Tag Archives: Book Reviews

Master & Apprentice – Review

MAThis review first appeared on The Star Wars Report.

I have to get something out of the way, right up front. I’m predisposed to love this book. Obi-Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn are two of my favorite characters in Star Wars. I have, of course, followed their careers with great interest, reading the Jedi Apprentice series from Jude Watson for the Aggressive Negotiations Podcast that I cohost with John Mills and loving every page of it. Now, all this love of these characters as well as this time period in the Saga also made me very apprehensive as I approached Claudia Gray’s Master & Apprentice. I worried it would not live up to my own hype and expectations. Luckily, there was no danger of that at all, it exceeds them.

Gray’s tale takes place in Obi-Wan’s eighteenth year and he’s been Qui-Gon’s apprentice for some time, yet their partnership has never been a smooth one. Obi-Wan chafes at Qui-Gon’s disregard for the rules, creating a rift between them that grows even larger as a new opportunity for Qui-Gon has the potential to rip the two apart forever.

Motivations

One of the strongest parts of Gray’s work is the discussion of the different motivations for the Jedi, “why do they do what they do and how far do they go to do that?”. This is a question that each of the Jedi in this book struggle with. Qui-Gon wrestles with the constraints of the Jedi within the political system of the Republic. He is frustrated over how thisseems to put the Jedi at odds with their mandate as part of the Republic and with what is right. He questions the wisdom of the Jedi becoming little more that the chancellor’s police force and in that, loosing touch with the Living Force. This, in turn, allows for things such as slavery in the galaxy to continue.

Rael Averross is a Jedi that was Dooku’s padawan before Qui-Gon. He was brought to the Temple at the age of five, much later than is normal. Because of this he’s always been an outsider, never truly feeling like he belongs and he’s only worked to foster that more. He’s never lost his accent and his manner and dress reinforce his “otherness”. The Jedi Council has consistently bent the rules for him in an effort to help him reach his full potential, and the loss of his padawan has left him more determined than ever to not repeat the mistakes of the past. Yet all this intent has actually blinded him to his own shortcomings.

Obi-Wan Kenobi is a rule follower, living his life by the Jedi Code, to the letter. Unfortunately his Master sees the Code more as guidelines, which puts them at odds more often than not. The struggle between duty and thinking for one’s self frustrates Obi-Wan.

For each of these characters, motivations drive them as do their assumptions about the universe and their place in it. Gray expertly weaves their tales together to show the ways in which our own assumptions can get in the way and lead us astray. The question of whether or not they will cling to their perceptions, even when they are challenged by new information that renders those perceptions obsolete, is instructive for the world we live in today.

On top of all of this each character has to figure out why they are following the light and what is right. Are they doing it for personal gain? Are they doing it to win some cosmic game? How do they do what is right and work inside the system? What are the principles that are paramount and therefore cannot be forsaken? The answer in the book is, “We don’t choose the light because we want to win…. We choose the light because it is the light.” What makes this answer so beautiful is not just the sentiment, but the way Gray gets the characters who believe it to this point. Each one has their assumptions challenged, they allow themselves to be open to that challenge, and they ultimately have the willingness to turn from those assumptions if they are wrong. What relevancy! In a world where sides are taken based off assumptions about the opposition and where listening is a lost art, it’s edifying to see characters choose the better path. Communication, as always, is the key. As Qui-Gon rightly thinks in the book, “There was no Jedi so wise that he could not be undone by his own assumptions.”

The Book

Master & Apprentice is a prime example of expanding the universe. The Prequel Trilogy is full of things we still know so little about and this book helps fill in some of those gaps. Gray adds to our understanding of the Jedi before Episode I, giving us insight into their relationship with the Republic and some of the reasons why they have set themselves up under its leadership. We are finally given more on Dooku and his relationship with Qui-Gon, as well as the Jedi, since he’s only left the Order a short time before this story takes place. And most importantly, Gray expounds on the core relationship of Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan, helping to set the stage for what we’ll eventually see in The Phantom Menace. I particularly love the way she sets up Qui-Gon’s fascination with prophecy and ancient Jedi lore which will set him on the path of immortality in the Force and the “Chosen One”.

