Han wasn’t exactly seeing things that way. In fact, from the moment he and Chewie had zipped into the asteroid belt, he had been letting out one long, terrified scream. What seemed from the ground to be a well-plotted, carefully calculated course of least resistance was, in fact, nothing more than a series of desperate reactions, and one lucky blow.
-Flying through an asteroid belt in a TIE Bomber
If there’s anyone reading this who does not know who Luke, Leia, Han, and Chewie are, go read the original Star Wars books; then read the Timothy Zahn novels and (God forgive me) the Kevin Anderson novels. While this isn’t a complete list by any means, they should give a fairly solid background on the major protagonists of this book.
Del Rey seems to be taking a different approach in seeking authors for the Star Wars universe; where Bantam Spectra utilized authors who have primarily written in the science-fiction genre, Del Rey has chosen a pair of well-known fantasy authors for the first two novels it has produced since the Lando Calrissian books back in the early eighties (the first being Terry Brooks for Episode One: The Phantom Menace). In many ways, this make a great deal of sense: Star Wars has always had a more fantastic side more than a hard science fiction side. Salvatore isn’t exactly a slouch in the fantasy arena, having written well over a dozen books, most notably his Dark Elf books for TSR. This is-as far as I know-his first foray into science fiction.
The story is certainly ambitious enough for Star Wars standards; the New Republic is being probed for an invasion from another galaxy (presumably even farther, farther away than theirs). Instead of relying on superweapons, they rely on a completely organic technology. We don’t get much in the way of motivation for why they’ve come all that way to invade; there are a few possible hints, and I sincerely hope it isn’t just “for glory”-even though the humanoid aliens, called the Yuuzhan Vong- are very much a warrior culture.
Warrior doesn’t necessarily mean stupid, however; a good deal of their work is behind the scenes, only becoming overt near the end of the book. This allows Salvatore to explore a number of subplots; one of the more interesting ones involves the dynamics between the Solo children, Jacen, Jaina, and Anakin. The three are at the latter half of their teens, and have developed distinctively different personalities and views on just how the Force should be used and how the Jedi should act. Luke Skywalker must deal with such questions on a larger scale, as rogue Jedi seem to be pursuing their own agendas, some of which seem to go against Yoda’s admonition “Adventure! Excitement! A Jedi craves not these things!”-leading the Jedi Master to consider rebuilding the Jedi Council.
This book is a bit darker in tone than some of the other Star Wars books; it matches the portion of The Empire Strikes Back after Vader got everyone in Cloud City. There are some lighter moments, such as an endurance test in the middle of an asteroid belt (Han and Chewie’s ride had me rolling), but the majority of the book is darkly serious. This is emphasized by an event that I can say-without exaggeration-will change the main characters forever.
I have some mixed feelings on this book; it takes place over twenty years after Return of the Jedi; the major characters are just about the age of the actors from real life. Luckily, belief isn’t suspended too much here; the only people who get into the physical action type sequences are Jedi, and the Force doesn’t discriminate too much with age (witness Qui-Gon Jinn from Episode One or even Obi-Wan from the first film). To some extent, Salvatore recognizes this, as some of the book’s more tense moments belong to the Solo trio. I’ve also read interviews which indicate that age will most definitely begin to catch up to the main cast.
I like the fact that the Yuuzhan Vong appear to be a very different enemy than the Galactic Empire, which doesn’t even make an appearance aside from some old TIE fighters that Lando got a hold of. They’re still around, though, judging from the map on the inside covers; given the scale of the upcoming conflict, it would surprise me if the Empire didn’t get involved in some way-perhaps even aiding the Republic? Still, that’s only a speculation…and the early books of any series excel at causing speculation.
According to an interview with one of Del Rey’s publishers, this book will not only start off a trilogy, but also have a number of paperbacks dealing with subplots for this trilogy (at least, I assume it’s a trilogy), with the hardbacks chronicling the major turning points in this story arc. The next hardcover up is by Kathy Tyers next year (she wrote Truce at Bakura); I’m looking forward to see how she continues the plot.