Friday, March 30, 2012

Andrew's Review of The Unifying Force



5/5 Rancors - There are few regular authors in the Star Wars Expanded Universe whose books I anticipate more eagerly than a new release penned by James Luceno. Mr. Luceno has an amazing grasp of the intricate details of the galaxy far, far away, and at his best is able to weave disparate elements from many sources into a cohesive and rich tapestry. I can't imagine a better choice for an author to pick up the many threads laid down in the eighteen prior New Jedi Order books and somehow make sense of them as a whole. In The Unifying Force, Mr. Luceno accomplishes not only this daunting task but adds numerous nods and updates to older material as well. To experience this book at its best, a reader would not only want to have read the New Jedi Order leading up to it but have as much exposure as possible to the Bantam Spectra novels set prior chronologically.

The Unifying Force brings the forces at work together in one final massive conflict. The storyline begun in Greg Keyes' Edge of Victory duology comes to a head as the Shamed Ones of Yuuzhan Vong society cast off their yoke of oppression and open new possibilities in the power dynamics of the culture. Zonama Sekot returns to the known galaxy in spectacular fashion but manages to remain enigmatic until the last few chapters. Various final solutions to the Vong invasion are put forward and addressed. Lastly, per the title, the disparate views of the Force posited throughout the New Jedi Order, in particular those put forward by Vergere and those surfaced by the absence of the Vong in the Force, are smashed together and forged to create a new vision of the future for the Jedi.

The opening of the book is surprising, as several chapters are set in a prison camp that reminded me strongly of scenes from The Bridge over the River Kwai and a few other war films. These serve to ease the reader into the larger story and set the stage for the Galactic Alliance's final push to retake Coruscant and stop the invasion. The prison chapters and the space conflict they eventually lead to are well-written and fundamental to the story, but I admit I was chafing to get back to two main plotlines: the return of Zonama Sekot to the galaxy and the churning evolution of Yuuzhan Vong society taking place on Coruscant.

Mr. Luceno deftly paints the crumbling foundations of Yuuzhan Vong culture and manages to spend significant time detailing Supreme Overlord Shimmra's actions and words without revealing too much of the underlying mystery of this character. Shimmra's desperation and confusion shines through clearly, as the Vong turn to more epic sacrifices and even to denying their gods in an effort to reconcile what went wrong with their invasion. Nom Anor provides a shadow storyline to that of Shimmra and to the end proves a wild-card character: the most memorable Vong of the entire series.

The final battle with Shimmra is quite satisfying and cinematic. Sprawling over many chapters as the Jedi and Galactic Alliance forces attempt to reach him, there's a desperate sense of urgency to the proceedings and some genuine fear for the fate of the heroes. A twist ending in this battle didn't come as a particular shock but it is an interesting new perspective on the true leadership of the Vong culture. There is a beautifully poignant moment for Jacen Solo, a character who has grown increasingly murky over the series, when he experiences something absolutely sublime and at the same moment knows he will spend the rest of his life attempting and failing to recapture it.

Looking over my reviews of the New Jedi Order, there are many individual books I gave high marks to. What intrigues me is my overall impression of the series is lower than the average of my ratings would suggest. There is no question that it overstays its welcome and that rotating so many authors through its doors did little good for the consistency of the story. That said, it's books like Matthew Stover's Traitor, Troy Denning's Star by Star, and The Unifying Force that save this series. They make it worthwhile reading for fans of the Star Wars Expanded Universe that have gotten to Timothy Zahn's Vision of the Future and wish there was more story to go. While I disagree with some of the foundational elements of the New Jedi Order, here Mr. Luceno deftly wraps up the whole thing in a beautiful shiny package: truly a job well done.

