Book Reviews · Books · Star Wars

Star Wars: Brotherhood – Review

81GcMcJNOBL-2There are Heroes on both sides. Evil is everywhere.

The Clone War rages across the galaxy in the wake of Geonosis and continues to spread like wildfire. And just as it seems that things could not get worse, Cato Neimoidia suffers a terrifying terrorist attack on it’s capital city and first evidence points to the Republic being involved. Newly appointed member of the Jedi Council, Master Obi-Wan Kenobi proposes a plan to the Republic and the Neimoidians that he go to alone to investigate, with the hope of deescalating tensions and proving the Republic’s innocence.

Mike Chen’s Brotherhood brings the early days of The Clone Wars to life in stunning detail. The fog of war has already descended as hatred and extremism are already being stoked on all sides of the conflict. As these biases are enflamed, the truth seems to be becoming less important, as emotions reign. Chen’s work here is magnificent in revealing the opening lines of Revenge of the Sith, “There are Heroes on both sides. Evil is everywhere.” With the malaise of war, obfuscation becomes the rule. There is so much to say here but in all honesty, it’s best left for the reader to experience it as read in the story and not have spoiled in a review!

Brotherhood also brings to life the characters of Obi-Wan and Anakin perfectly. That’s right, I said perfectly. Chen brings them to life in ways that make you feel as though you’re watching an episode of The Clone Wars. There is some fantastic character building happening for these characters as Anakin struggles with marriage, a new hand and his place in the Order after his promotion to Jedi Knight. One of the true highlights is the way Anakin and Padme’s early days as a married couple is written. It is refreshing to see this finally given the exploration it is due. And lest you think that Obi-Wan is forgotten, Chen digs into his promotion to the Council, his struggle in how to deal with Anakin as a peer and his feelings towards Qui-Gon and Satine.

There is so much good in this book, it is an example of exactly what a Star Wars book should be. Mike Chen has given fans a gift and literarily the best lead-in to the Obi-Wan Kenobi show, coming on Disney+ that one could hope for. One can only hope that Star Wars literature gives us more novels like this in the future. Brotherhood is rated 5 out of 5 sun-dragons.

This review was completed using a copy of Brotherhood provided by Del Rey Press.

This review originally appeared on The Star Wars Report.

Book Reviews · Books · Star Wars

The Art of Star Wars: The Mandalorian: Season Two – Review

91+5a2Dr+5LThe Mandalorian‘s first season introduced everyone to the post Return of the Jedi universe in Star Wars, while at the same time giving us new characters and focusing on the fan-favorite, Mandalorian culture. Yet with everything that season one was able to accomplish it was nothing compared to what season two would bring.

The second season of The Mandalorian built upon the foundation of the first while expanding it in surprising ways. It would bring back already beloved characters like The Child, Cara Dune, Greef Karga, the Armorer, while also giving fans their first taste of Bo-Katan and Ahsoka in live action. And if that was not enough, the season would see the return of The Mandalorian’s inspiration, Boba Fett.

With so much incredible ground to cover, author Phil Szostak had his work cut out for him. The Art of Star Wars: The Mandalorian: Season Two does an admirable job. Like the first installment, the book has a forward by Doug Chiang, and introduction and a list of who’s who in the production of the show. Then, each episode is given a brief yet detailed description behind the thought-process that went into making it. Then, the real fun begins, as the production artwork for that episode is lovingly laid out with notes on many of the pieces, giving insight into the artist’s thoughts about its creation.

The book is full of great nuggets from the creators and artists about season two.  Fans will enjoy pouring over every detail of the return of characters like Ahsoka, Bo-Katan and Boba Fett. There are so many neat revelations, which this review could go over in detail, but why ruin it here, when it is much more fun to experience by reading it yourself. There are a few pieces of art in this book that I would personally love to have offered for sale! I cannot recommend this book more highly, I give it 5 out of 5 stars!

This review was completed with a review copy of The Art of Star Wars: The Mandalorian: Season Two from Abrams Books.

This review originally appeared on The Star Wars Report.

