Posts Tagged With: Matthew Stover

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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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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