Friday, March 18, 2011

Book Review: “Fatal Alliance” by Sean Williams

This is the first in a new series of Star Wars books taking place during an era thousands of years before the movies, a time called The Old Republic. What started out as a videogame, specifically a MMO like World of Warcraft, has become a multimedia effort bringing in books and comics to flesh out the story as well. Being the first book released for a game that hasn’t come out yet, Fatal Alliance is for many their first taste of what to expect. For those with no plans to play the game, the book has to be judged on its own merits. While I have no plans to play the game, I chose to review the book taking into consideration both angles that a reader might be coming from. Many of the reviews I’ve seen for Fatal Alliance have chosen to focus in on the core cast of characters, and the fact that they seem to have been created for the sole purpose of using every character class that’s going to be available in the game. That thought actually rarely ever occurred to me. One reason is because these character types are really what you’d expect in any Star Wars book – a couple of Sith, a few Jedi, a few soldiers, some smugglers, a bounty hunter and a spy. But what really makes it work is the author’s ability to have you care about those characters – and how well they’re integrated into the plot. So, I’m going to focus less on the characters themselves and more on the plot – and how their stories are integrated into it. In this time period, the Sith Empire and the Republic have reached a truce to the long standing war between them. A smuggler named Jet Nebula (yeah, it’s a slightly lame name, but the rest make up for it – and it does sound like the kind of name a game player would pick) winds up getting his hands on a secret item, one which could give a huge advantage for one of these powers over the other. The Hutt that he works for decides to hold an auction – inviting representatives from the Republic and Sith Empire to attend. Of course the Sith send one of their dark lords, Darth Chratis, and his apprentice Eldon Ax – figuring they will just take what they want from the Hutts. The Republic meanwhile sends Envoy Vii to represent them, who is in actuality an undercover spy for the Empire – which would ensure the Empire has the upper hand if not for the fact that the Jedi decide to secretly send their own representative to the talks as well. Padawan Shigar teams up with former Republic soldier Larin. They each have their problems – he can’t seem to get past his stage of training to become a Jedi Knight, she was dishonorably discharged for informing on an officer (who later turned out to be at fault). They both secretly enter the Hutt’s palace hoping to beat the Sith to the prize – but just as each party tries to spring it’s own trap, a Mandalorian bounty hunter named Dao Stryver makes off with it – but not before they all see that what it is that they’ve been planning to bid on. They are self-replicating robots, highly intelligent and very powerful warriors – and not only could they give one side an advantage over the other, but left to their own devices, they might be a threat to the entire universe. Now it’s a race against time to trace the bounty hunter, and through him find out the origin of these robots – and the connection their creator has with one among their number. This is a large Star Wars story, over 400 pages, with plenty for fans of this type of serial space opera to dig into. With all these different groups there are constant scene changes and mini cliffhangers, lots of action to break up the story. I didn’t feel like any character was just shoe-horned into the story, they all would have been a part of it even if it hadn’t been a class in the game. I’m not sure how much game players will actually get out of this book in terms of hints about the game (beyond what they might be able to expect while playing as one of these classes), but as a general reader of Star Wars books I found it a very enjoyable experience. Unlike many Star Wars books, in thinking back over Fatal Alliance I find that I don’t have any criticisms of the story – there were no glaring issues or strange character moments. It has an excellent ending, while still allowing for the possibility of these characters to be used again in future stories. There’s growth along the way for each one of them, so you don’t feel like anyone really stayed exactly the same from beginning to end (a fault that can sometimes appear in other Star Wars books). There are space battles, lightsaber fights, chase scenes and lots of strange planets to visit, not to mention scheming Sith lords – everything you’d want out of a great Star Wars book.

1 comment:

Michael Offutt said...

This book sounds good but most Star Wars novels are pretty solid in my opinion as the universe is just that dynamic.

I wish Hollywood and television would take note of how easy it is to come up with another storyline for Star Wars and start up a television series (not a cartoon) similar to Firefly with a crew of would-be adventurers doing stuff in the old republic atmosphere with an overall plotline that spans one or two seasons.