Friday, September 24, 2010

Andrew's Review of Survivor's Quest


4/5 Rancors - Survivor's Quest occupies an interesting place in the Expanded Universe, set between the brilliant Hand of Thrawn duology which wraps up many loose ends from the prior novels and the start of the dark and sprawling New Jedi Order series. It is a lighter tale than the adjoining novels in the timeline and for the most part tightly focuses on Luke Skywalker and his wife Mara Jade Skywalker. The book ties heavily to Zahn's Outbound Flight, which he wrote later but which is set decades earlier. Reading Outbound Flight first is not required (I didn't myself the first time around) but it certainly helps flesh out this story.

The strongest aspects of Survivor's Quest are Zahn's exploration of Luke and Mara's new marriage and the mysterious plot he weaves around the semi-legendary Outbound Flight project. Luke has had numerous ups and downs throughout the various Star Wars novels but he ended Vision of the Future on a high: ready to push forward with the continued rebirth of the Jedi and also madly in love with Mara. Mara also came out of that story in a good place, finally putting many of her demons from her youth as an assassin for the Empire to rest and moving on to a brighter future. Zahn picks up where he left off and portrays a balanced, happy couple. Realistically for a newly married couple, they are still finding their roles and adjusting to life together, but it is nice to have a book that goes light on the Skywalker angst and lets the characters breathe and even relax a bit.

The other high point of this book is the carefully constructed plot centering on the disappearance of the Outbound Flight project and the thousands of people onboard decades earlier. Zahn excels at parcelling out enough information to keep the book moving briskly along. A mysterious message leads Luke and Mara to the Chiss, Grand Admiral Thrawn's people. They link up with a mix of Chiss diplomatic and military leaders, a group of Imperials (including the stormtrooper squad featured in Zahn's Fool's Bargain), a puzzling alien race apparently wronged by Thrawn decades earlier, and Dean Jinzler, brother to Jedi Lorana Jinzler featured in the Outbound Flight novel. Zahn deftly juggles his large cast while keeping the limelight squarely on Luke and Mara.

One particular action scene I thoroughly enjoyed came near the end and featured a destroyer droid (or "droideka") from the prequel films squaring off against Luke and Mara. These droids are quite a threat in the prequels and this combat does not disappoint. Luke and Mara are forced to carefully strategize to deal with the droid and even with a solid plan, the risk factor is high. It's a tense sequence and also a nifty echo of Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon fighting the droids above Naboo on the Trade Federation ship in The Phantom Menace.

Zahn picks up a few other threads from his Hand of Thrawn duology, such as the Empire of the Hand, and weaves them with the elements detailed above into a quite entertaining little tale. Survivor's Quest stands well on its own, but also serves as a nice lighter break between the larger stories that bookend it in the Star Wars chronology.

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