AVERAGE REVIEW SCORE:
3.4 out of 5
Star Wars: Battlefront II - Inferno Squad
0 ABY. Not a sequel to Alexander Freed's 'Battlefront: Twilight Company', this is instead a prelude to the computer game 'Battlefront II', beginning amid the Battle of Yavin. After the destruction of the Death Star the Empire assembles an elite commando unit, Inferno Squad, to infiltrate the rebels. The four Imperial agents, led by Captain Iden Versio, then have to win the trust of the survivors of Saw Gerrera's group of violent partisans in order to take them down.
Electronic Arts put alot of time (and marketing budget) into promoting 'Battlefront II's new campaign mode and this book was released as part of that drive. In the end, however, the story of Iden Versio and Inferno Squad was totally overshadowed by the cynical games company's pay-to-win lootcrate model.
But to return to the book, there is one glaringly obvious problem with 'Inferno Squad' and it is that the Empire has always been an allegory for the Nazis. Whilst there are a some great Imperial characters such as Thrawn, Mara Jade and, of course, Vader, their stories are carried entirely by the charisma of the character. Here we're introduced by an entirely cliched group of nobodies killing people on behalf of an evil fascist government. If you like your protagonists to be coldly-violent tacit supporters of genocide, then this is the book for you. If, like me, you like to be able to actually like the protagonists, then here you'll be faced with the fact that none of the four main characters are particularly likeable. And, since their main character arc actually takes place in the computer game this ties into, you don't get any significant development for the characters here. Golden has tried to offset this by having the antagonists be the more ruthless and violent partisans rather than the Rebel Alliance themselves, but it still doesn't allow you to get behind characters who think that the destruction of an entire planet full of civilians is okay.
The author writes well, but the story and characters she was given to work with here just aren't that appealing.
3 out of 5
Star Wars: Dark Disciple
19 BBY (by EU reckoning). Based on unproduced episodes of the Clone Wars CGI animated TV show, this novel tells the story of Jedi Quinlan Vos who is given the risky task of allying himself with former dark sider Asajj Ventress in an attempt to assassinate Count Dooku.
From what I've seen, this book has been the best-received of all the new (evil Disney) canon novels so far and it was with some surprise therefore that I often struggled to like it. Golden's work on the Lost Tribe of the Sith in the Fate of the Jedi novels means that she has a really good grasp of dark side characters and, since her writing of Vestara Khai was so good, she's the perfect author to get stuck in to a dark sider as complex as Asajj Ventress. The problem is specifically that this book is based on episodes of The Clone Wars written by Katie Lucas. Whilst I enjoyed the TV series, its storytelling was often stunted, obvious and filled with appalling dialogue that Katie's father George would be proud of. Altogether too much of those elements are carried through into this book. I simply didn't buy into the first half of the book, finding both Quinlan and Ventress to be the shallow and unsympathetic versions seen in the show.
On top of these problems, as a fan of the Expanded Universe continuity, I was uncomfortable with the departure from things that had been established in previous books. I'm not an idiot and I get that those older stories are now non-canon but, for example, if you're going to make your main character fan-favourite Quinlan Vos it makes no sense to then give Quinlan an entirely different history and character. I was never too big a fan of John Ostrander and Jan Duursema's brooding and edgy Vos, but he was infinitely better than the version presented here. This is just one example, but there are many more (Tholme is another particular sticking point). None of the other Disney canon stories I've read have done this, so why this one? To some readers this won't even be an issue but, for me, this blatant middle-finger to the EU soured the reading experience.
Believe me, however, this book is definitely worth reading. It has numerous major flaws, but it also has some scenes which come achingly close to redeeming the entire book. Two of my favourites were Ventress and Vos' first attempt to assassinate Dooku and the scenes in which Ventress enlists the help of some familiar bounty hunters (including Boba Fett, Bossk and Embo) in an attempt to rescue Vos. This latter was by far the best, with a great Dirty Dozen feel to it. However, far beyond these scenes, what I liked most about this book was its spot-on interpretations of Count Dooku and Obi-Wan Kenobi. The former is every bit as suave, wily and powerful as he should be, providing genuine danger to the story. Kenobi meanwhile, my favourite character in Star Wars, is perfectly pitched as the wise, sympathetic moralist which makes him such a compelling Jedi Master. The scenes where he speaks from his conscience against the prevailing mood of the Jedi Council were brilliant.
So, overall, a book with great potential, hampered by its origins but largely saved by some genuinely great moments. My interpretation of this can be boiled down to simply; Golden is an excellent writer whose hands were tied by the writing of Katie Lucas, who is a hack.
4 out of 5
Star Wars: Fate Of The Jedi - Allies
44 ABY. Book five of nine. Here Luke and Ben are forced into an uneasy alliance with the Lost Tribe of the Sith in order to hunt down and confront their mutual enemy Abeloth.
I really enjoyed seeing how the Grand Master of the Jedi Order and one of his most promising Knights hold their own in an alliance where they're surrounded by overwhelming numbers of Sith. We also get a nice bit of insight into Vestara's internal conflict regarding her loyalty to the Lost Tribe and her increasing connection to the Skywalkers. Of the three FotJ authors, Golden seems to understand the Sith characters the best.
As with much of the series, however, this book is let down by the tedious continuation of plot threads like Daala being a bitch, Tahiri being in trouble with the law and the Jedi Order sitting on their hands not doing much about any of it.
Followed by Troy Denning's 'Fate of the Jedi: Vortex'.
3 out of 5
Star Wars: Fate Of The Jedi - Ascension
44 ABY. Book eight of nine. In this book the Jedi set out to hunt down the dark entity Abeloth and discover the location of the Lost Tribe of the Sith. Meanwhile, Daala and a cabal of Imperials attempt to retake control of the galaxy.
There is a definite upswing in pace for the series in this book as characters who have done very little for book after book actually become proactive. Sadly, despite the increased pace, the repetition of dead-end storylines continues and, whilst they're written more interestingly here, I'd long-since lost the will to care.
As before, Golden shows that she has the firmest grasp of the Lost Tribe and Vestara in particular and the scenes focusing on them are by far the best but are not enough to elevate the book (or the series, for that matter) above mediocre.
Followed by Troy Denning's 'Fate of the Jedi: Apocalypse'.
3 out of 5
Star Wars: Fate Of The Jedi - Omen
43 ABY. Book two of nine. Golden's first ever foray into the Galaxy Far, Far Away is an incredibly promising one. Here tensions continue to mount between Galactic Alliance Chief of State Natasi Daala and the Jedi Order. Meanwhile, in the distant reaches of the galaxy, the Lost Tribe of the Sith begin a journey which will take them back onto the galactic stage after millennia in isolation.
It is with the chapters dedicated to the Lost Tribe, and Vestara Khai in particular, that Golden really shines. She seems to have an excellent grasp of the powerplays and scheming at the core of Sith culture. If you read and enjoyed John Jackson Miller's 'Lost Tribe of the Sith: The Collected Stories', then this book serves as a brilliant continuation of that one's themes.
Really, it is only the chapters focusing on the more familiar Star Wars characters that let this book down. The schism between the Jedi and Chief Daala is more of a frustration than a good element for increasing plot tension. Meanwhile, Luke and Ben's quest takes an uncomfortable turn for the surreal.
Followed by Troy Denning's 'Fate of the Jedi: Abyss'.
4 out of 5