Thursday, March 19, 2015

7 Days of Legends: Dawn of the Jedi–Into the Void by Tim Lebbon

DawnOfTheJediIntoTheVoidCoverIf you’re following along chronologically, the third entry in this series was reviewed here due to a scheduling issue. Don’t worry though; you’re not missing much.

As of its release on May 7th of 2013, Tim Lebbon’s Dawn of the Jedi: Into the Void became the earliest novel in the Star Wars universe.  This is not unusual.  In fact, since I started reviewing Star Wars novels in 2009, this has happened seven times.  In 2009, Darth Bane: Path of Destruction was the start of novel history.  In July of the following year, Fatal Alliance, the first novel celebrating the upcoming release of The Old Republic brought the start of the timeline back by about 2,600 years.  Later that year, Red Harvest was set two years earlier.  In march of 2011, The Old Republic: Deceived brought the start of the timeline back by about a decade, and eight months later Drew Karpyshyn’s Revan gave us another big leap, this time about 300 years, closing the gap between the earliest games and their novels.  In July of 2012, Lost Tribe of the Sith was released in paperback, bridging another gap- this time, between novels and comics.  Except for the fact that a new comic series was released- the one I just spent the last two weeks talking about.

As trends in fiction go, this is one that I like.  Ever since I read the then-recent Tales of the Jedi in the late ‘90s, I’ve wanted to see novels exploring the origins of the Jedi and the Sith.  The most appealing story to me, that of the Second Great Schism, hasn’t been written yet (neither has the Third, another story I’m looking forward to) but Dawn of the Jedi does seem to be leading down the line toward the First Schism.

That’s a story for another day, though.  We’re here to talk about Dawn of the Jedi: Into the Void, a story set cocurrent with the Dawn of the Jedi comics, yet chronicling a different story.  Which means that the title is essentially piggy-backing off of another popular product.  Thankfully, the stories share enough similarities that they can be called a series; the second half of Dawn of the Jedi: Force Storm seems to take place around the climax of Into the Void, though there is no hour by hour comparison to speak of.

Dawn of the Jedi: Into the Void tells the tale of Lanoree Brock, Je’daii Ranger, or the equivalent of a Jedi Knight.  It’s written in the style of Highlander, where the training and its introduction into the mystical world is as important as the here and now, if not moreso.  On one hand, it tells the story of Lanoree and her companion Tre Sana as they chase after and repeatedly face a deadly and charismatic criminal, a man who would destroy hundreds of people and risk destroying tens of thousands more for the sake of fulfilling his goals.  On the other, it tells of Lanoree undertaking her Great Journey - the training of the Je’daii - when this man was just her younger brother, with hints of darkness in him.

Tim Lebbon gives us a strong story that hits most of the right notes.  The link between our hero and villain is strong enough to make up for the lack of depth in the villain (we never really see anything approaching Dal’s point of view).  The action is strong and each movement of the characters is a brushstroke against the tapestry that tells us of the Tython system.  Lebbon keeps you wanting to know more about the characters and the setting, doling out even portions to ensure that you don’t over-indulge on this information.

This even-handedness, ultimately, is what may leave some readers feeling unfilled.  Lanoree shows hints of personality quirks, but ultimately comes across as a flawless hero with no serious inner conflict.  Once they leave Kalimahr - a world that acts as the “tutorial” to start setting up Lanoree, Tre and the system - the story consists of three separate strings of find Dal, fight Dal, leave.  While this succeeds at keeping the success of the mission at large in question, it cuts out much of the other suspense.  The novel clocks in at a measly 263 pages, and lengthening the book by even as little as ten percent could have evened it out and saved some of these issues.  The recurring ideas - pride, charismatic monstrosity and the ease with which one may lose inner balance - could have been developed into serious themes that built off of one another.  To take that one step farther, if Lanoree had been forced to deal with her own inner struggles than the ethical questions surrounding certain powers (powers that, fans know, will ultimately lead to the first two Great Schisms) the ending could have been both ambiguous and powerful, rather than a resolution that feels very much like winding down and putting a character out to pasture so that the comics can finish the story.

While this story leaves some of its potential out, what it does do, it does well.  The action in particular is gripping, and I have a feeling if I were to dig into his previous twenty nine novels that action would be something all of them do well.  The Great Journey and other details about the Je’daii are great reading, possibly the best in the book.  Taken as a whole with Force Storm, this paints a very strong picture of the world that these characters live in, though aside from including brief references to both Force Storm and Prisoner of Bogan, this novel can be taken easily on its own.

Set in the years prior to the foundation of the Republic, Dawn of the Jedi is in the precarious position of being lower tech than Star Wars - than Star Trek even - yet still effectively thousands of years in our future.  The Tython system was colonized millennia ago, but faster than light travel has not happened yet.  This produces the usual awkward mix of slugthrowers and laser pistols, ships that take months to get to the furthest reaches of the system, and battle droids.  This isn’t done any more poorly than could be expected, but is another thing that taking some more time to flesh out and describe would have helped with.  Still, it’s a hard level of technology to convey completely, and no points are lost for it.

Like the technology, the Force has the status of being powerful and ten thousand years into its history as well as not being as refined as it is in more modern eras.  This is coupled with the fact that, as in the comics, Tython is a vergence in the Force.  Think the cave on Dagobah, except spread across the entire planet, and filled with Jedi (or at least Je’daii).  This is portrayed by having lots of powerful techniques such as alchemy and other things that are generally considered to be either lost or forbidden by the Rise of the Empire era, but without more subtle techniques that would be virtually impossible and unstudied on a world where a minor flex creates ripples of Force.

While Lanoree Brock gains absolutely no characterization from her specifics - she and Dal could have been gender- or species-swapped and would not change in the slightest - I’m actually okay with that, though I do feel that these repeated decisions to make every protagonist a Caucasian human stink of backward-thinking editorial interference.  I do feel that at this stage of society a few characters who are female but do not push that fact in the audience’s face are needed; it’s the variety that I feel is important, and with enough variety both female characters that are informed by their gender and that merely happen to be female will both become common enough that there will no longer be a need to advocate for them.  I do like the idea of a sister taking on the role of protector of her sibling, something that is common enough for older sisters to probably not have any agenda while still acting as the barest idea for a role model for girls in a story that does not require any such thing.  Still, I want to stress these are surface aspects of the character, which I have to admit will bother certain people that want to see these aspects fleshed out as much as I want to see Lanoree’s struggle with her own pride fleshed out.

While I’m dealing with issues bigger than this book (literally, when you look at the page count), I should mention that any idea of heteronormativity in this book is purely the result of fan-’shipping; all sexualities are ignored equally and there is not a hint of romance or intimacy between any characters present.  I am now thoroughly uncomfortable and prepared for authors and fans alike to poke holes in my statements about minor issues that do not effect the story at large.

While Dawn of the Jedi: Into the Void is an enjoyable book and I do not regret buying it, it is both too short and too shallow to recommend full hardcover price for it.  It is easily worth the price of a paperback, and waiting for that version is not going to damage the intentions of fans that are following Dawn of the Jedi along step by step, as both stories are fairly independent from one another aside from the areas where they tie together.

No comments: