Friday, March 16, 2012

Book Review – Fate of the Jedi: Apocalypse by Troy Denning

I was pleased with the format of my last Star Wars book review (Plagueis), so I’m going to continue to use it this time around. In this case, that means the first part of this review will be geared towards the casual fan and/or the fan who’s looking to get my thoughts without much in the way of spoilers. This is probably where the majority of readers of this blog will be able to stop, as you’ll get my recommendation in that section. Then I’m going to go more in-depth with my thoughts and my overall analysis of the book including spoilers. So without further ado:

The Summary:

Let’s just get this out of the way up-front, this book is not for the casual fan of Star Wars. If you have not read the whole Fate of the Jedi series up to this point, there’s no point in reading Apocalypse. It could be argued that you really need to have read the Dark Nest trilogy, Legacy of the Force and all the Fate of the Jedi books (not to mention the New Jedi Order series), but I’ll just say you really need to have read the 8 prior books in Fate of the Jedi to even understand where things stand on the opening page of Apocalypse.

Because Coruscant is being invaded by the Jedi, who went into a self-imposed exile in order to flush out the Sith infiltrators they knew were waiting for a moment to strike and seize power. The Lost Tribe of the Sith have shut themselves up inside the Jedi Temple, ready to defend against the Jedi siege – but Luke Skywalker has a plan to get a strike team behind enemy lines and overrun their defenses from within. Of course this is Star Wars and things never quite go as planned, especially with a former Sith as guide, and a being of unimaginable power secretly ruling the Sith.

Elsewhere, the Imperials led by Jagged Fel are at a stalemate with those who follow Admiral Daala, and the only thing that can save them all may be the scariest conceivable solution… an election! But Jag is convinced someone is helping Daala, corrupting the election process, so he sends former Jedi Tahiri on a mission to track down that source. Tahiri winds up in the company of a famous bounty hunter whom she doesn’t trust, facing an enemy that just may be the death of them both.

Overall, I enjoyed Apocalypse. I have my share of issues with the Fate of the Jedi series in general, and with this book in specific (as I’ll detail below), but I think Apocalypse succeeded in doing all the things it needed to. It provides a good wrap-up to this series of books, providing enough closure on all the major plotlines so as not to feel like just another book while we wait for the next one to be announced which will continue this story. It also does an excellent job of defying expectations and actively subverting many assumptions that readers have been making for some time now (due to the future of this timeline as dictated by the Legacy comic). I don’t think it’s Troy Denning’s best Star Wars novel, nor the best in the Fate of the Jedi series, but it’s a strong finish to a series I’ve thought was mostly good, and even better, it sets in motion many possibilities for future authors and storylines. Like many, I’m more excited about the next novels than I’ve been in a long time.

The Details:

There were some things that I absolutely loved about Apocalypse, and often times these were also the things that defied my expectations about the book. At this point, fans of the Star Wars Expanded Universe have started to assume that Jagged Fel will become Imperial Emperor, that some combination of Jaina and/or Tahiri will form the Imperial Knights (a Jedi group who protect the Emperor in the Legacy comic that takes place further in the future of Star Wars than Fate of the Jedi) and so on. Because so many things were sort of tacked on in the finale of the Legacy of the Force series (Invincible, also written by Troy Denning) which seemed to be rushing to implement some of those changes, it was nice to see the opposite happen in Apocalypse.

Making Tahiri an Imperial Hand, even just briefly, was a great idea. It actually fit her very well; I could see her as being similar to Mara Jade, especially when Mara was at her lowest (after the Emperor’s death) since Tahiri is in a near identical place. While it also started out as something where I was thinking it could be the beginnings of the Imperial Knights, I could also see her staying in that role, though ultimately by the end of the book she’s back to being a Jedi again. The scenes with her working alongside Boba Fett were just great, the two of them tear through a secret laboratory like you’d expect from a Mandalorian and Jedi – but it never loses an edginess either that comes from being too far inside Fett’s head. Because these scenes are only told from Tahiri’s point of view, the reader is never quite sure what Fett’s goals or plans are, and if he might betray Tahiri – even as we know she’s planning to betray him. Meanwhile, they’re facing off against Abeloth – a creature, who let’s face it, is WAY out of their league. And yet they not only hold their own, but manage to defeat the creature – at least that aspect of her/it.

