Sunday, July 19, 2009

David's Review of Darksaber (Legends)

4/5 Rancors - Darksaber by Kevin J. Anderson is the second book in a series of three that amounts to a de facto trilogy thought of as the Callista Trilogy. The first book was Barbara Hambly’s Children of the Jedi, and the third will be her Planet of Twilight. I much prefer Mr. Anderson’s effort. Reading Darksaber is like meeting up with old friends again. We get the whole gang – Luke, Leia, Han, Chewie, R2, and Threepio. Set just after the events of Children of the Jedi, Mr. Anderson’s tale tracks Luke and Callista as they try to find a way of bringing back Callista’s Jedi powers. At the same time, Durga the Hutt has “hired” Bevel Lemelisk, co-designer of the original Death Star, to build a new version of the Death Star to enable Durga to expand his empire. Then we find that Admiral Daala has proved to be difficult to kill and is in fact leading efforts to unite the warlords and reassert the dominance of the Empire. The book has a lot going on and is an extremely entertaining story.

Admittedly, some of the book could be thought of as a little far-fetched even if you think that the normal Star Wars activities are perfectly normal. As I did with Children of the Jedi, I still have trouble accepting the relationship between Luke and Callista. They fell in love when she was a spirit living purely as a form of consciousness. Now she has a body and Luke is deeply in love with her. The only problem is that she has lost her Jedi powers, so much of the plotline revolves Luke and Callista and their struggles.

One other moment that could be slightly over the top takes place on Hoth. Luke, Callista, and some others are attacked by a vicious band of wampas led by a one-armed wampa who apparently has met Luke before. Possibly we didn’t need the specific tie back to The Empire Strikes Back, but the sequence is well done and exciting in any case.
The action in the book is great fun to read. Lemelisk has his problems in trying to build a new version of the Death Star for Durga, and Admiral Daala is bent on wreaking havoc on any Republic forces she can find. Our heroes are exerting their best efforts to prevent any of this from happening.

Mr. Anderson was the author of the three books in the Jedi Academy Trilogy, and I thought they were extremely well done. If you enjoyed those books, you will definitely like Darksaber.
Plus, you just have to like a book that opens with the following sentence: “The banthas plodded in single file, leaving only a narrow trail of scuffed footprints across the dunes.” Yes!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Andrew's Review of X-wing: Starfighters of Adumar (Legends)

5/5 Rancors - Set further out on the Star Wars Expanded Universe timeline than the other novels in the top-notch X-wing series, Aaron Allston's Starfighters of Adumar is a superb conclusion to the nine-book saga following various X-wing pilots and their leader Wedge Antilles. Allston wrote four of the nine books, and while his prior volumes featured his creation Wraith Squadron, in this book he focuses tightly on classic members of Rogue Squadron: Wedge, Tycho, Janson, and Hobbie. These guys represent four very distinctive personalities and are terrific teamed together.

The biggest asset of Starfighters of Adumar is its sheer readability. Allston is known for interjecting large quantities of humor into his Star Wars stories and he is firing on all cylinders here. This book is genuinely funny: the chuckles come often and almost never feel forced. The interplay among the four pilots contains many laugh-out-loud lines. There are plenty of serious moments in the story as well: Allston strikes a perfect balance between the absurd and the dramatic. Also benefiting the story is the tight focus on the four pilots and their single mission. Devoting the entire plot to one mission gives it room to breathe and plenty of space to effectively detail the intriguing societies of Adumar. Star Wars books have a habit (inspired by the films, no doubt) of rapid planet-hopping, but this time around we really get to know this one locale and that is a major plus.

Beyond the pilots, Allston also does a good job of advancing the romantic relationship between Wedge and Intelligence officer Iella Wessiri. The opening scene of the book, featuring Wedge and former love interest Qwi Xux, is awkwardly handled but does set the stage nicely for Iella to enter the picture. Also of interest is the reappearance of Admiral Rogriss, an atypical Imperial officer who is placed into a striking ethical dilemma closely akin to one Wedge is grappling with. Rounding out the primary characters of the tale are the feisty Adumarian warrior Cheriss, the enigmatic Republic representative Tomer Darpen, and the "two-headed" ex-tabloid reports Hallis.

Adumar is a world splintered into nation-states, rather than the unified world governments we generally encounter in the New Republic. Most of the book takes place in the violent duel-happy nation of Cartann, ruled by a set-in-his-ways and arrogant leader named Pekaelic. The lack of value placed on human life in Cartann appalls Wedge and Allston takes us through Wedge's interesting moral deliberations as he struggles to reconcile his diplomatic assignment with his core beliefs. Again, the time Allston takes to flesh out Cartann and the world of Adumar truly pays off as the detailed background lends itself to high-quality character building.

Starfighters of Adumar is flat-out good Star Wars action and adventure. Allston does a great job of balancing characters and plot, humor and action, and romance and conflict. After nine books, the X-wing series was still going strong, and although I don't expect to ever see another entry, especially in light of the publisher change to Del Rey years ago, I would love to see books ten and beyond someday if there's any way to make that happen.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Andrew's Review of Planet of Twilight (Legends)

2/5 Rancors -
Barbara Hambly's Planet of Twilight is the end of the unofficial "Callista Trilogy," started in Hambly's other Star Wars novel Children of the Jedi and continued in Kevin J. Anderson's Darksaber. I didn't much care for Children of the Jedi, finding its plot derivative and the prose rather unwieldy. The character of Callista was also problematic, feeling more like a plot device than a thought-out realistic person. Luke Skywalker's relationship with Callista came off as more ridiculous than romantic, and Darksaber, despite some exciting action scenes and a fairly brisk plot, didn't do anything to deepen it.
Planet of Twilight represents a step up from Children of the Jedi thanks to a more original and involving storyline, but one thing it doesn't do is wrap up the Luke/Callista romance well. Their love truly ends with a whimper rather than a bang and it's hard not to feel it was a waste of time reading about it. That said, in real life some relationships go the same way, so perhaps it can be viewed as a small building block towards Luke's more meaningful relationships later in life.

Planet of Twilight focuses on the mad ambitions of Seti Ashgad to rule the galaxy by means of the hideous Death Seed plague, a feared disease wrongly believed to have been wiped out centuries earlier. Ashgad is isolated on the well-detailed planet of Nam Chorios. Hambly puts a great deal of effort into describing the locale and its many environmental quirks, most noticeably the vile insect-like drochs that lurk in every dark corner. While I can't say I found the planet exactly enjoyable to learn about, it was certainly memorable, no small feat in the vast Star Wars Expanded Universe.

Luke is portrayed with more strength than the last couple of novels granted him and it is a welcome change. There's only so much I can take of reading about a sickly, weak Luke barely able to put one foot in front of another (I'm looking at you, Children of the Jedi). However, this time around we do get a large number of chapters featuring a drugged and sickly Princess Leia, so the net effect is a wash. Most of the other usual film cast is present, but the Luke/Leia storyline is given precedence over the Han/Chewie/Lando and C-3PO/R2-D2 "B" plots. I found Han's adventures confusing and struggled with what he was trying to accomplish in some chapters.
Like Children of the Jedi, Planet of Twilight is overly verbose and I was glad to get to the end of it. Both novels feel curiously detached from Star Wars, almost as if Hambly had written original sci-fi novels and then simply pasted the Star Wars characters into them. There's little of the typical sweeping space opera adventure to be found in either book. Sometimes it's nice to have a change of pace in these stories, but this particular direction didn't do much for me. I was glad to see the end of the Callista storyline and look forward to reading the ninth book in the X-wing series next.