About the Author
Troy Denning is a New York Times bestselling author. A formed game designer and editor, he lives in western Wisconsin, USA with his wife Andria.
AVERAGE REVIEW SCORE:
3.8 out of 5
Star Wars: Crucible
Set in 45 ABY this is the chronologically last novel of the now defunct Star Wars Expanded Universe. The story follows the heroes of the Star Wars Saga, Luke, Leia, Han and Lando, as they embark on one last adventure together, exploring an isolated pocket of space and running afoul of the villainous Qreph brothers.
At first I was excited by the prospect of a smaller adventure focused on the classic heroes of Star Wars, having tired a little of the broad and unfocused epic series like Fate of the Jedi and Legacy of the Force, and the book quickly began to deliver with mysteries, sabotage and cantina shootouts. Sadly the book suddenly jumps off track about halfway through and never finds its way back. Rather than a classic adventure, we're exposed to increasingly weird and inexplicable scenes beginning when the evil villains decide to play cards-for-questions with their captives. This culminates with a truly bizarre end sequence in which people start glowing and spontaneously mutating. At one point Luke has wounds in his neck and Han sees yellow eyes inside them, something that may either give me nightmares or simply a headache from confusion.
On top of this, Denning doesn't do as much descriptive work as he normally does so we never really get to form a mental picture of the characters or the settings. For example, the villains wear 'powersuits' but we're never really told what they look like, so I found it hard to picture them (in the end I settled on something that, in my mind's eye, looked a bit like MODOK). The worst case of this lack of description is once again at the climax where the story suddenly shifts into some vague shadowy forest.
Overall, rather than a grand send off for these veteran characters, they just seem to fade into obscurity - making the subsequent demise of the Expanded Universe timeline at the hands of evil Disney seem all the more tragic.
2 out of 5
Star Wars: Dark Nest I - The Joiner King
The first book of the post-NJO Dark Nest trilogy, set 35 ABY. Five years after the end of the Yuuzhan Vong war, the reformed Jedi Council is disturbed by the news that several of their young Jedi, the survivors of the Myrkr mission in 'Star By Star', have disappeared into the Unknown Regions and apparently begun a war with the ruthless Chiss.
At first I had a great deal of trouble enjoying this book. It stemmed from the fact that the old hive-mind thing has been done a dozen times before (not least with Star Trek's Borg) and therefore the first quarter or so of the book is fairly old hat. Thankfully, once the unsurprising revelation about the hive-mind controlling the Jedi is passed the story gets much better as the Jedi begin their hunt for the Dark Nest.
This book is very much a follow-up to 'Star By Star', using many of the same characters (Denning continues to show his affection for the characters of the Young Jedi Knights series) and also resolving some of 'Star By Star's unanswered questions; particularly relating to the fate of Raynar Thul, Welk and Lomi Plo. Denning also takes the opportunity to sew up some continuity problems caused between the New Jedi Order books and Timothy Zahn's 'Survivor's Quest'. As he did with 'Tatooine Ghost', the author also manages to link the prequels into the continuing story, with Luke discovering some Episode III revelations buried deep in R2-D2's memory.
Another problem I had though, was the Jedi's 'new understanding of the Force' in which they use both the light side and the dark side in order to serve balance. Frankly this is a really uncomfortable deviation from Star Wars' classic good-versus-evil core and no matter how much logic says that things are never as simple as good and evil, I'll never be comfortable with things like Mara using Force-lightning. I enjoyed this book (it's great to see how different the galaxy is after the NJO) but flaws like the hive-mind thing, the new Jedi philosophy and the decidedly uncomfortable ending mean I can't give it full marks.
Followed by 'Dark Nest II: The Unseen Queen'.
4 out of 5
Star Wars: Dark Nest II - The Unseen Queen
36 ABY, a year has passed since the events of 'The Joiner King' and the Galactic Alliance has discovered that the Dark Nest has been supplying pirates and smugglers with toxic black membrosia. Luke and Han are held on one of the Killiks' new worlds when Raynar suspects the Jedi are behind a strange phenomenon plaguing the Colony. Soon another war between the Colony and the Chiss begins to build up and, after Cal Omas throws the Jedi Order into turmoil, the Galactic Alliance is free to act without restraint.
Denning continues to be an excellent writer, but the story itself has some ups and some downs. I enjoyed Jacen's new character direction, since I was just so sick of the preachy whining Jacen of the NJO. Now he's more powerful, has talents no other Jedi does and his desire to protect something (I won't ruin the surprise) leads him into acts that may be the first steps towards the dark side.
