Monthly Archives: April 2015

The Cestus Deception, by Steven Barnes

cestusdeceptionFrom water we’re born, in fire we die.  We seed the stars.
-Funeral for a clone trooper

The Clone Wars continue….

The war is going well for the Republic, but the fabled Jedi Knights are being stretched thin, called upon to do too many things.  For example:  Obi-Wan Kenobi is called back to Coruscant, capital world of the Republic, along with his Padawan, Anakin Skywalker.  However, the two are parted as they have separate paths to walk:  Anakin to study at the Jedi Temple, and Obi-Wan is to attend a demonstration of a new style of battle droid.  This type of droid is a JK series droid; some believe that JK stands for “Jedi Killer”.  Obi-Wan, along with Kit Fisto-another Jedi Master on the cover of the book-is about to be sent to the world of Ord Cestus to attempt to engage in diplomacy with the manufacturers of the JK droids to prevent the sale of such droids to the Confederacy of Independent Systems.  This is the lead in to the story of The Cestus Deception, a novel set six months after the events of Shatterpoint.

The missions of the two Jedi have a similar end goal, but a different means to achieve them.  The Supreme Chancellor does not want the Confederacy to get a hold of those battle droids, machines capable of matching the skills of a Jedi (Kit Fisto does a good job on demonstrating that a Jedi can defeat such a droid very early, but war is rarely one-on-one battles).  Obi-Wan attempts the diplomatic approach, with the assistance of Doob Snoil, a barrister from the Coruscant College of Law, as he tries to wade through planetary law and the Five Families of Cestus Cybernetics, the producers of the droids.  He also needs to send the message that Count Dooku is not the best fellow to throw in with.  Kit Fisto has a somewhat different plan, and it’s meant to go into effect if Obi-Wan fails:  basically, he’s going to quietly set up a popular revolt among the poor farmers against the Families.  To help him, he brings along a small group of clone troopers, including one Advance Recon Commando-one of a dozen elite troopers, one of the few trained by their genetic template, Jango Fett.

Unknown to the Jedi, though, they aren’t the only ones going to Ord Cestus.  A commander of the Separatists is also there-one who has a special hatred of Obi-Wan Kenobi, and is known for using a pair of lightsabers….

Unlike Shatterpoint, this book doesn’t center on the brutality of the war; this one’s more intrigue, because warfare isn’t going to get either the Republic or the Confederacy what it wants.  Obi-Wan’s portion of the book tends to center on the diplomacy aspect; and to be fair, he does a reasonable job considering it’s not his strongest point.  Unfortunately for him, he’s got to deal with the intrigues of the Five Families and the aforementioned commander behind the scenes, and they’ve had more practice.  Kit Fisto, in comparison, has it easy:  he has a real gift for rabble-rousing!  His covert activities give him a flexibility that Obi-Wan can use if he needs it.

The strongest point of this book is one I’ve been hoping to read on ever since Episode Two came out:  the point of view of a clone trooper-in this case, the ARC trooper using the designation A-98 (or “Nate”).  Through this character, we see some of the conflicts a clone trooper goes through-more, we get to see the opinions they have of the Republic, the Jedi, and Jango Fett (it’ll come as no surprise that they don’t know everything about Jango).  Nate also undergoes a crisis of his own when he meets someone from Fett’s past.  The ARC trooper’s mindset is unique (well, not totally-it’s shared by a million or so clones), but as the story goes on, he finds that he questions some very basic assumptions about who he is…and who he wants to be.

I found The Cestus Deception to be a less intense book than Shatterpoint, but closer to what I’d consider a traditional Star Wars novel, at least for this era.  It doesn’t take place on the front lines of the Clone Wars, but it demonstrates that the war proceeds on many fronts, and the battlefield is only one part of it.

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Monstrous Regiment, by Terry Pratchett

monstrousGood evening, gentlemen!  Please pay attention.  I am a reformed vampire, which is to say, I am a bundle of suppressed instincts held together by spit and coffee.  It would be wrong to say that violent, tearing carnage does not come easily to me.  It’s not tearing your throats out that doesn’t come easily to me.  Please don’t make it any harder.
-Private Maladict, Black Ribboner and soldier in the service of Borogravia, to recent captures

It is not an unusual story; a woman dresses as a man to get into the army, for various reasons; this story can be seen in history as well as fiction.  When the woman lives on the Discworld, though, the story takes one of those off-kilter spins.  This is the rather simple opening of Monstrous Regiment.

Polly Perks wants to join the army-specifically, the army of Borogravia, which is a small country with a short temper, ruled by Duchess Annagovia (at least in name).  It’s also got a fairly strict religion following the god Nuggan that has declared a whole bunch of things as Abominations.  You know, the usual list:  chocolate, dwarfs, the color blue, and clacks towers (this religion’s got the only holy book with a appendix with room for additions).  Another Abomination is the idea of women owning property.  Borogravia also has an irritating habit of taking lands that really doesn’t belong to it.  This has given it no shortage of enemies.

Polly wants to join the army mainly because of the aforementioned Abomination laws (women can only inherit “the things of women”, which property definitely doesn’t fall under); in order for her to keep her family’s inn-ironically named “The Duchess”-she needs to get her brother, Paul.  Who was last seen serving in the army’s Tenth Foot, a.k.a “The Ins-and-Outs”.  So when they happen to be passing through, Polly cuts short her hair, and dresses appropriately to have a man made of her (er, so to speak).  It turns out that Paul is presently MIA, but she doesn’t have any other leads.  Besides, the crew she falls in with is a handful enough.  It would be bad enough trying to keep her gender a secret among a “normal” army.  However, the new recruits include a vampire with a craving for coffee, a troll, and an Igor (who always believe in recycling parts….).  And she soon discovers that many of these people have their own secrets.

Throw in the fact that one of the latest enemies is a city that is miffed by having its clacks towers burned down (that would be “Ankh-Morpork”), and the situation becomes very slippery indeed; it doesn’t help that along with soldiers, Ankh-Morpork has sent the second most powerful man in the city and nicknamed “The Butcher” to see to things.  There’s also little details like opportunistic national neighbors and the media that also enjoys to get involved with times of turmoil; all of which keep the Ins-and-Outs occupied; and nobody’s quite sure what’s become of the Duchess herself….

In all honesty, this book didn’t grab me as much as other Discworld offerings, and I can’t really put my finger on why; it isn’t because of the characters-between Maladict the vampire, Polly, Sergeant Jackrum (I love the character’s way of speaking-“Upon my oath!”), and “The Butcher”, there’s not any shortage of interesting characters.  Perhaps it is a bit of the plot, which seems to meander at times (although, I’ll admit, when you’re on the side of the army that is losing, your options get a little limited).  Or perhaps there’s a bit too much going on at once; we’ve got Polly’s infiltration of the Ins-and-Outs, the broader picture of the war, the Ankh-Morpork point of view, the media involvement….

All the same, Monstrous Regiment does have a large number of fun moments, and Pratchett once again manages to take some shots at the various conventions (for some reason, of the entire regiment, Polly doesn’t have any trouble at all with “pretending” to be a woman, just as one example).  And given the way things tend to trend up to midway through the books, some of the final revelations won’t be horribly surprising, although there quite a bit of irony involved.  This isn’t a bad book at all, but it didn’t really turn out to be my cup of tea (I’ve probably been spoiled by the City Watch grouping of books, and the Death grouping, and the Witches grouping….)

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