June Retrospective

Hey everybody,
It’s already time for another retrospective, and we’re suddenly already halfway through 2021! That soon happened. June has been something of a slow month for my blog, because I had the fairly huge event of my second daughter being born on the 18th of the month! Freya came into the world only a couple of days early, although completely unplanned as she couldn’t wait to join the world, so was delivered on the bathroom floor 😳 She’s been doing great though, and her big sister Phoebe is hopefully going to be a big help to us all, despite being only 21 months old, herself 🤣

I’ve been reading quite a bit, and was able to schedule a couple of book reviews to make sure that my blog didn’t just shut down for a few months as happened with the birth of the Firstborn. Master and Apprentice was a little disappointing, but I’m aware that I seem to be almost routinely bashing the new canon stuff, so I need to try to be better and approach these books a little more positively. Hopefully when I get round to stuff like the Alphabet Squadron series, I’ll enjoy them as much as I did Alexander Freed’s Battlefront novel.

I’ve really been on a bit of a Horus Heresy bender, though, partly because I’ve grown tired of continually making statements here along the lines of “I just want to read five more books in the series this year” and “I just want to make it to x, that’s only 4 books to get through”. I’ve been going back to read some of those anthologies that I skipped over back in the day, thinking I just want to read the actual story, and I’ve also been progressing forwards, getting to book 32, Legacies of Betrayal.


This is a bit of an odd duck, to me, being a collection of lots of short stories that previously saw release as audio books, or as part of the BL Advent Calendar that usually has shorter-than-normal stories. It kicks off with Brotherhood of the Storm, which is a novella prequel to the excellent Scars, and one story that I enjoyed quite a bit, even if at times it felt a bit superfluous. There are some interesting shorts in here that give us a tiny insight into how the war is going, such as Strike and Fade showing a group of Salamanders ambushing some Night Lords on Isstvan V while the dust settles. Veritas Ferrum is a short prequel to Damnation of Pythos, and shows the Iron Hands rescuing the Salamanders before they escape the Isstvan system – the sort of story could (should?) have been included as a prologue to the parent novel, but anyway. There are a couple of World Eaters stories by ADB that were quite good – I particularly enjoyed Heart of the Conqueror, which showed the internal conflict experienced by the ship’s Navigator – aware of the fact the Legion has turned against the Emperor, who she sees as a kind of saviour/patron figure, she kills herself and thus pulls the flagship out of the Warp. The stand-outs though, were Censure, which showed us the Ultramarines vs Word Bearers on the irradiated world of Calth (I had no idea that Kurtha Sedd was a character before the box set!) and Kryptos, which featured the Raven Guard/Iron Hands stealth assassin team from Angel Exterminatus. These stories were of a more traditional length, and were able to give a more proper development to the actual storyline they had.

So it was a curious book, overall, having a lot of short, forgettable, dare I say pointless little side stories, but at least I’m ploughing through – only another 23 books to go! 😳

There was some very exciting news about Arkham Horror LCG at the start of the month, with the change to how they’re going to publish cycles from now on, and last week we had the news that there’ll be a revised core set doing the rounds, which will feature a complete playset of the player cards, as well as some of those cards from later expansions to give new folks a better experience right out of the box. Otherwise, it’s still the same 5 investigators (albeit with new art) and they’re going up against the Night of the Zealot as before. I find it interesting that they’re choosing to do this, full playset of cards etc, as it seems to be indicating the shift of the LCG model away from what it has been, and instead making it more like the board game that it pretty much was anyway. I think it’s really exciting, especially if they can pepper the year with stand-alone scenarios to keep the attention on the game, rather than just relying on one, potentially two release events in a year.

Of course, there’s a part of me thinking perhaps this could be signalling the end of the game, as Call of Cthulhu went to a similarly concentrated release schedule of deluxe boxes only before it folded. But even if that were to happen, I think I’m pretty confident that this game has got enough content and playability in the existing cycles that I’ll be playing it for years to come!


Speaking of playing with old stuff, I suppose Lord of the Rings can now be counted as an older game that has finished! I’ve recently had some time to have a few games with this old favourite, playing the first three scenarios in the Angmar Awakened cycle. I was initially planning this for Christmastime, of course, but better late than never, I suppose!! I’ll post something next month going over these, anyway!

June has been pretty much all about rediscovering Magic the Gathering, after I’d found some cards in the attic that I have no real memory of buying! I’ve written a couple of posts where I’ve caught up with the recent sets, here and here, though I’m still trying to be a little circumspect with it, not flying off the deep end with buying cards left and right! I’ve got a couple of deck ideas that I want to share, too, so stay tuned for more on that front!!

However, the biggest game news from June came from Necromunda, when I was finally able to play a real game with James, my Delaque vs his Orlocks. That was a lot of fun – I knew I’d enjoy it, having previously solo played the game at the back end of 2020, but it was a whole load of fun with another person, and we’re planning to get more games and hopefully a campaign in once Freya is settled and the kids are sleeping through the night!


As a consequence, I’ve picked up the new Hive War box set! I knew I wanted more Delaque models anyway, and after playing with the zone mortalis stuff, I think it was clear that the Dark Uprising stuff, while excellent, wasn’t going to be enough for a 3×2 board. The cost of more Delaque and more terrain would be around the £58 mark at my local store, where I could also pick up Hive War for £71, netting me more Escher for just £13, as well as the new book and stuff. So that was pretty much a no-brainer, I thought!

The set is actually quite nice as a starting set, coming with enough terrain to play some games, but I’m pretty sure that even GW themselves tell you it’s only intended as a starting point, and you will get more out of it with more terrain. Which is fine, after all! The rule book, specific to this box, has got the basic rules in it, as well as some “starter” gang rules for all six House gangs, allowing you to build a gang using the box only and these rules. It feels pared-back, but this is the point of this box, remember!

When the Hive War box came out, we also had plastic weapon upgrades for Escher and Goliath (the original two gangs, remember), which seem to be a blend of weapons from the Forge World weapons kits for both gangs. I’m really hoping that, when House of Shadows comes out soon, we’ll also have plastic upgrades for Delaque, so I’m holding off from building too many more gangers for the time being! As I mentioned at the start of the week, though, I’ve started to poke my nose into House Escher, so I could well be making a move there in the coming weeks!

I feel like Necromunda is in a very exciting place right now, as we’re poised on that brink of “what’s next?” once the Delaque get their book.

That pretty much sums things up for now, anyway! I’m hoping that I can do a proper catch-up of the hobby goals sometime in early July – I had planned a mid-point check in for this blog, but I think I’m running a bit long here already. But stay tuned for that!

Star Wars: Master & Apprentice (a review)

Hey everybody,
It’s time to catch up with some book reviews! It’s been a few weeks now since I finished reading Claudia Gray’s prequel-era novel, Master & Apprentice, so let’s take a look between the covers and see what it’s all about!

The book is set roughly eight years prior to The Phantom Menace, based on Obi-Wan’s age of 17 when the novel begins. The book is very much an Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon adventure, borne out of Claudia Gray’s wish to write about the Jedi Master, although we do get quite a few flashbacks into Qui-Gon’s youth at the Jedi Temple, and so we also get to see Dooku in his Jedi prime!

It all starts on Teth, where Qui-Gon is investigating some criminal activity involving the Hutts. Along the way, we see that he has a fairly difficult relationship with his padawan, Obi-Wan. Upon returning to Coruscant, Qui-Gon is offered a post on the Jedi Council, and decides to take some time to deliberate upon it. Meanwhile, he is dispatched to Pijal at the express request of another of Dooku’s former padawans, Rael Averross.

