Star Wars: Phasma (a review)

Hey everybody,
Yesterday, I finished reading the latest new canon novel in the Star Wars universe, Phasma. One of the new “Journey to The Last Jedi” books, the novel is very much in line with previous books that we’ve had in the run-up to The Force Awakens back in 2015, providing no real meat for the rumour-hungry, but just teasing tidbits for the new film.

Right then, time for a return to some #StarWars I think! #Phasma #TheLastJedi

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The book takes place somewhere around the same time period as last year’s Bloodline, with most of the book forming a frame story around Phasma’s past on the post-apocalyptic world of Parnassos. We meet Captain Cardinal, a stormtrooper tasked with training the children taken into the First Order’s ranks, as he interrogates the Resistance spy Vi Moradi. Moradi has been researching several high-ranking First Order personnel, which makes her the exact tool Cardinal needs to take down his hated rival, Captain Phasma.

Moradi’s tale is basically Phasma’s life, and is told through several extended sequences that are lightly dusted with a return to the interrogation. We see Phasma encounter General Brendol Hux after his ship crash-lands on Parnassos, and their trek across the desert to find it and thus salvation from the harsh world.

Once Cardinal thinks he has enough information that he can discredit Phasma as the poster-child for the First Order, he confronts first Armitage Hux, and then Phasma herself, with dire consequences.

I have to say, I was not really a fan of this book. For the most part, it felt like Mad Max, not Star Wars, and once I was done with it, having had some time to reflect, I really don’t think this is the sort of backstory that I wanted for Phasma. Sure, I’m not really sure what I did want, but I don’t think it would have been this.

This is really turning into a theme for me with these new canon novels of late. I think it boils down to the fact that we’ve had a number of years of new canon material now, and yet the universe still doesn’t exactly feel like a cohesive place, really. Part of this has to do with the fact that we’re still waiting for the new trilogy to resolve, of course, but I’ve read a good number of these things now, and I don’t feel at home within the universe as I used to. I don’t feel that I know anybody, or anywhere, or, really, anything.

I’m trying not to be negative about these novels, because I’m sure that a lot of work is going in, behind the scenes, to keep the narrative more focused than it ever was under Bantam, but at the same time, my expectations for new Star Wars novels have been reduced so much, I’m quite shocked that I’m even still buying them. (And don’t get me started on the comics!)

Now, don’t get me wrong, the story is a fine tale, and the concept of the framing device is quite interesting within Star Wars literature generally. My biggest gripe, I suppose, is that there’s still that air of expectation around the novel as there was with Aftermath; for sure, Phasma seems to be a major player in the next movie, so a book about her origins is bound to be a big-ticket item. There are some interesting slants on the First Order that we get later in the book, as well, but in the main this is the tale of how Phasma met Brendol Hux, and how she escaped her origins on a backwater world. Mad Max fans will possibly enjoy the feel, but even then, any story that involves a foot-slog across a desert is bound to get tedious after a while.

If they stay true to form, we’ll get a novel next spring/summer like Bloodline, which will vindicate the publishing programme and fill us in on several of the details that couldn’t be discussed before the new movie hits.

Which leaves me thinking – why not just publish different stories in the run-up to the new movies, if they’re not going to give us anything really meaningful?

Ghostmaker

Hey everybody!
Earlier this week, I finally finished reading my way through Ghostmaker, the second novel in the Gaunt’s Ghosts series. I won’t deny, it was a tough slog to get through this one in the end, not as good as the first, but get through it I did… let’s take a look…

Back to the Ghosts tonight! #Warhammer40k #GauntsGhosts

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The novel is set on the world of Monthax, as the Ghosts are preparing to fight another onslaught of Chaos Cultists. However, the actual story of this action doesn’t really begin until about 100 pages from the end. The majority of the novel is taken up with reminiscences from several key members of the regiment, tied together with a couple of pages of Gaunt walking the trenches and reassuring his men on the eve of battle.

