Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Review: Sacrifice

The latest Star Wars: Legacy of the Force novel is out. It's Karen Traviss' hardcover entry entitled Sacrifice. I can admit something, here and now. I wasn't looking forward to this book. Despite the title, despite the Darth Who contest, despite the fact that it's the mid-point hard cover for the Legacy of the Force series, I expected two things, first that nothing exciting would happen and secondly that I wouldn't like the book. On the back cover is the following blurb (in addition to the dust jacket blurb):

To bring peace and order to a galaxy at war, Jacen Solo will sacrifice anything -- or anyone. Now the moment of choice is at hand...
And that's a good blurb, for one of the plot lines found in the book. The other plots are discussed briefly on the inside of the dust jacket but it's obvious that they're pushing Jacen's journey here as the main focus of the novel. I'm not entirely certain that that's a good decision, as I've serious questions on whether or not Jacen is a strong enough character narrative wise to carry the franchise forward.

As in her previous novels Traviss provides a handful of tight third-person POVs to propel her narrative forward. In this outing, the characters whose heads we get into are Ben Skywalker, Jacen Solo, Mara Jade Skywalker, Luke Skywalker, Lumiya, Niathal and Boba Fett. That's quite a list of point of views to wade through and keep track of.

The first I want to discuss is Ben. Ben here stays very true to the Ben that we've seen in the previous outings, especially as he deals with the happenings of the previous novel and his time on Ziost. After that, we get even more bad things for Ben in the form of another mission from Jacen.

Secondly, we have Jacen himself. Jacen does have the most happening in this novel. He's finally coming out from under Lumiya's umbrella here and we even get hints of just what is going on in his head these days. Yet, this Jacen still doesn't feel quite the same as the one that Denning and Allston wrote about in their novels. I'm still not certain if that's just due to the events of the novels or if its just fundamental differences in interpretation of the character or if it's just an issue with Traviss not being able to write Sith Lords that well.

Frankly, I find myself wanting to give Ms. Traviss the benefit of the doubt and say that it is due to what is happening during the novel, but I'm going to withhold that judgment call until I can sit down and read the entire series in what is effectively one fell swoop. The other important part of the advancement of Jacen's character here is the Darth Who contest. Which was the contest to name the next Sith Lord--which unless you've been living under a rock since Traitor is Jacen.

Next is Mara Jade. Mara Jade does a LOT in this novel. She's very true to her roots as an Emperor's Hand here. While there were a few issues with her saying (or thinking) terms which did not seem quite herself, but that said, her character felt more like Mara here than she did during Bloodlines which is a good thing. I would like to say more things about her character here, but a lot of that would fall quickly into spoilers.

So instead, I'll jump onto Luke. We didn't see nearly as many scenes from his POV as we did his son or wife, but we do get him a lot of character growth from him in this novel. We finally deal with the change from Luke the Jedi Knight from the Bantam era to Luke the manager that we've had since the NJO ended. Specifically, we see Luke's own thoughts on this change. How he recognizes that he's different. And I liked that a lot.

Lumiya and Niathal really didn't need to be POV characters. The thing is that some storyline needed to be told, and they were the most convenient POV available. It's a drawback to tight third person, but is not a bad thing, nor is it necessarily a good thing. It just is.

Boba Fett, and by extension all of Karen's Mandalorians are just there. Boba resolves a few issues and generates a few more, but I still have to question the validity of a Boba Fett who has such a daddy complex. Sure, watching your dad be beheaded by a Jedi when you are a youngling will have an adverse effect on your psychology, but come on, that was decades ago. Boba Fett is worth billions of credits, he should be able to easily get a psychoanalyst to help him deal with his emotional baggage. After all, he recognizes that it is there, only an idiot would recognize a problem and then do nothing at all about it.

Then you have the secondary characters who pop up in support of your POV characters. Jaina Solo, Kyp Durron, Cal Omas, Mirta, and Lekauf fall into this category. The biggest oddity among those is when we have Kyp being referred to as a friend by Mara (which is odd, since everywhere else, they're barely on speaking terms one to the other). On the other side of things, Jaina Solo finally decides that she is going to buckle down and be Sword of the Jedi (and is told that she should just pick one or the other of the two hanger-ons in her life).

The novel's plot is split into three parts: hunting for Lumiya, Jacen angsting, and Boba Fett and the Mandalorians.

The hunt for Lumiya is just as it sounds. Mara Jade hunting down Lumiya. This is where we get to see Mara return to her roots, and we do get to see a lot of her psychology in the mean time as well. Of the three plots, this is probably my favorite, even in spite of Mara still saying things that just don't seem Mara. What I really liked here though was the push away from whitewashing Mara's past that has been going on since the Hand of Thrawn. We're once more given the dangerous, assassin Mara. I just wish she had shown up during the NJO.

