3/5 Rancors - James Luceno's command of the intricacies of the Star Wars Expanded Universe makes him one of my favorite authors of tales of the galaxy far, far away. The Agents of Chaos duology, started by Hero's Trial, finds him fitting a story into the larger framework of the New Jedi Order. Some themes from the first three volumes carry straight into Hero's Trial and are very little changed. The New Republic politicians continue to grapple with the government response to the broadening war and humanitarian crises. The arguments for and against involvement have not changed much from the prior books. The Yuuzhan Vong continue to scheme and invade worlds. We do learn more about their separate castes, including spending time with an elite member of the priest caste. Han continues to grieve for his loss depicted in Vector Prime, but in this case Mr. Luceno does take this element and expand upon it, making Han's journey through grief the central focus of the duology.
Some closure is brought to the tragic events of Vector Prime as the heroes attend a funeral near the start of the story. This scene was a nice retrospective of a hero's life but it didn't pack the emotional punch one might wish for. It is more a summary of events than a deep-feeling send-off. Still, it works well enough, and sets the stage for Han's journey to come. After returning to Coruscant and meeting surprise old friend Roa (from the Han Solo Adventures), Han sets off on a journey to ascertain what has become of Roa's wife and also to deal with a new threat, the Peace Brigade. The Peace Brigade are an interesting addition, essentially mercenary traitors to the New Republic willing to sell out anyone to the Vong for money. The public persona they depict is one of reasonably working with the invaders (hence the name) but their motivations are much more selfish.
Leia has given up on a wide-scale official response to the invasion and is off aiding refugees as best she can with limited resources. Otherwise she spends most of the novel reacting to Han's lashing out. Luke continues to debate with his Jedi the best course of action. At this point in the New Jedi Order, I'm ready to see the Jedi take decisive stances, but their ongoing deliberations do play well off of the tragic events involving Corran Horn in Ruin, the prior novel.
The most interesting new storyline of Hero's Trial focuses on a Yuuzhan Vong priestess named Elan and her cryptic familiar Vergere. Elan is ordered to inhale a virus with intent to expel it upon a gathering of Jedi. She will accomplish this by pretending to be a defector. Her loyalty is never in doubt through her story arc, but Vergere's is considerably more intriguing, especially her last action of the story. Her role is greatly expanded upon in future novels but is well introduced here, and for readers who have already explored Mr. Luceno's prequel-era novel Cloak of Deception, her appearance here is extremely interesting indeed.
Mr. Luceno does introduce an entertaining, if rather stereotyped, companion for Han to travel with in the form of Droma, a Ryn. Droma has some lively sparring with Han and a few genuine laugh-out-loud moments. The hanging plotline at the end involves Droma; otherwise Hero's Trial is largely self-contained (with the exception of the overall invasion which of course continues through all nineteen books). I always thoroughly enjoy Mr. Luceno's ability to reference past events and characters of the Expanded Universe and that does not disappoint here. What does disappoint a bit is that the story doesn't seem necessary, with the possible exception of redemption for Han. Most of the larger plot elements just spin along and the Yuuzhan Vong invasion feels very similar at the end to how it did at the start.