Averross has been acting as regent of Pijal while the crown princess comes of age, and with the announcement of a new hyperspace corridor running through the system that would increase trade, things on the planet are becoming heated. The Czerka Corporation has a significant presence there, also, meaning that corporate greed is playing a healthy part in the political situation. Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan investigate some terrorist activity that is threatening the upcoming coronation of Princess Fanry, during which time Qui-Gon receives troubling visions of a possible future. At the coronation, Fanry is expected to sign over much of her sovereign power to Czerka, in a treaty that was partly negotiated by Averross in an effort to bring Pijal into the wider galactic community. Fanry, it turns out, has other ideas, and leads something of a revolution against Czerka’s authority. She is only brought to justice when her confidance later rebel against her, too, allowing the Jedi to bring the conflict to a somewhat peaceful conclusion.

Qui-Gon turns down the offer to join the Council, choosing instead to continue his tutelage of Obi-Wan.


Where to begin.

I really wanted to enjoy this book. Disney hasn’t really spent a lot of time or effort on the prequel era, so I thought it was interesting to get a book featuring such a prominent character as Qui-Gon. I had also seen some comment on the SW facebook group I’m in that mentioned how the book delves into the whole issue of Jedi prophecy. So I was excited!

We do get to learn something of Qui-Gon’s history with the prophecies, which goes some way to explaining his belief in Anakin in Episode I. I wouldn’t say that it felt shoe-horned into the book, but it didn’t seem to feel quite in the right place, unfortunately – seeing so much of the book in flashback felt a bit jarring, to me, and I found myself wishing that it had been handled a little differently.

Something else that I wish has been handled differently was the relationship between Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan. Some of it seems to be put down to the fact that Dooku was a little stand-offish as a Master, and I thought it was an interesting point that Jedi apprentices have something like regular school, and come “home” to their Masters. I suppose I just thought the Master/Apprentice relationship was firmly exclusive once a padawan was placed. But no!

Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan seem to have the kind of relationship that a father has with a child whom he does not properly understand. Qui-Gon was forever worrying that he wasn’t doing right by Obi-Wan, while Obi-Wan was forever worrying that Qui-Gon meant to abandon him and felt like he had been held back in some aspects of his training. It all felt a little bit too much – like, this wasn’t the relationship that I wanted to see them have! So that was a bit sad. I did understand where a lot of those emotions were coming from, and it was well-written in that I could really imagine this would be how two humans in this situation would react. It all seemed to stem from Qui-Gon’s offer of a place on the Council, and I was a bit flummoxed as to why that would even come to pass. Was it meant solely to pay service to Obi-Wan’s line in Episode I? Hm.

At least there are eight more years’ worth of stories that can be told with the two of them improving their relationship and working more on the same team.

I thought it was weird that the sort of major plot point was all about opening up a hyperspace corridor, like the galaxy is still being explored. I mean, Light of the Jedi is only about 200 years before this book, and that novel seemed to show the galaxy as a big fumble in the dark. But by the time of TPM, people are merrily jetting about like it’s no big deal? Odd.

Rael Averross is depicted as a Jedi Knight who has gone native, and is depicted as a fairly interesting opposite to Qui-Gon. The fact that he sleeps around and takes drugs aside, I did find him irritating after a while – if he weren’t meant to be a Jedi, I think I’d be fine with him. But he is, and has been wallowing in self-pity after blaming himself for getting his padawan killed. His assignment to Pijal is seen as something of a remedy for that self-pity, in that he is given Fanry to replace Nim Pianna. That whole situation seemed to contrived and far too weird, but the fact that it served as a significant plot hook did begin to grate after a while.

Oh yeah, and Dooku has already left the Order? I thought it was canon that he had left when Qui-Gon was killed, but maybe I’m getting confused.

The book is definitely interesting, and definitely worth a read. I think I found it far too disappointing that Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan were constantly either treading on eggshells or else being passive-aggressive to each other, and Rael Averross was far too irritating and unsympathetic as a character – two points that eventually pulled my enjoyment of the book down. A somewhat minor point, but it also read a bit more like the sort of YA fiction along the lines of Lost Stars, rather than the more regular adult fiction such as Bloodline. Which is a shame, though I suppose I could be taking this far too seriously!

It’s okay, I guess, but it’s not brilliant. I think it possibly suffers quite a bit from being the next book that I read after Light of the Jedi, though. That book was really good…

Star Wars: Light of the Jedi (a review)

Hey everybody,
Happy Star Wars day! Yes, we’re just about still on May 4th here in the UK, so what better way to celebrate than with a look at the first novel in the High Republic series, Light of the Jedi? What better way, indeed.

The High Republic era is a new departure for Star Wars storytelling, taking place in the centuries prior to The Phantom Menace. Crucially, this time period is now the oldest canon storytelling there is – forget about Knights of the Old Republic, forget about Tales of the Jedi, forget about the Darth Bane trilogy. None of that happened. The oldest we go now is here, 232 years before the Battle of Yavin. It’s a point that I need to reiterate, as it’s something that I constantly had to remind myself of while reading it.

The story is basically quite straightforward, following a group of marauders from the Outer Rim, the Nihil, who are able to travel through hyperspace using random “paths” as opposed to the established hyperlanes. It turns out that these paths are divined by an elderly member of the San Tekka clan, who is somehow able to see her way through hyperspace from one destination to another. She is kept alive for the express purpose of furthering the reaving of the Nihil, and her efforts are put to such devious uses by Marchion Ro, the so-called Eye of the Nihil.

During a raid, one of the Nihil ships gets in the way of the freighter Legacy Run, and the two collide; the Legacy Run, already an old vessel, breaks apart, and random parts of the ship come out of hyperspace, mostly over the agri-world of Hetzal Prime. A group of Jedi are nearby, seeing to the final preparations for the opening of the Starlight Beacon, an effort by Supreme Chancellor Lina Soh to reach out to the Outer Rim Territories and provide aid and cultural support. The Jedi begin a rescue operation to make sure the people of Hetzal Prime are safe, and launch an investigation into what happened.

The basic plot plays out much as you’d expect, with political infighting among the Nihil as Marchion Ro consolidates his power, and the Jedi managing to save the day with getting to the bottom of what happened, helping to defeat a portion of the Nihil fleet (though everyone involved thinks the Nihil were wiped out in their entirety). In some respects, it’s quite a “safe” plotline – there’s a disaster, but the Jedi help to save they day, although the big baddie hasn’t been completely vanquished so that we have fodder for more in the series. It’s a tried-and-tested formula for Star Wars (and others) to use.

I think what impressed me most about this book was the feel of it, though. It was a constant gripe for me about the Darth Bane novels taking place 1000 years before A New Hope, and yet they felt no different in time to the prequel trilogy. Light of the Jedi feels like it is a story that is set decades before The Phantom Menace, maybe even the centuries that it actually purports to be. The Outer Rim is an unknown, frontier section of the galaxy, and there are still people going out there as prospectors, to escape the drudgery of the Core and strike out on their own. The Starlight Beacon is an attempt to make the Territories feel a part of the Republic, something that – even though Shmi basically says as much in Episode I – I’d never thought would be needed.

The importance of hyperspace, and the idea of finding new routes to connect worlds, is a big part of the story, and I was a little bit overjoyed when it turned out that the San Tekkas are involved here. Lor San Tekka is, of course, quite an enigmatic figure in the lore, considering such a brief appearance at the start of Episode VII, and clearly his family has something of a celebrity standing in the galaxy, based on their history of hyperspace prospecting. The scions of the dynasty here are Marlowe and Vellis, a gay couple that doesn’t entirely feel forced into the narrative – I mean, why wouldn’t they be? They live on Naboo, in the Lake Country, so there are tantalizing glimpses here of a link to Padmé, and thus Leia – something so small, for sure, but I really hope that we can explore this link in greater depth as the canon is fleshed out further.

