New Jedi Order

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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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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Star by Star, by Troy Denning

starbystarAm I worried about what’s happening to us?  Sure.  this war is bringing out all that’s selfish and wicked in the New Republic, corrupting the galaxy star by star.  I see it pulling one Jedi after another to the dark side, making us fight to win instead of protect.  But I can’t push others down my path.  Everyone needs to choose for themselves.
-Jacen Solo, Jedi Knight

For this book, I feel the need to paraphrase from another cult movie:  It’s always darkest before it gets really dark.

For those who haven’t been following, here’s the situation:  the New Republic has been dealing with an invasion by the Yuuzhan Vong; they’ve temporarily stalled their drive towards the Core Worlds in order to let the Republic turn against itself, offering not to conquer the worlds of Republic if they turned over all of the Jedi Knights, especially Jacen Solo, who had earned himself a place in the Warmaster’s “heart”; mainly because he’d just love to sacrifice the Jedi to his gods.

The Jedi have had a hard time of it as a result.  While the Jedi are slowly beginning to take some action, it’s still a holding action more than anything else.  But now, they are being forced to action.  The Vong have unleashed a strange creature upon them, capable of hunting the Jedi through the Force, and certainly capable of killing lone Jedi-and the fear is that they will be released in a widespread manner.  This is the opening of Star By Star, the latest hardcover in the New Jedi Order.

When the New Jedi Order began, it was stressed that the hardcovers would cover major events in the continuing saga of our heroes.  Well, believe me-this one certainly fits that description.  And at slightly over 600 pages, it comes in as the most densely packed Star Wars novel released to date (feel free to correct me…I’ve been wrong before).  I was slightly skeptical of this book; followers of my site will recall that I absolutely trashed the last book by Denning that I’d read (The Summoning).  Well, now I know why it was so bad-because his creative juices were going full steam ahead on this book!

The Vong are now hitting the Jedi on a couple of different fronts-first, the new creature unleashed upon the Jedi is hurting morale-not to mention cutting down the supply of Jedi Knights.  Another announcement from the Vong indicates that they are prepared to destroy refugee ships unless the Jedi surrender themselves.  It doesn’t require much imagination to realize that the Jedi aren’t going to stand for it-regardless of their internal dissension.  While Luke Skywalker starts the wheels turning to carry the war to the Yuuzhan Vong, as he consolidates the various factions of Jedi, a daring plan to infiltrate the source of the Jedi-killing creatures is begun.  This is of great concern to Han and Leia, because the effort is being led by their youngest, Anakin, who is also joined by both of his siblings.

Lest one believe the Vong are just sitting there, though, they are also continuing to maneuver both politically and militarily.  There’s enough political action going on that one almost starts to feel sorry for Borsk Fey’lya, the Chief of State.  Of course, longtime readers will be able to squash that feeling fairly quickly….

The book does a fairly good job on covering the rather large number of subplots that have been rolling around for the last year or so.  Han and Leia are finally beginning to become comfortable with each other again; Luke and Mara are not only beginning to take action, but are also learning how to be parents (one of the best quotes in the book comes from Mara late in the book; I almost used the quote, but I felt it might spoil some things-you’ll know it when you read it!).  Lando Calrissian shows up once more, with a rather…interesting…set of tools to use against the Vong invasion.  The droids are still there, too, although they really don’t get all that much time in this book.  You’d think that such a large book would have a bit more room for them….

Star By Star is a big book, with a price tag to match; but I think it was definitely worth the money.  By the end of this book, enough will have happened that the events of Vector Prime will look like a small burp in the storyline.  Take that as a warning.  And remember the first sentence in this review.  And keep in mind that there’s a very, very good reason why the next book (probably paperback, although I haven’t really checked) is called Dark Journey.

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Rebirth, by Greg Keyes


The old Jedi order died with the Old Republic.  Then there was Luke, and only Luke, and a lot of fumbling to re-create the Jedi from what little he knew of them.  He did the best he could, and he made mistakes.  I was one of them.  His generation of Jedi was put together like a rickety space scow, but something new has emerged.  It’s not the old Jedi order, nor should it be.
We, Jaina, are the new Jedi order, and this is our war.
-Kyp Durron, Jedi Knight

While the last book was an Anakin Solo showcase, this one is more of an ensemble.  The entire Solo clan, the Skywalkers, and even Threepio get time in Rebirth.

On one front, Anakin and Tahiri return to the location of the rest of the Jedi students, on Booster Terrik’s Errant Venture.  Anakin is learning to fight without using the Force, in an effort to deal with foes who still mysteriously exist outside the Force.  However, when Corran Horn asks for his help on a simple supply run, Anakin jumps at the chance-as does Tahiri, who’s coming to terms with what was done to her by the Yuuzhan Vong.  To nobody’s surprise (at least on the reader’s end), it’s never that easy.

Luke and Mara spend time beginning to take a more active role, setting up safehouses (or safeworlds, really) for the Jedi, in a response to the hunting of Jedi; of course, it might also have something to do with the fact that Chief of State Fey’lya has ordered Luke and Mara’s arrest.  Luke also decides to try to contact Kyp Durron, in an attempt to get some clue what he’s up to, and he sends Jaina Solo (still on a leave of absence from Rogue Squadron) to do it.  She tracks him down at the broken world of Sernpidal, where the Jedi Knight has discovered something very, very unpleasant.

Han and Leia, with Jacen and Threepio, are also working on gathering supplies; I don’t want to go into too much detail here, but I want to say that Han and Leia are in rare form, and while Jacen seems to backslide into his moral morass, he doesn’t wallow in it as much as in previous books.

And on the other side, the Vong Nen Yim is attempting to find a way to heal a dying world-ship, and isn’t afraid of using what the Vong consider heretical means to do so….

