka.  It turns out that the Cheka want to genetically engineer a servitor race (hm, that sounds familiar, don’t it?), and the Yrythny chromosomal segments that had jumped their evolution faster than usual (which they call the Turn Key).  The Yrythny aren’t enthused about being lab experiments.  To stir the pot a little more, the Yrythny are having some civil unrest from the two portions of their society:  the Houseborn, who are the “upper crust” so to speak, and the Wanderers, who are seen as flawed-and treated like it.  When Ezri Dax suggests a mediator, she discovers that she has been “volunteered” for the job.

As Ezri tries to find some way to find a middle ground between them, Shar ch’Thane is drawn into the Wanderer’s society; he also hopes to understand the Turn Key as well, in order to help the Andorian people.  Yes, at last, we get the full story (well, almost) behind the plight of the Andorians.  And it actually makes sense.

Speaking of the Andorians….  Back on DS9, the Cardassians come to call.  Well, specifically, Gul Macet (who still rubs many Bajorans the wrong way for looking so much like his more infamous relation, the late Gul Dukat), who has brought a Cardassian ambassador to the station to speak to present something to the Bajoran people…and perhaps resolve their long standing enmity.  That’s enough trouble to begin with; but Shar’s bondmates are also staying at the station, awaiting his return from the Gamma Quadrant; and one of them, Thriss, is giving every indication of being an extremely unstable person….

In some ways, we get the best of both Treks, in a manner of speaking.  The Mission Gamma is very much a Star Trek story, in that the crew of the Defiant is fulfilling the Starfleet charter of “seeking out new life and new civilizations”; and while it’s been seen before, the situation with the Yrythny would fit just fine for the Next Generation or Voyager.  And at the same time, we get the intrigue, politics, and character development that I’ve come to expect from Deep Space Nine.

And, naturally, we get the subplots moving along.  Taran’atar is about as untrusting a fellow as you could ask for, as shown in the above quote.  Quark and Ro actually go on a date (scary enough).  Bashir and Dax’s relationship again hits a bit of a bumpy spot due to his concern about her relying too much on her symbiont’s other memories.  And I especially like the nature of the presentation made by the Cardassians, bringing back memories of a character long gone.  (I was also moderately disturbed by what happens later….)

I admit that the book doesn’t stamp itself on my mind as much as previous DS9 offerings, but the last few chapters (including the epilogue) deliver some serious punches, and keeps the reader on edge waiting for the third book.

Categories: Deep Space Nine, Mission Gamma, Star Trek | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

The Lone Drow, by R. A. Salvatore

lonedrow I am weak, perhaps, or I am a fool.  Whichever the case, I am not yet ready to stop this war I wage; I am not yet ready to abandon the warmth of the spilled orc blood.  These beasts have brought this pain upon me, and I will repay them a thousand thousand times over, until my scimitars slip from my weakened grasp and I fall dying to the stone.
-Drizzt Do’Urden

In The Lone Drow, the longtime readers of the adventures of Drizzt Do’Urden see why this series is called “The Hunter’s Blades”.

Way back, in the Dark Elf trilogy (which I believe is being reprinted at this writing), when Drizzt left his homeland, he submerged all of his more noble instincts to the more primitive ones, where one had to fight or die-or to be more accurate, to kill or die, all by instinct.  It was the only way to survive outside of Menzoberranzan.  In time, though, he was able to come out of such a state, and learn to truly live again.  He’s always been an extremely dangerous fighter; but acting as the Hunter, he’d even make the assassin Artemis Entreri wet his pants (hm, now that’s a really disturbing image…).  But that was a long time ago.  He found a cause worth fighting for, and friends worth dying for.  Unfortunately for Drizzt, at the end of the last book, it appears to him that he would never get the chance to die for them-for they are all dead (or so he believes).  Now, he is The Lone Drow, and the only thing he lives for is to kill the orcs that took his friends away from him.

This offering of the trilogy has a number of different tracks to follow, some of which converge, and some that do not.  Obviously, the big draw is Drizzt’s plot; not only is he dealing with the death of his friends, but he’s also having a little crisis as he realizes that he will (barring his own death by the sword) outlive almost everyone he would care for.  He’s able to put these questions aside for the most part, mainly because of his methodical goals of killing as many orcs as possible-perhaps even get to Obould.  At the same time, his friends are out to defend Mithral Hall-well, most of them; Bruenor is mortally wounded, leaving…well, let’s just say it shouldn’t be any surprise to longtime readers who is named Steward to lead the dwarves in this dark moment.

But there’s a lot more here.  Drizzt is shadowed by a pair of elves from the Moonwood, who want to warn him about one of their own who wants him dead-not realizing that she has already faced the dark elf (and didn’t come out of it).  The Bouldershoulder brothers are still here, helping along with the dwarves from Mirabar.  Speaking of Mirabar, the sceptrana Shoudra Stargleam and her gnome aide, Nanfoodle, are also on hand, under orders from the mad Marchion to ruin the ore of Mithral Hall-yet Nanfoodle is affected by the courage and honor these dwarves demonstrate (and believe me, Nanfoodle offers one of the most fun moments of this book-I wish I could even hint at it, but it’s just too good to spoil).  I can’t neglect the continued presence of the quartet of dark elves; I especially liked a theory from Kaer’lic concerning Drizzt and how he manages to avoid getting killed by servants of Lolth-and it even makes sense, in a twisted way.

Salvatore does his usual job of portraying massive warfare from the point of view of the main characters; while there are huge amounts of orcs (along with giants and others) that assail the forces of Mithral Hall, we primarily see only portions of this, as seen by Wulfgar and Cattie-Brie, and by Drizzt.  Even though small groups aren’t much of a threat to these heroes, the fact is that the orcs can afford to lose a few dozen-and our heroes can’t even afford to lose one.  And one cannot overestimate the danger Obould represents-for in the beginning of the book, he gains the blessings of the orc god as well.  All through the book, it’s apparent that Obould is something special…well, as far as orcs go.

As usual, the star of the show is Drizzt; the character is going through a substantial crisis.  He’s still not as lost to the Hunter as in the past, however-a legacy, perhaps, of his time with Bruenor and the rest, and he does get some help as the book progresses.  All of the Companions of the Hall get substantial face time (well, mostly; Bruenor isn’t exactly in the best of shape); Regis trying hard to be a good Steward in Bruenor’s absence, and having to make some really tough choices; and Cattie and Wulfgar have a meaningful discussion on the merits of loving a dark elf (and I want to especially mention how impressed I was with how Wulfgar is portrayed here; being married himself now has certainly done wonders with him) while trying to cope with an invasion of orcs at the same time as facing a future without the dwarf who effectively raised them both.  It’s these character moments that really made this book stand out, even beyond the efforts of the dwarves to fend off what is increasingly looking like a doomed struggle.  The Lone Drow should satisfy Salvatore fans-but it will also whet the appetite for the final book in the trilogy.

Categories: Forgotten Realms, Legend of Drizzt, The Hunter's Blades | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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