Star Wars

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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Cloak of Deception, by James Luceno

cloakA true Knight, Qui-Gon is.  Forever on his own quest.
-Yoda, Jedi Master


This is the third original novel written in the Star Wars universe set around the time frame of the Phantom Menace (one I’ve reviewed-Darth Maul:  Shadow Hunter; I never did get around to reviewing Rogue Planet).  Cloak of Deception takes place prior to the Phantom Menace, and quite probably roughly the same time.  If so, there’s a minor continuity problem, but it’s only a minor one.

The book opens with a group of terrorists striking against the Trade Federation (I know, I know; hard to feel sympathy for these guys).  Led by Captain Cohl, these people attack one of the Federation’s massive vessels to acquire a king’s ransom in aurodium ingots.  However, unbeknownst to them, a pair of Jedi are watching their every move, attempting to trace down who these terrorists are working for.

Things are further complicated as Finis Valorum, Supreme Chancellor of the Republic deals with the troubling requests of the Trade Federation requesting permission to augment their droid armies to protect against the Nebula Front terrorist group.  Matters are aggravated when assassins attempt to kill Valorum after announcing a trade summit on the Outer Rim-a summit recommended by Senator Palpatine of Naboo.  Add Jedi and mix.

Cloak of Deception delves into the politics of the Republic; we’ve got Senatorial corruption, we’ve got conflict between the Trade Federation and the Nebula Front, we’ve got troubles between the Core Worlds and the Outlying Systems.  We get a good look at Chancellor Valorum, and get a pretty good idea about why he seemed so ineffective in the Phantom Menace.  We also get a glimpse as to how Senator Palpatine managed to snag the Chancellor job at the end of that movie as well.

No less importantly, we get another look at the Jedi Knights Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi.  To be honest, Qui-Gon quickly hit the top of my list of favorite Star Wars characters; noble as only a Jedi could be, living totally in the moment, and not afraid to be somewhat underhanded if necessary if it brought about greater good.  Luceno, the author, was true to the character-I could easily see the Jedi in this movie doing exactly as he does in this book.  The interplay between himself and Obi-Wan was also well written, I thought.

And then there’s Captain Cohl; he’s clever as hell, and demonstrates enough skill in adapting to unexpected circumstance that he can even elude Jedi Knights.  While he doesn’t get whole bunches of pages in the middle of the book, his work at the beginning and end makes up for it.  Cohl demonstrates that you really don’t have to be a Sith Lord to give a Jedi a hard time.

Speaking of Sith Lords…Darth Sidious indeed makes his presence known (although not to the good guys, natch), continuing to play everyone like puppets.  And there are a bunch of other cameos-several members of the Jedi Council demonstrate that they aren’t just symbolic leaders.  There are two characters who stand out for me as being wonderfully in continuity-a character who we’ve never actually seen (although we’ve met a twisted version of him); and a Jedi Knight who also appears in the New Jedi Order (specifically in a book “coincidentally” written by this author), which may go a long way to explaining a mystery in that book.  Also look for a mildly significant role by a future Grand Moff all Star Wars fans should be familiar with.

Of the three books set in this time period, I’d have to rank Cloak of Deception at the top.  Jedi are fun, and there’s plenty of them in this book.  Rogue Planet was more of a traditional “Sci-Fi” book, Darth Maul:  Shadow Hunter was heavy on chases.  This one has a good blend of politics and action, and works great as Episode 1/2.  Now, all we need is a book that centers on Amidala, as we’ve covered almost everyone else…!

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Tatooine Ghost, by Troy Denning

tatooineIt doesn’t surprise me that you find this holo so fascinating.
Sure, I love little kids.  Especially human kids.
Of course.  But the boy in this ‘cube is no longer a child.  It was taken when he won the Boonta Eve Classic, more than forty years ago.
Won it?  Look, don’t think you’re talking to a pair of nerf herders, here.  Even when Podracing was legal, humans didn’t have the reflexes to survive it-much less win, and especially not as kids.
-Han Solo and Leia Organa-Solo, and a vendor with a holocube of a figure from the past


It is a time before the Vong; the Thrawn trilogy has yet to occur, but the heroes Han Solo and Princess Leia Organa have been married for months.  And the Empire is not the remnant it is now, but still a powerful force that threatens the New Republic.  Leia has not yet quite come to terms with the idea of Anakin Skywalker’s redemption; Han hasn’t come to terms with being jerked around by the Provisional Council of the New Republic while he was “courting” Leia.  But somewhere in this time frame, something happened.