We get to see Gaunt arrive on Tanith for the founding ceremony, and the Chaos invasion that ultimately destroyed the world. We see extended flashbacks from Major Rawne, Mkoll, Larkin, Corbec, and others, which somehow manage to interweave among each other as well as helping to inform the final story section, where the Ghosts storm a ruined building on Monthax and find a small group of Eldar from Craftworld Dolthe, who are trying to seal a webway portal to which the Chaos cultists are so desperate to gain access.

While the structure of a series of reminiscences like this is quite a tried and tested formula for telling a story, I found that it irritated me the longer it went on in this particular instance. I generally don’t read the synopses on the backs of novels like this, but had somehow caught sight of the fact that the Ghosts were going up against the Eldar, and so was looking forward to seeing that – as a result, every time I read about something else, I felt somehow cheated by it. The book isn’t a bad one, and fans of the series no doubt will appreciate the character portraits that emerge as we get to see more of individual Ghosts, but I felt that the endless flashbacks got in the way of a story that I wanted to read.

And that’s the great shame about Ghostmaker, for me. I know that, ultimately, the novel isn’t really about the Tanith vs Eldar battle, but the final chapter that actually details the fight is actually really interesting, and I wish that there had been some way of peppering these flashbacks into the narrative while throwing the focus instead on the “present” story.

I think I might have another break before making it on to Necropolis, anyway!

First and Only

Hey everybody!
I think I’m slowly getting somewhere with the new house after The Great Move 2017 – still waiting for someone to come fit a new kitchen, but these things can’t be rushed, it seems… Anyway! I have the internet again, which is a joy, as trying to write blogs on my phone is a nightmare, so less of that now!

While waiting for everything to fall into place and whatnot, I’ve been reading a few things I’d been putting off for a while. Sure enough, they’ll no doubt all make their merry way onto this here blog in due course, as I ramble inanely for a while, but today I wanted to talk about the Gaunt’s Ghosts series that I’ve just started to read anew, starting with the opening novel, First and Only.

YEAH! #Warhammer40k #GauntsGhosts

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This book series, by the venerable Dan Abnett, was originally published all the way back in the mists of time known as the 1990s, and I have memories of picking my way through it sometime after starting work in the early 2000s. Not really being a 40k enthusiast at the time, I didn’t really get a lot out of it, and it’s therefore small wonder that it had been the first and only 40k novel that I read for about a decade.

However, I’m back now, and I’ve been buying up the books in the series ready for my glorious return to it! Ever since Horus Rising, I’ve always had a real soft spot for Dan Abnett, and look forward to starting any of his 40k novels with gusto.

First and Only is the introduction to the Tanith First & Only regiment of the Imperial Guard, led by Colonel-Commissar Ibram Gaunt. The novel is told in pretty much linear fashion across six Parts, each separated by a single chapter entitled “A Memory” that usually then foreshadows something in the subsequent Part. The structure is quite novel, to me, as I don’t really think I’ve read a full-length novel told in the same manner.

The story follows the Tanith regiment, nicknamed Gaunt’s Ghosts, and their rivalry with the Jantine Patricians as they take the forge world of Fortis Binary, which has been tainted with the warped powers of Chaos. After the battle, Commissar Gaunt comes into possession of a memory crystal that provides the catalyst for the main thrust of the story. Gaunt and his Ghosts become pawns in the ambitions of Lord General Dravere’s efforts to become Warmaster of the Sabbat Worlds Crusade, and the Ghosts eventually learn that the crystal holds information that could provide the tipping point for Dravere’s bid for power.

Dravere is helped along the way by the Inquisitor Heldane, who has appeared since in Abnett’s Eisenhorn trilogy (for me to know – he may also be elsewhere, of course, but I was excited to see a familiar face pop up!). I thought the handling of the antagonist group of Heldane and Dravere, and the Jantine Patricians, was actually quite interestingly done – the story pits the Imperium against Chaos, but Heldane and Dravere aren’t truly on the side of Chaos, yet remain viable threats to Gaunt and the “good guys”.