The Jedi are sort of informally led by Avar Kriss, the blonde front-and-centre on the cover. She’s an intriguing character, said to experience the Force as a song. Her friend Elzar Mann sees it as a bottomless ocean. The way that the Jedi are said to feel, and use, the Force throughout the book does put that sort of distance between this and the movies, as it feels like an age of experimentation and so on. The Jedi Council is a thing, and the Temple on Coruscant is there, but it just feels older, somehow. Elzar Mann is renowned among the Jedi for his unorthodox uses of the Force, as he attempts to discover new ways and techniques. It’s a bit vague, though he is credited with coming up with the Jedi Mind Trick (referred to as the Mind Touch in the book). It’s intriguing, as it seems like the Jedi are still learning the depths of their powers.

However, it’s not all new though. Yarael Poof has a fairly big role as a diplomat in the book, and both Oppo Rancisis and Yoda have speaking parts. Of course, Yoda would be a sprightly 600 year old here, and he’s currently on a sabbatical from the Temple, so I guess things are wide open on what we can expect to see here as the series continues!


As the first book in the multi-platform High Republic series, I thought this was a truly great introduction to the era. There is a lot going on, and it’s very interesting to see how things are different, and yet not that far away from the Star Wars that we know. We do have some establishment of what’s going on in the galaxy, but I think this has a lot of potential to be grown as time goes on. There are novels across the adult, young adult and younger readers branches, as well as an ongoing comics series that I’m aware of so far, and they apparently all intersect with one another to varying degrees. The YA novel Into the Dark features the padawan Raeth Silas, who is mentioned in passing by his master Jora Malli in this book. The Jedi “prodigy” Vernestra Rwoh shows up for the Starlight Beacon dedication ceremony, fresh from her adventures in A Test of Courage, the middle grade novel. All of these books came out in January, and it seems to be the case that July is the next major cavalcade of novels is due, including the sequel to this, The Rising Storm.

I cannot wait!

The Darth Bane Trilogy

Hey everybody,
I recently finished up reading the third and final book in the Darth Bane trilogy, Dynasty of Evil, and while I’ve usually discussed these books in my end-of-month retrospective blogs, today I thought I’d talk about the final installment, and the trilogy as a whole, in a dedicated post. Let’s dive in!

Dynasty of Evil is the third and final part of the Darth Bane trilogy, and I’ll say this right now: I’m so glad it’s over.

Far from the desolate forests of Ambria, Bane and Zannah are now living in luxury in a mansion on Ciutric IV (I had to look this up, but it’s the setting for X-Wing: Isard’s Revenge – points for that, Drew, at least!) There, Bane poses as a rich merchant with an interest in Sith artifacts, and comes across mention of one Darth Andeddu, who apparently discovered the secret to eternal life. Tired and dismayed that Zannah hasn’t yet challenged him for the title of Sith Lord as befits the Rule of Two, he decides to find Andeddu’s holocron and make himself immortal, to ensure the survival of the Sith.

Meanwhile, on the remote mining world of Doan, a Jedi has been killed while on the hunt for certain Sith amulets. Fearing his death will bring the Council to Doan, the royal family there send Princess Serra to Coruscant to tidy up the situation. Serra is the daughter of the healer Caleb, and discovers how her father died while on the capital world. This leads her down the path of retribution, where she engages the services of the Iktotchi bounty hunter known simply as The Huntress to find Bane and bring him to her.

The Sith amulets have drawn the interest of the Dark Jedi Set Harth, who recovers the artifacts and returns to his penthouse on Nal Hutta. Bane sends Zannah to investigate while he goes off to the Deep Core world Prakith in search of the holocron. Zannah finds Set and decides he’ll do as her apprentice, giving her the impetus to finally challenge Bane. On Prakith, Bane discovers the holocron in a fortress still devoted to the ancient Sith Master, and wrests the knowledge of eternal life forcibly from within while on the journey home. The effort of doing so leaves him exhausted enough that The Huntress is able to overpower him and bring him to Serra on Doan.

Zannah and Set return to Ciutric to find Bane gone, and so they also travel to Doan so that she can defeat her erstwhile Master. However, all hell breaks loose in the prison caverns of Doan; Set abandons Zannah after never really being convinced that the life of a Sith was for him anyway, while Bane and Zannah’s duel is cut short by the imploding caverns. Bane escapes with The Huntress, who is convinced her destiny lies with him, and they travel to Ambria, where Zannah catches up with him. They duel again, but the climax of that duel is somewhat inconclusive…

There is a lot going on here, although the novel’s pacing does leave it feeling like the main bulk of the action takes place on Doan. The set-up bounces between Ciutric, Prakith, Doan, Coruscant and Nal Hutta, before having the protracted sequences in the prison complex, and then that final denouement. Bane going on the trail of yet another holocron was a bit like an action sequence out of a video game. He goes there, kills everyone, takes the holocron, and leaves. All in the space of a chapter. Little to no thought is given to developing Prakith or the cult of Andeddu, more’s the pity.

We’re ten years on from the last book, and Bane is now in his 40s and, inexplicably, old. I suppose the subtext is that the Dark Side ages a person prematurely, but in a galaxy where I thought it was supposed to be a bit like Lord of the Rings (I’m sure at one point it was decided that average human lifespans were in the region of 120 years), having a 40-something with tremors seems a little… off…

I need to talk about the whole character of the book though. Once again, it feels very much like bad fanfiction. Bane and Zannah, posing as brother and sister, live in a fabulous mansion with untold wealth, and it all feels a bit too convenient, somehow. You know how, in the sort of bad fanfiction stories you’d read on the 90s internet, the authors would make their leading characters simply amazing, and they’d have the wealth to not need a day job, and they’d live in mansions without any thought to realism, and be just gorgeous and perfect? I don’t think Zannah is described as gorgeous so much in this book, but we do still get the descriptions of Bane’s rippling muscles and whatnot, and it just doesn’t seem to ring true, somehow. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve written my share of fanfic on this very blog, but I suppose I’ve never been under any illusions as to what I was doing! I’ve paid money for this book, and it’s just bad.

Okay, so maybe I’m being a bit too harsh on this. Let’s try to pick over the bones a bit more.

Set Harth is a Dark Jedi. He’s tired of the stifling ways of the Jedi Temple, and decides he’d much rather use his Force abilities to live the playboy lifestyle of endless parties and silk shirts open to the midriff. That’s fine – in fact, I’m surprised it hasn’t been thought of before. He hunts down Sith amulets to increase his power, quite why I’m not sure, but it fits somehow with him wanting quick and easy results. The fact he doesn’t seem to do anything with that power notwithstanding, it was interesting to see a Jedi leave the Order and pursue a life dedicated entirely to hedonism. I wonder if he’s one of the Lost Twenty? His storyline with Zannah was one of the more convincing aspects of the book, and I like the fact that he not only makes it out alive by saving his own skin, but he also ends up with Andeddu’s holocron.

Is he a Dark Jedi, really? It’s explained in the book as something of a rogue Jedi, neither Jedi nor Sith. But he never really does anything in the same league as, say, Lumiya or Asajj Ventress. He’s just a bit of a selfish fop who prefers to go to parties than to safeguard peace and justice. I don’t get why he lives on Nal Hutta, because the planet is already under the control of the Hutts and so has presumably been terraformed into the noxious bog-planet that we know and love. Disconcertingly, at one point it is said that he lives on Nar Shaddaa, which would make more sense, although I’m not sure there’s much luxury on the Smuggler’s Moon – but this is 1000 years before A New Hope, remember, so that small point would have helped to distance the novel from the Prequels, a recurring failing for the trilogy otherwise.