This is where Tatooine Ghost opens.  Han and Leia are making a trip to Tatooine, hoping to bid on a moss painting from Alderaan called Killik Twilight, a painting that once hung in the palace on that world.  It also has a bit of a secret-for within the painting’s circuitry, there is a code key for the Rebel Alliance, which can’t be allowed to fall into Imperial hands.  Fortunately, the Empire doesn’t know it is there.  Unfortunately, they run into a Star Destroyer on the approach to Tatooine-the Chimaera, Captain Pellaeon’s ship-and it quickly becomes apparent that they have an interest in the painting.  (Why would this be?  Well, think time frame again; who would be interested in such a unique piece of art….?  It embarrasses me that I didn’t figure it out right away.)

While this would probably be enough for a decent story, it gets kicked up a notch when you find out that the painting is being sold in Mos Espa.  A brief encounter during the auction leads to a plot line in the book that runs alongside the main one-because once upon a time, Anakin Skywalker lived in Mos Espa, before Qui-Gon Jinn took him away to meet his destiny.  And this means we get the first real interactions between the Episode I-III eras with the Episode IV-VI eras (not counting Vergere from the New Jedi Order; you don’t get the same feeling of “EVENT” off of that as you do with Anakin’s home town).  Denning does a good job in bringing out old friends of Anakin, who knew him long before he became a Sith Lord-and who show Leia a bit of perspective that the evil Jedi who had tortured her wasn’t always a seething cauldron of hate and malice.  This plot line also fills in a very significant blank in the time between The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones-just whatever happened to Shmi Skywalker.

But don’t have the impression that it’s all about coming to terms with Vader’s past; there’s plenty enough going on in the main plot line; the auction itself-which not only goes about they way you’d expect, given the famous Solo luck, but also introduces a trio of Squibs, possibly the most avaricious creatures I’ve seen in the Star Wars setting (outside of Hutts and Toydarians, of course).  These guys are genuine weasels, but at least they stick to their contract…if you don’t mind tactics that tend to be a little more then you bargained for; and they’re about as persistent fellows that I’ve ever seen.  Throw in a group of Imperials who begin to actively hunt our Rebel pair, who show a distressing amount of competence that goes above simple brutality (again, if you followed the books, shouldn’t be all that surprising).

One of the threads going along in this book that I thought was a nice touch was Han and Leia’s attitude towards children.  Han wouldn’t mind having some-we get hints of an interest in being a family man in this book, which makes a great deal of sense considering his background.  Leia’s attitude also matches her background-her family has always been strong in the Force, and her father was the nastiest piece of work the galaxy had ever seen (except for the Emperor, of course); it’s not surprising that she feels hesitant about having children, for fear of what they could become.

I rather enjoyed this book; after all, it’s set at a good time for the setting-the Empire is still out there, the New Republic is still working on inventing itself, no hint of the really ugly events of the New Jedi Order on the horizon-and hey, it’s got Chewbacca!  It’s been too long….  Even so, though, I’ll admit my favorite portions of the book were the ones tying into the Old Republic era.  It was good to see what became of a number of characters on Tatooine that we’d seen in Episodes I and II, and it was better to see Leia discover these things (the Force is a wonderful prompter) and learn a little more about her father in times less dark.  It also kinda makes me hope we see a similar treatment whenever they finish making Episode III, because the novels are a great place to explore the “final” fates of a number of characters.

All in all, I think Tatooine Ghost was a good read, especially considering the nice continuity ties to both the events in the first two episodes and to the events that would soon take place (probably shortly after the events of this novel!).  It’s definitely worth a read for any Star Wars fan.

