About the Author:
As a journalist Karen Traviss worked variously as a defence correspondent, a police press officer and a lecturer. She has served in the Royal Naval Auxilliary Service and the Territorial Army. Her first novel, 'City of Pearl' was published in 2004. She lives in Devizes, England.
AVERAGE REVIEW SCORE:
4.5 out of 5
Star Wars: Imperial Commando - 501st
19 BBY. A follow-up to the Republic Commando novels set after the events of 'Revenge of the Sith'. Here Clone Commandos Darman and Niner are trying to adjust to their new roles in the 501st Legion of the Galactic Empire and are tasked with helping to hunt down the Jedi who survived Order 66. Meanwhile, on Mandalore, Kal Skirata's ever-growing clan are faced with tough choices when several of those fugitive Jedi arrive seeking refuge.
This was Traviss' last novel in the Star Wars mythos as she chose to quit over creative differences regarding the Mandalorians and their role in 'The Clone Wars' CGI animated TV show. This is a real shame because '501st' shows that she had some great ideas left to be developed. Truth be told, I had become a little bored of her Jedi-are-bad, Mandos-are-the-best attitudes in her last few books but here she actually manages to find the right balance.
Although Darman and Niner's story of being good men serving the increasingly evil Empire is compelling, it is the scenes on Mandalore that make for this book's best elements. I particularly enjoyed seeing Skirata face the troubling issue of Jedi that he actually likes, as well as what to do with the increasingly hard-to-hide number of waifs and strays who seek him out for protection.
As well as furthering the stories of Traviss various own characters, we also get to see how the Dark Times are affecting various other characters from the EU, in particular the Jedi Djinn Altis (from Barbara Hambly's Callista books), Scout (from Sean Stewart's 'Yoda: Dark Rendezvous') and Kina Ha (from the 'Geonosis and the Outer Rim Worlds' RPG sourcebook).
A shame that Traviss never got to continue this storyline, but great that she leaves the franchise on a high note.
Followed by Michael Reaves' 'Coruscant Nights I: Jedi Twilight'.
5 out of 5
Star Wars: Legacy Of The Force - Bloodlines
40 ABY. The second book of the LotF series is Traviss' first foray into the world of the more familiar Star Wars characters (if you don't include her short stories, that is). The book is set amid growing tensions between the Galactic Alliance and the Corellians, as the inevitable war builds up and finally breaks. However, despite this overall theme, Traviss focuses on the main characters involved and, as suggested by the book's title, their families.
The Solo/Skywalker clan has always been a close family, but as they each find themselves pursuing different goals and with different concepts of right and wrong, the family begins to tear itself apart. In juxtaposition, we have the return of the ever-popular Boba Fett who, after a lifetime of solitude, is finally attempting to become a family man by seeking out his estranged daughter, Ailyn Vel. The force that ultimately tears the Solo/Skywalkers apart and pushes Fett's family together is none other than Jacen Solo, who continues his pursuit of Sith power, all the while rationalising his dark deeds with eloquently written self-deception.
There are strong links here to 'Republic Commando: Triple Zero' too, as another specialist team attempts to hunt down terrorists on Coruscant itself, not to mention the possibility that at least one of 'TZ's clones is still alive. However, rather than being an echo of her other work, Traviss seems to be making a much more important point about the erosion of civil liberties in our own world and the danger that sometimes the most expedient method of dealing with terror threats is not always the right method.
Another well-written element is the concept that Luke is unable to define why he believes Jacen is in the wrong because it is just an instinctive morality rather than a reasoned objection.
I found this tightly focused book to be a great counterpoint to Aaron Allston's wider-scope combat-based style and when Troy Denning joins in, this series will have something to please everyone. Oh and be on the lookout for the true return of the Mandalorians, Traviss' specialty.
Followed by Denning's 'Legacy of the Force: Tempest'.
5 out of 5
Star Wars: Legacy Of The Force - Revelation
41 ABY. The eigth and penultimate book of the series has three main plot threads, the largest of which is the Galactic Alliance's plan to militarily subdue the planet Fondor. This storyline leads to the return of Imperial Admirals Pellaeon and Daala and, ultimately, to a line being drawn in the sand between the GA factions supporting Admiral Niathal and Jacen Solo/Darth Caedus respectively. I liked seeing the way in which Niathal began to gather support against Jacen, but the return of Admiral Daala wasn't that welcome, seeing as how I've always felt her overrated as an antagonist.
