Chris (The Genre Fiend)'s Reviews > Traitor

Traitor by Matthew Woodring Stover
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it was amazing

Last night, I erected a new bookshelf and finally got all my Legends books out of storage; a friend's collection I saw the other night prompted me to rescue my own from the depths of my garage. Putting beloved (and some accursed) books on the shelf made me remember things. Most of those stories were as crucial to my childhood and teens as Dragonball Z, internet porn and English muffins (though not all at once). Of all the books I put on the shelf, spanning several decades of narrative and publishing history, Traitor was one of the ones that stuck out to me the most.

Matt Stover should've absolutely been allowed to write more Star Wars books than he did. His four bites at the apple are fantastic, with Traitor probably being the biggest and juiciest. Of all the writers from the now-Legends canon who made bigger names for themselves in a galaxy far, far away, Stover would be right at the top of my list of authors - alongside Karen Traviss, Timothy Zahn and Drew Karpyshyn - who should have a crack at writing in the new canon.

It's been a number of years since I last read Traitor, but I feel confident enough in my recollection of it to say that it is, quite simply, unlike any other Star Wars books I've ever read. It's weird. It's metaphysical. It's (at times overwhelmingly) philosophical. It's got action. It's funny. It's heartbreaking. It has probably the smallest Dramatis Personae of any Star Wars book, and certainly of the entire New Jedi Order. What Stover accomplishes in terms of character and plot development in 300-and-change pages' worth of novel is the kind of feat that authors like Kathy Tyers (Balance Point) and Troy Denning (Star by Star) couldn't quite accomplish with their respective NJO entries.

This almost feels like the Star Wars equivalent of an artsy play; minimalist cast, few settings and a largely straightforward plot based predominantly on dialogue and character interactions. Jacen Solo, held captive by the Yuuzhan Vong following the fall of Coruscant and the events of Star by Star, is interrogated/questioned/taught/enlightened/mentally screwed with my Vergere, the mysterious Fosh Jedi/Sith/Force user/something else altogether. This happens while the Vong deal with owning the planet at the heart of the galaxy and their own internal struggles. Oh, and (view spoiler) shows up for reasons. Not that I don't like the character, but their immediate inclusion felt odd - until you reach the book's third act, and the entire thing becomes staggeringly clear.

I've loved Stover's writing both in Star Wars and his own books - Heroes Die is a particularly great example of his ability to switch styles and tenses at the drop of a hat - and Traitor represents what I consider his best work in Lucas's universe. Every character is written with confidence, and Stover pulls off an excellent balancing act between Vergere's enigmatic nature and her more blatant, philosophical side. It's tough to walk the line between good and evil that characters like Vergere and Nom Anor inhabit, but Stover manages it seemingly effortlessly.

It's funny that, despite all my gushing praise above regarding plot movement and character development, Traitor is really more of an interlude, a calm between storms. NJO readers had just gone through Aaron Allston's great Enemy Lines duology, itself on the heels of Star by Star (and the damnable Dark Journey). Traitor was the breath before the plunge that led to Destiny's Way (one of my other NJO favourites), The Final Prophecy and the excellent conclusion of The Unifying Force. But even as a bridging story between narrative acts, Traitor does enough that it works as its own self-contained story.

Granted, you'll be lost in parts if you're not flush with the NJO's backstory, and it's not an entry-level book for new Star Wars readers. But if you approach it with an open mind, prepared to have your interpretations of the Force, the Jedi and the Sith turned inside out, then you'll have (what I remember is) a richly rewarding narrative experience. I still remember Traitor very fondly years after reading it; even after divorcing my nostalgia for it and having a quick flip through once again, I can tell that it's still great.

Now bring Stover into the new canon, please.
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
May 11, 2013 – Shelved

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