Andrew's Review of The Final Prophecy



4/5 Rancors - Greg Keyes kicks the New Jedi Order back into high gear with the eighteenth and penultimate book in the series, The Final Prophecy. The sprawling saga severely lagged in the Force Heretic trilogy, set just before this story. Mr. Keyes, already a shining presence in the New Jedi Order thanks to his excellent Edge of Victory duology, wisely delivers a fast-paced and concise book that narrowly focuses on a few key characters while also setting the stage for the sweeping scope of the series conclusion. By keeping his lens on a few Jedi and Yuuzhan Vong and not spending time inventing side trips for Luke, Han, and Leia, Mr. Keyes delivers the shot of adrenalin this series sorely needed.

The Final Prophecy brings more to the development of living planet Zonama Sekot than the totality of the three books set before it. Jedi Master Corran Horn and newly-healed Jedi Knight Tahiri are sent on a mission that involves travelling with three Yuuzhan Vong to Zonama Sekot. There are several intriguing dynamics in play here: a major one is Corran's lack of faith in Tahiri. She has made peace with her fractured personality resulting from her tortures at the hands of the Vong, but Corran has difficulty fully embracing this new Tahiri. Compounding the difficulties are their three passengers on the trip: Harrar, a Vong priest of high standing, shaper Nen Yim, and traitorous Nom Anor, disguised as The Prophet. It's a long-overdue development in the New Jedi Order to portray more of the Vong as fully-realized individuals with different goals and philosophies, rather than a faceless, relentless and death-obsessed caricatures.

Zonama Sekot itself is a major development in the Star Wars universe. A sentient planet opens up many questions about the nature and scale of the Force, such as why there is only one (perhaps the others are simply unknown?) and is the Force actively directing the creation of such an intelligence for its own purposes? Mr. Keyes opens up these themes and more as we experience Zonama Sekot from several perspectives, including the three Vong's. The most intriguing contrast is that of Harrar's rapidly developing faith and wonder at the universe around him with Nom Anor's deeply-seated cynicism and opportunistic choices.

The other major storyline of The Final Prophecy is also well-executed but I found it largely a sidebar to the events and character development taking place on Zonama Sekot. This second plot follows Wedge Antilles leading a massive strike at the Bilbringi shipyards, site of a legendary conflict with Grand Admiral Thrawn decades earlier. It's exciting enough and has a particular storyline involving an overlooked Golan Defense Platform that is quite entertaining. However, the meat of this story feels like it is in the evolution of certain Vong and the possibilities their altered viewpoints bring to ways to end the conflict with the Vong on a more permanent basis.

At this point in the New Jedi Order I doubt many readers would be clamoring for a lot more books. It's time to bring it to a close and of course the following novel does just that. But setting aside any fatigue from the overlabored nature of the series as a whole, The Final Prophecy is a fine addition to the Star Wars mythos and quite an enjoyable read.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Andrew's Review of Ylesia



2/5 Rancors - With Ylesia, a novella originally published in e-book form, Walter Jon Williams gets an opportunity to insert further story into his novel Destiny's Way. The events of Ylesia take place midway through that book, so this is a good read to tackle immediately after finishing Destiny's Way. The novella follows a New Republic mission to the titular planet, which is serving as the capital of the traitorous Peace Brigade and houses their attempt at a Senate. The Peace Brigade promote capitulation to the Yuuzhan Vong and have served as a human counterpoint to the efforts of the Jedi and the more heroic members of the New Republic throughout the New Jedi Order. They are a logical part of the story but not one I've found terribly interesting, as we rarely get anything told from their point-of-view, making them rather cardboard as adversaries.

Ylesia brings back Thracken Sal-Solo in an entertaining plotline which sees him forcibly installed as the President of the Peace Brigade. This doesn't fit well with Sal-Solo's plans to better his own galactic situation but he displays a knack for adaption and survival not unlike that of his famous cousin Han Solo. Ylesia itself, a major source of the drug spice in the Star Wars galaxy, will be familiar to readers of A. C. Crispin's Han Solo Trilogy and it's nice to see it return.

For the most part Ylesia doesn't advance the story of Destiny's Way much: primarily, it delivers some closure to the Peace Brigade subplot. Sal-Solo was the most memorable aspect, as some of the space battle and ground assault material following the New Republic's invasion of the system felt like material I've read an awful lot of times before. Ylesia is a solid enough little story but I would only recommend it to someone going through the entire New Jedi Order and wanting a little more.

