Shatterpoint, by Matthew Stover

shatterpointAnd I cannot properly describe the wound Terrel’s tone has opened within me; the way he says stinking Jedi tells me more than I want to know about what Depa has done to our Order’s name on this planet.  It was not so long ago that every adventurous boy and girl would have dreamed of being a Jedi.
Now their heroes are bounty hunters.
-From the journals of Mace Windu

Ever since his appearance in The Phantom Menace, the Jedi Master Mace Windu has been a character that fans have wanted to know more about.  We get it in spades in his first solo adventure (well, first in novelized form), Shatterpoint.

The time is six months after the beginning of the Clone Wars (helpfully identified within the inside covers of this book).  The Jedi Knights find themselves in a role they are apparently ill suited for-generals in the Grand Army of the Republic (yes, they actually named it that).  And while the Republic tries to deal with a war that it isn’t prepared for against the Confederacy of Independent Systems, the Supreme Chancellor receives a message that is directed to Windu.  The message comes from a world called Haruun Kal, where Windu’s former Padawan-and current member of the Council-Depa Billaba-had been sent to aid in a guerrilla action there against the Separatists, and where Mace Windu was born.  However, the message sent is chilling-a civilian outpost, with a large assortment of corpses, and a message from Depa, warning Mace-a message strongly implying that Depa has fallen to madness.

For Mace Windu, there was never any choice.  The Jedi Master is plagued by dreams of Geonosis-not of the battle there, but the understanding that if he had just simply cut Count Dooku down, the Clone Wars might never have ever started.  When he looks upon the clone troopers in the Grand Army, he always sees the face of the man they were cloned from-the man he beheaded in that same battle.  He’s not about to add Depa to the list of casualties.  Depa’s message calls it right-Mace is coming after her to find out just what has happened to her.

The trip is anything but uneventful; after a bit of an altercation with the locals, he finds himself in the company of men sent by Depa to find him-and it leads Mace into a journey through the jungles of Haruun Kal, to see that the problems of the planet go beyond simply the Clone Wars; there’s a war that’s been going on among the peoples of this world as well.  The Korunnai (from whom Mace descended) fight in the jungles, and form the basis of the resistance; and the Balawai, the city dwellers who are the ones in charge-primarily due to their technological superiority, which includes some rather nasty orbital weapons (it seems that I’ve read about a similar weapon recently in The Left Hand of Destiny).  In the process of going to Depa, Mace is forced to acknowledge the essential dangers to the Jedi in the war-not just physical, but psychological and worse-a terrible opportunity to be drawn into the very things the Jedi Code warns against:  fear, anger, and hatred.

I’ll come out and say it:  this was a very disturbing book.  Even the darkest portions of the New Jedi Order books don’t really compare with the dilemmas that Mace has to deal with.  War isn’t a pleasant thing to start with, and when you’ve dedicated your life-literally-to the cause of life, the phrase “horrors of war” take on added significance.  But it isn’t the Jedi way to just hide and ignore that kind of thing; that doesn’t make it easier to deal with.  And as Mace says in The Attack of the Clones, the Jedi are keepers of the peace, not soldiers, and that requires an entirely different outlook on how to deal with the conflicts on Haruun Kaal.

I can’t neglect mentioning the supporting cast.  Nick Rostu reminds me a lot of what Han Solo might have become, if he’d been stuck planetside long term in the middle of a war; he’s got a sense of humor, but it’s been subordinated to a sense of “that’s the way things are in the jungle”; but he’s got a core of decency to him.  Can’t say the same about Kar Vastor, a local Korunnai shaman, who is very much the power behind their resistance-and he’s as brutal as they come.  While he may have some justification on the way he makes war, it also becomes apparent that he acts more from primal instinct than rational thought; worse still, he may be Mace Windu’s equal.  Speaking of equals, we’ll get a chance to see just what has become of Depa Billaba, who is the only student to have been taught and master the seventh and most dangerous style of lightsaber combat-a form created by Mace himself.

And what of Mace Windu?  Well, this is his story.  Through his journey through the jungles of Haruun Kal, he undergoes his own metamorphosis-seen through his actions and through his journal entries that he makes for the Jedi Archives.  On the other hand, Mace is still one of the two greatest Jedi Masters on the Council, which means when he makes a plan, they tend to work-even if they don’t make sense at the time.  He gets asked “Are you insane?” so many times in this book that I imagine he hears it in his sleep.  When I match the way the character acts in the book with the way he is portrayed in the movies, I find that the comparison is favorable.

I’d like to reiterate that this book doesn’t have the usual good and evil illustrated in most Star Wars novels; neither side is exactly without blame on this one, and that is often paralleled in the real world as well.  And Mace goes through the moral wringer on this one.  But all the same, Shatterpoint is a thought-provoking book and one well worth reading if you like Mace Windu, or seeing the Jedi Order deal with a moral struggle that it’s never faced before

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