The Huntress is a curious one. She’s an Iktotchi, a species with some precognitive ability, which she uses to track her quarry across the galaxy. Okay, I’m buying it so far. She’s able to plan to capture Bane, discovering his identity through her skills (somehow), and then bam! About two-thirds of the way through the book, she’s using the Force. It’s a bit like Mara Jade, going from struggling to do anything in the wake of Palpatine’s destruction, to being a full Jedi Master under the guidance of Luke Skywalker. I have no problem with that, because it hearkens back to the idea that anybody can use the Force with enough training, because the Force is prevalent in all life. Sadly, though, midichlorians are a thing, and I’m not sure the idea of awakening dormant abilities would entirely work, but who knows. Bane takes The Huntress as an apprentice, and gives her the new name of Darth Cognus. When Zannah defeats Bane (or does she?), she takes Cognus on as her own apprentice. Cognus has a long and storied career of her own, mainly chronicled in articles on the now-defunct Hyperspace website. So it was a nice touch to see this backstory fully developed and worked into the chronology.

Darth Bane Trilogy

I think there are two things that I find really problematic about the trilogy. The first has been well-documented since I covered the first book, and that is just how badly-written it is, with flat, one-dimensional characters and no effort to distance itself from the Prequel era despite being set 970+ years before the events of The Phantom Menace. The second is just how pointless the whole thing seems. Darth Bane was developed by George Lucas in the backstory for Episode I, as the founder of the Sith Rule of Two. He’d then made a couple of appearances, and it seems like Drew Karpyshyn was tasked to bring these elements, such as they were, into novel form.

Somewhere in here, there is an interesting story. The disaffected student of the Dark Side, wanting more than Lord Kaan was offering with his Brotherhood of Darkness, engineers the destruction of the Sith Lords he sees as the pretenders, and determines through his own study of ancient texts that the way forward for the Sith is not to share power, but rather to focus it in a single Master, who will train an apprentice to one day take over the mantle. This way, the Sith can work to bring about the destruction of the Jedi and their own eventual triumph. Darth Bane does this, setting himself up in the centre of a network of spies and such, engineering minor border disputes that lays the groundwork for the Separatist movement. He also furthers his knowledge of the Dark Side through the acquisition of Sith artifacts, and visits places of previous Dark Side power from the ancient past.

It’s a story that I can get behind, but the execution is just so poor that I can’t begin to say how disappointed I am with the trilogy. I think this disappointment is further fueled by the fact that the SW book page that I follow on FaceBook is almost rabid in its love for the trilogy. I was surprised at the negative reaction I got when I made a post there, hoping the second book would be better than the first!

It’s such a shame, because Karpyshyn is obviously not a bad writer – he was lead writer on that most beloved of Star Wars games, Knights of the Old Republic, and I don’t recall being this disappointed with his The Old Republic novels Revan and Annihilation. I’ll have to revisit those books at some point, and see if they’re in the same league…

There are so many missed opportunities with this series. While I suppose it was inevitable that Path of Destruction would re-tell the story of Jedi vs Sith, I wish we had been given more context for that conflict because I’m still none the wiser, and reliant on Wookieepedia articles to make sense of this period of time. Rule of Two could have been better, and indeed in some respects was perhaps the best of the trilogy in a weird reversal of the usual “bridge syndrome” trilogies can fall prey to. Dynasty of Evil seems to leave the door open for more Bane, as it is left unclear whether Zannah was in fact victorious, or if Bane succeeded in transferring his essence as per the teachings of Darth Andeddu. Maybe the title refers to the notion that every subsequent Sith Lord in Bane’s model actually has the essence of Darth Bane inside of them? I guess we’ll never know, because these books are now Legends, and while possible to be retained within the new canon timeline because nothing is taking place at this time, I really hope they are left alone.

January Retrospective

Hey everybody,
January has come and gone, and just like that, 2021 is under way. With the world as it is right now, I thought it’d be nice to have a little retrospective blog at the end of each month, highlighting the things that I have been up to, serving to remind myself (if nobody else) that it is still possible to do cool stuff!

To start with, I’ve done quite a bit of painting this month, between the Dark Eldar Incubi (above), and making a fantastic start with the Ossiarch Bonereapers, my new army for 2021! I’m chronicling the army progress separately of course, and will continue to do so as I get deeper into both the lore and the models! I’m currently working to finish off the Mortek Guard, both to get the basic scheme sorted and because troops can sometimes feel like a chore to get through! Contrast paints have been a real boon here, though, so I’m hoping that I can sail through things fairly quickly.

I’ve already been buying reinforcements, which I should probably try to control myself with, but I do find it hard to do so when I’m so excited for a project!

For 40k, I’ve been thinking back to my Dark Eldar days, especially since we have a codex on the horizon, so that will hopefully be good to get hold of! I’m wanting to get more variety in my lists, so I definitely want to get more wych cult models painted up – I’ve been thinking about this for a while of course, but it’s a definite goal for 2021. Fantasy has certainly come back to the fore for me, though, as I talked about last week, although I’m not sure if I could get as many games in with AoS when everything returns to normal. I guess we’ll have to see!

Warcry has come back on my radar, although it had never really left if I’m honest. Still having only played it once, I’m just in love with the aesthetic of the game, and the feel of the whole thing. I’m not all that interested in the plethora of warbands that have come out for it, but I do have my sights set on getting hold of more of the regular Chaos stuff – including, of course, the new Slaanesh stuff that will hopefully be out soon! I’m not going to go crazy with that, but I am looking forward to getting my hands on some of the Slaanesh mortal stuff for use in Warcry.

From games that I’m not playing to games that I have played, now. This month, I’ve managed to get in some games with both Arkham Horror LCG, and the third edition of the board game that I had for Christmas! Blogs on both events are coming, but let me tell you, the new edition of Arkham Horror is quite good. As for the card game, I’ve started The Circle Undone, and I’m really impressed. It leans heavily on witchcraft and the supernatural, something that doesn’t seem to be as associated with Lovecraft as the cosmic horror, but it’s an absolute delight, and while I’m only on the first mythos pack of the cycle, I’m very impressed! Come back this week for more thoughts there, anyway!

Let’s talk about a different type of witch now…

Disney+ has launched their first MCU tv-series this month, WandaVision, featuring of course Scarlet Witch and Vision. I’d almost forgotten about this, but had been getting increasingly intrigued when friends and fellow bloggers started to talk more about it. I do like Scarlet Witch, as well – House of M is still one of my favourite comic lines – so I’m intrigued by it. I’ve only seen the first episode, but it’s definitely got something going on under the surface there to make us think just what on earth is this all about. It’s a delightful Bewitched-style 1950s American sitcom, on the surface, until the dinner party near the end has us asking deeper questions as to what’s going on. I have no real theories yet, as it’s all a bit too early to say for me, but head here to check out a more detailed discussion!

From television to books, finally! In January, I read the first Darth Bane novel, Path of Destruction. The book, now Legends of course, deals with the early years of the Sith Lord, as he moves from a life of hard labour, through his military service on the side of the Sith in their war against the Jedi, to his awakening in the Force and learning to use his power at the academy on Korriban. The novel ends with the climactic battle of Ruusan, which of course is dealt with in the comic miniseries Jedi vs Sith.

I was disappointed with this book. I’m in a Facebook group where people have given high praise to this trilogy, but I can’t see what all the fuss is about. Putting aside the fact that Darth Bane’s birth name is Des, I think the book fell into the same trap as Tim Zahn’s new canon Thrawn trilogy, showing us an evil genius when he’s at school. There were strong echoes of Kevin J Anderson’s Jedi Academy trilogy as well, which felt a bit banal. The whole thing just seemed so silly, somehow. Set against the backdrop of the war, I thought the best parts were definitely those that showed us the fighting there, although even that got a bit ridiculous after a bit.