The Jacen angsting plot is just that. Jacen doing Jacen things. I know that it's necessary to push forward the overarching storyline. I know that we're being given important thoughts and concepts here. But I frankly, just don't care. Despite everything Jacen has done up to the final sentence of this novel, I still don't feel that he's a Star Wars Villian. He's definitely a bad guy, but he's just not strong enough to run the show, at least long term, and if he gets redeemed, I doubt he'll be able to run the show as a Hero long term either.

Finally, we have the Mandalorians. I still don't see where this whole plot line is going, nor why it needs to be in her books. Allston and Denning don't touch the Mandalorians at all, so we only get them a third of the time. They are ultimately bit players on the galactic stage, more concerned about their own sector of space than anything else. I'm left with cold sweats, expecting random Dues Ex Machina solutions involving them to clean up all the problems over the next couple of books. Imagine, Boba Fett and his Supercommandos as the LotF's Zonoma Sekot. Yet, I'm an optimist, and I can only hope that there's a reason for the Mandalorian subplot and that there's a reason why Allston and Denning don't touch it. Unfortunately, I am afraid that it is an empty hope.

The settings and other descriptions are much more fleshed out, and more accurately fleshed out than in Bloodlines. While we're still not given anything huge by way of description, the various places we visit don't all feel the same. One gets the sense of the rustic when on Mandalore with Boba. One gets the sense of ancient temples during the climax of the novel. And one gets the sense of the city while on Coruscant. It's not so much that they're described in excruciating detail, but it's how the characters react to things. Boba notices the heat from the smith's fire. Luke grumbles about traffic. Little things like that.

Of course this lack of detail is troubling as well. The Bothans get a new type of warship in this novel. But we don't know what it is called. Nor do we even know what it looks like. What we do know is that it has five unarmed tenders and a lot of guns. But is it a square or a tube? Does it have wide, sweeping wings or is shaped like a Bothan assault cruiser? We're just not told. The other new ship was produced by the Mandalorians and called the Bas'ulik. As opposed to the Bothans' ship, we are given half-way decent descriptions of this fighter. Which of course is better than the X-wing in every way. After all, the Mandalorians made it!

Okay, maybe I am a bit bitter about the pages wasted on the Mandalorians when we're not given a reason for them actually showing up.

Unlike Bloodlines we're not given an overriding theme for this novel. There's just too many subplots up in the air, and there's a lack of an overarching plot for the entire story. In Bloodlines the Boba, Han and Jacen sub-plots met up into the events on Corellia at that story's climax. Here, there's no connection between the Mandalorian plot and the rest of the POV character's plots. I'm not certain if that was done on purpose or if it is due just to the nature of having to deal with the overarching LotF plot line. Additionally, I'm not certain if that lack is a good or a bad thing. I didn't miss having it while reading the novel, but wonder about its lack now that I'm writing the review.

The mechanics of the story were done well. I cannot remember a single typo or grammatical error while reading the novel. This I like. It always makes me happy to see a book that is free of mistakes like this. Like I said during the Mara character bit though, there were some dialogue choices for her that I found not quite Mara-like. There use jarred me from the story, as I stumbled over them. I think the ultimate problem with those bits of dialogues were that it was just too Earth-like. Did it happen a lot? No, just one or two times, but it was still something that jarred for me. Even better than that though, is the lack of continuity flubs that I noticed while reading. I have the vague feeling that I spotted one while reading, but couldn't remember where or what it was later.

Overall, I liked this novel a whole lot better than her previous entry, Bloodlines. I felt that she paid closer attention to both exiting canon and existing characterization. The Luke, Mara, Ben and Jacen that I read here felt more like the ones that Alston and Denning write than the ones that she provided us in Bloodlines. Frankly, it was as if she read my review for Bloodlines, and then wrote Sacrifice with the issues that I raised in mind. I know that that isn't what happened, but I'm just happy that this novel feels more like a post-RotJ Star Wars novel.

One of my complaints about Bloodlines was the thought that I could have missed the entire novel, and it wouldn't have mattered as far as the overarching LotF plot was concerned. Above all things, this was my biggest worry for this novel. After all, hardcovers are nearly thirty dollars these days. I'd hate to feel like I read a filler novel that set me back thirty bucks. Fortunately, that wasn't the case here. A number of big things happen in this novel, some of which will hopefully push some stagnant characters into new directions.

I give this novel a solid 3.2 out of 4.

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