Spoilers for the first two books, because it can’t be otherwise.
I actually don’t think I can write an adequate review of this book without massive spoilers in general – and really, how do you review the third in a series of five, and do justice to it and the characters and everything else? So why am I writing a review? – mostly because I just want to note having read it, and remind people that THEY SHOULD READ THE SERIES.
This series is monumental, and much as I want to rush through and devour the last two I think it is a good idea that I leave a little time between them. Without that space I would just fall into Gwyneth Jones’ world and be lost for a while. And I’m not sure that would be entirely healthy, because being like Fiorinda, Ax and Sage is not a healthy place to be. Fi is suffering in the aftermath of the death of Rufus O’Niall and the murky, difficult discovery/growth/development of her ?magical abilities (they’re definitely magical, but they’re also kinda maybe something else). Sage is in a weird place in the aftermath of Rufus’ death and his own experimentation with the Zen State, and is even more conflicted than Fi over the status of his relationship with the other two. And then there’s Ax, kinda caught between them and kinda leading them on, reluctant to use his political clout but desperate to change and improve things nonetheless.
This part of the epic is different from the others in being set in Mexico and America, which brings some large changes: for a start, the trio are popular but not idolised; feted but not mobbed. For another, the USA was not affected by the technological losses and massive shifts in attitude that impacted on the UK with Dissolution Summer and the internet viruses, so this feels a bit more familiar, a bit more ‘real life’. Which is actually a bit weird when you’re used to having the heroes in a recognisably other place. There are also more fractures between the central trio and their band, their merry band, of cohorts – understandable after a few years of high-stress, high-weird life.
Many things happen. There are tragedies, averted and not; there are adrenaline-laced adventures; there are still, reflective moments of contentment. Characters develop and some change a lot.
You have to read the first one, and then you’ll probably be hooked.
I read my first Star Wars book. AND I LIKED IT.
Set a few years after the events of The Return of the Jedi, Han and Leia are married and expecting twins, while Luke is trying to figure out how to be the best Jedi he can. All three – but especially Leia – are trying to figure out how you go from being rebels to being politicians and actually make a galactic empire work, which any revolutionary will tell you is damn hard work. The story here is partly about that, which could make for a rather dreary story of political machinations, but is largely driven by the fact that not everyone is happy with the overthrow of the Emperor, OH NO PRECIOUS THEY’RE NOT. Grand Admiral Thrawn is devoted to the idea that he is a fitting heir to the Emperor, and he’s got some spaceships and a bunch of soldiers and some rather tricksy plans to try and accomplish just that.
Look, it’s no Ursula le Guin or Gwyneth Jones. But it is, surprisingly to me, really quite enjoyable. I think Zahn captured Han and Luke’s personas and dialogue quirks quite nicely – Leia felt a bit ‘newer’, mostly because I think she actually got a bit more air time as a real human being here than she did in any of the films. So that’s nice. I did enjoy the interplay between Han and Leia as they continue to adjust to married life; Han is accepting and generally supportive of Leia’s political role, if frequently concerned that she’s pushing herself far too hard.
One of the more intriguing aspects of this as a novel is that it takes full advantage of being in third person, and carries on the tradition of the films, by showing the actions of the villains as well as the heroes (and various apparently chaotic-neutral characters) in rather surprising detail. So while the reader doesn’t know exactly all of Thrawn’s devious schemes, we get to read about his attempts to find and recruit his own Jedi dude; plus there’s Talon Karrde, who I’d never heard of before but kinda fills the slightly-dubious-businessman-cum-smuggler that Han no longer has, thanks to going completely straight, and many of whose machinations the reader is privy to.
I don’t have the sequels yet, but I do intend to read them. I’m not in a screaming hurry, but I am dead keen. I’ve heard these are the best of the expanded universe, but I admit that I’ll probably seek out more, at some stage. Trying to balance a desire for adventure with the requirement to be a serious politician is intriguing.
Did I mention that I think this counts as my first media tie-in novel? How exciting.