Andrew's Review of Recovery



3/5 Rancors - Troy Denning's novella Recovery was originally published in e-book form and is a short tale set after the events of Kathy Tyers' Balance Point. Han and Leia Solo's relationship was fractured early in the Yuuzhan Vong invasion by the death of someone in the family, and the books prior to Recovery, notably the Agents of Chaos duology, spent time exploring Han's journey to reclaim himself from his demons and Leia's efforts to be patient with the process. Ms. Tyers reunited the couple in Balance Point as the battle for Duros commenced, but it is in this short story that they truly begin the emotional healing process.

We start on Corellia with a battle in a hospital and an appearance from Han's rogue cousin Thracken Sal-Solo. It's good to touch base on what Sal-Solo has been up to since he fired the Centerpoint weapon earlier in the New Jedi Order. Mr. Denning uses this story to introduce a group of his preferred characters, a tight-knit group of saurian Barabel Jedi. Here they are accompanied by an entertainingly non-conventional, salt-addicted Arcona Jedi as well as a human Jedi, Master Eelysa, known for her lengthy and complicated solo missions. The Barabel come into full play in Mr. Denning's own Star by Star and are memorable characters: it's welcome, if certainly not essential, to have their background more fully fleshed out here.

In fact, the Jedi provide the most entertaining aspect of Recovery. The Solo reactions to the explicitly non-human worldview of the Barabel are genuinely funny, especially as they struggle to comprehend Barabel humor. Mr. Denning handles the evolution of their relationship and concurrent healing capably enough, although no aspect of this jumps out at me as especially memorable. The final two chapters take the story on a race to Coruscant to stop a potentially disastrous Senate vote. This portion feels rushed, as if it was constrained by the limitations of being a short e-book, but it brings events to a satisfying close nevertheless.

Certainly not an essential read, Recovery does flesh out aspects of the New Jedi Order and it worth a look to anyone reading that part of the saga, especially if you are a fan of Mr. Denning's later novels and want to get a bit more insight into the origin of a couple of his preferred Jedi characters.

Andrew's Review of Boba Fett: A Practical Man



4/5 Rancors - Karen Traviss was noted during her time as a Star Wars author for her fascination with the Mandalorian culture along with her disdain for the Jedi. These traits fueled several exceptional stories in the Republic Commando novels but also started to become a bit of a distraction over time, especially as her stories became increasingly drenched in Mandalorian worship. It's an interesting choice to have her author a short story (originally an e-book) for the New Jedi Order, as beyond a nod in the final volume, Mandalorians are conspicuously absent. This story is very much like her full length Star Wars novels: Mandalorian focused, chapters starting with intriguing italicized quotes from various in-universe sources, and a very cinematic way of staging scenes and cutting between them.

So it turns out the choice was a good one: having Ms. Traviss bring her sensibilities to the New Jedi Order provides a sorely-needed shift from the overall tone of the nineteen novels. It's fascinating how she juxtaposes Boba Fett and his allies against the Yuuzhan Vong, two cultures both comfortable with violence as a means to an end but diametrically opposed as to the means. This story is set chronologically before Vector Prime, meaning it could be a reader's first introduction to the Yuuzhan Vong culture, and overall I would say that's neither worse nor better than first encountering them via Vector Prime. It's just different, as Vector Prime shows the Vong through the lens of the Jedi and here we meet them through the alternate viewpoint of Mandalorian mercenaries.

This story brings us up-to-date on an older Boba Fett, one still living the mercenary life while also having responsibilities as the Mandalore, the leader of his people. It's an interesting dynamic how Fett feels a sense of duty to this role while simultaneously keeping it at arm's length. The sequences where Fett and a companion walk through a Vong vessel and encounter the extra-galactic invaders for the first time is superb, as we see their disgusted reactions to the bloody Vong culture firsthand. The ending of the story leaves the Mandalorians as true anti-heroes, secretly doing the right thing while being openly despised for their seemingly traitorous actions. I would have liked to see this thread interwoven throughout the New Jedi Order, but alas, A Practical Man was penned late in the game.