I can’t help but wonder why Greg Keyes named this book Rebirth; for that matter, after having read this book and the previous one, I can’t figure out why this pair of books were labelled as “Edge of Victory”.  Things aren’t that close to resolution for one side or another.  Still, there was at least a fair amount of movement on the greater war; and two subplots are wrapped up in a permanent manner.  One subplot, the continuing fragmentation of the Jedi, seems to be speeding up with Luke’s actions.  Kyp, on the other hand, seems to me to be inching his way to the Dark Side; to be honest, while some of Kyp’s ideas are dead on, his methods are definitely questionable for a Jedi Knight.  If this is a subplot by the Star Wars authors to create a credible Dark Jedi, then I have to admit they’re doing a great job of it-why should a Jedi fall in the span of a simple trilogy? (okay, Darth Vader is an exception!)

The Vong also get a bit more depth, continuing to explore the role of the Shapers, and a bit more of the politics/religion that permeate the Yuuzhan Vong.  Events seem to be occurring behind the scenes which should have an impact in the ongoing saga; it remains to be seen just how much of an impact.  We also get a little more info on the reasons why the Vong act as they do, and see the impact that the Jedi have made on some elements of the invaders.

Things are looking like they’re beginning to escalate further, and Rebirth does a good job in getting all the players in place, and it closes with a couple of surprises (some good, some not-so-good).  While the stated theme of the latest books seems a bit off, Rebirth is still a pretty good read, especially for the fans of the original heroes like me!

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Conquest, by Greg Keyes

But you back down from the fight, Master Skywalker.  You block and defend and never return the blow.  Meanwhile the blades directed against you multiply.  And you have begun to lose, Master Skywalker.  One opportunity lost!  And there lies Daeshara’cor in death.  Another slip in your defense, and Corran Horn is slandered as the destroyer of Ithor and driven to seclusion.  Again an attack is neglected, and Wurth Skidder joins Daeshara’cor in death.  And now a flurry of failures as a million blades swing at you, and there go Dorsk 82, and Seyyerin Itoklo, and Swilja Fenn, and who can count those we do not know of yet, or who will die tomorrow?  When will you attack, Master Skywalker?
-Kyp Durron, Jedi Knight

It’s Jedi hunting season.  The Yuuzhan Vong have made an offer to spare worlds, if only those worlds deliver to them the heads of any Jedi Knights they can get their hands on.  Unsurprisingly, in a New Republic well known for turning upon its heroes, there are a bunch of people willing to do just that-including an organization calling itself the Peace Brigade, which has hatched a plan to deliver a whole bunch of Jedi to the Vong-by stopping in at Yavin 4, at the Jedi Academy.

Meanwhile, the Jedi Knights are beginning to splinter.  Kyp Durron heads a faction of Jedi tired of waiting for the axe to fall on them, and are advocating an extremely pro-active stance against the Vong.  Luke Skywalker, on the other hand, continues to counsel helping where they can, acting as the shield for the New Republic.  Among the Jedi caught in the middle are the Solo siblings, Jacen, Jaina, and Anakin.  The three shrewdly guess the next move of the Vong (or the Brigade) in that the Academy is their next target, and tell their suspicions to Luke.  Luke sends for Talon Karrde, the former smuggler who had been so helpful against Grand Admiral Thrawn.  However, Anakin proves to be a bit more impatient…and heads to Yavin himself.

While Balance Point was a story of Solos, with an emphasis on Jacen’s moral questions, this one is purely Anakin’s. Conquest continues the process of a Jedi who-at sixteen-has seen more action than most Jedi might in their lives.  He also finds himself in the process of this story in the unusual position of being the adult minded individual among some of the students; among those students are Valin Horn, son of the Jedi Corran Horn, and Tahiri Veila, Anakin’s best friend.

The Vong aren’t as omnipresent in this book as they have been in previous books.  Yavin is hardly a major target for the Vong offensive, important only in the fact that a number of Jedi students are learning there.  This isn’t to say they aren’t present-they are, and we get further insights as to their character and motives-some of which throws a slight element of self-preservation into the mix-as well as some other strategies, represented by their Shapers.  And watch for Vua Rapuung-he’s a fellow who stands as a good example of the typical Vong warrior…even though he himself is anything but typical.

I do have one quibble with the ongoing storyline, though.  As unpleasant as it is to agree with an extremist, Kyp Durron has a good point-the Jedi have been reacting more than acting against the Vong.  While Kyp is nuts if he thinks that the Jedi alone can win this war, I think Luke has been far too passive in this whole thing.  My opinions are slightly colored, probably, by the movie The Phantom Menace, where we got to see the Jedi in their prime; I get the idea that the Old Republic Jedi wouldn’t just contemplate-they’d act.  Of course, the next movies may prove me wrong entirely….

The title Conquest is pretty misleading, as there’s precious little conquering going on (unless, of course, you count conquest over a person’s very soul-but I won’t go into any further details, since that might spoil some of the book).  Conquest is instead bringing the scope of the New Jedi Order from the battles for planets to the challenge of rescue and survival on a more immediate level.  And equally significantly, there is very little presence from who I would consider the Star Wars core characters (Han, Leia, Luke).  While hardly the first book without their presence, it continues the slow trend of passing the torch to the sons and daughters of the Heroes of the Rebellion.  Even Luke admits early in this book that it won’t be him or Kyp or any of the older Jedi who will bring this conflict to a conclusion, but one of the new ones.

Conquest is recommended for readers who have continued to follow the New Jedi Order saga, especially for fans of the Solo siblings.  For folks more interested in the continuing war, you don’t really need to read this one.  But to be fair, you’re missing out on the continuing growth of Anakin Solo as a person if you do.

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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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