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Remnant, by Sean Williams and Shane Dix

remnantWe have no intention of surrendering-not now, not ever.  You may win the occasional battle, Vorrik, but the Empire will always strike back.
-Grand Admiral Gilad Pellaeon of the Imperial Remnant


The New Republic is dead.  Long live the Galactic Federation of Free Alliances.  (What a cumbersome name)

The war against the Yuuzhan Vong continues in Remnant; and for a change, it looks as if the good guys are beginning to get an edge.  The Vong are now in the position of finding themselves spread pretty thin, and the Galactic Alliance is beginning to take advantage of that; at the same time, the Chief of State is concerned about overextending his forces for fear of being put in the same position.  But the events of Destiny’s Way have convinced Luke Skywalker that there is an alternative to winning the war-an alternative that won’t involve genocide.  While he remains unaware of it, it involves a world which his father visited, long ago-Zonama Sekot.

Our heroes, as a result, split off to perform two different missions.  Han and Leia, along with Tahiri, Jaina, and Jag (along with a squadron of fighters) head out to fill in some communications gaps, to find out the state of the rest of the galaxy.  Luke, Mara, Jacen, Danni Quee, and some Jedi head off to the Unknown Regions to see if they can find Zonama Sekot; but first, they want to make a couple of stops; the first of which involves attempting one more time to ask for an alliance with the Imperial Remnant.  Meanwhile, Nom Anor is stuck on Yuuzhan’tar, a little bitter about his fall from grace (as it were); he quickly falls into a group of Shamed Ones, who have started a cult with a most surprising object of veneration.

To be honest, I didn’t find the Nom Anor portions of the book to be all that engrossing until the very end; he’s working to find a way back into positions of power, but I couldn’t really get a handle on how he expected to do that.  However, his plan is typically self-serving, and audacious enough to have a chance-and it’ll really irritate the Supreme Overlord and just about everyone else.  If there’s one aspect of this trilogy I’m really looking forward to, it’s seeing of Anor can pull the rabbit out of the hat and come up with something really insane!

Han and Leia’s mission illustrates the continuing dangers of the Yuuzhan Vong; while the Alliance is doing all right at the moment, worlds are still in terrible danger-illustrated when they visit the Koornacht Cluster, site of the Black Fleet Crisis (one of the less thrilling trilogies, in my humble opinion), a place that holds bad memories for Han.  The parts of the mission which made me pay the most attention, though, is the change in the character of Tahiri; she hasn’t been quite the same since Anakin’s passing, but now she’s having problems that she can’t quite explain (or won’t), and they may have to do with Anakin, and they may have to do with the experiments that physically changed her.  It’s an open question how this will all pan out-but early indications aren’t looking too good.

But the title of this book is Remnant, and it’s Luke’s mission that encompasses the greater part of the book.  The Imperial Fleet is literally kicked out of their capital planet of Bastion as the Vong hit the Empire hard, including a serious injury to Grand Admiral Pellaeon.  This means that the Jedi have to deal with the Moffs without Pellaeon’s help; Jacen reveals that he has a decent talent at diplomacy, although the Imperial Moffs aren’t exactly rational and receptive individuals.  The heroes are drawn into the coming battle at Yaga Minor, which contains shipyards and is the retreat location of the Fleet.  In spite of the danger, it also turns out to be a great opportunity to draw the Remnant into the Galactic Alliance as well.

Remnant proves to be a pretty solid start to the Force Heretic trilogy, with enough subplots rolling around the major plot that make me feel that the next couple of books will be just as good.  The Galactic Alliance is beginning to find itself (it’s not there yet, but getting there), even though I mildly hate the name; and the heroes of the Star Wars saga are all on board with the story.  And seeing that the end of the New Jedi Order books is coming up in November (well, at least the Vong war, anyway), I think we are in for a wild ride.

