Chad Bearden's Reviews > Allies

Allies by Christie Golden
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's review
Jun 01, 2010

it was ok
bookshelves: star-wars-novels
Read from June 01 to 07, 2010

"Allies" is another disappointing entry in the "Fate fo the Jedi" series for mostly the same reasons the rest of the books have been subpar, with the added disadvantage of being written by Christie Golden, whose knack for writing the young-adult tone is as uncanny as it is annoying.

To get the gist of things, you really have to examine "Allies" from both the macro- and the micro-level.

Looking at the big picture, this entire series frustrates because of its elementary complexity and scope. For instance, the previous multi-novel arc (the rather impressive and intricately plotted "Legacy of the Force") featured an over-arching plot centered around Jacen Solo's gradual descent into the temptations of the dark-side. Each novel upped the stakes a bit as Jacen took baby-steps to accomplish what he rationalized as justifiable goals, each novel building on the last until he finally hit a tipping point, tumbled down the slippery slope and descended past the point of no return.

The new series seems like it wants to accomplish a similar goal, with a handful of storylines that are hit upon in each novel, but where the previous series offered each novel as the next rung on a ladder to the climax, "Fate of the Jedi" offers novels that feel like we're walking on a treadmill to nowhere. The main bad guy, for instance, is Abeloth, the mysterious entity causing all the z-list Jedi to go crazy (nothing raises the stakes like sacrificing a red-shirt!). But it took three entire novels just to find Abeloth! And had the journey to find her been interesting, that wouldn't have been a problem. The problem was that nothing in any of those novels had anything at all to do with Abeloth! The plots of the those novels was basically: 1) somebody points out that Abeloth is a threat to the ENTIRE GALAXY based on z-list Jedi going crazy. 2) Luke sets out to find her, but keeps pausing in his quest to have a completely unrelated adventure on the planet of the week. 3) repeat.

Even after we met her in part 3 of this series, Aaron Allston spent the entirely of volume 4 having an adventure on Dathomir without even mentioning Abeloth! Granted, we do finally meet her in person in #5, but whether it was bad plotting by the 'Fate of the Jedi' braintrust, or bad writing by Christie Golden (probably a little of both), the confrontation is pretty anti-climactic, to say the least. One is left with the feeling that Abeloth's role in things isn't quite wrapped up, not because of any ominous foreshadowing, but because they can't possibly have spent five novels hunting her down to have her story end like that.

Remember all those old Bantam one-off novels? "Darksaber", "Planet of Twilight", "Children of the Jedi"... They got old real fast because no matter how hard they tried to convince you that the villain was some menace to the entire galaxy, you knew that within 300 pages or so, Luke, Leia, Han, and Lando would always meet up in the last few chapters and put the kibosh on the nefarious master-plan and the re-set button would be conveniently hit in time for the next novel.

That's how "Fate of the Jedi" feels, only instead of everything being wrapped up by novel's end, the current powers-that-be have decided to stretch things out into NINE novels! Because wouldn't it have been great if "Planet of Twilight" had been 2,700 pages long!!

So that's the big-picture problem. Even within this frame-work, Troy Denning was able to wring out an almost readable book with volume 3. "Allies", unfortunately has the black-hole of characterization and subtly who is Christie Golden at the helm. And with her come many many many little nit-picky problems which, instead of distracting from the over-arching issues (like Denning managed to do), rather highlight them. There be SPOILERS below...

1) Golden sucks at culture building
Karen Traviss did an incredible job developing the culture of the Mandelorians over the course of seven or so novels taking place in different time periods. Christie Golden apparently has been tasked with a similar remit, this time with the Kasheri Sith. Both of her novels have featured them quite heavily, and one of her original characters, Vestara, is allegedly important to plot. But Golden sucks at creating believable characters, much less an entire culture. Her Sith are comprised entirely of Lucius Malfoy-like back-biting malcontents. The cartoonish over-the-top Malfoy evilness is fine for the cartoonish universe of 'Harry Potter', but in the Star Wars universe (which plays a bit more gritty and realistic, inasfar as that's possible in a sci-fi space epic) it just comes across as infantile. At every turn, Golden tries to impress with all of their supposed Machiavellian scheming which always boils down to: 'I'm evil and I'll kill and betray people to get ahead'. She's doing a clinic in writing one-dimensional characters. She includes some strange attempts at trying to make them seem noble and cultured and refined. I keep feeling like I'm supposed to have a grudging respect for her Sith, but again, their mustache-twirling keeps getting in the way of their supposed nobility.