This was, of course, part of the problem with the comic book (for me) was a lack of any kind of historical perspective, as we don’t know how the war started, or do we get any context for what’s going on. We’re just plunged into this situation, although it is perhaps good in that the book is definitely better than the comic in that it has more breadth to tell its tale, it still feels like we need more.

I also think it’s worth mentioning that the book didn’t seem to take great pains to distance itself, temporally, from the main movie periods. It takes place a thousand years before A New Hope, yet the tech feels, at best, similar to Phantom Menace era. No effort is really made to do anything more, which is quite sad, really. At least the Tales of the Jedi comic books actually felt like they had ancient tech in comparison!

What I did like was the way the book had me guessing throughout. Bane’s relationship with his fellow student Githany led me to wonder if she would become his famous apprentice, Darth Zannah, but suffice it to say – she doesn’t!

Bane is a big part of Star Wars, created by Lucas during production of Phantom Menace, and while I didn’t exactly enjoy the first book in this trilogy, I’m willing to give it the benefit of the doubt and carry on with Rule of Two soon, as I’m really intrigued as to where the story is headed next!

For now, however, I’ve moved back to 40k for something completely different:

Star Wars: Battlefront II – Inferno Squad (a review)

It’s been a while, but I feel as though I need to keep up with the reviews of the books that I’ve made my way through recently! Star Wars Battlefront 2: Inferno Squad is a tie-in to the video game and not really anything to do with the first Battlefront novel, aside from the fact that it also ties-in to a video game. That kinda threw me for a while, I must admit! The second novel takes place in the immediate aftermath of the Death Star explosion, and has quite a few tie-ins to Rogue One as a result.

We follow the TIE fighter pilot Iden Versio, the daughter of ISB Inspector Garrick Versio, as she returns from Yavin to the Empire, and to her father, who is forming an elite team of operatives that will work to prevent corruption within the upper ranks of the Empire, and root out information leaks such as those that led to the destruction of the Death Star. The team consists of Iden herself as leader, her friend Gideon Hask, Del Meeko and Seyn Marana – experts in their fields, which include mechanical engineering and naval intelligence.

The novel then follows the team as they go from their first mission, which serves to form the backdrop of the team being simply excellent, to the main meat of the story – infiltrating a group of survivors from Saw Gerrera’s Partisans, who call themselves the Dreamers. Each member of the team splits up and infiltrates the group in a separate way, with Iden herself posing as an Imperial defector.

The Dreamers have gained some inside information on the Empire, which allows them to choose the targets for their insurgency activities with unerring accuracy. Inferno Squad’s task is to discover how they have gained this information, and then destroy the rebels utterly. Building trust with the Dreamers, they go on several missions and eventually learn that their leader is the son of Senator Mina Bonderi, Senator for Onderon during the Clone Wars. He has been getting his information from his step daughter, who works for the Empire. He hands the information chip to Iden, who only stuns him before the rest of the team kill the surviving members of the rebel cell.


I really enjoyed this book, as it felt a lot like an easy read adventure story. In a lot of ways, it has everything that classic Star Wars novels of the past have: adventure, intrigue, mystery and some epic battle scenes. I thought the mystery of the Dreamers’ leader was nicely done, with the payoff working nicely within the context – Lux Bonteri was in the Onderon arc of Clone Wars season five, but he was hardly a major character that would resonate through the ages. Here, Christie Golden has given him a continued storyline that fits really well with his character, and reminds me of similar instances of Prequel-era characters making the transition to the Classic-era. My yardstick for this has always been Captain Panaka being made a Moff, and I think having others like this come through the Rise of the Empire with different roles in a credible manner is always just wonderful.

The plot feels a little formulaic, as we see the team formed, they go on their first mission which is pretty much flawless, then the main business begins and things get a bit more tough. All the way through, however, we’re not brow-beaten into believing that the team is amazing, but rather we’re shown how they are experts in their respective fields. There are of course some slightly cringeworthy moments, but then, Star Wars has always been a little bit cheesy. I think this is the first time I’ve read a book by Christie Golden, who wrote some books in the now-Legends Fate of the Jedi series, although I don’t think I ever made it that far in the timeline (they’re up in the attic for now, anyway!).

It was a very enjoyable read, and while I probably won’t be putting it in my all-time top ten, it’s along the sort of lines of Resistance Reborn and Black Spire, which were similarly enjoyable books, if somewhat forgettable. Is that too harsh? Maybe. I suppose it doesn’t feel like it was all that important, but had plenty of tie-ins to the rest of the universe that made for a fun read. I suppose what I mean by this is, it doesn’t try too hard to be anything more than a Star Wars story within its context. It isn’t trying to re-write history, or put its main character(s) right up there in Tarkin’s or Palpatine’s inner circle. It is definitely an interesting book, in that it tells a story about elite Imperials who are fighting to maintain order in the galaxy, and shows that there were some good people working within that system to do what they thought was right. Really enjoyable, and worth taking the time to hunt it down!

Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge – Black Spire (a review)

I finished reading Galaxy’s Edge: Black Spire last night, in what was possibly a record for me right now, as I’d managed to read a novel in less than a week! If I’m honest, I wasn’t entirely enjoying this book, but I knew I wanted to have it finished in time for Easter.

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The book is almost a sequel to Phasma, as the central character is once more the Resistance spy Vi Moradi. Working on General Leia’s instructions, she heads out to the remote world of Batuu shortly after the Battle of Crait, in an effort to establish a base and recruitment ground there. As a partner, she is given her erstwhile nemesis from the earlier novel, Captain Cardinal, now having begun his rehabilitation and going by his given name, Archex.

The duo crash-lands on the planet, and have their supplies stolen by the local gangster’s thugs, and so Vi gets herself a job at the local scrapyard, sorting junk, in an effort to earn enough money to buy it all back. The first part of the novel is really quite schmaltzy, as everything goes well for her, and all of the locals are either positive or, at worst, indifferent to her. We get to see the locals at Black Spire Outpost, and tour the local sights in a manner
that underlines how the book basically ties into the experience at the Disney Resorts in Anaheim and Orlando.

However, the First Order is tipped off to her presence on the planet, and send Lieutenant Wulfgar Kath down to capture her. Vi’s efforts to recruit the locals to the Resistance do not go down too well at first, but over time, as the oppression of the First Order makes itself known, the tide begins to turn. While the Outpost never formally comes out in open support of the Resistance, they are nevertheless able to establish their base in some ancient ruins, and some of the local farmers begin to drift in as part-time recruits, at least.

As I said at the beginning, I didn’t really enjoy this book. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it an awful lot more than Phasma, but I felt like the fact everything just went so well for Vi made it feel like it was pitched at a younger age range, as condescending as that might sound. I was trying to get this point across when I discussed it with the other half; Star Wars rarely has things going right for people, and so I’ve come to expect there to be some conflict, and a lot of stumbles and road blocks. However, once we’ve dealt with the crash, Vi meets some really helpful locals, who are almost sickeningly altruistic, and my preconceptions about what Star Wars is led me to expect a pay-off that never came. Once I was over that initial reaction (well, it took me to get to roughly the middle of the book before I could get to that stage!) I don’t think I disliked the book as much – it read so much better as a young-adult novel than a more adult novel, if that makes sense.