There is so much more that I could talk about in this story, but honestly it’s best left for you to discover on your own. For my money, Claudia Gray has written a book that stands with her best Star Wars work, Bloodline and Lost Stars, which also happen to be two of the best books in the new canon. After reading this book, one can only hope that Del Ray and Lucasfilm will allow Gray to continue telling stories about these two. It would be magnificent to see the story about them on Mandalore, protecting Satine for a year, as well as more on Qui-Gon’s journey in the Force. Master & Apprentice is rated 5 out of 5 stars.

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Queen’s Shadow – Review

91JhTQBZyMLThis review originally appeared on The Star Wars Report.

Attack of the Clones vaulted all of the characters from The Phantom Menace forward by ten years, leaving a gap for fans to wonder what happened in that time period to each of them that returned. One of the biggest changes was for Padmé, who had gone from being Queen of Naboo to its representative in the Galactic Senate on Coruscant. E.K. Johnson has now given fans something they have wanted for years, a book devoted to Padmé, her handmaidens and the time transitioning from planetary to galactic politics.

Connections

The strongest point of Queen’s Shadow is the way Johnson is able to flesh out the relationships that we see Padmé have with other senators in The Clone Wars as well as Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. In The Clone Wars, we were introduced to people from Padmé’s early days as a senator like Rush Clovis and Mina Bonteri, which Johnson is able to finally illuminate their first interactions. There is little more exciting than seeing the connective tissue between the films and the animated series made tighter.

Other relationships from the senate are highlighted as well. We are shown why Bail Organa and Mon Mothma become some of Padmé’s closest allies in the senate. It goes a long way to understanding just how close the Organa’s were to Padmé, so that when they take Leia as their daughter in Revenge of the Sith, you can think of no one better to raise her. It also helps with understanding why Leia would feel like she felt her mother as a very young child, since her mother had been to Alderaan and stayed in the palace before, which one assumes was not just a one time visit.

Johnson is also able to make the connections to the milieu of galactic politics which leads to what is seen in Episodes II and III. She shows the way that Palpatine is already starting to control things, behind the scenes, as he keeps Padmé away from the anti-slavery committee, knowing that if she’s there, she’ll move things in a direction he doesn’t want. Johnson also shows how relevant the Prequels are as she accentuates the problems of galactic politics that’s swayed more by factions, news outlets and self interest more than what is right.

The last major connection is that of the handmaidens. Johnson is finally able to show the interworking of this group that should satisfy the most ardent Padmé fan. The way this group to talented and dedicated women work together to protect and take care of Padmé and each other is inspiring.

The Book

By the end of the book, the story does come together well, but the way that it gets there is not as cohesive as it could be. Even half way through the book, it seems to lack a clear through-line, story wise. In many ways, it feels more like vignettes from Padmé’s first year as a senator than a connected story. The thematic elements of Padmé transforming from queen to senator are there and done well, but something just feels like it’s missing.

The best example of this is the story about slavery on Tatooine, which feels like it will be a major thrust of the story early on and then just peters out unsatisfyingly. The book also has an ending that makes you think there will be a sequel, but also doesn’t feel like it fits completely with how the main trust of the story wrapped up.

In all, Queen’s Shadow is an enjoyable read that allows fans the opportunity to understand better the character of Padmé, who she is in The Clone Wars and beyond. In fact it even helps lay the foundations for her emotionally, that explain the why and the how of her relationship with Anakin. It’s this, on top of the connections made with other parts of the Prequel era that lead to a rating of 3 out of 5 stars.

Best Books I Read in 2018

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51AX-4koEFL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_It’s a name we usually associate with William Wallace since what we know of him comes mostly from Mel Gibson’s Braveheart. He’s the one that betrays Wallace in the film but there is so much more to the story. With the release of Outlaw King this year, I finally pulled this off the shelf to read everything that was missing from Chris Pine’s movie. It’s an incredible read or intrigue, murder, medieval warfare and a life dedicated to creating a free Scotland. This book is just brilliantly written, keeping you invested at every turn. I highly recommend this!