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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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Destiny’s Way, by Walter Jon Williams

destinyswayYou don’t know my students.  You don’t know how impulsive and reckless they are.  Don’t judge them all by Jacen.  Kyp Durron killed millions.
And this was your responsibility.
The situation was complex.  I was paralyzed, and Kyp was under the control of-
You mean to say that it was not your responsibility.
I could have been more aware of the situation.  There’s so much I could have done-
So it is your responsibility.
The next time it will be!  The next time one of my students is swept away on a dark whirlwind and catastrophe results, it will be my fault!
Of course it would not be your fault.  You are a Jedi Master, not a nursemaid!
-Luke Skywalker, Jedi Master of the New Republic, and Vergere, Jedi Knight of the Old Republic


Up to now, the New Republic has been on the ropes.  The invasion of the Yuuzhan Vong has steadily pushed into the core worlds, capturing the world of Coruscant and transforming it into a new homeworld, Yuuzhan’tar; the government is fragmented, with some looking for personal power, and others looking to reforge the Republic into something strong enough to withstand the Vong.  The Jedi have taken hits, with Jaina Solo having skipped waaay too close to the Dark Side of the Force, and Jacen Solo in the hands of the Yuuzhan Vong, and Anakin Solo becoming a casualty of war.

But Jaina’s managed to pull back from the darkness, although not fully healed in the spirit; and Jacen has endured torment beyond anything he had ever known, and escaped the Yuuzhan Vong along with the enigmatic Vergere.  The government has regrouped at Mon Calamari.  And in Destiny’s Way, things begin to reverse dramatically.

There’s a lot happening in this book.  There’s a couple of big events that happen here, though.  First and foremost, we have the return of Jacen Solo to the Republic.  That in itself is a pretty important morale booster, especially to the Solo family.  Even more importantly, however, is the fact that he’s accompanied by Vergere.  Vergere certainly plays a significant part in Destiny’s Way; we find out what actually went on with her waaay back in the novel Rogue Planet (a book I never really got around to reviewing).  But the real gem in this plotline is the conversations between Vergere and Luke.  Ever since it became apparent that Vergere was a Jedi from the Old Republic, I’ve been looking forward to a face-to-face comparison between (to borrow a phrase) two different points of view.  There was just so much good stuff there, I had a hard time picking out an opening quote for my review!  And Vergere still feels that Jacen has an important role to play, although the true nature of that role is still up in the air.

This is not to say, however, that the book is all about Jacen and Vergere; Han and Leia go on a trip to the Imperial Remnant, hoping to get a hold of some maps and perhaps more concrete help against the Vong.  Han manages to make a few points debating a couple of Imperials, especially during a conversation about how the old Empire would have handled the Vong.  Jaina, on another front, tries to ambush the Supreme Overlord Shimrra…with mixed results.  (Actually, I rather liked the inclusion of the character Keyan Farlander; you gotta be an old computer game aficionado to appreciate it!)  Jaina seems to be reverting, however; not exactly to the Dark Side, but maybe the Bleak Side.  That may be a pretty reasonable attitude, though, when one looks at the odds.

And on Mon Calamari, politics draws in Luke and Mara, as they become involved with the selection of a new Chief of State, and the establishment of a body long overdue.  And the Jedi aren’t the only ones involved; two of the more shady characters in the Star Wars universe get involved as well.  But the end results set up a new status quo between the Jedi Knights and the New Republic.  The introduction of a pair of Councilors shows the divisions in the Republic government:  Fyor Rodan has very firm opinions as to what role the Jedi should play; and Cal Omas is probably the most right-headed politician I’ve seen in the Republic (he makes a marvelous point concerning the question of Luke and concerns about his gaining too much power).  Meanwhile, a pair of events on Mon Calamari demonstrate that the end of the war may come with greater speed than expected; one features the return of the Rebellion’s greatest strategic mind, and another features a weapon that may have horrifying results.

The Yuuzhan Vong are not neglected, however; the work on Yuuzhan’tar goes…hm.  At least as well as can be expected, given the events in Traitor.  We get some insight on Shimrra (and I haven’t quite figured out for certain his relationship with what I can only term as his fool).  Nom Anor and Tsavong Lah are put on notice-the next failure of one will be the last for both.  And the subplot about Nen Yim advances a bit, as the Vong begin to come to terms with one of their most significant problems in the way of their conquests; it certainly can’t be good news for Nen Yim, even if her work succeeds.