Book Reviews · Books · Star Wars · The High Republic

Star Wars: Midnight Horizon – Review

the-high-republic-midnight-horizon-daniel-jose-older-39763112The Jedi on Corellia have been called away on an important diplomatic mission so when the Nihil are suspected of being on the planet, Starlight Beacon is contacted. Jedi Masters Cohmac Vitus and Kantam Sy, with Padawans Reath Silas and Ram Jomaram are sent to investigate. Could the Nihil have infiltrated a world as important as Corellia? Midnight Horizonis the young adult companion novel to The Fallen Star, giving fans some interesting surprises along the way.

One of the most interesting choices The High Republic series made when it started was to disseminate the story telling between adult, young adult, middle grade and comic books. So far readers have not had to read everything to feel like they understand what is going on, but Midnight Horizon changes that. If you have not kept up with all the comics you are likely to feel a bit lost in this book. A majority of the characters that are featured in this book are ones that have mostly been seen in The High Republic Adventure comic. I’ve not been able to keep up with the comics so this book was a frustrating experience.

Another issue I had with Midnight Horizon was the writing style. Older’s style just doesn’t flow well, especially in action scenes and it can be hard to follow what is happening. On top of that, the story itself is a very slow burn that doesn’t really get interesting until the book is about 4/5ths done. Much of the book feels like it’s killing time till the main thrust of the narrative finally kicks in. Once it does, the book is better. Sadly it can’t redeem the experience. Midnight Horizon is the weakest entry in The High Republic series so far and is rated 2 out of 5 stars.

This review was completed using a copy of Race to Crashpoint Tower provided by Disney Lucasfilm Press.

This review originally appeared on The Star Wars Report

 

Book Reviews · Books · Star Wars

Thrawn Ascendancy: Lesser Evil – Review

iu-2In 1991, author Timothy Zahn created one of the most memorable Star Wars villains of all time in Heir to the Empire. Since that time, Thrawn has been made canon through the Star Wars Rebels television show and Zahn has been able to expand on our knowledge of the character through two new trilogies of books. Now, the Thrawn Ascendancy trilogy reaches its epic conclusion with Lesser Evil.

The Thrawn Ascendancy trilogy has given readers one of the deepest studies of a Star Wars culture ever. Zahn has been able to expound on reader’s understanding of the Chiss in incredible ways and Lesser Evil adds even more. Reader’s will finally get the deep history of the Chiss Ascendancy, as well as the personal history of Thrawn himself. The amount of detail this race now has makes it the deepest and richest of all the Star Wars cultures.

Thrawn as a character has often been derided by some for being too “all knowing”, yet Zahn fully digs into his character in Lesser Evil to explain just what makes him special. Thrawn looks at facts as they are, not through any lens or ideology and because of this he is able to see things for what they are, not what he wants them to be. There is a fantastic conversation in the book that Thrawn has with Thalias that helps explain his reasoning,

“‘I don’t teach, but merely guide. Each person approaches problems differently. All I do is ask questions that set that person on their best path to the solution.’ ‘I see’, Thalias muttered. But only if that person was willing to put forth the effort to learn that path to logic and reason she suspected. Too many people, possibly even the majority of them, were all too content to let others do that thinking and analysis for them.”

It is Thrawn’s ability to put in the work of logical analysis, without preconceived notions that sets him apart. Later in the book Thrawn complains, “I’m was disappointed. People who can’t see things that are right in front of them…”. He is frustrated with people’s inability to objectively look at the facts and see what he sees.

This is why Thrawn can look at a piece of art and understand so much about a culture. He comes to that piece of art the same way he does to a conversation, to learn what is actually being said, not what he thinks is being said. Art is always saying something, the creator or author has something to share with their audience and Thrawn looks for the intent of that creator, not his interpretation. Because Thrawn is not looking at things through any certain lens, he’s able to parse what the artist is trying to say. And because an artist is a product of a culture, Thrawn can deduct from that artist much about the culture that produced the artist.

This theme of thinking for one’s self is further driven home through the addition of the Kilji, a race who claim to be enlightened. This enlightenment is seldom at the individual’s choice, often being forced on whole cultures by the Kilji. The leader of the Kilji illuminates their philosophy further, “All beings secretly dream of having someone to give them order and purpose, who will allow them to serve without the need for burdensome thought or uncertain decision. That is the enlightenment we offer.”