While this is definitely military sci-fi, there’s also the sniff of a spy thriller around the central act, and I particularly enjoyed the almost le Carré-like inclusion of Gaunt’s spy-friend Fereyd. There is definitely a lot going on in the book, and once I’d managed to get into it, I have to say that I really enjoyed it and devoured the story in no time. (It helped that I was stuck on a train for a couple of hours on Friday).

I have to say, though, it did take me quite some time to get into the book. Quite early on, we’re introduced to what feels like the entire regiment, and it felt like a lot to take in. As time wears on, however, it’s relatively straightforward to keep track of who everybody is, but having a cast of 20+ people from the off, and trying to keep them all straight in my mind, did prove a little difficult at first!

But that’s a minor quibble. The book is fantastic, with a really well-told, cinematic story that is totally worth picking up. I know a few people who re-read them every so often, and I can definitely see myself joining those ranks as time goes by!

Space Marines Legends: Cassius

Cassius

Hey everybody!
I’ve been continuing to make my way through some Warhammer 40k novels lately, riding the wave of 8th Edition and general positivity towards the IP, and have recently finished the first book in the Space Marine Legends series. This series began earlier in the year, and has been looking at a different, well, legend of the Space Marines! I’ve not been all that interested in pursuing the others in the series, which include spotlights on Ragnar Blackmane, Shrike and Dante, though the Azrael book may be of some interest. Anyway!

Cassius follows the Ultramarines’ chaplain as he leads an assault of the combined Third and Fifth Companies against the Tyranids on the world of Kolovan, close to Forge World Ryza and the Sol System. The Tyranids are dangerously close to Terra, and the hive fleet must be stopped before it can destroy the heart of mankind. Cassius leads the troops in pushing back the advance, only to discover that the world had already fallen before the Ultramarines’ arrival. However, with the discovery of a Magos of the Adeptus Mechanicus’ bioweapon that could potentially destroy the Tyranids, the Astartes launch an attack on the hive ships themselves in orbit. Ultimately successful, the space marines are nevertheless depleted by their losses, and decry the fact that few, if any, will ever learn of the importance of their sacrifice.

The novel is fast-paced and fairly short, as it happens, running at around 220 pages. This seems to be a bit of a trend these days, and while part of me quite likes the fact that novels of this length feel more like a movie that I’m enjoying, I’m nevertheless saddened by the fact that it’s £12.99 for more a novella than anything. The story is good though, if a little wacky towards the end – though I always find it vaguely silly whenever the space marines board a Tyranid vessel.

The Ultramarines chaplain is front and centre during the book, as you’d expect, and we do get to learn a little of the chaplain’s role within the chapter. Throughout my reading of it, I kept thinking about how much I’d like to get back to painting space marines, and even how much I’d like to start doing something with those Tyranid models from Shield of Baal! More than I think any other Warhammer novel that I’ve read recently, Cassius has made me want to buy and paint miniatures, which I think says it all, really! It was a good read, the only downside for me was the price. But this seems to be standard for hardbacks from the Black Library these days, so I can’t really hold that against it.

Dark Imperium

So last week, I read Dark Imperium, the tie-in novel for the new 8th Edition goodness for Warhammer 40k. If I’m honest, I was expecting something completely different to what the book ended up being, but the story is so good anyway, and I’m still a little caught up in the new 40k that I enjoyed it all the same!