Despite any misgivings I developed over time with Ms. Traviss' tendency to elevate the Mandalorians and demonize the Jedi in her writing, there is no denying that she was an exceptional Star Wars author. Her stories are distinct, hard-edged, and propel along much like the films themselves, even when they get heavy on dialogue vs. action. Boba Fett: A Practical Man is a distinct entity in the New Jedi Order and well worth a read: even better, it could be read by someone interested in Fett and his people without having to go further in the nineteen books that follow.

Andrew's Review of Force Heretic III: Reunion



2/5 Rancors - Sean Williams and Shane Dix's Reunion concludes the Force Heretic story arc, the only trilogy in the nineteen book New Jedi Order. As I expressed in my reviews of the first two books, I'm not clear why this story was chosen to be given a more in-depth treatment than any other in this particular saga, which is otherwise populated by duologies and standalones. Force Heretic slows the pace of the New Jedi Order significantly, as roughly 1200 pages are devoted to story elements which really don't advance the overall plot very far. This deliberate slowdown makes these novels a tough read at a point where readers may already be somewhat weary of the Yuuzhan Vong (thanks to the fourteen prior books).

Reunion continues the three-way split of the first two books: one storyline follows Luke Skywalker's team as they locate and interact with living planet Zonama Sekot, a second continues the gallivanting-around-the-galaxy adventures of the Solos, and the third slightly advances Nom Anor's efforts on terraformed Coruscant to remold himself as The Prophet and gain power. Something that stood out in this book was the peculiar pacing: beyond the trilogy having no chapter breaks, it seems that each storyline was just rotated in and out every few pages. At times there will be an exciting action scene taking place, but it was constantly interrupted by casual conversation or exploration in another storyline. The plots didn't feel like they were organically woven together to bring the overall story events to a head, but rather just somewhat arbitrarily given occasional attention.

It's a relief to finally get to Zonama Sekot after spending two books with Luke's team researching its location. There are some nice callbacks to the events of Greg Bear's Rogue Planet, including some intriguing information newly revealed to Luke about his father's use of the Force. While a great deal of time is spent with Luke and Jacen talking to the planet, there's not a strong sense that their actions really matter. Zonama Sekot positions itself as an infinitely higher being and it appears to have determined its own course regardless of what the Jedi suggest or request.

The Solo's unit aids in the defense of Esfandia, a remote planet host to a New Republic communications relay. It's exciting in places and there is a memorable species introduced in the Brrbrlpp, which are considerably more alien than the standard residents of the galaxy far, far away. In the end, when the Solos succeed in restoring communications on this planet, I again marvelled that the guiding lights of the New Jedi Order chose to devote so much time to these storylines. They just don't seem very significant at this point in the game. Accompanying the Solos, Tahiri does show some progress as a character as Reunion resolves the conflicting two personalities contained within her.

I've found the Nom Anor storyline to be the most interesting of the three in many ways, as it is unclear where it is going and there is some genuine tension as he schemes and plots in the underworld. Mitigating this is the fact that he hasn't changed at all as a character, so he's not even an anti-hero, but rather continues in his antagonist role from before. The difference is that Force Heretic lets us spend significant time in his head, and being privy to his thoughts lends him the tiniest bit of sympathy as a character.

Mr. Williams and Mr. Dix show an impressive familiarity (or an impressive ability to research, but either way, the results are the same) with the Star Wars Expanded Universe throughout the Force Heretic trilogy, resurrecting old characters, locales, and plotlines and weaving them into the New Jedi Order tapestry. I would be curious to see what this trilogy would have looked like condensed into a duology or even a standalone story. On its own, the curious pacing would have been less problematic, but taken as the fifteenth through the seventeenth stories of a saga that shows some worrying symptoms of bloat as a whole, it's hard to recommend these.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Andrew's Review of Force Heretic II: Refugee



2/5 Rancors - Refugee, the second entry in the Force Heretic trilogy by Sean Williams and Shane Dix, continues precisely in the vein of its predecessor. Which means it inherits the very deliberate pacing, the focus on side quests while not progressing the search for Zonama Sekot much, and the lack of any chapter breaks to give the story an ebb and flow. Again, Mr. Williams and Mr. Dix show an admirable command of some details of the Star Wars Expanded Universe, as part of the book is essentially a sequel to Kathy Tyers' The Truce at Bakura and the rest is littered with callbacks to prior tales as well.