Along similar lines, this book also suffers from quite a lot of “movies-only” syndrome, whereby a lot of the references only refer back to the movies, often inappropriately. For instance, the Outpost cantina serves a bewildering variety of drinks, a couple of which have really bizarre names: the Fuzzy Tauntaun and Dagobah Slug Slinger spring to mind here. Sure, they’re fun and no doubt they’re sold in the theme park, but within the context of the universe, Dagobah is supposed to be a planet only a select few people know about, while Hoth is so far off the beaten track that Tauntauns may well have no meaning to the wider galactic public. It’s such a nitpicky point, I’m almost abashed at bringing it up, but it’s something that I always find myself railing against when I’m reading, because it goes against that suspension of disbelief.

My only other gripe with this book, then, was the way that the First Order is portrayed – but I don’t think that was anything to do with the author, so much as the way the organization has appeared since 2015’s The Force Awakens. We still don’t have any real substance for them as a group – they’re there as the antagonist, and there are hundreds of tiny little moments of playground-style bullyings and venalities, but there doesn’t seem to be a purpose to them other than being a group for our intrepid band of heroes to go up against. Sure, back in 1977, all we knew about the Empire was that they were the bad guys, but Tarkin’s talk of the Imperial Senate gave them a gravitas – we knew that the Empire was the established government, albeit a tyrannical regime that needed to be fought against. We’re now well into the sequel universe but we’ve still not seen anything beyond the shady “there was once an Empire, they retreated into the Unknown Regions, then the First Order appeared, but it was really Palpatine’s ploy all along”. It’s a problem that I’ve whinged about before, of course, but I feel like we now desperately need more of those gaps filling between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. We need to see more of what went on in the Unknown Regions; we need to find out what those secret storehouses on Jakku were all about, and we need to get more info about the New Republic, and how that all fits together. The Hosnian incident, referred to a couple of times in the book, lacks a lot of punch, I think, due to the fact we don’t know enough about that side of the galaxy.

But as I say, that’s a problem with Star Wars in general right now, and not specifically with this book!

Black Spire Outpost has obviously changed since I last checked in there, during the new Thrawn trilogy, and seems to be thriving as a result. There are several interesting mentions, including Hondo Ohnaka apparently taking up residence there, but also the scrap merchant that Vi works for, Savi, who is said to be a friend of Lor San Tekka, and his workers all seem to have some affiliation, however loose, with the Church of the Force idea. I’d like to see that explored more, and get some real meat on those bones! Vi finds a couple of items amid the junk that seem to be really potent Jedi artifacts (is one of them a holocron?) that makes me wonder where Savi is getting his junk from.

The novel ends with the First Order arriving in force at Batuu, with none other than Kylo Ren in orbit in a Star Destroyer. Now, I feel like this is very strongly setting up a sequel, though I believe it’s also tied quite strongly to the theme park experience, so maybe there’s something there that I’m missing. However, combined with the stuff about Savi, I feel like there’s more story left to be told. Despite not being the biggest fan of the book, I’d still like to see if there is more that we can expect to see here!

Star Wars: Resistance Reborn (a review)

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Hey everybody,
I’m continuing to catch up with all things Star Wars right now, and hot on the heels of my last blog, talking about the amazing Darth Plagueis, I’ve jumped forward in the timeline (and across canon) to the latest book to be released, Resistance Reborn! Part of the Journey to The Rise of Skywalker publishing programme, Resistance Reborn picks up close on the heels of The Last Jedi, with the Resistance having barely survived the Battle of Crait and needing to find both allies and a new home.

The book mainly follows Poe Dameron as he attempts to atone for his mutiny aboard the Raddis during Episode VIII. He comes across as maybe a little too guilty, as if the event is somehow more important than it seemed in the movie (though this could equally have been a problem with the movie, if I’m honest). Poe meets with Maz Kanata, who refuses to help the Resistance openly, but gives him word that the First Order have made a list of undesirables and are actively pursuing the names on it, locking them up before they can do any further harm. Poe sends his other pilots from Black Squadron to find other possible leaders to help rebuild, with Snap Wexley returning home to Akiva to bring along his mother Norra, and her husband Wedge Antilles.

Leia manages to convince her former colleague Yendor to aid them, and the survivors head to Ryloth to regroup. There, they are given the news that the list of undesirables has been stolen by a criminal group known as the Collective, and is to be auctioned off at the birthday party of notorious crime lord Hasadar Shu’s wife, on Corellia. Two teams are dispatched to Corellia, one headed by Poe to obtain the list, with the other led by Wedge in an attempt to steal ships from the shipyards there. A third team is dispatched to the planet Bracca, to obtain more ships from the junkyard world.

We’ve also been following the lives of First Order records clerk Winshur Bratt and his two underlings, one of whom stole the list of undesirables in order to pass it to the Collective. These plot threads intersect as the plot moves forward, as we see the oppression of the First Order leads to both of the underlings defecting in their separate ways. At the party, Poe is soon outbid on the list, but the First Order arrive and start shooting the place up (including killing the crime boss, himself). Poe rescues Shu’s wife Nifera, who in return gives up the list to the Resistance. Along the way, Wedge manages to rescue several high-level political prisoners being held at the shipyards, including none other than former senator, Ransolm Casterfo.

Resistance Reborn

The book is quite short, just shy of 300 pages, and so the plot kicks along at a pretty sharp pace. Some reviews that I’ve read on goodreads complain that the Resistance is in much the same place at the end of the novel as at the start, which isn’t entirely without foundation, although one could argue that they have a lot more materiel than they had in the closing scenes of The Last Jedi. More starfighters, some more recruits, a list of folks to go rescue. That doesn’t mean that the book doesn’t suffer from a kind of Bridge Syndrome, as if it were the central book of a trilogy that merely exists to stop those books being a duology.

It’s a really good story, don’t get me wrong, and I definitely enjoyed reading it. It pulls from a lot of the new canon, most heavily from the Aftermath trilogy and Bloodline, which helps to make the new canon feel like a much more homogenous place to be. One of my major gripes so far about the Disney stuff has been just how standalone everything feels. Having callbacks to earlier stuff, and minor recurring characters, helps to make something more of these stories. It’s something that I really enjoyed, anyway.

I suppose where it somewhat falls down, for me, is that we don’t get that sense of plot advancement, because we can’t know too much prior to the release of The Rise of Skywalker. I’m really hoping that his ludicrous level of secrecy about the state of the galaxy is going to be lifted once Episode IX has been released, and we can start to learn more about the First Order, Snoke, and all the rest of it. The First Order exists, at the moment, purely to be the bad guys, and there is next to no substance about them that we can tangibly cling on to. Sure, the Empire must have felt much the same back in the 1970s and 80s, but the way that Obi-Wan talks about the Clone Wars and Vader in those films gives them that sense of historical perspective that the First Order doesn’t yet have. Leia comes close to it in The Force Awakens, when she talks about Snoke seducing Ben to the Dark Side, but I honestly feel adrift when watching the movies right now, because we have so little to go on. There are snippets from the likes of Aftermath and Bloodline, but so much is just guesswork and hearsay, that requires too much work on the part of the viewer to put together into a cohesive narrative. I get that JJ and the rest want to create a sense of mystery and suspense, I really do, but having been building this since 2015, it’s wearing really thin right now, and I am more than ready for some actual answers. We need that cohesive narrative to make sense of how we got from the forest moon of Endor to the desolate sands of Jakku.

Huh, that was quite a rant there, wasn’t it?

Moving on!

Wedge is back in this one, and both Orrimaarko (Prune Face) and General Riekkan! I was really quite chuffed when I was reading those parts, even though I had it in the back of my mind that Dennis Lawson has said he doesn’t want to reprise his role as Wedge, and Bruce Boa sadly passed away a few years ago. I really wanted this book to show us Lando returning to the fold, but no such luck – so I’m guessing that will be something that is dealt with in the actual film. Well, that’s fair enough. Maz Kanata was criminally under-used, once more, though I’m choosing to think there might be something coming for her in IX, as Lupita Nyong’o is confirmed as returning. Maybe she’s best when lightly sprinkled into a story, rather than her backstory delved into too much.

