Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Review: Revelation

This review is about book eight of the nine-part Legacy of the Force (LotF) series, entitled Revelation (ISBN: 9780345477576). It was written by Karen Traviss and clocked in at 410 pages. A wonderful length for a novel, especially one that is the penultimate issue of a multi-year, multi-novel story such as LotF. While I enjoyed this novel, there were definitely some things that it contained that gave me pause, and required that I re-read the book multiple times.

During this savage civil war, all efforts to end Jacen Solo's tyranny of the Galactic Alliance have failed. Now, with JAcen approaching the height of his dark powers, no one--not even the Solos and the Skywalkers--knows if anything can stop the Sith Lord before his plan to save the galaxy ends up destroying it.

Jacen Solo's shadow of influence has threatened many, especially those closest to him, Jaina Solo is determined to bring her brother in, but in order to track him down, she must first learn unfamiliar skills from a man she finds ruthless, repellent, and dangerous. Meanwhile, Ben Skywalker, still haunted by suspicions that Jacen killed his mother, Mara, decides he must know the truth, even if it costs him his life. And as Luke Skywalker contemplates once unthinkable strategies to dethrone his nephew, the hour of reckoning for those on both sides draws near. The galaxy becomes a battlefield where all must face their true nature and darkest secrets, and live--or die-- with the consequences.
Besides the first sentence of this blurb, it all amazingly matches up to the story that I actually read. That's an amazing feat especially after the blurb for Fury.

The plot revolves itself into three distinct components: Jaina and the Mandalorians, Police Officer Ben and Dictator-for-life Jacen. For a majority of the novel the three plot lines remain blissfully ignorant of one another, and as a compromise between Bloodlines' tie-all-the-plots-together-at-the-end, and Sacrifice's none-of-the-plots-shall-meet, two of the three combine at the end. Frankly, things like that are something of a large stumbling block for me. Yes, all three plots are resolved, but it just doesn't feel right for everything to not tie up into a single nice little package by the end of the book--but maybe that's just me.

Additionally, while the training plot line is an interesting exercise, I am left wondering why tells her this in so many words) in order to stop this latest in a long line of Sith? Additionally, the ? Being a good Jedi was good enough to redeem Kyp, Luke and Vader, as well as destroy Desaan, the Emperor reborn (twice!), Lomi, Welk, Brakiss and his entire Shadow Academy, stop Raynar and that's just the antagonists that I could remember right off the top of my head. Why is being a good Jedi suddenly not enough to stop Jacen? Sure, Jaina has spent many novels doing the whole emo-angst things over her boy toys, and obscene amounts of time in the flight simulator, but she's supposedly over that and now has the time to dedicate to becoming a stronger Jedi Knight. Why is it so important to stop being a Jedi (and BobaMando's are teaching her an "Ends Justify the Means" approach to doing things. They flat out tell her that she can worry about the state of her soul after she's stopped the bad guy--isn't doing just that what got Jacen where he's at? Yet that's neither here nor there at this point: we'll have to have the entire LotF in our hands before we'll be able to say if that was a good or bad story decision or not.

But with discussion on the plot out of the way, let's talk characters. As is usual for a Traviss novel, we have a number of tight POV characters which allows us to find out an extreme number of details about what the POV character is thinking and feeling, while ignoring the motives of everyone else that pops up in the story. Personally, I prefer a single POV if an author is going to go in so deep, and if so, I'd rather it be in First-Person--but again, that's just me. Back on topic, here we do get a decent number of characters to bounce between. These are Jacen, Boba, Jaina, Ben, Pallaeon and Niathal. Sadly, the voice which she worked so hard to actually get right in Sacrifice suffered slightly here. I felt that there were effectively four POV characters with these being: generic Jedi, Sith, military/political person and Boba Fett.

While most of their individual actions are fairly consistent with previous incarnations, we do get one major change in characterization: Jaina Solo. She acts so in awe of the Mandos and their culture that I even noticed it while reading under the influence of pain medication after dental surgery. In fact this meek, awe-filled Jaina is what caught me so off guard that I felt the need to re-read this novel not just one extra time, but twice. I found it infinitely odd that she acted so... amazed by the Mando tactics, despite the fact that she's a nearly thirty year old Jedi, who had fought the Yuuzhan Vong in one-on-one situations multiple times. Let's make this quite clear: she fought Vong, she created and engineered techniques and devices for the sole purpose of tricking the Vong and fighting them better; yet she is in awe that Bevin can turn off his emotions and swing a shaft of metal at her. I know it's been a bit over a decade since the Vong War for her--but she shouldn't have forgotten everything she learned in the interim; that's just silly.

And speaking of silly, I've got to continue pointing out the utter idiocy of choosing Tahiri as Jacen's replacement for Ben. I know I've harped on this over the past few books, yet she continues to act out of character, and happily doing Jacen's bidding. A far cry from the Tahiri that was found in the second half of the NJO and in the Dark Nest Trilogy. In my opinion, this is not Karen's fault per se, as she didn't "create" the scenario, and what she has written is a logical extrapolation based upon Tahiri's recent character... development from Inferno and Fury. I just don't like where things are going for her, and wish at least one of the POV characters was her so that we could get a decent handle on what the character is thinking.