The three storylines introduced in Force Heretic I: Remnant continue here. Luke Skywalker and his companions, including his wife Mara Jade Skywalker and Jacen Solo, enter Chiss space as they search for the living planet Zonama Sekot. The Chiss culture is an interesting one and since they are presented as a rather closed society throughout the EU, it is welcome to spend time on the capital world. However, those looking for old-fashioned Star Wars action may be in for crushing disappointment as Luke and friends spend a good deal of this book researching at a library. It makes sense they would do so, but my oh my, compared to the pace of the big novels in the New Jedi Order, I marvel that this trilogy slows down to spend so much time on these details.

We also return to Han and Leia Solo's journey to restore diplomatic relations and communications throughout the former New Republic. They spend the entire novel at Bakura, which is struggling to establish its own identity in the universe by making peace with the newly-liberated slaves of their former oppressors, the Ssi-ruuk. This plot is going to make a lot more sense to readers who are familiar with The Truce at Bakura. The story itself is relatively engaging, as layers of intrigue are peeled back like an onion and we discover the truth behind the murky peace arrangements. Again, my objection here would be similar to the sections concerning Luke's explorations: why are we spending this much time on a side story in the sixteenth book of this saga? There's a tie to the Vong right at the end but it doesn't erase the feeling of this being superfluous.

Interwoven sporadically throughout the Skywalker/Solo scenes is the continuation of Nom Anor's evolution into the prophet Yu'shaa. Even though it suffers from the same overall pacing objections I had with the rest of the book, I did enjoy this plotline. Nom Anor is being set up along with Zonama Sekot as a major factor in how this war will end. The authors provide glimpses into the downtrodden echelons of Vong society, something we'd only gotten much of before in Greg Keyes' excellent Edge of Victory duology.

In a nutshell, Refugee is no better or worse than Remnant before it. It stays the course but unfortunately bogs down the pace that Traitor and Destiny's Way set. As I read this sixteenth New Jedi Order story, I confess to a personal weariness with the overall storyline, and that's not the fault of these authors but rather Del Rey's overall plan to bloat this story so badly. Even though I have though highly of many of the individual stories, I am very ready to move on to something besides the Yuuzhan Vong.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Andrew's Review of Force Heretic I: Remnant



2/5 Rancors - Force Heretic I: Remnant, by the writing team of Sean Williams and Shane Dix, takes the fast pace set by Destiny's Way and slows it to a crawl. There were moments in the preceding fourteen novels where my enthusiasm for the New Jedi Order flagged, but here a deep sense of fatigue started to set in. I don't know why Force Heretic is the only part of this overall story deemed worthy of getting a full trilogy, when authors such as Greg Keyes, Aaron Allston, and Michael Stackpole were limited to duologies. Additionally, this book is on the long side for a Star Wars book, clocking in at a little over 400 pages, and to pile insult onto injury, the authors decided to ignore the convention of having chapter breaks in their story and instead made it a huge wall of text divided into four parts. This really got under my skin as the pace slowed and every scene seemed to get the same amount of attention: no ramping up for the exciting parts or slowing down for characterization.

On the positive side, Mr. Williams and Mr. Dix show a deep knowledge of prior stories from the Expanded Universe and are able to weave many older elements into the New Jedi Order timeframe. For instance, the Yevetha from the Black Fleet Crisis make a reappearance in the context of the Vong invasion and provide an interesting insight into how the Vong would collide with cultures already opposed to the New Republic (essentially, as they collide with any other). The Imperial Remnant, led by Admiral Pellaeon, plays a key role as the Skywalkers open new negotiations. A mixture of smaller elements are woven in as well: kudos for this, as it adds consistency to the universe.

The story has three major plotlines: a group led by Luke visits the Imperial Remnant, another group led by the Solos heads out to restore communications across the galaxy and pay diplomatic visits, and Nom Anor finds a new role as an outcast on the Vong capital world (terraformed Coruscant). Luke is driven to find Zonama Sekot, the sentient planet he learned of in Destiny's Way which may be key to solving the Vong's absence in the Force and making peace in the galaxy. Zonama Sekot is an intriguing, left-field plot device that is introduced to give the New Republic a solution to the war they are apparently still losing, despite the major victory at Ebaq 9 in the last story. The problem with Zonama Sekot in this story is painfully little changes: Luke's quest will have to await the next books. They do have a well-written engagement with the Imperial Remnant and watching Pellaeon corral the reticent Moffs into line is entertaining.

The Solo storyline barely registered on me: there's some diplomacy, some action, we find out what happened to the Yevetha, but there's just not much there. Tahiri accompanies them and is warring with her dual nature after her torture at the hands of the Vong many books earlier. It strikes me oddly that this problem took a year or two of in-universe time to surface, but perhaps the residual effects of the Myrkr mission in Star by Star have fostered it. Anyway, a few moments of interest there helps a bit. The third storyline is better, with Nom Anor crafting himself a new identity in the underworld, although it also does not advance terribly far in Remnant.

I'm baffled why Force Heretic required three books. I can understand padding it out from Del Rey's point-of-view but why pick this particular story of the many under the New Jedi Order umbrella? With judicious editing and better pacing, there are some serviceable ideas here, and I do appreciate the authors' embrace of prior Star Wars stories, but beyond that this really bogs down the end of the New Jedi Order and makes getting to The Unifying Force feel a long way away.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Andrew's Review of Destiny's Way



4/5 Rancors - With Destiny's Way, Walter Jon Williams contributes the fourth of the five tent pole hardcover novels to the New Jedi Order. The job of the hardcover entries was to tell the overarching "big" story of the Yuuzhan Vong invasion, while the more numerous paperbacks filled in the smaller stories in-between. Prior to Destiny's Way, Vector Prime and Star by Star more than carried the weight of their roles, while Balance Point felt more in the vein of one of the side stories than a foundational element of the overall saga.

Destiny's Way is not as epic in scope as the massive Star by Star but it compares favorably to Vector Prime in terms of its pace and ambition. The main New Jedi Order characters are all present and the war changes course significantly by the end of the novel. At the start of the story, the remnants of the New Republic have regrouped on Mon Calamari and are struggling to reestablish a proper government and confirm military channels of command. Luke Skywalker, along with his usual cast of Solo and Skywalker family are present to aid in this process: Luke in particular is seeing the need for a fresh approach to a Jedi Council and to the Jedi relationship to the government. In essence, he is exploring a new Jedi Order.

Providing an interesting foil to Luke's efforts is Vergere, the ancient Fosh Jedi of the Old Republic who arrives on Mon Calamari with Jacen Solo. Vergere has some radical notions concerning the nature of dark and light in the Force, notions that challenge Luke's ideas about many of his personal tenets. Vergere's agenda remains unclear throughout: later books take her in an explicit direction but in Destiny's Way her actions and words could be interpreted in different ways depending on the reader. Her meetings with Luke were the most interesting section of the book, providing food for thought and some interesting things to ponder about what's right and wrong in such a desperate war as the characters find themselves in.

The New Republic government takes an intriguing turn in Destiny's Way as elections are held for new leadership and relatively minor character Cal Omas takes the reins. Cal is not a deeply-fleshed out character but his work with Luke on establishing a cross-functional council of both Jedi and government bureaucrats is notably of interest. Cal is also forced to take sides in a showdown involving Luke pitted against Dif Scaur, head of Intelligence, who has authorized a new bioweapon with the potential to end the entire war and the Yuuzhan Vong easily and quickly. Heady stuff for a Star Wars novel, echoing the Krytos virus from the X-wing books (except this time the "good guys" have the weapon). The bioweapon provides an interesting strategy to contemplate compared to the standard large-scale military action complemented by elite Jedi battling the enemy leadership that Star Wars normally presents.