The book opens sometime in the 31st Millennium, and shows the battle between Fulgrim and Guilliman that resulted in the primarch of the Ultramarines being put in stasis for the next 10,000 years. We then fast-forward to a century after the events of the Gathering Storm, but we’re still somehow in the 41st Millennium, and we see Guilliman leading the destruction of a Chaos temple at the Battle of Raukos. Success over the Chaos forces leads to a Triumph similar to that at Ullanor all those millennia ago, where Guilliman decrees the Indomitus Crusade over. The Primaris Marines that had been created for the purpose are filtered into some pre-existing chapters of Space Marines, as well as formed into several new ones, and the primarch then marches back to Ultramar to do battle with his daemonic brother Mortarion. Arriving back at Macragge, Guilliman re-forms the worlds of Greater Ultramar back into the empire as he knew it, establishing a tetrarchy to govern them, and then leads the Spear of Espandor assault, believing Mortarion’s power base to be on that world. Unfortunately, Guilliman was mistaken, although manages to destroy a warp-crafted daemonic engine to cripple Mortarion’s hold over the segmentum.


As I said at the start, I really liked this book, despite the fact it wasn’t what I had been hoping for. Rather than showing the return of Guilliman and the arrival of the Primaris Marines in the galaxy, instead we learn quite early on that the novel takes place a century after the events of Rise of the Primarch, and deals mainly with the continued adjustments of Guilliman to the world he now finds himself in. On reflection, I think it was probably better to do it this way, as we don’t really need the endless “this is different, and this is different, and so is this” and so on. Guilliman still finds things like the ecclesiarchy difficult to grasp, and a good chunk of the novel deals with his struggle to accept the worship of the Emperor as a god. But he otherwise functions not so much as a man out of time, which could have gotten old quickly, but rather as a man with different ideas.

I’ve never been one to go along with the accepted denigration of the Ultramarines – indeed, I actually like their Roman aesthetic and have long wanted to build an army of them. I’ve not yet made it to the Horus Heresy novels that deal with Guilliman in any significant way, however, so it was nice to finally get to read about the man. In his way, he’s just as interesting as any of the other primarchs – I like the fact he’s described as capable of devouring so much technical information with barely a glance, it makes him so much better than merely “good with a gun” or something, and really forms that link with the Ultramarines as being good statesmen and not just warriors. However, I did think he came across as a bit too much of a tyrant during the Council of Hera, issuing his demands like an autocrat and just slapping down any objections. Though I suppose the Imperium needs someone to cut through the incredible bureaucracy and make things happen…

I think the tone of this novel felt very much like it was meant more to give us the feel for how the universe now is in 8th Edition. The setting hasn’t changed in the manner of Age of Sigmar but, much like the Gates of Azyr, this book feels like its main point is to give us a taste for the new landscape that we can expect to see games developed within. For starters, we see Guilliman trying to make sense of the Imperial dating system, and we learn that there have been a number of calendars in operation, and nobody can say with real authority what the year actually is – in this way, then, we can be a century after the events of the Fall of Cadia, and yet remain within the 41st Millennium. A nice, subtle bit of retcon there, that doesn’t feel outside the bounds of possibility for this universe.

A lot of the battles feel almost vignette-style, which I do enjoy as it means we don’t get a lumbering mess but rather get a story that sweeps along quite well. For instance, the Battle of Raukos is quite self-contained, and there are a couple of actions described within the realm of Ultramar that tell just enough of what we need to know for the story to keep going. I think this is especially important with Warhammer novels that deal with Nurgle, though Khorne can be a similar issue, where the plot gets bogged down in all the gruesome details and so on. There are only so many descriptions of marines wading through effluvia that I can read, you know? The Fall of Altdorf did this really well, as it happens, but there have been times where I do feel myself growing quite ill reading the endless descriptions of filth-encrusted folks.

The book is quite Ultramarines-centric, and I think anyone who appreciates the 13th Legion and its descendants will be happy to see what’s going on. I particularly enjoyed a number of scenes that show such luminaries as Captain Sicarius, Captain Ventris, and Marneus Calgar himself all show their attitude to the return of Guilliman. When the Triumvirate of the Primarch box was first shown, many folks were wondering how Calgar would feel as his place was essentially usurped, though we see that Guilliman is in fact forced to deal with much more than just his own Ultramarines as the Imperial Regent. I wonder if/how that position will change as we get more loyalist primarchs released in plastic. Being a fan of Graham McNeill’s Ultramarines novels, I did enjoy seeing Uriel Ventris return here!