The second story thread involved Ben Skywalker setting out to prove that Jacen murdered his mother, with the help of GAG Captain Lon Shevu. I mostly enjoyed this storyline, except the fact that not only do we already know Jacen's guilty, but we also know that it's inevitable that Ben will reveal the truth.
The third plotline follows Jaina Solo as she travels to Mandalore in order to learn the skills of Boba Fett. I've enjoyed the development of the Mandalorians as a culture and of Fett as a person, but I'm beginning to understand the criticisms that have been floating around about Traviss being too pro-Mando. The problem is that the author portrays them as not only being the best soldiers in the galaxy, but also the best ship/weapons designers, not to mention the most well-adjusted and wise. It's just too much.
Overall I enjoyed this book, but it has some major flaws that just kept nagging at me.
Followed by Troy Denning's 'Legacy of the Force: Invincible'.
4 out of 5
Star Wars: Legacy Of The Force - Sacrifice
40 ABY. The Legacy series reaches its halfway point with this the fifth book. As before Traviss chooses to focus tightly on a small group of characters, rather than portraying the wider-scale conflict of the series. This is a two-edged sword (geeks might get the pun I just made there) because it means that we do get more intensely connected to the protagonists, but we also lose some of the epic feeling so important to Star Wars.
The focus of this book is on Ben, Jacen, Boba Fett and Mara. Ben begins to understand the consequences of his actions and goes through a remarkable loss of innocence here. Meanwhile, Jacen becomes ever more insufferable as he take the last few steps on the path to becoming a Sith Lord and begins his play for galactic domination. Boba Fett, cool as ever, finally decides to fully embrace his role as Mandalore, the leader of the Mandalorians. Boba's always been one of my favourite characters and I really enjoyed reading Traviss flesh out his opinions, morality and emotional issues.
Finally, there's Mara... This book's most damning factor is that Mara's fate has pretty much been a foregone conclusion since it was announced that a major character would die in the series. The inevitability of Mara's demise cheapens this whole book and robs it of the surprise factor that Chewbacca's death had. However, despite the fact we saw it coming a mile off, Traviss manages to handle the whole situation brilliantly. So well, in fact, that in the final clash between Mara and Jacen there are times that, despite yourself, you almost picture Mara winning.
So, overall a good book, but lacks the impact that it should have had. Also, the fan-chosen Sith name of Darth Caedus, is a bit crappy if you ask me.
Followed by Troy Denning's 'Legacy of the Force: Inferno'.
4 out of 5
Star Wars: Republic Commando - Hard Contact
The tie-in novel to the 'Republic Commando' computer game set 22 BBY. This book involves four Clone Commandos, whose previous squads have been killed on Geonosis (at the end of 'Attack Of The Clones'), being brought together as a team for a mission to the planet Qiilura. On Qiilura one of them, Darman, becomes separated, but takes up with the inexperienced Jedi Padawan Etain Tur-Mukan.
The premise of the 'Republic Commando' computer game is the Star Wars universe seen through the eyes of a soldier and Traviss takes this premise to heart, her own military background providing a great degree of realism and believability. This book is far more mature than a lot of Star Wars books and benefits from that, allowing for a more intense story; the bit where Etain is fleeing from potential rape was particularly poignant.
Ultimately, however, the book's best element is the clones themselves. It's interesting to read how that, despite being of the same genetic stock and having the same training, each is defined as an individual by their experiences. The interaction between the clones also contains plenty of gallows humour that I think has the distinct ring to it of the British squaddie, again, making them more believable as characters.
Now, I usually like my Star Wars to have plenty of cameos but I was surprised to find that the lack of more familiar characters is actually a benefit to this book, allowing the focus to rest solely on the important characters. There are a few familiar names (Ki-Adi-Mundi for one) in the little pre-chapter asides, however, which help to set the tone of the book and remind me of the similar passages in the Dune novels.
This is one of my all time favourite books set in the Galaxy Far, Far Away and is certainly the best thing so far to come out of the Clone Wars merchandise.