2) Golden does excellent pre-teen melodrama
Christie Golden couldn't create a believable character if she followed an actual person around all day with a video-camera and just published the transcripts. Every single person is a stock-cliche that is eye-rolling in their flatness. The worst victim this time around is Luke Skywalker himself who seems to have thrown all diplomacy and tact out the window and instead acts like a petulent child throughout the novel. There are a couple of great drinking games you could play with "Allies", one of which is to do a shot every time Luke turns to Gavar Khai or his daughter and tells them how much he thinks they suck. He practically ends every sentence of conversation with them with, "Oh, and by the way, I think you're an asshole".

The other victims are Jaina and Jag. As nonsensical and out-of-character as their whole engagement plot has been, Golden handles the 'Boy Loses Girl' phase of the romance with all the deftness of an airline worker tossing a suitcase onto a conveyer belt. Golden spends an entire chapter giving us the details of the Klatooinian judicial system by way of a weird and superfluous trial (more on that later), but dedicates a single sentence to the build-up of Jaina deciding to call off the engagement. Seriously. See page 132: they're quarreling (which they do pretty non-stop in the other books as well) then at the bottom of the page, "Jaina froze, like a statue, for a long moment." And that's pretty much it. She tosses his ring back to him, and its over. Why now? Because in pre-teen novels and episodes of Disney Channel fluff, girls ramp up emotionally and overreact at the drop of a hat, and 'pre-teen' is how Christie Golden rolls.

And don't get me started on how unbalanced a character Daala has become. Its laughable how incongruous her conversations are with her chief-of-staff about how she's trying to do the right thing with her actual actions. In the last novel, a possibly intresting dynamic arose between Daala and the Imperial Moffs manaeuvering to oust her from the presidency. Daala seemed to realize that she needed to win the public over to her side if she was going to maintain any semblence of power. So naturally, even though the public seem to be softening up their opinions of the Jedi (which is a somewhat arbitrary move in itself, as several novels were spent demonstrating why the public were super-pissed at the Jedi) Troy Denning had Daala send Mandalorians to attack the Jedi Temple to retrieve the crazy Jedi, which completely backfired. Daala's master plan to win public support by doing something everyone would hate turned out, in hindsight, to be a bad master plan. The next logical step, then, in Golden's eye, is to have Daala do the same exact thing again, only this time adding in the unnecessary murder of an innocent to further piss off and alienate the public. All the while, Daala has somber conversations with her aide wondering why everything is going so wrong. (commence eye-rolling).

3) The planet-of-the-week subplot has reached a new low
As pointless as it felt to visit Dathomir, or Kessel, or the Kathol Rift in the last few novels, the visit to Klatooine reached new levels of stupid. To begin with, the reason they went there in the first place had nothing to do with the plot, but was just a stalling mechanism. Literally! Luke comes up with a nonsensical plan to team up with the Sith, but needs to borrow a ship from Lando for vague and arbitrary reasons. Lando says it will take a while to get the ship prepped for the ill-defined mission, so Luke and Ben and Vestara and her evil dad go hang out on Klatooine until the ship is ready. So going to the planet is already an eye-rolling exercise in wheel-spinning.

But then things get really stupid. The comically evil Sith decide that they want to steal a famous planetary landmark that is the hub of a political treaty that dates back Twenty Five Thousand Years!!! That's right, 25 and three zeros! Golden even italicized it once for emphasis! Apparently, the treaty in question keeps the Klatooinians enslaved to the Hutts, who have agreed to protect the afore mentioned planetary landmark, a big glass/stone fountain. But in a plot contrivance that would be at home in an episode of Pokemon, no one is allowed to bring any kind of modern technology with a several kilometer radius of the fountain. Not even the people protecting it! Therefore, this massively important fountain which is crucial to the existence of a treaty that has lasted for twenty five thousand years!! is being guarded by people weilding spears and nets (I'm not making that up). Oh, and there was also a wall built around it, but someone knocked a hole in that by driving a speeder-bike into it.