We also get a sense of time moving on within the Imperium, although admittedly this might pass some people by. For example, the Chapter Master of the Novamarines is said to be Bardan Dovaro, whereas we’ve previously been told it’s a chap called Gaius Hadraichus. Admittedly, I only know this because I’m building an army of them. In the main, of course, this sense of time passing is given through seeing the attitudes to the new Primaris Marines, which overall seem to have been accepted by the regular marines of old. A subtle hint that we as players and collectors should also just accept them? I did get the impression at many times that this is almost a catalogue for the new marines, much like Gates of Azyr and some of the early Age of Sigmar stuff seemed to be advertising the new Stormcast Eternals. We get to see the Intercessors in action by and large, which seem to be more akin to the Tactical squads of old. The goofy Inceptor marines are given a really amazing introduction during the Battle of Raukos, though however badass they come across in the lore, the models still look vaguely silly. And we get to see Hellblasters too, which seem to be a specific name for plasma-wielding marines, and makes me think we’ll get similar squads carrying massive melta versions and las versions of those plasma incinerators. Further versions of marines are mentioned, including the Reivers that seem to be a stealth squad that has no previous version, and the Aggressors, which sound like the Primaris versions of Terminators. The repulsor tank and the redemptor dreadnought are also featured. Inevitably, reading about these new chaps made me struggle to get a sense of them in my mind, and the similarities to AoS kept me thinking more about them as models on the tabletop than characters in the story. That’s probably more down to me than anything else, however!

Overall, it’s a very interesting book, and definitely worth picking up for anyone with an interest in the 40k universe to see where we’re headed!

Star Wars: Thrawn (a review)

Finished the new #Thrawn today! #StarWars

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At the weekend, I finished reading the latest new canon Star Wars novel, Thrawn. I know that this is becoming a theme for me with new canon novels lately, but if I’m being completely honest, I was not a fan.

The storyline follows Thrawn’s climb through the ranks of the Imperial Navy, starting with him attending the academy. Thrawn in school? Urgh. True, it isn’t quite the true Hogwarts experience, but… I mean, seriously?

Okay, so the story immediately starts with a basic retelling of the Mist Encounter short story written for the Adventure Journal, which details how Thrawn was discovered on an abandoned planet close to the border with the Unknown Regions by Voss Parck. Captain Parck returns here very briefly, as he discovers Thrawn and brings him to the Emperor as “a gift”. Turns out, Thrawn met Anakin Skywalker on some nebulous adventure during the Clone Wars, and the Emperor, believing his power to originate somewhere outside the known galaxy, wants to keep Thrawn close.

Thrawn is given the cadet Eli Vanto as a sort of translator/aide as the two go through the naval academy, graduate, and begin their career. We follow the two as they pursue smugglers and pirates, and tangle with the High Command as Thrawn inevitably shows up his superiors. In the middle of all of this, we also follow the career of Arihnda Pryce, who hails from the Outer Rim world of Lothal but travels through the Coruscant elite until she has enough dirt on high-ranking Imperials that she basically forces Tarkin to give her the governorship of Lothal. The character is one I’m not familiar with, though was convinced I’d heard the name somewhere – turns out she’s from Rebels, where I believe she’s kind of a badass. I still haven’t started watching that show yet, though. Her character development is a little jumpy as a result of trying to get her from A to B, though that is still symptomatic of Thrawn also, who sometimes feels like he went through years of growth in the space of a chapter.