Since we’re on the subject of subverting what we think is coming in the future, I’ll also talk a little about Jaina. There are two major character developments for her in Apocalypse, one which continues down a known path, and one that adds an interesting twist. The twist happens early in the novel, when Luke names Jaina as a Jedi Master and new Council member (in the midst of battle against the Sith). Does a Jedi Master walk away from those duties to become consort to an Imperial Emperor? I’m not sure, but since Jag has walked away from those duties by the end of the book (and married Jaina), it raises a lot more questions – and that’s what I like about this development.

Likewise, finally revealing the truth about Allana’s parentage has been a long time in coming and a welcome development. I always thought keeping it a secret was a silly idea, and it’s never really played out all that well in the books, so it’s good that it’s now dropped. To have it happen around the time of the wedding seemed appropriate, and though I think we were given a bit of the short shrift again with a wedding (Han/Leia) because we’re never told who the guests are (I assume Wedge was there, and Winter?), the scene we were given played really well.

Going back for a moment to when Jaina becomes a Master, it’s just one great moment in an overall great action sequence that’s just relentless from near the beginning of the novel until at least the half-way point of the book. The Jedi siege on their own temple is no small undertaking, working through multiple layers of a building that’s a large as a city. There are Sith around every corner, pursuing them and laying traps, and at the end of it all lies Abeloth – whom the Jedi were not at all prepared to deal with. Despite the death of Jedi Barv in defense of Allana and the Solos, I also applaud that there were no “major” deaths of characters in this book. I’ve had my fill of it for some time, and I can assure anyone working on these books that their mission in accomplished – I fear for nearly every character in every scene of these books nowadays. I felt sure one of Corran Horn’s children wasn’t going to make it through this book alive – and I haven’t learned enough about them yet to want to let them go.

Finally, something that has been hinted at as far back as Legacy of the Force: Fury (and more recently again in this series when the Jedi leave Coruscant), now in Apocalypse the Jedi leave Coruscant for good. They will no longer be a direct extension of the Galactic Alliance government, but will have their own identity and accountability. It’s a break that’s been a long time in coming and a very good move for both the Jedi Order and for the stories (which have fallen into a bit of a rut because of their constant bickering with the government they work for but doesn’t trust them).

But there were a number of things that didn’t work for me in Apocalypse, and one of the first was sort of the ham-handed way in which Vestara’s betrayal of the Jedi came about. This character has been subject to varying degrees of inconsistent characterization since her introduction, from being an obvious trap to a sincere Jedi, to somewhere in between. While ultimately I felt that her character arc played out as best it could be in Apocalypse (based on all the prior inconsistencies), I wasn’t completely satisfied by it. I also struggle to separate her from the fact that in most cases her character was involved in each of the weakest parts of this novel.

Vestara’s betrayal moment comes as Leia, Han and Allana are on a MacGuffin quest to bring them into the temple just as the battle with the Sith is raging. On the one hand, the moment of betrayal is a tense one – I wasn’t sure Vestara wouldn’t turn back against the Sith at any moment, and it really wasn’t looking good for Han and/or the Falcon for awhile there – but the mere fact that Han, Leia and Allana were there in the first place, following a vision of Allana’s basically tying back into a nest of newborn Barabels (lizards) that she learned about a few books ago. This is a nest that they ultimately didn’t save, but became a mission for Saba and Tahiri later in the book. It felt very shoe-horned into the novel for no apparent reason other than to give Leia and Han something to do. Unfortunately, despite the fact that Allana had been one of the first Abeloth tried to reach out to in Outcast, there’s no linkage back to that to be found here in Apocalypse.

