Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Maul: Lockdown

3/5 Rancors - I confess to not being terribly excited when I cracked open the covers of Joe Schreiber’s Maul: Lockdown. His first Star Wars contribution, Death Troopers, was not my cup of tea with its bringing zombies and light horror into the galaxy far, far away but it was a brisk enough read. Red Harvest was another matter entirely, featuring completely cardboard characters and a story with absolutely no one to root for or care about.

That aside, Darth Maul in a prison sounded like a reasonably tight premise for a horror Star Wars novel and I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the story and the brisk pace it kept. The prison setting of Cog Hive Seven was an engaging environment with its regularly scheduled arena battles and ever-shifting walls. Mr. Schreiber writes the multiple one-on-one fights Maul gets into with vivid detail and the amount of gore is appropriate to the story being told. Beyond the battles, we get to see Maul using his intellect and cunning to bluff and lie through situations as he muddles through his cryptic assignment to locate arms dealer Iram Radique. Radique’s part of the plot adds a mystery element to what otherwise might have been a very straightforward action/horror tale.

Being set before The Phantom Menace means Maul’s master Darth Sidious still has a master of his own and we get a few tantalizing scenes with Darth Plagueis. I would love to have read more of the Sidious/Plagueis intrigue: James Luceno’s novel about Plagueis gave us a chunk of that but here there is a unique opportunity to see the differing perspectives Plagueis and Sidious have concerning Maul’s role in their plans.

Maul: Lockdown is a big step up in quality from Red Harvest and it’s worthwhile to get into Maul’s perspective for a bit of time.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

David: Rancor Spotting #36

Traitor by Matthew Stover

Page 109 - Sound of a wounded rancor

"He heard a low, feral growling like a wounded rancor cornered in its den."

David's Review of Traitor

5/5 Rancors - Well, I am making progress in reading all of The New Jedi Order books. Over halfway now, and I admit that I have struggled to maintain interest through part of the series. We seem to have had a huge amount of emphasis on Jedi philosophy and the appropriate way of doing things. In the meantime, the Yuuzhan Vong have been sweeping through the worlds of the New Republic.

The tide has now begun to turn. Traitor by Matthew Stover is a particularly unusual book. Yes, there is still a lot of discussion about the nonphysical aspects of fighting a war against the Vong and why things must be done in certain ways, but there is also progress. The book really has two main characters – Jacen Solo and Vergere. Jacen has been out of action for a while and most people were afraid he was dead. It turns out that he has been in the care (captivity?) of Vegere. We really don’t know much about Vergere. She is a fascinating, powerful creature, but we don’t know what she really wants. Is she cruel towards Jacen or is she truly trying to teach him a new way of experiencing the force? Arguments could be made either way.

By the end of the book Jacen is a powerful figure and one bound to have a huge role in dealing with the Yuuzhan Vong. Vergere remains a mystery. However, at least at this point, some hope exists that the Vong can be defeated.

Traitor is the first Star Wars book in a while that really forces the reader to pay attention, read, and think. It is not always easy to understand, but it is an extremely important book in The New Jedi Order. Matthew Stover deserves credit for that.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

David: Rancor Spottings #34 and 35

Enemy Lines II: Rebel Stand by Aaron Allston

Page 53 - Interesting description of a female character

"A crew chief, a black-haired Corellian woman whose build suggested that there might be a rancor or two in her ancestry, waved frantically at the other members of her unit."

Pages 234/235 - A great rancor scene. Even the Yuuzhan Vong recognize their usefulness.

"A snuffling noise emerged from the gap, then something like a low, muted roar.
Then something emerged.
Like a Yuuzhan Vong, it had two arms, two legs. But its stance was low, crouching, animalistic. It had tremendous muscles, hard and corded enough to support its tremendous weight, for it was as tall as the gap through which it emerged. Its face was tusked, its teeth were huge, and its head swiveled as it spotted the Yuuzhan Vong on the chamber floor. Its eyes followed these small creatures with the avidity of a hungry beast.
"This is a rancor," Tsavong Lah said. "A beast of this galaxy..."
Through the gap emerged another rancor, then a third, and a fourth. They spread out from the gap, moving along the walls of the chamber, circling their tiny prey."