Thrawn

Thrawn has been brought out of Legends and into the Star Wars canon proper thanks to his use in the Rebels cartoon. While I’m not against this fundamentally, as I’m all for keeping the classics alive, I’m a little dismayed that he doesn’t seem to be the same guy that I came to know and love from Heir to the Empire all those years ago. True, we have the art thing going on, and he’s still in command of the Chimaera (a point at which I actually cheered), but he doesn’t feel like the same guy who is in control of everything. Of course, this book tells his origin, but this brings me to the point I was getting at in the video above – did we need this story? His inclusion in Rebels seems to indicate that yes, we do, but for years we’ve pretty much made do with the couple of short stories by Zahn that show specific points in Thrawn’s life, and that’s been fine. Do we need to see Thrawn at school? Do we need to see him as Lieutenant, Commodore, Captain, and the like? I don’t think we do.

Something that I always appreciated about Thrawn as a character was the element of mystery that was involved there, how an alien had risen so high in the ranks of the largely xenophobic Empire. I mean, sure, we had a lot of snippets of info dropped throughout the years, but those snippets felt like they were a part of his legend, and that was enough. I also really enjoyed the fact that we never had a point-of-view scene from him – everything was always told through the filter of, primarily, Captain Pellaeon. Now, we’ve seen behind the curtain to some extent, and I’m not sure I want that.

Speaking of Pellaeon, his replacement appears to be Eli Vanto, who probably has the most character development of any of the characters. Vanto goes from a supply cadet to being on the frontline, and moves from being resentful and almost jealous of Thrawn’s career advancement, to content at being where he is, and improving in tactical nous and leadership. The novel ends with an epilogue that kinda confused the hell out of me, though, where Vanto suddenly appears in the Unknown Regions making contact with the Chiss Ascendancy on the recommendation(?) of Thrawn, who is now Grand Admiral. It seemed to come out of nowhere, and I have the strong feeling that there is going to be a sequel of some sort that will follow up on this. The sad thing for me, then, is that I don’t know if I’d actually want this…

This is really the biggest issue for me with this novel. As a book, it was fine, I think it was a fine story that is actually pretty enjoyable. The biggest problem for me is the fact that it’s about Thrawn. If it was any other character, I think I would have been really interested all the way through. But the baggage that I have from Heir to the Empire fandom really gets in the way, and I find that I really can’t get past that. Heir to the Empire will forever be among my top three (if not the top) Star Wars novels ever written, and this unfortunately just doesn’t really come close.

Aftermath: Empire’s End

Hey everybody,
Well, it’s been a slog, but I’ve finally made it through the third book in the Aftermath trilogy, Empire’s End. It’s been a slog for many reasons, not all of which are to do with the book itself, weirdly. But I have to say this now: this book just feels too weird to me, and I’m not sure exactly how I’m going to review it. Prepare for lots of spoilers, and also lots of rambling!

The book continues the story of Norra, Sinjir, Jas and Temmin, alongside the daemonic Mister Bones, as they continue to pursue high-ranking Imperials for trial. Discovering the Imperial fleet has assembled around the dirtball planet of Jakku, they head into the Western Reaches and almost get shot down – Norra and Jas make it to the surface in an escape pod, though Mister Bones is also ejected to look after them. Point number one on the weirdness chart: Norra abandons her son in the middle of a warzone in order to pursue her vengeance against Grand Admiral Sloane. Having previously abandoned him to go fight with the Rebellion, I find this woman to be utterly reprehensible, and literally went from having any interest in the character to absolutely zero sympathy in the space of a couple of sentences. At pretty much all of her subsequent appearances in the book, she just irritated the hell out of me, and I just can’t explain how awful this woman is.

Moving along, though!

Temmin and Sinjir return to Chandrila to warn the New Republic of the Imperials above Jakku, but they’re in the middle of electing a new Chancellor, as well as relocating to a new planet, so there’s a lot of politicking going on. A massive chunk of the book is then taken up with the manoeuverings of Mon Mothma, Leia, Han and Temmin and Sinjir (along with Sinjir’s former boyfriend, Conder), which seems to rob any sense of urgency that Jas and Norra being abandoned in the middle of the Empire ever had. Point the second on the weirdness scale.