My digression aside, as is usual for Traviss' novel, the Mandalorians have a large part to play. Unlike her earlier entries, we now have a reason for at least some of their appearance. Yet despite the fact that said reason has been supplied, it's still not a fully-thought out or well defined reason. The Mandos are there for the sole purpose of training Jaina Solo and providing yet another Prequel tie-in with a Jedi killing a family member of Boba Fett. This whole reliance of plots from the Prequels has been one of my major complaints about LotF and this falls happily into that category of needless prequel nods. Additionally, large portions of the Boba Fett storyline just don't need to be there, and once again affect the ways that people view Star Wars. Especially with all the discussions in the past few years about how Star Wars is not a story vehicle that is designed to bring dead people back to life. An oddly ironic statement to make in Boba Fett's storyline, but the fundamental thing here is that we get yet another resurrection in LotF; frankly I've lost count (so much for resurrections causing Star Wars to "jump the shark").

Yet, the undead aside, the characterization in terms of this book are fine. Sure, there were constant drops in characterization, and one or two times when the POV got confusing, but it's not nearly as bad as what was produced in Bloodlines.

Now for the theme. The title, Revelation, ties into the Jedi learning for certain that Jacen has become a Sith Lord. Something that should have been painfully obvious after he decided to burn the Wookiee's home world. Yet reading deeper into the subtext of the novel, I got the feeling that more than that is trying to be revealed here. Frankly, there are certain things that when one reads the text, become startlingly self-evident (at least in view of the text):
  • Mandalorians are the best at everything
  • Jedi are evil Fundamentalists!

How can I claim this? Let's look at things one point at a time.

First up is the Mandalorians. Most of our interactions with the Mandos are through Jaina Solo, our erstwhile Jedi Knight. Our first glimpse at the awesomeness of the Mando is the fact that she's there at all. In the words of the text, Boba Fett has hunted down and killed more Jedi than any one else alive. Aurra Sing aside, once Jaina arrives at Mandalore, she spends the rest of the novel in her 'awe' mode; letting us know just how great and wonderful every action a Mando takes is. A Mando can indiscriminately beat Jaina Solo with a stick, why? Because he's a Mando! A Mando can take a Jedi in a fight, why? Because she's a Mando!

Now, I know that the Mandalorians are Karen Traviss' pet characters (one would have to not read this book to find out that fact), yet at some point, one must step back and say, "hey, that's enough; the Jedi are supposed to be the good guys here." Someone needs to be reminded that the current crop of Jedi spent YEARS fighting against an enemy that didn't exist in the Force, who used melee weapons, and constantly used weapons which stopped lightsabers and blasters. None of this stuff is new to Jedi, yet if this were the first EU novel someone read, you'd never know that certain Jedi have extensive experience with amphistaffs and Vonduun crab armor.

Speaking of Jedi, on the 'evil' side of the "who rocks your world" equation is where we find them. Now, the text is as clear on the fact that the Jedi are not good, as it is clear that the Mandalorians rock. Outside of Jaina's awe, this is subtly handled especially in the Ben-as-cop plot. For the relevant text, we head over to page 42 of the book:
--but at that moment it made him realize that Dad would want Shevu to help, to be a spy in Jacen's inner circle. And Shevu would agree to it, because he couldn't get justice from the GA for the foreseeable future, and he was too decent and honest to turn to the Confederation.
Notice how staying with the GA is the decent and honest thing to do; now think back to what the Jedi did a few novels ago. Namely fled the GA, and are working closely with the Confederation. Yet, it gets better from there. We also get Pellaeon and Boba Fett at different times discussing how bad Jedi are at leading things--and both basically state that the Jedi are a religion that needs to be closed off and done away with. In fact, one Mando-ex-Jedi (I wonder if he'd be considered a Sith) goes so far as to state that the only thing that can save a Force user from basically becoming a blight on civilization (unlike, say... a Mandalorian) is rigid self-control by way of not using the Force at all.

The point is that the Jedi are being consistently compared to bad things. This is done in both a subtle manner (such as the quote above) as well as flat-out dialogue from Boba Fett and others. All of which adds up to a single revelation that the Jedi are not good for the galaxy, and are definitely not as good as the saintly Mandalorians. Additionally, these two forces are in direct competition with one another. You can either be a saintly Mandalorian (i.e. a good guy) or a Force-forsaken Jedi (or Sith, as they're just "fallen" Jedi). Which is the whole point of Jaina's training--she's becoming something else. Something that's not a Jedi. Something good enough to defeat Jacen, because you know, a Jedi just can't cut it.

Continuing on, I'm just going to ignore the continuity errors that are sprinkled throughout this novel--most are minor things, but they're odd. First, and most odd, there are some contradictions even within the text of the story (check on how often Jacen thinks about Jaina, look specifically at pages 154 & 325). Then there is the fact that when the author describes things that happened in Sacrifice those things do not always square up perfectly with the actual narrative--and we're talking major events like the whole climatic battle involving Jacen. Though that could be chalked up to unreliable narrators. That said, it's one thing to forget a factoid from a Marvel Comic that was published in 1981, it's an entirely different thing to forget a prime action scene in the author's own previous novel.

Let's be clear about something here though: I enjoyed this book.

I thought it was a decent read, and would have absolutely no complaints if it were not a Star Wars novel. Unfortunately, since it is a Star Wars novel that means that it must work nicely with everything that has come before it. In my opinion, this is Karen Traviss' main failing with her post-RotJ novels (I've not read the Republic Commando series so I can't comment on them). In the overall scheme of things, such a failing is not that detrimental to a storyline; and we've suffered such abuses of the characters before (Planet of Twilight anyone?). Overall, I enjoyed the novel, and thought it a great story to read. Yet, there's not enough cohesion between this book and earlier Star Wars novels, nor is there enough differences between the various "voices" of the characters to give this a perfect score. So, with those failings in mind, I'm having to give this book a 2.9 out of 4.

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