David's Review of Enemy Lines II: Rebel Stand

5/5 Rancors - Rebel Stand by Aaron Allston is book #12 of the 19 in the New Jedi Order and is the second book in the Enemy Lines duology. I have struggled at times making my way through NJO, but I believe that the tide has begun to turn. There may be hope after all in the battle against the Yuuzhan Vong, and the books are beginning to spend more time with action and accomplishments than with Jedi philosophy questions. I applaud that.

The story in Rebel Stand picks up where Rebel Dream left off. You can easily finish the first book and then go right into the second. You will immediately recognize that the good guys are still defending Borleias and trying quietly with a small team to do some things on Coruscant. Luke, Mara, and company (including some members of Wraith Squadron) are moving around Coruscant trying to gather information about the alien invaders. The planet is a mess. The Vong tend to change things when they move in.

It turns out that Coruscant has more dangers than one would expect. An unknown evil power is in evidence, and Luke must figure out how to get rid of it. The surprise evil turns out to be Lord Nyax, a horrible creature who has made previous appearances in other books. This element makes for an interesting turn away from just having to deal with the Vong.

Other characters make return appearances as well. The traitor Viqi Shesh is back, and they must deal with her. The author gives us a large battle scene involving the Dark Side with Luke seeming to be in extremely perilous situations. Mr. Allston is good at describing action scenes when he decides to do it. In a different story, Wedge is still leading the defense of Borleias. The manipulations and trickery involved here are extremely interesting. Some fine space battles. The Super Star Destroyer Lusankya even plays a role.

I have enjoyed the Enemy Lines duology. There hasn’t been quite as much agony about deciding on appropriate courses of action, and the New Republic heroes finally seem to be making some headway against the Vong.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

David: Rancor Spotting #33

Enemy Lines I: Rebel Dream by Aaron Allston

Page 251 - Han speaking to Corran Horn's son Valin in his usual Han Solo style.

"You do that. Scoot, kid. Go beat up a rancor or something."

David's Review of Enemy Lines I: Rebel Dream

5/5 Rancors - Rebel Dream by Aaron Allston is book #11 of the 19 in the New Jedi Order and is the first book in the Enemy Lines duology. I admit that I am still struggling somewhat to wade through the New Jedi Order. Many of the books could benefit from some severe editing. However, I had my hopes up for Mr. Allston’s book, and he did not let me down. This is more like it. More action and less philosophizing. I believe the seriousness of the threat posed by the Yuuzhan Vong has finally sunk in. Heroic deeds are being done.

Coruscant has fallen. That is a sentence I never expected to write. However, it’s true. The cityworld is in ruins in many places, and the invading aliens are in control. The New Republic is falling apart. Things look grim.

In an effort to fight back, Wedge Antilles leads a force to retake Borleais from the Vong. Once this is accomplished, he works with high-level friends of his such as Luke Skywalker to see what kind of damage they can inflict on the Vong. His plans are not received favorably by some erstwhile leaders of the Republic. A group of politicians holding themselves out as the New Republic Advisory Council comes to Borleais, meets with Wedge and the other leaders, and tries to order them to accept a suicidal plan. Through some deft maneuvering, Wedge manages to refuse their plan and send them packing. This was a very clever section of the book.

From there Wedge and the other leaders on Borleais form what they refer to as the Inner Circle to spearhead resistance against the Yuuzhan Vong. We are back to the days of the Rebel Alliance and it is fun to read about. Skywalkers, Solos, etc. – all the big names are involved and seem enthusiastic about it. Their plan is to go into action against the Vong without having to put up with the paralyzing bureaucracy that has been so prevalent so far in the New Jedi Order. It makes you want to offer a round of applause.

The author has included a couple of new twists in the Yuuzhan Vong. Ex-Senator Viqi Shesh is now physically with the Vong and is trying to prove her worth to them. She is truly a Machiavellian character and cannot be trusted by anyone. I will not miss her when she is gone. We also are introduced to Czulkang Lah, the father of Warmaster Tsavong Lah. The older Lah is a warrior with a legendary record, and he is an interesting character in the book. On the whole, the Vong are still extremely disgusting and very difficult to understand.

Wedge Antilles plays a huge role in Rebel Dream as does Jaina Solo. It is interesting to watch both in action. I especially enjoyed watching Jaina create havoc among the Vong in her role as the Trickster while at the same time resolving some of her own issues and developing into a very worthwhile character. At the end, Mr. Allston does a good job of setting up the next book, Rebel Stand. Wedge has led his forces to an important victory while Luke has led a team back to Coruscant. There may be hope for the remaining books in the New Jedi Order.