Mon Mothma (who has always been referred to by her full name until this book, where people casually call her “Mon”, again a weird thing to me) is opposed by Tolwar Wartol, an alien whose world was subjugated by the Empire, the natives only managing to throw off that yoke by destroying their world to make it useless. Tolwar actually makes an assassination attempt on Mon Mothma’s life, but is thwarted in this. Sinjir takes up a job as Mon Mothma’s aide, along with Sondiv Sella (whose daughter Korr would later become Leia’s aide in Bloodline).

Anyway.

The Empire has been brought to Jakku by Gallius Rax as a failsafe planned by the Emperor back in the day. We slowly learn that Palpatine, thinking if the Empire fell, planned to relocate outside of the galaxy and create a new Empire there. Comparisons are made with chess, and it’s all very, very weird. Rax comes across as slightly mad (though not as bad as Yupe Tashu, who is definitely insane), and plans to destroy the failed Imperial Remnant as well as the New Republic fleet over Jakku, but cracking the world in twain. Lots of things break and snap and crack in twain throughout the book, and it’s all very archaic. But anyway.

Sloane and Brentin attempt to break through Rax’s defenses with the help of the thin Hutt, Niima, but the Imperials get the better of them and both are captured, though not held prisoner – Rax wishes Sloane to see the death of the Empire and the Republic. Things don’t go entirely as planned, however, when the New Republic eventually shows up and, after an uninteresting space battle, manage to tractor-beam-pull a Super Star Destroyer down onto the surface of the planet. Yeah, that happens.

So Rax sets the world to blow up, but is followed into his lair by Sloane and Brentin, and ultimately Norra too, and there’s another confusing fight between first Rax and Sloane, then Norra and Rax, then Brentin is shot, and finally Sloane and Rax again. Sloane kills Rax, who tells her with his dying breath of the Imperialis yacht that is waiting to take off into the uncharted realms with the future of the Empire on board – Brentol Hux, Armitage Hux, and a group of feral child-warriors. The yacht is a replica of the ship stolen by Lando and co in his comic book, by the way…

Sloane shuts off Rax’s doomsday device, and leaves in the Imperialis, while Norra is rescued by Jas and they manage to take Brentin’s body back to Akiva for burial. Niima begins to claim the enormous amounts of salvage that have resulted from so many spaceships crashing into the planet – you may recognise her name as being shared by the Outpost where Rey sells her tech in The Force Awakens?

Throughout all of the book, Leia has been pregnant, and Han hasn’t known what to do with himself, what with Chewie on Kashyyyk with his family. Leia finally has her baby boy when the formal peace accord is signed between the New Republic and the Empire, Mas Amedda finally having escaped Coruscant with the help of some children. Norra heads off to Corellia to teach piloting with Wedge, Temmin being among the first intake of students, and it all ends a bit sugary, somehow…


Throughout the novel, we also get Interludes that tell tales of what is going on across the galaxy, and they have to be some of the best parts of the book. We see Lando reclaiming Cloud City with the help of Lobot and some New Republic soldiers; we see Mas Amedda’s escape from Coruscant; we even catch up with the weird asexual pirate from the previous book. Notably, we also catch up with Jar Jar on Naboo, and learn that he’s now entertaining people as a street clown. That interlude is actually really quite emotional, and I wonder if anyone will re-evaluate how they feel about the Gungan in light of this. I really liked these things, but having now seen the structure of them across all three books of the trilogy, I’ve been wondering if it wouldn’t have been more interesting to have made the three books feature these stories more prominently…

See, these interludes predominantly have one common theme: the galaxy is a changing place. I sometimes wonder if this book isn’t a little too self-aware, and the interludes are casually showing us that the universe is no longer the swashbuckling adventure-ride of the Bantam era, and everything we thought we knew is wrong. Conspiracy theories aside, the interludes have a tremendous sense of “anything can happen now the Empire has fallen”, and I absolutely loved this freshness from them!