Followed by Matthew Stover's 'Shatterpoint'.
5 out of 5
Star Wars: Republic Commando - Order 66
The fourth and final book of the Republic Commando series begins two years into the Clone Wars and carries us through the final year of the conflict, into (and beyond) the events of 'Revenge of the Sith'. Kal Skirata and his clan move up their plans to construct a safe haven for clones fleeing the Republic, whilst seeking a cure for the clones' accelerated aging.
The first half of this book is every bit as good as what has gone before in this series, with great characterisation and brilliant exposition of what's going on behind the scenes in the war. The latter half of the book was spoiled for me, however, by the fact that the author devolves into the unfair and often hypocritical Jedi bashing which so annoyed me in 'The Clone Wars'. Again, I don't mind reading the other side of the story but it has to be balanced. I couldn't help but see Traviss using her spin doctor skills to try to twist the Star Wars universe into her own vision, rather than the collective vision of countless other writers.
The book somewhat redeemed itself in it's closing chapters, as the surviving members of the Skirata clan cope with the aftermath of Order 66 and the rise of the Empire. Truth be told, if it weren't for the anti-Jedi bias, this book would've rated top marks. Oh, and be sure to look out for the first instance of Stormtrooper accuracy!
Followed by James Luceno's 'Dark Lord: The Rise of Darth Vader'.
4 out of 5
Star Wars: Republic Commando - Triple Zero
Book two of the series. The main body of this book takes place a year after 'Attack Of The Clones' and deals with unauthorised counter-terrorist black ops at the very heart of the Republic, on Coruscant. If you want a feel for what this book is like, then imagine all the gritty realism and grim humour of 'Hard Contact' mixed with that sense of an unorthodox team from Aaron Allston's Wraith Squadron novels.
Perhaps this book's best element is the diverse range of characters that form the Republic team (even though most of them are clones). There's Omega Squad, of course, but also Delta Squad, fresh from the second campaign of the 'Republic Commando' game. Representing the Jedi are the eager-to-please Bardan Jusik and Etain Tur-Mukan, both now Jedi Knights and Generals. Etain plays the important role of being the one who is constantly trying to find the balance between necessity and morality and questioning how that fits into the Jedi's understanding of the dark side. Oddly the character that endeared himself to me the most is the ordinary infantry clone, Corr, who finds himself caught up with the commandos. The most interesting new characters are the Null ARCs, a group of super-clones who aren't entirely stable and who only answer to their father figure, Sergeant Kal Skirata.
Skirata and the other Mandalorian trainer, Walon Vau, were the only thing that I didn't love about this book. We are constantly bombarded with positive feeling towards Skirata and negative towards Vau, but when it came down to it I found the former entirely unlikeable. Whenever you're starting to like and understand Kal, he vents a furious attack on Etain which is unfair and unjustified. This reaches its peak at the end when he forces Etain to relinquish the control of her unborn child's future, doing almost exactly what he hates the Republic and the Jedi for. Traviss is a very canny author, so it's more than likely much of what I felt about Kal was deliberately provoked, but I just didn't feel the character lived up to the hype provided by the clones.
Nevertheless, this is another excellent book exploring the less palatable side of war in the Star Wars galaxy, which never loses sight of the human cost involved. And as a bonus, the short story 'Omega Squad: Targets' is included, set between 'Hard Contact' and 'Triple Zero' (and, oddly, containing a Kal Skirata that I did like).
Followed by Karen Miller's 'Clone Wars Gambit: Stealth'.
5 out of 5
Star Wars: Republic Commando - True Colors
The third novel of the series, set 21 BBY, continues the tone and quality of those before it. Here the close-knit team formed in 'Triple Zero' has once more been scattered to the winds of the Clone Wars, but struggle to maintain their connections to one another. Omega and Delta squads are back in the frontlines, Etain returns to Qiilura (from 'Hard Contact'), Besany Wennen discovers a terrible secret on Coruscant and Bardan struggles with his conflicting roles of Jedi and General. The best story thread by far, however, is the one which features Skirata, Vau and the Nulls as they attempt to hunt down the Kaminoan scientist Ko Sai, in the hopes of curing the clones' accelerated ageing process. I was also pleased to see Kal Skirata lightening up somewhat, particularly in regards to Etain.
