Friday, May 4, 2012

Andrew's Review of Betrayal


4/5 Rancors - Coming on the heels of the sprawling nineteen book New Jedi Order (and the bridging Dark Nest Trilogy), Aaron Allston's Betrayal presents a departure from the violent, extra-galactic focus of the NJO and returns the Star Wars galaxy to Jedi vs. Sith conflict. The structure of the Legacy of the Force series is interesting, with Mr. Allston taking responsibility for the first, fourth, and seventh book and fellow authors Karen Traviss (books 2, 5, and 8) and Troy Denning (books 3, 6, and 9) alternating books within the nine-volume series. I view this as a good idea coming into the series. The New Jedi Order suffered to an extent from the numerous author handoffs, causing characterization to vary more than it should and also making some plots drop off completely in favor of throwing in new ones.

The creators of Legacy of the Force made no secrets up front about the major character shift slated to take place in the series: Jacen Solo was going to become a Sith Lord. It's an interesting device to be so forward about this, rather than keeping the reader in suspense. On the one hand, it's interesting getting into Jacen's head and seeing how someone could rationalize their way into embracing the Dark Side. It's not an unreasonable character arc given what was started in Matthew Stover's Traitor: Jacen emerged from that experience a changed man, and indeed, could be viewed as having died and been reborn, from a certain point-of-view. That experience, aligned with his pure moment in the Force at the end of the New Jedi Order and followed by his five-year galactic journey to learn more about the mystic energies of the universe, sets up his descent to darkness quite well.

On the other hand, Jacen's cold intellectualism becomes far less appealing than ever before as he coldly contemplates sacrificing everything dear to him, including family, to preserve peace in the galaxy. It's engaging to read in small doses but there are points where it becomes tiresome following his deliberations. Since there's no secret of where he will end up by mid-series, there sometimes is a feeling of spinning wheels, waiting for him to take his next steps.

Ben Skywalker comes into his own as Jacen's teenage apprentice. It'd be tough growing up in the reflected spotlight of Luke and Mara Jade Skywalker and Mr. Allston delves into this theme skillfully. Jacen is responsible for drawing Ben out of the shell he grew into during the Yuuzhan Vong war, but it's clear that having a future Sith for a master is not going to serve Ben well. Ben is anxious to prove himself and at this point his parents are unaware of the direction Jacen is headed, beyond general misgivings about Jacen's tendency to conceal himself in the Force. The other most significant character development in Betrayal is the return of an ancient nemesis of Luke's. I was surprised and pleased to see this character resurrected from the Marvel Star Wars comics published in the 1980s. This plotline also casts a new light on the actions of Vergere in the New Jedi Order, one that is sure to inspire reader debate. I found it a logical development, although it certainly isn't clear that the NJO authors intended her to be presented in such a manner.

The story of Betrayal digs into a deteriorating political situation between the fledgling Galactic Alliance and Han Solo's system of origin, Corellia. This tension ripples into the relationships of the favorite movie characters, as Luke makes a stand for the Galactic Alliance and peace while Han Solo sympathizes with the stubborn Corellians. Bringing the conflict to this level personalizes it and makes it of much greater interest, even though there are points where the Luke and Han (and other family members) of this story don't really behave like I would picture such closely bound-together people would. However, family conflicts can be the worst kind and so I'll give this a pass: it does serve the story well.

Betrayal is a strong start to Legacy of the Force. Despite a heavy reliance on political maneuvers to drive its story along, it stays focused and gripping as the galaxy begins the slide into yet another war. Mr. Allston keeps the pace brisk and introduces the themes of this part of the saga thoughtfully. Betrayal is a welcome return to a more traditional Star Wars story after the experiments of the New Jedi Order and the Dark Nest Trilogy, although the amount of backstory it references would likely make it a difficult starting point for a reader new to the Star Wars Expanded Universe.

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