There is a lot going on in this book, and it is to Williams’s credit that it seemed to flow as smoothly as it did (I haven’t read too much of his novels, but I was a big fan of his Wild Cards work).  As I mentioned earlier, the real standout parts of the book was the Vergere/Luke conversations, but really, the Jedi Knights and their role in the war is re-evaluated, and I’m pretty happy with how that looks so far.  However, there is a can of worms opened up in this book as well, that I’m not entirely sure is a good idea….  Related to that can is a character Dif Scaur, who seems like a fairly ruthless individual; problem is, he’s working with the Republic.  He’s a character to watch….  And of course, we get to see the continuing evolution of tactics used by both the Yuuzhan Vong and the Republic military.

Unlike Star By Star, I can’t even begin to guess what the next steps in the New Jedi Order are; but in Destiny’s Way, as quoted by two characters who are diametrically opposed to each other, it’s the turning point.  And I think they’re both right.  This was an enjoyable book, with many good moments; and for a change, things don’t look quite so bleak for our heroes.  Given that I’d worried in earlier reviews that the New Jedi Order storyline might be painting themselves into a corner, that’s a pretty significant feat.

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Traitor, by Matthew Stover

traitorThis threshold is mine.  I claim it for my own.  Bring on your thousands, one at a time or all in a rush.  I don’t give a damn.  None shall pass.
-Ganner Rhysode, Jedi Knight


The character of Vergere has been a bit of a strange enigma.  This alien works with the Yuuzhan Vong, originally as a familiar of an assassin, and later climbing to the attention of the Warmaster Tsavong Lah.  She was responsible for the capture of Jacen Solo during Star By Star.  But she has also provided her tears to Mara Jade Skywalker, curing her of the disease (or at least pushing it into submission at that time) that had threatened her life in spite of her Jedi skills.  She aided Jacen before she betrayed him.  And other novels indicate a history for Vergere that makes it difficult to believe that she could be here, now, and working like this (see Rogue Planet and Cloak of Deception).  Well, at least some of that mystery has begun to be revealed.

Traitor fills in a very big loose end in the present New Jedi Order storyline:  whatever happened to Jacen Solo?  Most characters believed him killed (including his own sister).  Readers, on the other hand, probably didn’t buy that for a minute (never believe a death without a body).  And these readers are proven right, although Jacen probably wished otherwise.  He opens up in the device the Vong call “the Embrace of Pain”, a device that the Vong believe make them stronger, and proves the weakness of other races who don’t handle that kind of pain all that well.  A visit from Vergere doesn’t set his mind at ease, either-she casually cuts off his connection to the Force, but not before he comes to a realization that she is herself powerful in the Force.

In time, Jacen finds a way (with Vergere’s help?) to deal with the agony of the Embrace; what he does not know, however, is that our good buddy Nom Anor and Vergere have a plan for Jacen.  Reflecting the growing opinion of the Vong that Jaina is an avatar of their trickster goddess, Nom Anor proposes to teach Jacen the Vong way, make him come to accept it, and groom him as the avatar of Yun-Yammka, their warrior god, and twin of Yun-Harla, the trickster.  And one of the big highlights of that plan is to have Jacen willingly sacrifice his own sister in the Great Sacrifice of the Twins.  Of course, Vergere’s motives remain shadowy….

Traitor is written in a significantly different style than most Star Wars books.  While most of them take a fully objective third person view, this one in many ways feels as if it is addressing the reader.  This can backfire, but I found it worked very well here.  Jacen’s undergoing an ordeal unlike that of any other, and with some big questions about the Force, why the Vong don’t show up within it, and the final fate of Coruscant (and perhaps, its population).  And yet, with each ordeal, Jacen is forced to accept some truths that may shake the foundation of the Jedi Knights.

Vergere’s a character I’ve wanted to learn more about once she started popping up in the Republic Era novels.  There’s a bunch of open questions, but Traitor makes serious headway into others.  The big trick is trying to figure out if she’s trying to help Jacen, or set him up for the fall.  Stover kept me guessing until the end (and to be honest, I’m still not 100 percent certain!  She plays a double game better than anyone I’ve seen in Star Wars!)