One of the things I disliked was the circular arguments with Raynar. We realised in the first book that the Dark Nest was manipulating him, so why belabour the issue here. Another point in it's favour is Admiral Bwua'tu. I thought he would be just another obstructive Bothan like Borsk Fey'lya, but I found myself coming to really like him. On the down side, again, most of the story is left unresolved. However, to end on a good point; this book is one of the first where I've actually liked Leia's bit - it's great that she's becoming a proper Jedi now.
Followed by 'Dark Nest III: The Swarm War'.
4 out of 5
Star Wars: Dark Nest III - The Swarm War
Set 36 ABY. As the war between the Killiks and the Chiss rages with no quarter given, the Jedi struggle to find the cohesion necessary to end the fighting.
I was very disappointed with this book. The whole trilogy has turned out to be something of a nonevent and this book is the worst of them, largely repeating issues covered in the previous two books. This is particularly apparent in Jaina and Zekk siding with the Killiks against the Chiss (just like in 'The Joiner King') or in the scene where the Jedi attack the Dark Nest's flagship (just like in 'The Unseen Queen') or in the scene where the Falcon is trying to avoid a Chiss boarding party (again, like in the first book).
Denning's writing of the ground battle on Tenupe does somehow manages to capture the sense of dirt, noise and horror that it should though. I was also very excited when the Killiks began attempting to take control of insect governments galaxywide, but that too proved an anticlimax and we never even got to see the retaking of Thyferra.
Another big disappointment was Jacen; rather than continuing his ruthless decisiveness, he's become deceptive and arrogant, leaving you with no sympathy for his inevitable fall to the dark side. Something else that bothered me was the way that the flashbacks to Anakin and Padme's relationship, provided by R2-D2, are all from Episode III and I definitely feel they would've been more effective if they'd shown snippets from all three prequels to Luke and co. Also, the excellent character of Admiral Bwua'tu doesn't show his face here - another disappointment.
The book's only great moment is when Luke leads a battalion of Bugcruncher droids in attacking the Killik flagship and confronting both Raynar Thul and Lomi Plo. However, even that bit isn't as good as it could have been. Ultimately, this book shows the Dark Nest trilogy up for what it really is; a device for setting the appropriate scene for the Legacy of the Force series (ie with Luke as the Jedi Grand Master, Leia as a full Jedi Knight, Jacen starting towards the dark side, etcetera).
Followed by Aaron Allston's 'Legacy of the Force: Betrayal'.
3 out of 5
Star Wars: Fate Of The Jedi - Abyss
Book three of nine, set 43 ABY. At the heart of the galaxy tensions rise between the Jedi and Chief of State Natasi Daala with the fate of those Jedi infected by Force madness hanging in the balance. Meanwhile Luke and Ben Skywalker's quest takes them into the Maw, a cluster of black holes, where they'll encounter both the Sith and a terrifying new evil.
Because of its length, the Fate of the Jedi series spends a lot of time treading water and all too much of this book follows that trend. We get very little resolution of plot threads and spend a lot of time exploring ideas that were pretty much obvious; the most prevalent being the situation on Coruscant. Yes, Daala is bad, we get it. (None of this would've happened if they hadn't inexplicably and improbably shoe-horned her into the Chief of State job at the end of the Legacy of the Force series.
Where this book does show a little pace and thrill is on Abeloth's planet, where the Lost Tribe of the Sith find themselves unwillingly enthralled and where Luke and Ben have to confront not only the Jedi's traditinal enemies, but also the superpowered pyscho that is Abeloth herself.
Followed by Aaron Allston's 'Fate of the Jedi: Backlash'.
3 out of 5
Star Wars: Fate Of The Jedi - Apocalypse
The ninth and final book of the series, set 44 ABY. The Sith have seized control of Coruscant and Abeloth has seized control of the Sith, leaving Luke Skywalker and his Jedi to launch an all-out assault against their dark side foes.
This book is orders of magnitude better than most of the series and comes very close to redeeming Fate of the Jedi as a whole. This is a broad, action-packed epic in the grandest Star Wars tradition, beginning strongly with the Jedi assault on Coruscant, then branching out into a wider conflict, before coming back together for the Jedi's multi-pronged attempt to destroy Abeloth once and for all. It was nice to finally see some resolution in the stories of Tahiri, Jaina and Jag, which have been meandering on unresolved since the New Jedi Order.
Also, if you're a fan of 'The Clone Wars' TV series, then you'll be pleased by the links this story makes with that series' brilliant Mortis episodes. I particularly liked the way in which Luke and Ben are faced with a very similar choice to the one which was given to Anakin Skywalker in the animated show regarding the Balance of the Force. Unfortunately the downside to this link is that it comes as too little too late in the case of Abeloth. After eight books, it just feels that her links to the Ones have been bolted on awkwardly at the last minute.