Aftermath trilogy

Overall, I think the Aftermath trilogy has got to be among the weirdest, uneven fiction set in the Star Wars universe. It’s not Bounty Hunter Wars awful, don’t get me wrong, but I just don’t think it’s that great for it to hold up against the old canon stuff. I’m not about to lurch into a “back in my day” rant, but this stuff essentially replaces most of the X-Wing series of novels, and a good portion of the Thrawn trilogy, as well. I think the X-Wing series is probably a very close comparison here, actually, as those novels were also propelled by characters from outside of the movies, and we even get to see Wedge form a squadron of washouts (Phantom Squadron, rather than Wraith Squadron, but you get the idea). Now, I used to be a big fan of the X-Wing books, but went off them when I last re-read the series. Even so, the basic premise of those books is somehow a lot more interesting, and certainly a lot more tightly-wrought, than this trilogy. While Mike Stackpole and Aaron Allston may have assembled a cast of tropes and grafted them onto the universe, the main characters from this trilogy just don’t honestly feel like they belong there. The most interesting character, to me, is Sinjir, and the way he is treated as a drunken smart-mouth is really quite the waste.

I think a lot of my negativity on this score has to do with the distinct lack of movie characters involved in such a big story, though. There’s literally no Luke; Leia spends pretty much the whole book being pregnant, and Han does have some moments, but he’s once again the cocky smuggler, though feeling out of his depth with fatherhood pressing down upon him, and his interactions with baby Ben near the end once more seem to fly in the face of any personal growth he may have made over the course of the original trilogy. When I think of how present the big three movie characters were in stuff like the Thrawn trilogy, and compare that to this, it is just a crushing disappointment. There is still an important story being told somewhere in these pages, for sure, but it’s told through a focus being on entirely the wrong people, in my opinion.

The trilogy certainly had a tall order when it began: connect Return of the Jedi to the as-yet unreleased The Force Awakens. The hype for the novel was insane, and I’ve talked already about how much of a let-down I felt it was. Life Debt, without having quite so much weight on it, wasn’t exactly a great book, but I did find a lot to enjoy there. The conclusion to the trilogy, however, seemed to set itself up to fail almost immediately, having a massive story to resolve, yet following only a part of that.

There are still a number of questions left, for me, which also makes it feel like something of a let-down. I mean, we only learn a modicrum of what exactly the Emperor was planning out there beyond the galactic rim, with Thrawn’s name thrown into the mix in a manner that is clearly intended to anticipate Tim Zahn’s new book that is set to release in April. The whole plot with the Imperial Remnant was by turns confusing and weird and bad, and I feel like a trick really was missed here. Indeed, I feel that the entire point of this element of the book was just there to explain why there are so many wrecks on Jakku in Episode VII. There are so many things that I wish had been focused on in this novel, but instead we got to meet the withered Hutt of Jakku and her weird slaves…

All through writing this blog, I’ve been trying to think of something good I can say about the book. True, I did like a lot of the interludes, and wish we’d had more of those, or that they had been expanded upon. We also get some throwaway bits sprinkled into the mix, such as the canon confirmation of Durga the Hutt being a character in the lore, here said to be based on Ulmatra. Things like this made me feel annoyed, because there is a story between the lines that I want to be reading instead. The main thrust of the story just felt like such a lacklustre way to end this.

To sum up: this book (and really, this trilogy) just didn’t do it for me.

While this entire blog has pretty much felt like an attack on the whole trilogy, I think it’s important to say that you should still read the book for yourself, or get it on audio or whatever. I am a huge believer in forming your own opinions on stuff anyway, but in particular I think it’s important that any Star Wars fan picks up these novels to take a look, as I feel the story will be crucial background in the years to come. While it’s true that this message is perhaps a bit disingenuous to come at the end of a long ramble about what I disliked about it, I would still say read it for yourself first – and then by all means come back here and we can talk about it!