Another big advantage of Traitor is a much smaller cast list.  The last few books have had very large casts, with just about all the main characters and a good hunk of secondary characters.  But we really only have two major players on this one:  Vergere and Jacen, with two others sprinkled around.  As such, we get more of a focus on just what is happening than in most of the other books in this series.

Fans of Jacen Solo, and his journey to understand the Force better, will likely enjoy this book; while some of the things introduced might make some readers a little leery, I felt they made sense.  While the book doesn’t contribute much in the greater scheme of the New Jedi Order, it contributes bunches to Jacen and perhaps the Jedi as a whole. Traitor is well worth a read.

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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.

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Rebel Dream, by Aaron Allston

rebeldreamI have to say, this sounds like the worst idea in a thousand generations of bad ideas.
You haven’t heard all our ideas.
-Luke Skywalker, Jedi Master, and Bhindi Drayson, of Wraith Squadron


The Republic is reeling from its most devastating blow yet.  Coruscant has fallen, and our heroes are on the run.  An assault let by General Wedge Antilles allows Republic forces to set up a base in the nearby Pyria system, on the same planet that the fledgling New Republic once launched their own assault on Coruscant against the Empire.  The situation for the Republic is grim; a visit from a number of councilors demonstrates to Wedge and our main characters reinforces his belief that the surviving senators from Coruscant have already given up the Republic as lost, and are preparing to accept a Yuuzhan Vong victory.

Wedge, however, doesn’t accept that so easily.  He’s used to fighting impossible odds, as the former commander of Rogue Squadron-an elite squadron of X-Wings-and he’s quite prepared to do so again.  And the only way he can see to do it is to return to the earliest days of the Rebel Alliance, and operate separately-and secretly-from the Republic.  While he still answers to the Republic from a technical standpoint, he recognizes that everyone in the Pyria system have been left to die.  But it is also a strategic location to aid survivors and refugees from Coruscant, so he plans to hold on to it as long as possible.

The characters definitely start looking at things with a somewhat different point of view in Rebel Dream, the first part of the two part Enemy Lines arc.  I also had high expectations for this book, because of Aaron Allston.  Allston wrote the Wraith Squadron set of X-Wing novels (as well as Starfighters of Adumar), and all of those books were highly enjoyable.  So when I learned he would be writing a pair for the New Jedi Order, I was hoping for something equally enjoyable.

He does not disappoint.  The heroes start working proactively for a change; Han and Leia are out to start learning who to rely on in this new resistance; Jaina Solo makes use of the reputation that the Vong have given her, continuing psychological warfare against them with the aid of Jagged Fel and Kyp Durron.  Wedge organizes the defense of the world Borleias with the aid of his longtime comrade Tycho Celchu.  And Lando Calrissian prepares to insert a number of Jedi-including Luke and Mara Skywalker-secretly into Coruscant, with the aid of the Intelligence commandos of Wraith Squadron.

One of the hallmarks of Allston’s writing (at least in the Star Wars universe; haven’t read any of his other works) is the humorous side of Star Wars.  I wasn’t sure how I’d handle it, given the darker nature of the New Jedi Order series, but I found it to be a welcome return.  This isn’t to say the book is a laugh riot-it’s not-but it’s easy to forget that Han has a fairly sharp wit, and it was great to see some of the folks from the Wraith Squadron books again (laughing at danger in many ways is a hobby with them, I think).  The only part that gave me some problems was the glossing over of Jaina’s flirtation with the Dark Side of the Force.  I can overlook that, though, because he shows some great insights about why she’s having her emotional problems, and helps continue to develop the relationship between herself, Kyp, and Jagged.

Lest I forget, however…the Yuuzhan Vong don’t get shorted for time, either.  Viqi Shesh, who will undoubtedly go down in Republic history as its biggest traitor, manages to keep herself alive in the face of Warmaster Tsavong Lah-by exposing certain suspicions as to why his hand graft (well, claw anyway) has been giving him so much trouble.  The political picture gets a little more complicated as well, as he puts his father in command of a war fleet to crush Borleias.  And to keep matters even more interesting, there is a traitor put among the folks at Borleias as well….

Allston has done a nice job with Rebel Dream, managing a number of characters that could become unwieldy (a problem that this series is beginning to develop).  It likely helps that this is spread over two books, because there is a lot happening.  I’m looking forward to reading his next one soon.