Unfortunately it is those eight preceeding books which stop 'Apocalypse' from being one of the Expanded Universe's truly great novels. Because Abeloth and the Sith have been defeated and run away so many times in the series up to this point, they've been robbed of any real threat. This means that the pursuits and conflicts just feel like more of the same, rather than a titanic clash between the light side and the dark. Had this book been a standalone, or perhaps part of a trilogy, it would've been a far more enjoyable experience.
Followed by Aaron Allston's 'X-Wing: Mercy Kill'.
4 out of 5
Star Wars: Fate Of The Jedi - Vortex
Book six of nine, set 44 ABY. The dark entity Abeloth has been put to flight once more, by Luke Skywalker's uneasy alliance with the Lost Tribe of the Sith has broken down and he and Ben now find themselves hunted. Meanwhile, on Coruscant, the Jedi Council finally decides that it is time to take action against the increasing oppressive government of Natasi Daala.
This is one of the, sadly, few books of the Fate of the Jedi series where events actually pick up a bit of pace. I was particularly pleased to see the Jedi finally deciding to be proactive. It was getting really boring watching them debate the wrongs being done for them to then decide to do nothing. This event causes a schism in the Jedi Council whose conclusion is one of the few genuine shocks in this series.
Where Denning makes a misstep is by following the series' formula of visiting every Force-using group ever featured in the Expanded Universe. This time around it involves reintroducing the Fallanassi, a group of apathetic preachy women who were one of the worst elements of the overall quite bad Black Fleet trilogy by Michael P. Kube-McDowell. This sect of 'everything is grey' moralists totally spoil the great Jedi versus Sith dynamic that this series has been building.
Followed by Aaron Allston's 'Fate of the Jedi: Conviction'.
3 out of 5
Star Wars: Legacy Of The Force - Inferno
The sixth book of the series set 40 ABY. Having already taken control of the Galactic Alliance Jacen Solo (aka Darth Caedus) uses Luke Skywalker's grief over Mara Jade's murder in an attempt to exert control over the Jedi Order. However, Jacen's despotic policies turn against him when former allies suddenly switch sides to oppose him.
I was so relieved to finally see the people of the Star Wars galaxy stop and think 'Hang on, this guy's a bastard!', as I'd become completely sick of the way all the characters kept avoiding the issue. There are also a few really good storylines within the book which make it more exciting, the foremost of which is the GAG holding the Jedi Academy hostage.
Denning has always been a little too enamoured of his character Alema Rar and I've found her largely annoying up until now, but in this book she undertakes a quest to locate the hidden Sith Order so that it can guide Jacen's development following the death of Lumiya. However, what really made this book worth the money for me was seeing Luke finally showing Jacen which one of them is truly the Master.
Followed by Aaron Allston's 'Fate of the Jedi: Fury'.
5 out of 5
Star Wars: Legacy Of The Force - Invincible
The ninth and final book of the series, set 41 ABY, focuses on Jaina Solo and her quest to hunt down and kill the monster that used to be her twin brother.
Sadly as the conclusion to what has been a very interesting series, 'Invincible' falls far short of expectations. Don't get me wrong, Denning's writing remains as compelling as ever and this is one of the best Jaina-focused stories we've seen. No, where this book falls short is what it doesn't feature. The final book of a series like Legacy of the Force should tie the various story threads together, providing a complete and satisfying conclusion to what has gone before (much as James Luceno's 'The Unifying Force' did for the New Jedi Order series). Here we get a chapter-long description of a boring chase through Coruscant traffic and later things like the conclusion to the war and the rise of a surprising new Chief of State are handled in (literally) a couple of pages. Interesting elements from previous books of the series, such as the hidden Sith or Wedge's daughters, don't even get a passing mention.
Perhaps the most irritating thing in this book is the fact that, much as he did with Raynar Thul in 'Star By Star', Denning writes Zekk out of the story with little or no explanation. I mean, there's opening up potential for future stories, and then there's just plain leaving loose ends. Another problem was the fact that each chapter was prefaced by a really god-awful joke supposedly told by a young Jacen Solo, which was clearly supposed to make us think about how cute he used to be, but instead made the arrogant prick we've seen in this series seem like an improvement!
It's not all bad news, of course, as well as Jaina's enjoyable story I also really liked the interplay between Ben Skywalker and Tahiri Veila, Caedus' former apprentice and his current one. It's Ben's determination to save the latest Sith (who's become quite the evil seductress) because of how close he came to standing in her shoes that makes this so compelling. Overall, however, this book seems rushed and shallow, making it the weakest of the Legacy novels and a poor way to end the series.
Followed by Paul S. Kemp's 'Crosscurrent'.
