I think that in the context of a sci-fi space opera, the "Legacy of the Force" storyline has been pretty brilliant (its not trying to cure cancer). Bu...moreI think that in the context of a sci-fi space opera, the "Legacy of the Force" storyline has been pretty brilliant (its not trying to cure cancer). But this last book was quite disappointing. After reading the pretty amazing "Revelation" by Karen Traviss, you kind of have to wonder what happened. Traviss spent that whole novel meticulously building great characterizations of Jacen, Ben, Luke, Niathal, Daala, Palleaon, and most impressively, Boba Fett, who has spent most of his history being a rather boring bada$$ enigma. Traviss moves all the chess pieces around the board to establish an interesting political, military, and philosophical standoff, then along comes "Invincible", and all that groundwork, and all those characters either disappear, or are reduced back to the stock cliches that were the hallmark of the worst Bantam novels (anyone remember "The Crystal Star" or "The New Rebellion"?)
We're left with what reads more like an outline with a few well written action scenes, and dialogue that is eye-rollingly frustrating. Has Denning always had such a tin-ear with these characters? I don't recall things getting so goofy during the Swarm Wars. Scenes where characters spends a page extemporising about throw-away one liners betray an author who is far more amused than he should be about his characters' witty retorts. I hate to keep comparing Denning to Traviss, but I love the way her Manolorians (and the Clone Troopers in their series) dryly quip to one another while going about their duty. If a Clone Trooper laughed at one of their jokes, they'd be thrown out of the squad. Denning's characters sounded more like the dorky kid who repeats someone else's joke ad nauseum long after it stopped being funny. And I'd swear Denning must have been using his thesaurus looking up synonyms for 'laugh', as his characters spent waay too much time chuckling, chortling, or snickering.
But the poor attempts at humor are just a small problem compared to the short-shrift given to characterization and the complete lack of resolution or explanations for the major political upheavals that literally take place in the space of a few pages at the tale end of the book. [SPOILER] Daala as the new Chief of State? Jagged Fel taking over the Moffs? Wahuh? I'm not saying I can't accept these rather drastic turns of events, but could we get just a little explanation? Did we really need the rather pointless car chase through Coruscant or the blink-and-you'll-miss-it death of Prince Isolder? [END SPOILER] I think there are about 50 pages of this book that could have been a little better spent.
So, overall, I've really enjoyed the series as a whole. I just wish the finale had been placed in the hands of someone prepared to do it right. The various plot-lines had been built up and woven together far too effectively to be so casually brushed aside for a pretty banal and by-the-numbers conclusion. (less)
No one but the nerdiest of geeks would suggest that Star Wars books are attempting to do anything besides offer some quick, easily digestible entertai...moreNo one but the nerdiest of geeks would suggest that Star Wars books are attempting to do anything besides offer some quick, easily digestible entertainment. That said, there is a subtle continuum along which the quality of the series are presented. There are a few that are distinctly horrible, offering up only predictible wish-fullfilment, cashing in on the familiarity of a few stock 'Star-Wars' tropes, and not creating any kind of characterization to invest in. Then there are the few that become exceptional pieces of sci-fi, taking the cliched archetypes of what are admittedly tired characters and viewing them from a slightly different angle, giving the reader something interesting to chew on and elevating it beyond the typically embarrassing geekishness.
"Rule of Two" lies exactly in the middle of that continuum. It doesn't quite manage to avoid the predicability and cliche-ridden standard Star Wars plot, but the protagonists are the bad guys, which is just novel enough to make it interesting.
Author Drew Karpyshyn seems to have taken Darth Bane on as a little pet project, and that also helps the novel. He's not just writing the book for a quick paycheck. He actually is interested in the character, so he's eager to offer up some depth to what, back in the Bantam days would have just been an "All Powerful and Cool Villain!" So both the Sith Lord and his coniving apprentice have real personalities, and I actually found myself rooting for them. They both have had interesting little arcs spanning across this and the previous book in the series, and I hear there is a third in the works, so Karpyshyn will have still more space in which to paint these characters.
Unfortunately, no matter how invested the author is in Bane and Zannah, he's still working with a pretty pedestrian plot.
