Friday, April 13, 2007

REVIEW: LotF Exile

Author's Note: I've been invited to be a part of the TheForce.Net Books staff, so the way reviews will work is that they'll be posted over at TFN first (as they get dibs on the reviews), and then a few weeks later I'll post them here on this blog. My little essays about SW EU (such as this recent one discussing the relationship between midichlorians and YV slave coral) will continue to be posted here as I write them. Thanks for reading and May the Force be with you.


Exile is the latest addition to the Legacy of the Force series, telling the continuing story of the descendants of Anakin Skywalker as the galaxy once more falls into civil war. It is written by the esteemed Aaron Allston, and contains all of the hallmarks of an Allston novel: clear, concise starfighter battles, wonderful characterization, subtle humor, and a solid grasp of what a Jedi is. Say what you want about the man, but he knows how to write, and more importantly he knows how to write Star Wars.

The characters and characterizations are brilliant. They are vibrant and three-dimensional, realistic and most importantly flawed beings. This brilliance shines through especially in the case of Ben Skywalker. He's a petulant teenager having the first pangs of maturity, realizing that those around him, the giants and heroes of the galaxy, aren't exactly infallible, and between all this, Ben takes giant strides in growing up here. For the first time since the death of Anakin Solo, we're being given hints of a character that could conceivably be worthy of being a Star Wars archetypal hero. Then we're given brilliant representations of the Skywalkers, the Solos, the Horns and the Antilles. Yet, the character that surprised me the most, in terms of sheer characterization, was Kyp Durron. We finally get to see Kyp acting like a Jedi Master as opposed to the perpetually guilty brat from the New Jedi Order and Dark Nest trilogy series. He's wise, he's sarcastic, and he shows up various government officials.

The plot is fairly standard Star Wars fare: we get a bit of dialogue, a bit of politics, a bit of space battles and a bit of lightsaber action. Though don't get me wrong, there's nothing wrong with standard fare, provided that it is written well, and here, it is written well. That said, there is one big disappointment for me in this regard and that was in Ben's plot. Allston had set up the potential for a serious bit of man-versus-environment story telling, and it's over in just a few chapters, and there's not really any man-versus-environment conflict. I thought that was a tad disappointing, mainly because we have never seen a man-versus-environment story in Star Wars. I mean we'll get occasional bits like the Ben part here or Luke & Han on Hoth during the Empire Strikes Back- but we haven't really seen a story about one of our heroes fighting the environment, and by extension themselves. We almost exclusively have an enemy (be it human, alien or creature) which the heroes are fighting against. Is this bad? No. But it would be something that we hadn't really ever seen before in Star Wars, which is a good thing.

The settings were the usual fare, and Allston, as always, is beautiful with his descriptions of starships. For example, in less than a sentence, he gives us a perfect description of a Carrack-class ship; one that is not overly detailed but one that provides the reader with a general thought of what the ship should look like. As is usual for Star Wars novels, we're given a whole host of various planets to visit (and I think that might be why I like Allston's earlier novel Starfighters of Adumar so much, with so many locations even on just a single planet). Overall, like I said, the settings were typical Star Wars and again that's not a bad thing, especially since the characters shine so well here.

The overall style of the novel is pure Allston. The dialogue works well, and feels in-character all round. The writing is simple and contains a clarity that is always refreshing (I find myself reading fairly complex documents on a nearly daily basis for my job, so clear, concise, simple writing is always a breath of fresh air for me), though this is not to say that the story itself is simplistic - but rather that it is accessible for the readers.

Theme-wise this is a very multi-faceted story but there is still an overarching concept of what constitutes right and wrong or good and evil. This concrete duality between light and dark has been a focal point of the Star Wars series since the beginning and was seriously blurred during the NJO. This novel, especially Ben's parts in it, goes a long way to... well not exactly answer the questions about what is light and what is dark, but formalize them in the context of Star Wars, the characters and the EU mythology as a whole. It doesn't really answer these things for the reader, but frames the question to make their answer less ambiguous both within the Star Wars universe and to the fans as well.

Overall, I was happy with this novel, and it reminded me why I love Star Wars. The story is well crafted and solid, but above all it is fun. Yet where the novel shines is the characters. They are beautifully done and I'm truly impressed. I whole heartedly recommend this book and I'm giving it a 3.7 out of 4.

Rating: 3.7 of 4

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