I don’t know for sure, but I get the impression that the scenes with the Black Squadron pilots draw heavily from the Poe Dameron comic series, so I feel as though I need to get round to them at some point. For the time being, though, a quick Wookieepedia search has shown that Suralinda Javos, at least, is a recurring character from the comic book. Definitely need to catch up more there. Interestingly, we have a lot of Poe and Finn moments, where Poe is squeezing Finn’s arm. It should be nothing, but the fact it is called out so often makes me wonder if the idea of the two of them getting together might actually be where this bromance is going, after all!

Rey is in the novel, though she is another character who is criminally under-used. In fact, she might as well have not been there – I think it was only because she was on the Falcon at the end of VIII that she was included here at all. There was something about her character that felt off to me, too. She is portrayed, basically, as a timid mouse – not the sort of person we saw doing all that crazy stuff in the movie. Indeed, even at the start of her journey in VII, she has something about her, to have survived in the wilderness alone for so long. Hm.

I guess I’m really being fussy here, because this book was the sort of novel that I’ve been wanting from the Disney expanded universe for a few years, now. Something that plainly inhabits that same world, that doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Something that tells a story with the big movie characters, even if sometimes things felt a little off. It’s definitely recommended, and I think it serves up a better “journey to the next movie” story than Phasma did…

Star Wars: Battlefront – Twilight Company (a review)

Hey everybody!
It may have taken some time, but I’ve finally finished Battlefront: Twilight Company last night, so I thought I’d come here and ramble about my thoughts just ahead of Celebration 2019 – where, it is rumoured, we’ll finally get to hear some long-awaited news of Episode IX!

This book was really good. I need to get that out there right away. I’ve been feeling a little less-than-impressed with the new canon over the last few months, I was really chuffed to finally find a book that I actually thought was a decent read pretty much all the way through. A lot of reviews mention that it does drag a little in the middle, but the story that it tells overall is so interesting that, by the end of it, I could forgive that.

I was so impressed, I made an 8-minute video rambling about it!

So the story follows the titular Twilight Company as they fight a rear-guard action in the Mid Rim, which in itself is quite fascinating. (Not for the first time, I’ve found myself wondering how a story with the Big Three would look set in this particular event). On the planet Haidoral Prime, during an open recruit for the Company, the Imperial Governor there, Everi Chalis, surrenders to the Alliance with the promise of information about Imperial military logistics, possibly the sort of information that could help to swing the tide of the war back in the Rebels’ favour. Her defection doesn’t go unnoticed, and Prelate Verge, a former protege of Count Vidian, is tasked to find her, so brings Captain Tabor Seitaron out of his teaching post at Carida in order to assist in the hunt.

Twilight Company’s luck goes from bad to worse with Chalis along for the ride, and the soldiers are convinced that she is some sort of bad-luck charm. However, once she has presented her information to the Captain of the Company, arrangements are made to take her to Hoth and the Alliance High Command. However, it really does go from bad to worse while at the secret base on the ice planet, as not long after Chalis has made her presentation to High Command, the Empire arrives and the Battle of Hoth begins!

Chalis is convinced that Vader is on the planet chasing her down, but when the Millennium Falcon manages to escape the Dark Lord’s clutches, Vader turns his attention on Chalis and crushes her throat in an attempt to find the location of the rebels. Chalis and the others only manage to escape with their lives because they don’t know where Leia and the others have fled to.

However, during the battle, the Company Captain is killed, and Twilight Company is left in a sort of limbo while they try to gain news of their next orders. It’s at this point that the book seems to slow down a bit, though I suppose it could be seen as reflective of the fact the Company itself is wandering aimlessly until Chalis, getting over the fact that she was never that important to the top brass in the Empire, comes up with a plan to re-energize them all: disable the shipyards of Kuat. To do this, she plots to make a series of surgical strikes at different planets along the Rimma Trade Route, forcing the Empire to redeploy resources that would be used in defense of the shipyards.

These strikes go perfectly well until they reach Sullust. Captain Seitaron has managed to pick apart Chalis’ plan to the point where he could guess she would hit Sullust or Malastare, and so they arrive in-system with a Star Destroyer, shooting down the rebels’ ship and stranding them on the planet. The rebels team up with local resistance cells, one of the leaders of which is none other than Nien Nunb, and manage to hold off the Imperials while Chalis, who everyone believes to be pursuing her own personal vendetta at this point, manages to get herself aboard the Star Destroyer and kill Verge as well as disabling the ship with an ion bomb. Seitaron calls a retreat, and the rebels manage to claim a victory.

I really enjoyed this book, in case it wasn’t clear!

There was, somehow, a feeling of returning to the Star Wars I grew up with. I said in my video ramble that it reminded me a lot of the X-Wing novels, which were about the regular troops doing regular troop stuff, and there is something really interesting about that. For starters, everybody in the book is fair game to be killed off, and there was one death in particular at the end that I found myself quite surprised by. There are a lot of call-backs to the lore of yore, such as references to Cartao (Timothy Zahn’s short story ‘Hero of Cartao’) as well as very obscure tie-ins to the movies, like Twilight Company hitting the planet Xagobah (the homeworld of the podracer Neva Kee from Episode I). I’ve sometimes felt myself a bit lost with this new canon, but as it happens, I found this book made me feel right back at home in the GFFA.

It does have that lag in the middle, as I mentioned, and I did feel myself cringing a little during some of the Hoth scenes, as it felt a little bit like it was being shoe-horned into the movie setting during the confrontation with Vader. At the very beginning of the book, there was also a vague sense of this being a book based off a game, with the sort of mission-style narrative that can sometimes feel far too join-the-dots and generic. However, that sense quickly left me, and we’re left with this really good book – apparently, it’s the author’s first!

If I ever get around to writing a novel, I hope it will turn out this good!

The Hand of Thrawn

Hey everybody!
I’ve been rambling a lot in my recent blogs about Warhammer stuff, but it’s time for a change of scenery today as I switch over to my other obsession, Star Wars, and the Tim Zahn duology from 1997-8, The Hand of Thrawn!

The Hand of Thrawn

I first read these novels years ago now, completely out of sequence as I had just finished Zahn’s seminal trilogy, the Thrawn Trilogy, and was hungry for more! It was the summer after my GCSE exams had been finished, and I was free to read whatever I wanted, rather than trying to catch chapters of The Last Command in between revising physics, or whatever.

Specter of the Past begins with the discovery of a badly damaged copy of The Caamas Document – a datacard that details the Bothan saboteurs involved in the destruction of the planet Caamas long before the Clone Wars. The planet’s inhabitants, the Caamasi, were well-known peacekeepers and valued mediators, and the destruction of their world was cause for galactic outcry back in the day. The discovery that there were Bothans involved leads the New Republic almost to civil war, as several species come down either on the side of wanting to make the Bothans pay for their crime, or else on the side of those who believe a more peaceful solution is needed. Of course, plenty of folks are just using the discovery of the document to reignite old hatreds and resume petty conflicts that the Empire had pretty much put on hold.

While Leia attempts to keep the New Republic from fracturing too much, Luke is off trying to discover who is backing the Cavrilhu Pirates into attacking New Republic shipping, with what he believes to be clone pilots. His investigation almost leads to his death at their asteroid base, but Mara Jade manages to rescue him and, as they’re leaving the system, they notice an odd type of TIE-fighter lurking in the asteroid field.

