Friday, December 31, 2010

Review: Star Wars - Red Harvest by Joe Schreiber

Find out what could be so horrific as to send the Sith running scared in Red Harvest, a novel set during The Old Republic era of Star Wars. Red Harvest primarily takes place on snowy planet of Odacer-Faustin, home of a school where future Sith go to learn. The students go about doing their usual routines of trying to kill one another and generally advance themselves while at the same time cutting the legs out from their classmates; because there are rumors that the headmaster of this school is up to something truly dark in his tower overlooking the academy, and that only the best students ever get to find out what it is. Darth Scabrous, like many Sith who will come before and after him, is looking for a path to eternal life. He believes he may have come upon it in the form of a liquid dispensed from a black orchid – but this is no ordinary plant, it has sentience and requires the ministrations of a Jedi in order to remain alive. Fortunately, a bounty hunter named Tulkh has just delivered Jedi Agricultural Corps worker Hestizo Trace and her plant – and a failed student provides the needed volunteer to undergo the procedure of being injected with the fluid. Meanwhile, Jedi Knight Rojo Trace learns of his sister’s abduction and goes off in search of her, not knowing that he’s heading right into this zombie-like plague; where a bite or scratch from someone infected will in turn make the wounded person infected. The zombies can lose limbs and even their heads and continue to function in some kind of hive-like mind state. And the zombies are ensuring everyone in the academy will have a chance to join them – by barricading them all inside. I felt that Red Harvest was a vast improvement over Death Troopers (Joe Schreiber's Star Wars horror book from last year); a better, more suspenseful horror story, and just a better story overall. It's a little like a Victorian gothic horror book - like Frankenstein with the mad scientist, his castle, his "creation" which then goes berserk... plus it's got a Sherlock Holmes vibe with Jedi Knight Trace, who's trying to track down his sister using logical deduction. Obviously the bulk of the book takes place at a Sith Academy; very much like the one in the Knights of the Old Republic game (for those familiar with it). It's a great setting, with lots of potential for fun Sith students and aggressive characters - all of which are well utilized by Schreiber (similar in many ways to all the prisoners in Death Troopers). Red Harvest probably has all the same weaknesses as Death Troopers though, it's a very focused book - this is what's going on, we don't have much of a look at the outside galaxy; only the immediate impact on these characters. I think the build-up might be more intense in Death Troopers (while things are "going wrong" or we're waiting for things to go wrong) - but I think the actual horror of what's happening is better presented this time around, the actual event of the zombie plague being more important as the characters try to then survive moment to moment. It's very similar in the "who will live and who will die?" question Death Troopers keeps the reader guessing about - only in this case, because there are no "special guest stars" anyone is fair game. The author makes the most of that, and he had me going up until the very end wondering who was going to make it out alive. Ultimately, I enjoyed Red Harvest a lot and thought it was stronger than Death Troopers (which I also enjoyed) but I think anyone reading Red Harvest who has read the previous book will know what they're getting into - you're likely to have the same feelings towards this book as you had towards the previous. I do think the combination of The Old Republic era and lack of characters you know have to survive both help this book rise above Death Troopers. While it might be a stretch for those looking for more books in this era (due to the upcoming videogame), I do think there is enough of The Old Republic setting to make it worthwhile to those readers as well. It also stands well enough on it's own so that you don't need to have more of a passing knowledge of the Star Wars movies in order to be able to read this book - it does not require having read any other Star Wars books, not even Death Troopers - so from that point it's very approachable. It's not the best Star Wars book I've ever read, but it's far from the worst - and if the idea of a horror themed book set in that galaxy far, far away appeals to you, it's worth a read.

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