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Dark Journey, by Elaine Cunningham

darkjourneyI don’t wish to offend, but it’s a mystery to me that you managed to defeat the Empire.
We have our moments.  The Republic’s utter lack of direction is actually a clever ploy to confuse our enemies.
And that works?
Not that I’ve noticed, no.
-A conversation between Jagged Fel and Kyp Durron


Well, I’m going to presume you’ve read Star by Star, cause if you haven’t, I’m about to ruin a few things for you.  Be warned.

When last we left our heroes, they’d just been rather forcibly evicted from Coruscant, and a terrible tragedy has befallen the Solos (again!?).  Worse, yet, Jaina Solo and her merry band of Jedi from the last book are attempting to get back to the Republic after said tragedy-and she’s beginning to walk down a road all too familiar to those with Skywalker blood….

Dark Journey begins in the aftermath of the shattering events of Star by Star, and it centers primarily on Jaina Solo, who really hasn’t had much “screen time” in the New Jedi Order.  Her brothers have been the ones on center stage, as it were; between Jacen’s waffling as to how to deal with the Force, and Anakin’s desire to “make up” for Chewbacca’s death, Jaina’s kind of just been in the background.  But with this book, she is most certainly the central character, as she deals with the aforementioned tragedy of the last book, as well as another blow that occurs this book (which I am highly dubious about, and I’m sure most readers will feel the same).  In a stolen Yuuzhan Vong ship, she and the remnants of the Jedi team led by Anakin in the last book manage to reach Coruscant at the tail end of its fall; lacking anywhere else to go, they make their way to the Hapes Cluster, where Jaina gets entangled in the medieval style intrigue that goes on there.  However, she has her own plans, driven by a desire for (dare I say it?) revenge.

Reappearing in this book is the character of Jagged Fel, possibly the best non-Jedi starfighter pilot around, as he follows his father’s orders to seek out any weaknesses in strategy or tactics that may be exploited.  I find him to be a fairly interesting character in that he’s almost too military, and not really up on social niceties.  Of course, he was raised and trained by aliens, so it’s probably forgivable.  Also reappearing are the royal family of the Hapes Cluster; in fact, Prince Isolder and his mother, Ta’a Chume, are significant characters in this book.  And, to use his own words, “the blister that lets you know your boots don’t fit”, also known as Kyp Durron, is also in this book, although he appears to be mellowing somewhat.  (Don’t let the last sentence fool you:  the goals are the same, only the methods are evolving!)

I’ve always liked Elaine Cunningham’s books.  When she was writing books for the Forgotten Realms Harpers series, I thought her books were the best of the lot; I consistently ranked them up with Salvatore’s books.  So it’s a little painful for me to say that I didn’t exactly love this book.  Dark Journey has good parts to it-Jaina begins some psychological warfare with the Vong, and her very wobbly walk against the Dark Side is well detailed.  The problem I had with this book probably can’t really be considered Cunningham’s fault (I’m not sure how much control the authors have over the Big Picture for the New Jedi Order).  And that problem is Hapes.

I’ve never really bought into the Hapes Cluster, ever since The Courtship of Princess Leia.  I kind of think it’s seeing way too much time in these books, and I wish it would stop (maybe the Vong will visit soon).  I expect that Cunningham felt it closest to the type of books she’s more familiar with writing.  But the intrigue of the Cluster feels out of place for me with the Yuuzhan Vong knocking on everyone’s door.  It’s a gut reaction; I’m sure there are several fans of the Hapes Cluster, so I’ll end the rant here before I get folks really upset.

The other minor problem with the book is that it seemed to be a holding point.  Oh, there were events that will certainly have repercussions down the line.  But I feel as if very little was actually accomplished here.  Of course, regrouping could be seen as a pretty important point, but….

Well, even with its flaws, Dark Journey isn’t a bad read.  It’s got some great scenes (I loved the comment about Han:  it gets repeated by both Leia and Jaina, and it was perfectly in character), and it gives attention to a character who really has deserved more time in the spotlight.  I’m hoping that trend continues as the series progresses.

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