81OnyWJzGtLThis was also a pick up because of Damien Chazelle’s movie based on this biography. The film had left me wondering if Gosling’s characterization had been correct, well it was. Neil was a complicated man, whip smart, yet reserved emotional, to a fault. Hansen weaves the tale of Amrstrong’s life, personally and professionally very well. Heroes are never perfect and it’s an important lesson, driven home to perfection in this bio.

 

91qWWm0iVMLI’ve liked all her previous Strike mysteries but Rowling takes a different tactic in this one and it’s a welcome change. The book still revolves around a murder but the focus is much more on the characters this time. Both Strike and Robin’s personal lives are in the forefront and after three books with them, it’s nice to see all that growth start to pay off with some big changes for both of them.

 

A1UZFooN1dLJonah Goldberg has done it again and this time he traces human history to show just how special what’s happened in the West has been. It’s an extensive look and the “why” of tribalism and why it is now rearing it’s ugly head once again. Even though I do like this book a great deal, I did struggle with his approaching the subject from an atheistic foundation. There were times where I felt it actually hurt his arguments. In the end it’s still very much worth your time.

 

SOLO - A Star Wars Story MOST WANTED Cover Ultra Hi ResolutionFrom my original review, “Carson’s world building on Corellia is excellent. She adds to the understanding of the White Worms gang, Qi’ra’s background with The Silos, other crime syndicates on Corellia and the idea of droid freedom from Solo. What makes this book so good is the way it adds to the film and expands the experience through deepening the understanding of the characters and the life they had before the film. Most Wanted is highly recommended.”

 

sex-in-a-broken-world-original-imaf6z7ytkzxnftqThe world has broken sex. It doesn’t take much to see this is the case. Just watch TV for five minutes and almost every commercial will use sex to try to sell you everything from cars to gum. Paul David Trip breaks down the degradation of sex and helps show us the ways to redeem one of the most misunderstood gifts from God. Honestly, this is a must read.

 

the-kingdom-of-speech“Where does speech come from?” This is the question that Tom Wolfe brilliantly tackles in The Kingdom of Speech. He brilliantly rejects the idea that speech is something that could have naturally evolved, at every turn answering objections to his premise. This is one of the most thought-provoking books I read this year and cannot recommend it enough.

 

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Sasse cements himself as one of America’s best thinkers who also happens to be a politician. He addresses the reasons for the slow decent into tribalism and why we are so consumed with an us vs. them mentality. He doesn’t just diagnose the problem but also looks for ways to overcome it before it’s too late. I didn’t rank this list, but if you can only read one book in 2019, make it this!

Solo: A Star Wars Story Novelization – Revew

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This review was originally seen on The Star Wars Report.

It’s been a good year for Star Wars books. Most Wanted, Thrawn: Alliances, and The Mighty Chewbacca and the Forest of Fear are just a few examples of the good stories that have been released. This month Del Rey released the novelization of Solo and, like they did with The Last Jedi, it’s an “Expanded Edition.” An “Expanded Edition” means it contains deleted scenes incorporated back into the story, as well as extensions to existing material seen in the film. This tactic worked well for The Last Jedi, whose novelization was better than its source material.

So the question is, does it work again with Solo? Thankfully the answer is a resounding yes!

Murr Lafferty has seamlessly integrated the new material with what was seen in the movie to create something truly special. She masterfully takes what was there and accentuates everything you wanted to know more about while watching the film. Han, Qi’ra, Beckett, Chewie, L3, Enfys Nest, and almost every other character in the film benefit from added time spent with them, as well as the added bonus of being privy to their thoughts. It cannot be overstated just how much fun it is to be back in this story with new material that adds to the depth and richness of the Solo part of the Star Wars galaxy.

The rest of this review could spend the next few paragraphs laying out all the additions the novelization has, but there would be no fun in that. Part of the joy of reading this book is the delight in not knowing exactly what has been expanded. The highest praise this book could be given is how deftly it shows the fertile playground the underworld is in the Star Wars universe. It’ll leave readers longing to watch Solo again and to see more Solo films that continue the story. Solo is a must read and is rated 4.75 out of 5 stars.