Which just sort of sums up my problem with a lot of the big “meta-plot” concerning Abeloth in this series. After reading Abyss, and seeing the Mortis episodes of The Clone Wars, I opined how I’d like to see connections made between Jacen/Allana and the Balance of the Force. Apparently I should be careful what I wish for, because this book more than tries to make those connections – unfortunately, I wasn’t really feeling it. I could get behind the history of Abeloth as a kind of surrogate mother to the Light and Dark sides, but I took issue with the idea that Anakin Skywalker essentially never brought Balance to the Force, and that now the only way to achieve it is to have a neverending war between Jedi and Sith.

I haven’t even dealt with the fact that while apparently the Celestials needed to create a giant space station capable of moving entire planets in order to be able to contain (CONTAIN – not destroy) Abeloth, all Luke Skywalker needs to do is enter the astral plane and work alongside Darth Krayt to send Abeloth reeling. It felt like so much was thrown in during this last book with regards to Abeloth, that no thought was given to it beforehand (a slow reveal of some of these things over the course of this series might have alleviated some of that feeling). I’m not sure we really needed the Killiks at all (it just seemed another MacGuffin, in order to be able to give the reader the info dump made necessary because it’s so late in the series and motives really should have been assigned long before now). And to top it all off, by returning to the Shadows we get the chance to ruin all the good work that was done in providing closure with Jacen in Abyss by turning him into a jerk again.

Finally, it’s a shame that an opportunity was wasted in this book to have a spectacular Imperial-on-Imperial space battle. It was well set-up by Christie Golden in Ascension, but instead of having a battle we spend a whole lot of time in a stand-off. I actually liked the idea of an Imperial election, and that still could have been used to ultimately resolve the conflict – but I sometimes like to see space ships duking it out in my Star Wars. This whole series has been lacking in that area, and I went into this book with high hopes for finally getting one because of the great lead in provided by the previous book.

At this point, I think my review has gone on long enough, and I’ve more than gotten my point across. With some great moments and some not-so-great ones, I find that it averages out to a solid “good” book. As I said earlier, I enjoyed reading it, but find that I’m far more excited by the potential of what’s to come next than I am by this series that’s just completed. If you’ve stuck with Fate of the Jedi up to this point, Apocalypse will deliver an ending you’ll mostly be content with. There are some exciting battles and some interesting twists, and ultimately it’s another entertaining novel in the Star Wars line.

6 comments:

Scott said...

Nice review. I look forward to reading it.

Now rumor had it that there would be some sort of synopsis of the next duology of books (the first post-Sue Rostroni managed SW books in decades) at the end of this. Is that true?

At any rate, moving into the pre-LAGACY era in the books can only do good things, as I think there is so much that can be accomplished that woudl be FRESH in that setting.

Also, Re: The Jedi leaving Coruscant for good. THANK THE GODS! You are so right when you say that they spent too many books beholden to a govt and even a public that didn't trust them. I recall fondly the days of Luke & Co. starting out on Yavin IV where they weren't really beholden to anyone other than each other.

Quite frankly, making them an autonomous entity is going to only be good for the SW EU.

Thanks for this.

Scott said...

*LEGACY

I apparently can't spell if I use Caps Lock.

Jim Haley said...

There are two previews at the end of Apocalypse, one is for Jeff Grub's Star Wars: Scourge, the other is for Aaron Allston's X-Wing: Mercy Kill. No news yet on the duology (though I'd venture to say it's the two books that Paul Kemp is working on).

Scott said...

Ah okay. Thanks for the info Jim! Much obliged.

Allison said...

This series sounds like a good time, but I stopped reading after The New Jedi Order, and now I feel like there are so many books after it would take so long to catch up...

Scott said...

@Allison: LEGACY is hard to get through IMHO, and you might be better off to Wookiepedia each of those titles and read their full synopses, then you can read the 9 FATE OF THE JEDI books with the proper knowledge. If you read NJO, then I assume you also read the Dark Nest Crisis, armed with that and the synopsis of LEGACY you'd be okay to move on to the FATE books. Big stuff happens in LEGACY, but it's WAY too drawn out and Karen Traviss (one of the 3 author's on tap) had her own agenda so her 3 books unsettle the other 6 by Allston and Denning.

With FATE the SW EU has both Allston and Denning again, but this time round have BUFFY-alum Christie Golden, who does an admirable (if not perfect) job of fitting into the 9 book series.