There are several really good storylines here and Traviss continues to expand the characters of her little 'clan'. However, where the author really excells is in asking the questions that it never occurred to us to ask about the Star Wars galaxy. She takes our simplistic assumptions (such as 'clones are all the same and were evil to turn on the Jedi') and cuts them open with the razor-sharp blade of reality. I mean, did it ever occur to you whilst watching Episodes II or III that the clones are basically a slave army?
Finally worth a mention are the dark subplots at work behind the scenes in this book, with secret Republic assassination squads and Chancellor Palpatine's interest in indefinitely prolonged life, which remind us that all the while the Sith are planning their revenge.
Also included in the book is the short story 'Odds', set before the main text, where Skirata and the Nulls first begin to learn how badly they're being deceived by the government.
Followed by 'MedStar I: Battle Surgeons' by Michael Reaves & Steve Perry.
5 out of 5
Star Wars: The Clone Wars
The novelisation of the animated movie, set 22 BBY. It's only fair that I make it clear that I was negatively disposed towards this book before reading, due to the fact that George Lucas' apparent dislike of EU fans has meant that he's mangled the entire Clone Wars timeline. So, on to the story, in which the Jedi are called in to rescue Jabba the Hutt's kidnapped son and which is, frankly, far from inspiring.
The nature of the plot reveals its origins as the story of a serialised cartoon for TV. But, Karen Traviss is a very talented writer and makes leaps and bounds in making this rather boring series of events a bit more lively and involving. Her love of the clones, and the real-world soldiers they're a metaphor for, makes the 501st's hopeless battle on Teth inspiring reading.
Traviss is well known for being a proponent of the idea that there are two sides to every story and for her disbelief in 'villains', which leads to this book's best and worst elements. The best is that we get to see the personal motivations of baddies such as Palpatine, Dooku and Asajj Ventress, discovering how they justify their actions to themselves, as we all do. The worst element of this book is the slightly hypocritical way in which Traviss portrays the Jedi. Of the six points-of-view from which the book is written, five are negatively disposed towards the Jedi and the sixth, Clone Captain Rex, only ever harps on about how great Anakin is. Basically, it's all-out Obi-Wan and Yoda bashing from all quarters. Perhaps the most telling thing about the author's obvious personal dislike of these characters is that even Anakin always refers to his mentor as Kenobi here, doing away with the affectionate and informal 'Obi-Wan' which we've seen in every other part of the saga (he even calls him Obi-Wan before killing him!).
Overall, a mostly well-written book, but one which completely failed to enflame my Star Wars mania.
Followed by 'The Clone Wars: Wild Space' by Karen Miller.
3 out of 5
Star Wars: The Clone Wars - No Prisoners
22 BBY. The third book of the tie-ins to the CGI animated series. Anakin Skywalker and his Padawan Ahsoka Tano accompany Captain Pellaeon of the Republic Navy on a mission in which they will have to work with a rogue sect of Jedi to recover a Republic spy from danger.
Traviss has, by now, a very good grasp of the Star Wars galaxy and brings that to this book perfectly, managing to find a surprising balance between the childish tone of the animated TV show and the darker, grittier tone of her own Clone Wars back-catalogue; the Republic Commando novels.
I think what I enjoyed the most here was seeing how Anakin reacts to the dissident Jedi led by Master Djinn Altis; Jedi who are allowed to love and marry. As well as serving as a neat retcon for Barbara Hambly's Callista stories, it also serves to begin to drive a wedge between Anakin and the mainstream Jedi Order. It gives you the chance to imagine how the galaxy might have ended up differently if he'd just decided to join Altis' group.
Another high point to this novel was the inclusion of Gilad Pellaeon, one of my favourite characters of the Star Wars Expanded Universe. Traviss has him add to his charm in a scene in which he angrily berates Ahsoka for being scantily clad, explaining that on his ship personnel dress appropriately. This was a nice moment in which the author calls out the makers of the TV series and their design of Ahsoka (whose boobtube and bare midriff are presumably intended to appeal to young teenage girls - or dirty old men).
Followed by 'Republic Commando: Triple Zero'.
5 out of 5