This review was completed using a copy of Solo: A Star Wars Story provided by Del Rey.

Thrawn: Alliances – Review

Dh6ituIXkAApangThis review originally appeared on The Star Wars Report. Don’t miss The 602 Club review!

There was, Vader had noticed, a strange sort of symmetry in the Force, a balance that often manifested in patters and resonances and strange reunions. People long separated would unexpectedly meet again; events of significance would see echos of themselves within new events; places once visited would somehow draw a person back to create new memories, whether good or for ill” (Thrawn: Alliances 254)

Vader’s ruminations are the perfect summation of Timothy Zahn’s latest book Thrawn: Alliances, which explores the first the meeting of Anakin Skywalker and Thrawn as well as a mission Vader and Thrawn are sent on by the Emperor. Loyalty is tested and secrets are uncovered as the Unknown Regions become the backdrop for two events that will help shape these men’s lives forever.

The strength of this book lies in it’s characterizations. Each main character is written so well that it’s impossible not to hear Matt Lanter or Cat Taber’s voice when reading Anakin or Padmé. James Earl Jones and Lars Mikkelsen are almost audible with every word of dialogue from Vader or Thrawn. And it’s not just the voices that Zahn captures, it’s everything the characters think or do feels completely in line with who fans know them to be. Zahn has written something that feels like an arc of The Clone Wars and Rebels all in one. Using Padmé and Anakin together was a perfect touch as they bring out the most intimate parts of the other’s personality. And their individual interactions with Thrawn give us a nuanced sense of who he truly is. Lastly, Zahn does not disappoint in his Vader/Thrawn showdown, as each man works to understand the other, seeing if they
can be trusted.

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The other thing Zahn does well is the way he weaves the mysteries of each story and the implications they have on the prequel time period and possibly the sequel era. The Clone Wars era story adds one more layer of machinations of Palpatine, adding dimension to his plans for bringing down the Republic. The Imperial era story continues to build on the mysteries of the Unknown Regions, races there, the Chiss Ascendancy and what the Emperor could be so interested in. This may be the most intriguing part of the story and it’s one that leaves the reader clamoring to know more and with the hope that all this focus on the Unknown Regions is going to pay off in the future.

Thrawn: Alliances is a book that much could be written about, but as a review, it’s honestly best left to the reader to discover. Zahn has created something wonderful here, so should you buy it, yes! Warning, it’ll leave you hungry for more, but isn’t that the hallmark of a good Star Wars book, opening the door for more? Thrawn: Alliances is rated 4.5 out of 5.

This review was completed using a copy of Thrawn: Alliances provided by Del Rey.

Rebel Dawn – Review

Rebel_Dawn_cover

Rebel Dawn arrives as the last book in A.C. Crispin’s Han Solo trilogy. The series spans most of the 19 years from the end of the Clone Wars to the beginning of A New Hope. One of the greatest strengths of the series and something that’s fully on display in this book is that it’s not just a story about Solo. This series explores the underworld of the Star Wars galaxy and the beginning of the Rebellion. In many ways, this last book is less about Han and more about the pieces of the galaxy that Crispin has been playing with throughout each book.

The first of these elements is the Hutt syndicate and Jabba’s rise to power. Crispin wraps up the power struggle between the Desilijic and Besadii clans while also setting up other underworld crime bosses like Xizor of Black Sun. The series does a magnificent job of playing with these elements, depicting the way Palpatine is using them for his benefit and delving into a whole other side of the galaxy rich in characters and potential. You can see how Solo: A Star Wars Story uses some of these elements and just how ripe the underworld is for stories. Reading this series has me praying that Lucasfilm will continue to make movies with Han, Chewie, Qi’ra, and the rest of this underworld they set up in the film.