If a third book comes out, I'll no doubt buy it and read it as well, but like the first two books in the series, it'll probably wind up in THE PILE, and go back to HalfPrice books, not having stirred my interest quite enough to earn a spot on my shelf with the more superior Star Wars books I've grown attached to and opted to keep.(less)
If you're not a Star Wars nerd, then don't even bother reading this review. In it, I will be writing under the premise that the Star Wars novels are s...moreIf you're not a Star Wars nerd, then don't even bother reading this review. In it, I will be writing under the premise that the Star Wars novels are something to be taken seriously. They're not, of course (supposed to be taken seriously, that is), but when reading guilty pleasure fare such as the "Republic Commando" series, it is best to heed the advice of Roger Ebert, who states that when criticizing something, you should judge it based not on what it is about, but how it is about it. And though the topic of this book (clone troopers raised to be perfect soldiers looking for love and freedom in a galaxy at war) is a bit silly, Karen Traviss treats her subjects most seriousl, writing a damned good novel about a rather silly premise. If you're not a Star Wars nerd, you may not be able to get past that premise. But if you are willing to judge it on its own terms, this is a novel definitely to be absorbed and enjoyed.
So, the review.
To begin with, I've always felt that Star Wars novels are at their best when they shuffle the main cast off to the sidelines and focus on secondary and even tertiary characters (what's the word for the fourth level?) Luke Skywalker and Han Solo are interesting characters to an extent, but the stakes are never very high. Back when Bantam was still publishing the EU books (that's 'Extended Universe' for the uninitiated), I felt guilty reading them not because I was indulging in geeky fun, but because I was paying Hardback Novel prices for crappy cookie-cutter stories where nothing of any import happened.
With the exception of the original two EU series (Zahn's Thrawn trilogy, and Anderson's Jedi Academy trilogy), my favorite stuff was the X-Wing series. Michael Stackpole took background character, mixed them with a handful of original creations, then turned them loose in the Star Wars universe. THAT was interesting.
Karen Traviss has a similar remit with her "Republic Commando" series, and she does an equally entertaining job. Actually, maybe a better job, because not only does she create a basket-full of new interesting characters, she also fleshes out and makes rather compelling the backgrounds and personalities of Clone Troopers, giving them their own unique little society; she explores (here as well as in her contributions to the recent "New Jedi Order" novels) Mandalorian society, and practically builds an entire world around their mercenary culture; and she establishes a rather credible and sad series of events that would lead to Clone Troopers suddenly, and without question murdering their Jedi generals. And the kicker? She does this with characters based on a video-game!
I'm one of the few who actually enjoyed the majority of the Star Wars movie prequels, but there were tons of places where George Lucas skimped on cause & effect storytelling in order to give us big plot twists and shocking turns-of-event. With the "Republic Commando" series, and particularly with "Order 66", Traviss fills in a lot of those gaps, and in my opinion, provides four novels that actually enhance the films. Yes, I said it: these books actually make watching the movies more enjoyable.
The above comments could be read as a review of the series as a whole, but there are particular things about "Order 66" which should probably be mentioned.
For example: Traviss's decision to not actualy mention the eponymous contingency plan until well past the half-way point in the book. A part of my brain was wondering if there were any Star Wars fans out there being massively disappointed with a novel named after a huge turning point in Episode III that didn't seem all that concerned for several hundred pages with mentioning said turning point.
You see, Traviss hasn't set out to write a novel about big action set pieces and explosions and wars and battles. Though all of that is in the background, she is far more interested in writing intimate studies of a few of her characters. Most of the individual members of Omega and Delta squads are pretty thin on character, but the few she singles out (Etain, Darman, Fi, Skirata, Jusik, and even a little of Scorch and Vau) are so well drawn that when things go south in the book's finale, its surprisingly heartbreaking to see everyone put throught he wringer.
And as for the finale, it works so well because Traviss takes such care to keep contigency order #66 under wraps until very late in the game. If you've seen the movie, then you already know what is going to happen. So instead of simply indulging in the obvious melodrama that Order 66 could bring about, Traviss lets her readers watch the cast go through their lives, naively planning their futures and exploring their new freedoms, while you, the reader, cringe since you know that everything is going to end in catastrophe. It was a subtle choice I honestly didn't expect to find in a Star Wars book.
I've read almost every Star Wars novel written, and I've never had any urge to read the non Star Wars stuff by any of the EU authors. I hear Kevin J. Anderson and James Luceno and Michael Stackpole have written all sorts of other great sci-fi. But frankly, I don't care. The Republic Commando series actually has me wondering if maybe it would be worth my time to go check out some other Karen Traviss works. I'm honestly that impressed with her writing.
If you're a fan of the EU, don't miss this series. Karen Traviss has easily written the best Star Wars books of the last ten years.(less)