Destiny's Way is a solid addition to the New Jedi Order. Mr. Williams keeps the pace brisk and sends events hurtling towards an epic conclusion where the New Republic finally has a real chance to turn the tables on the invaders. The living planet Zonoma Sekot, introduced in Greg Bear's Rogue Planet set decades earlier in the chronological history, is re-introduced into the context of the New Jedi Order and sets the stage for many of the concluding storylines of this particular part of the saga. With the altered government, restructured Jedi, and shifts in the course of the war, Destiny's Way is required reading in the New Jedi Order and a solidly-written, enjoyable story as well.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Andrew's Review of Traitor



5/5 Rancors - Stunning. That's the first word that comes to mind when I reflect back on Matthew Stover's Traitor. It is simply stunning. The book is a jolt of adrenaline to the overlong New Jedi Order, a shock to the system and a welcome reprieve from what often threatens to become a grind of a storyline. Mr. Stover throws the typical conventions of a Star Wars novel right out the window from the get-go. Cinematic, fast-paced sequences which move tidily from one main character's point-of-view to another? Look elsewhere, except one bit at the end. Epic space battles? Oops, ignored. Jedi quietly meditating on the nature of the force in an isolated monastery before emerging as the do-gooders of the galaxy? Not so much.

Traitor picks up the story of Jacen Solo after the traumatic events of Troy Denning's Star by Star. After being ignored in the last three books, it was time to let readers in on Jacen's fate, and Traitor acts as a counterpart to Dark Journey (featuring his twin sister Jaina), although the two books are certainly in different leagues. This is not a pleasant or happy story. Riddled with ambiguity, pain, and soul-searching, it is a deeply-felt window into Jacen's transformation into something new, something not yet fully defined but certainly no longer a somewhat passive young Jedi Knight.

Playing a critical foil to Jacen is the cryptic Force-user Vergere, an avian Jedi of the Old Republic and one with unique insights into the Yuuzhan Vong from the fifty years she's spent with them. Since I am in the middle of re-reading the entire Star Wars Expanded Universe and already versed in the ultimate fates of Jacen and Vergere, I parsed carefully through their conversations here and came away feeling the groundwork for their eventual evolution in later books was laid out sufficiently. It's extremely interesting stuff but outside the scope of reviewing this single book and impossible to discuss without spoiling the events to come. I'll note that if you're interested in delving into the Legacy of the Force series, Traitor should be a prerequisite.

Much of the book follows Jacen's torture at the hands of Vergere and the Vong. It's in the conversations between the ostensible teacher Vergere and her envisioned student Jacen that the meat of the story lies. They explore the nature of the Force and the Vong in provocative and challenging ways. The book is heavy on the numerous horrific experiences Jacen has while prisoner but this is necessary in service of the larger story.

We depart Jacen's viewpoint near the end of Traitor in favor of that of vain Jedi Knight Ganner Rhysode. Ganner has featured in various prior stories but I will be brutally honest and confess he never registered on me much at all. I had a vague impression of who he was and that he was annoying, but that's about the sum of it. Within a few chapters, Traitor takes Ganner from third-tier background Jedi character to one with a legend burned indelibly in the Star Wars saga. His inner journey to make peace with himself, leading to his key decision at the end is fraught with meaning and with visceral excitement.

Mr. Stover has contributed my favorite body of work to the Star Wars Expanded Universe: Traitor, Shatterpoint, Revenge of the Sith, and Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor. There are times he strays quite far from the Star Wars formula, but I have no objections when the story and the characterizations are simply so GOOD. Traitor is hard to recommend to a general audience, since it is knee-deep in the New Jedi Order and would be extremely confusing to a newcomer. However, I can say it confirms that reading the twelve novels set before it is worth your time, just so you can fully grok Traitor, and that is quite a compliment indeed.