The second element that is fleshed out is the Rebellion. Bria is now a commander in one of the rebel cells, so we get to see the rise of the Alliance through her character. Rebel Dawn shows us not only the rebellion’s rise, but it tells the story of the theft of the Death Star plans and their transmission to the Tantive VI. Of course this is all before Rogue One came out and just one of a few stories in Legends on how this went down. Honestly, this part of the story, especially the theft of the plans, seems rushed and not all that satisfying. When it’s just about Bria and her part in the Rebellion it works, but the moment Crispin tries to squeeze in the Death Star plans, it just feels too cluttered.

Something I was not expecting was for Crispin to work in Brian Daley’s Han Solo trilogy into her narrative. This was an interesting choice and it works for the most part. Even if there are parts of the Daley novels that do not always feel completely like the Star Wars we have come to know, it’s a nice tip of the hat to the first Solo stories we ever got outside of the films.

One thing that does not work for me is Han’s relationship with Bria. Her betrayal of him and her death just feel too close in time to the events of A New Hope. It is hard to buy that Han would be interested in Leia so soon after the loss of the love of his life. It feels like this book would have better served the larger story if it had been set four to five years before A New Hope, giving Han time to move on from such a tragic loss.

Regardless, Rebel Dawn is probably my favorite book in this series. Crispin does such a good job of utilizing all the plot elements she set up in the previous books to bring this to a mostly satisfying conclusion. There are parts that feel forced to me, but ultimately they’re not detrimental to my enjoyment of this underworld of Star Wars that she’s developed through the story of Han Solo. I’ll say it again, reading this has me hoping and praying that Lucasfilm will continue what it started in Solo. This series shows just how much they could do with it on the big screen. Rebel Dawn is rated 4 out of 5 stars.

 

The Hutt Gambit – Review

The_Hutt_Gambit_coverMy look back at A.C. Crispin’s Han Solo trilogy continues with the second book in the series, The Hutt Gambit. I was pleasantly surprised that this was a better book than the first. The writing was better and I just personally found the story line a more engaging.

The book starts off with Han already having been kicked out of the Imperial Academy. I found this frustrating because I was hoping that Crispin would delve into his time there, it seems like something that gets glossed over too easily. The other annoying thing, and Crispin makes a habit of doing this in the series, is telling important parts of Han’s story in flashback. What I don’t like about it, is that it feels unnecessary, especially when the flashback is the meeting between Han and Chewie and Han’s rescue of him, which is the cause of his dishonorable discharg. The meeting of these two icons deserves more than a flashback. I wish the book had started with Han, in the Academy and then let his meet-cute with Chewie be the focus of the first few chapters.

This book also introduces Boba Fett and Lando into Han’s life. I felt like Crispin does a great job of creating enmity between Han and Fett so that you believe there is true hostility between the characters. Lando on the other hand, just came out of nowhere and his reason for looking for Han just didn’t seem to fit the character, he’s wanting piloting lessons. Couple this with Chewie needing to be taught by Han how to fly, it just makes everyone a little too dependent on the “GREAT HAN SOLO”.

There are a few other minor things that bugged me about the book. One is that Han is a little too good at leadership and willing to fight for a cause here. I would have much rather seen him have to learn these things throughout this entire series than see him pretty much be the guy that could transition into Rebel general at a moments notice. Lastly, the way they fool the Empire (and I won’t give it away here) felt straight out of Star Trek not Star Wars. Lastly, there is a bit of this book in the middle that drags and it definitely has the middle book syndrome because some major plot elements are left dangling for book three.

Where this book excels is in the world building. Crispin creates such a vibrant smuggler community. Her descriptions of Smuggler’s Run and the Kessel Run are excellent. She also gives us a lot of insight into the Hutt cartel. I found myself using The Clone Wars hutts and their looks as stand-ins for her hutt meetings. Crispin is also able to make what Daley did with the Corporate Sector work well in this version of the Star Wars galaxy. It’s not just the Empire that’s a worry or of interest here, there are a lot of neat factions and she brings the seedy underbelly of the galaxy to life.

I feel like The Hutt Gambit is an improvement over the first book, leaving me excited to finish the series. I rate it 3 1/2 out of 5 stars.