Turns out, the renegade Imperial Moff Disra has been using the Pirates as part of his plan to restore the Empire to greatness, a plan that involves resurrecting Grand Admiral Thrawn through the use of the con artist known as Flim, and the tactical acumen of a Major Tierce, former Imperial Guardsman to the Emperor. He sets a plan in motion to cause said civil war above Bothawui, using elements from Imperial Intelligence to forment riots and general dissension over the Caamas issue, leading our heroes to try and find an intact copy of the Caamas Document, and name those Bothans responsible for destroying the shield generator, rather than holding the entire species accountable.

This is the background, and the duology takes us through the sort of galaxy-spanning epic that we expect from Zahn in his Bantam era. It really has that sort of feel that we know from the earlier trilogy – our heroes flying across the galaxy, visiting planets we have never heard of and encountering a whole load of weird aliens along the way. While Admiral Pellaeon is trying to sue for peace with the New Republic, Disra’s plans lead to a more subtle conflict with the Empire at first, which is a different change of pace for pretty much any Bantam novel. There is a lot of the shadow war with Imperial Intelligence, and while Flim’s Thrawn impersonation is seemingly flawless, he is nevertheless kept almost hidden from view, with merely the rumour of his return being cause enough to send the New Republic into a frenzy. The civil war is balanced along a knife edge that almost runs on too long, but is nevertheless built up really very well.

One of my earliest gripes with this novel was the fact that Zahn seemingly felt the need to bring Thrawn back from the dead. Of course, the book is pretty much from the off about a con game and we know it, but it did feel a bit like he couldn’t think up a more convincing villain for the heroes to go up against, so he just brought the earlier one back. Of course, when you get to the end of the book, and reflect on the story as a whole, it actually works really well.

We get to meet Thrawn’s people, the Chiss, and learn that Thrawn had in fact set up a clone of himself to return to known space ten years after his death, should that come to pass. Irony of ironies, it’s been ten years and now Disra puts his plan into action. The Chiss almost enter the war on the side of the Imperial Remnant, but by the end of Vision of the Future, it appears that they’re content instead to sit this one out, keeping their focus on the myriad threats of the Unknown Regions.

I find it interesting to go back and re-read these old novels, and compare them with what we have now from Disney. While I don’t feel that The Hand of Thrawn has held up as well as The Thrawn Trilogy, I still think there is a lot of good stuff in here, and it’s a shame to see so much of it just thrown out, really. The idea of the Unknown Regions holding some unimaginable threat was never really picked up on, of course, Vision of the Future was one of the last novels Bantam got to publish before Del Rey got the licence back and started the New Jedi Order off. However, the Aftermath trilogy does feel a bit like it’s picking up on this idea of the Unknown Regions and the threats there, having the Imperial Remnant following the Battle of Jakku head off there. What is going on, I wonder? Of course, Disney has managed to open up so much of the Star Wars galaxy once more, and really make it feel like a huge place, so we’re probably fine for now to leave the Unknown Regions as they are…

Naturally, given when this duology was published, Zahn has got a lot more Star Wars lore to pull from this time around, rather than having to make the whole lot up for himself, and there are a lot of references to Mike Stackpole’s work, particularly the Rogue Squadron comics. Baron Fel makes an appearance, and Corran Horn is something of a major second-tier character. Zahn and Stackpole are friends, of course, so that isn’t unexpected, but it does feel weird that we get that sort of detail this time around. There is also reference made to both the Black Fleet Crisis books and the Callista trilogy, though these do feel a little forced at times.

In the midst of all the chaos, we of course get to catch up with Talon Karrde and his organisation, and get to see a lot of the smuggler chief’s history. It was interesting to see this sort of thing expanded upon, and we get a lot of links back to The Thrawn Trilogy and some of the plot points that were left hanging from that series are wrapped up. Notably, Mara Jade leaves the Karrde organisation at the end of the duology, although Karrde has already had an almost-replacement for her in the form of Shada D’ukal, the Mistryl Shadow Warrior from The Last Command. There is a lot of weaving of threads from earlier Zahn stories throughout the pair of books here, but I suppose Shada shows how far this goes when we get an almost synopsis of the short story Hammertong that Zahn wrote for Tales from the Mos Eisley Cantina. I wouldn’t say the references are particularly necessary to enjoy the books – I certainly did enjoy them when I first read them back in the day, having only previously read Zahn’s trilogy and Crimson Empire up to that point. But there is another layer that can be enjoyed if you have indeed read through the myriad offerings of short stories in this way.

Prior to reading the pair this time around, I re-read Jade Solitaire from Tales of the New Republic, which merely serves to show why Talon Karrde has a Togorian working on his crew now, as well as giving Mara Jade her ship, Jade’s Fire, which is featured in a somewhat significant plot point in Vision of the Future. It’s not necessary, for sure, but does add a layer or two that can be enjoyed. For me, I think it just helps to harken back to those days when the narrative was keen to explain away every single point in the movies and beyond, and brings back a lot of nostalgia for me. Talon Karrde’s journey into the Exocron system has even got me wanting to dig out my copy of The DarkStryder Campaign! Maybe that can be the subject of another blog here soon…

Don’t get me wrong, of course – it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. Far from it, I was actually surprised to discover that I didn’t rate this duology nearly as highly as I remembered. I think a lot of that is down to the fact that I have such fond memories of reading these books as a sixteen year old, that now I’ve come to expect more from my literature in general, I found them to be a bit lacking. There is quite an effort made, I feel, to recapture the spirit of the Thrawn Trilogy, almost to the point where it becomes annoying, and I find myself wishing that Zahn had branched out into a completely new direction. Elements of the storyline such as Karrde’s plot were a lot more refreshing, because they had the hint of the earlier trilogy without rehashing it as much as, say, the Luke and Mara trek through the caverns of Nirauan – which Luke actually explicitly compares with their trek through the forest on Myrkr. There are also some vaguely silly scenes, particularly around the Caamas Incident politics. It’s nice that we get reference to the senate being rebuilt following the Almanian Uprising, that does help to make the universe feel really coherent, but the fact that the senate is populated by weird senators, one of whom is jabbering on about needing to sit on her eggs, just feels too out there. Weird.

There were also a lot of elements that felt a lot more like fan fiction than perhaps they should have been. I probably need to elaborate a lot more on this, so here goes. Any movie tie-in like this can of course fall under the heading of fan-fiction, as that’s basically what it is. However, for official licensed media by Lucasfilm, novels like these should feel more like a continuation of the storyline, and while new characters of course need to be introduced to keep the narrative fresh, the way that new characters interact with movie ones is usually where these things fall down. During the Thrawn Trilogy, the interaction was superb, and it felt like these people truly inhabited the same universe as the movies. But when you get a character (or characters) being made into something “better” than the movie heroes, the whole situation can quickly devolve, and it feels a lot like that happens in the scenes where Mara is berating Luke for his actions over the last few years. I know why it was included, of course, as the Bantam novels did have a tendency to make Luke into a kind of demigod at times, but it smacks of something I particularly dislike from Stackpole’s novel I, Jedi, where Corran tells Luke off in such a manner that makes Corran out to be a much better person – maybe even a better Jedi – than Luke is. It makes me cringe so much, and unfortunately that does happen a couple of times in the course of Vision of the Future. It feels very much like Zahn is trying to re-set the narrative by taking Luke away from the god-like portrayal of other novels, and instead set him up for the next stage (which may or may not have involved fighting the unnamed threats of the Unknown Regions), but has the end result of almost returning him to the sort of farmboy he was in A New Hope.

That was a bit rambly, but hopefully you can follow my point!

There is still a tremendous amount to enjoy from these books, and I can definitely recommend you getting a hold of them if you can and giving them a read. While they pretty much have no bearing on the Star Wars narrative post-Disney, of course, they’re nevertheless some of the better books to come out of the Legends canon, and are still some of my favourites!