3 out of 5
Star Wars: Legacy Of The Force - Tempest
The third book of the Legacy series, set 40 ABY, focuses on events taking place in the Hapes Consortium. Jacen's descent into the dark side (see, told you so) continues as he find the woman he loves, Tenel Ka, and their secret daughter, Allana, threatened. This is made worse when Han and Leia are implicated in an assassination attempt against Tenel Ka. Meanwhile, Luke and Mara discover that the Sith Lumiya is working with Jacen's Galactic Alliance Guard and fear her influence over Jacen and Ben.
There were elements of this book which really disappointed me, however, that disappointment mostly stemmed from the lack of resolution to many of the story lines. This is understandable considering that this is just a third into the series, but I would still have liked something more conclusive than the scenes in which everyone knows Jacen's evil, but decide to ignore their instincts and not mention it.
What this book does have is not one, but three dark side enhanced femme fatales. Lumiya is one, obviously, and we do get her first confrontation with Luke of the series. We also see the return of the increasingly-dismembered Dark Jedi Alema Rar, last see in 'The Swarm War'. Finally, and this I was particularly pleased to see, Denning brings about the return of the Jedi-hunting dark sider Aurra Sing (who appears as a background character in Episode I).
I was frustrated by the way everyone (particularly Jacen) is quick to condemn Han and Leia. You'd think 40 years of saving the galaxy over and over would give them some credit. However, that frustration was balanced by the monster of a battle scene that Denning delivers with his usual skill. I really liked Ben's failure to understand why Han and Jaina should be so horrified that Jacen names his new Star Destroyer the Anakin Solo and the way it shows how Jacen has been subtly twisting Ben's perceptions.
Perhaps the best element of the book is just how Darth Vader Jacen is becoming, what with the black outfit, the Force-choking of disobedient officers and the personal Star Destroyer.
Followed by Aaron Allston's 'Legacy of the Force: Exile'.
4 out of 5
Star Wars: Tatooine Ghost
A stand-alone novel set in 8 ABY, between Dave Wolverton's 'The Courtship Of Princess Leia' and Timothy Zahn's Thrawn trilogy. Shortly after their wedding, Han and Leia broach the subject of children. Han is in favour of the idea, but Leia is still haunted by the shadow of her father. They, along with Chewie and C-3PO, are sent on a mission (shockingly, to Tatooine) to recover a painting that holds the key to a New Republic spy network.
This novel sets about tying together the prequels and the post-RotJ Star Wars stories as Leia discovers Anakin Skywalker's past on Tatooine. Denning uses the excellent idea of having Leia discover Shmi Skywalker's diary, thereby allowing Leia to view Anakin through the eyes of a loving mother, gaining a new perspective on Darth Vader. Perhaps one of the most poignant moments is when Anakin's slaughter of the Tusken Raiders comes to light and Han says that he might have reacted the same way in similar circumstances.
This book wonderfully ties together Tatooine's story from the prequels, the classic movies and the Expanded Universe. On top of the wealth of fan appeal (which includes a couple of Episode I's Podracers), Denning also writes an exceptionally compelling story of his own. The scene in which Han is lost in the desert was so flawlessly written that I had to get a drink to ease my parched mouth! One of the best stand-alone Star Wars books, fans should keep a look out for a certain red-eyed blue-skinned alien Imperial.
Followed by Zahn's 'Heir to the Empire'.
5 out of 5
Star Wars: The New Jedi Order - Star By Star
The ninth book of the NJO, set 27 ABY, and a strong contender for the best Star Wars book of all time. The story begins with the Jedi discovering a frightening new Yuuzhan Vong weapon; the Voxyn, a creature genetically engineered to hunt and kill Jedi. The story then splits as a group of young Jedi set off on a mission to destroy the Voxyn Queen and the rest of the New Republic braces itself for a renewed Vong offensive.
The story of the young Jedi is excellent, allowing the newer Jedi Knights to step out of the shadow of the heroes of the movies. The diverse makeup of the Jedi team gives the plotline a classic quest-story feel, the results of which will genuinely leave you reeling in shock. Meanwhile, Denning also continues the war on a larger scale, dramatically telling the stories of battles, skirmishes and the like until, finally, the Vong appear in the sky above Coruscant itself.
Whereas some of the NJO books have been too dark and depressing for their own good, Denning manages to strike a balance, having the heroes score several minor victories to offset the two major tragedies. This book is addictive reading and never fails to make you chuckle at the humour (particularly the YVH droids), feel sad at the losses and surprise you with it's twists (not least of which is that fact that Borsk Fey'lya turns into something of a hero!).
Followed by Elaine Cunningham's 'The New Jedi Order: Dark Journey'.
5 out of 5