Naturally, when the Sith show up to debase the fountain, they can't stop laughing at how stupid this all is, and have zero trouble sheering off a piece of the strange glass/rock to take back to their evil mother-ship. And naturally, even though this odd arrangment has apparently worked for twenty five thousand years!!, the Sith wreck everything on their first half-hearted try, and throw all of Klatooine into a planetary riot.

And then there is the aforementioned chapter where Lando and Jaina have to serve as mediators in a trial that determines that 1) the Hutts who were supposed to be protecting the fountain didn't do a very good job, and 2) the Sith are evil. Well no shit.

4) "I see your point."
In lieu of writing a plot that logically leads from one thing happening to another, Golden resorts to the short-cut tactic she used in "Omen". It basically goes like this:

Character 1: I've drawn this very odd assumption that doesn't really fit the evidence in front of me but is necessary for the plot to move forward.

Character 2: But that doesn't really fit the evidence we have in front of us.

Character 1: That's true, but if you don't believe me, the plot can't move forward.

Character 2: I see your point.

Seriously, that's drinking game number two. Do a shot every time a character says some variation on the phrase, "I see your point".

5) Christie Golden expects the reader to "see the point"
* Example #1: Golden has characters going to drastic measures to prove how horrible a threat Abeloth is. They practically rend their flesh and gnash their teeth they're so troubled. But what has Abeloth actually done? The back cover of the book reads: "Only one thing could unite the forces of the Jedi and the Sith: an enemy far vaster--and deadlier--than both." And what could spell vast and deadly evil more than that random Jedi we made up last chapter going crazy and having to be locked up! Oh, the terror!! What unspeakable act will Abeloth commit next? Well, she almost kills the new Jedi companion that we just made up last novel, but when she hears Luke and Ben coming, she runs away and hides in a cave! EVIL!!!! Abeloth could possibly be the single most impotent threat to the galaxy ever created in the Star Wars universe.

* Example #2: Luke and Ben agree to team-up with the Sith, because...Wait. Why did they team up again? There is an extremely hazy conversation about this early on between Luke and Gavar Khai, the main Sith we deal with in "Allies". Partly, it seems the alliance hinges on how horrible Abeloth is, with Khai mourning the way his Sith younglings are going crazy just like the Jedi. We have a common enemy, so we should work together. That kind of makes sense. Only it doesn't seem Luke actually believes Khai, what with the Sith being all evil liars, and when Khai indeed reveals that he was lying all along, Luke doesn't seem all that surprised. So maybe Luke is just using the Sith as a means to an end? Maybe Abeloth is so horrible, that even if the Sith are lying about their motivations, the benefits of teaming up with them outweigh the risks? Maybe? Except Luke pretty much defeats Abeloth by himself by stabbing her once during a fight. The Sith play zero part in the 'climax' of the story.

Reader: But Ms. Golden, you say this alliance is important in that it will facilitate the defeat of the Greatest Threat The Galaxy Has Ever Known!! But based on events in the book, the Sith contribute nothing to Abeloth's downfall.

Christie Golden: That might be true, but without the alliance, the title of this book, "Allies", would make no sense, and we'd just have to skip over this whole book and get straight to the next one.

Reader: I see your point.

6) The Star Wars EU apparently has a Black History Month
Completely out of left field, Golden inserts a clunky "Underground Railroad" subplot. There have been subplots in storylines past where oru heroes fight slavers and free downtrodden captives. But Golden's lack of subtly makes this feel like a very special episode of Star Wars.

* * *

I can't imagine anyone is still reading my review at this point. If you are, you win a cookie. It's just that everything about "The Fate of the Jedi" series and choosing Christie Golden as one of its authors is so monumentally wrong-headed that it brings out the best/worst in me (depending on your point of view).

Good God, I can't wait for this series to be over so we can start over with something new, fresh, and hopefully, containing logic and purpose.
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(Jen) The Artist Librarian Blaster bolts, I'm not even going to attempt to write a review after seeing all of the well-written reviews here (like yours). Well done --the only reason I'm still reading this series is just to see what happens to the characters I've "followed" 5+ years of my life. =P

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