This idea is the ultimate extreme but it serves the point on how critical thought can be eroded when one stops approaching things from as clean a slate as possible, as Thrawn models. When politics clouds everything, when ideologies become all, clarity becomes obfuscated. This is what makes Thrawn special, he’s only bound to his desire to protect his people, that’s it, all else for him is open. This allows him to be able to truly listen to what is being said through art and conversation and see what’s right in front of him.

It cannot be overstated just how detailed this series has been in its plotting. Every single page is full of things that continually add to what is going on and therefore must be read with care. This makes the Thrawn Ascendancy series one of the best of all of Star Wars literature. Zahn put his heart and soul into this series, Lesser Evil is no exception. There is so much more that could be written about in this review but the book’s revelations are best experienced by reading the story for one’s self. Lesser Evil is rated 5 out of 5 stars.

This review was completed using a copy of Lesser Evil provided by Del Rey Press.

This review originally appeared on The Star Wars Report.

Book Reviews · Books · Star Wars · Star Wars Visions

Ronin: A Star Wars Visions – Review

star-wars-visions-novel-cover-39862In celebration of Star Wars: Visions, which was released on Disney Plus in September, Del Rey Publishing has released a novel based on the first episode, The Duel. The beginning of the book is the episode retold, then continuing the story where the episode left off.  This allows author Emma Mieko Candon to expound on the world presented in The Duel. The closest Star Wars has come to this type of story before were the Infinities comics from the early 2000s. Ronin feels like the elseworlds stories one finds in comics, exploring Star Wars from a completely different point of view.

Since Disney bought Lucasfilm, all books and comics have been considered canon, so the publishing of this book is puzzling. Each of the previous books has worked to add something to canon, giving fans a greater understanding of characters motivations, events in the timeline or whole new eras not seen on screen. Since Ronin is based on Visions, it doesn’t add any of these things. Some fans are going to love this. The book is well written and does a good job of immersing the reader into the elseworld created in The Duel, fleshing out the ways it differs from the main Star Wars universe.

Sadly, the book doesn’t work. Star Wars is a universe with a specific set of rules which set it apart from other works, giving it,  its Star War-ness. The episodes of Visions worked because they were bite-sized entries, a creator’s love letter to the Star Wars universe with a twist. Here, presented as a novel, the story overstays its welcome. It feels overly long at 331 pages which would have been fantastic if it had not been in the Star Wars universe at all, but its own universe. Adding the language of Star Wars to something, doesn’t make something Star Wars. As such, the book just doesn’t work. Ronin is rated 2.5 out of 5 stars.

This review was completed using a copy of Ronin provided by Del Rey Press.

This review originally appeared on The Star Wars Report.

Book Reviews · Books · Star Wars · The High Republic

Star Wars: Out of the Shadows – Review

81lx6QOO88LIt has been a year since the devastating Emergence hyperspace incident, but the Nihil continue to battle the forces of the Republic and the Jedi at every turn. In the aftermath of the attack on the Republic Fair on Valo, a new threat arises that could disrupt hyperspace travel in ways that make the Emergence disaster look like child’s play.

Out of the Shadows is Justina Ireland’s second book in The High Republic series. Her first book, A Test of Courage was a stand out for me with it’s focus on characters, more than big plot points. Her second effort continues her fantastic character work while at the same time actually using plot points from the series to bring an end to some mysteries, while also opening up doors for the forthcoming books. I cannot overstate how much I appreciated her focus on characters. Yes, there is a new protagonist introduced in the story, but she uses this book to focus on some characters that readers have previously been introduced in previous books.

The focus on Vernestra, Imri, Cormac and Reath as the main Jedi was exactly what this story needed. By not creating new Jedi, she added some much needed depth to these characters while expertly weaving the plot around the character development. This depth was not only given to the Jedi, but to character like Senator Starros, the San Tekkas, the politics of the Republic and the connections between the Nihil and high-ranking members of Republic society. Ireland has finally made things feel like things are coming together in this series.

Much has been made about this being the golden age of the Jedi, but in reality, this feels more like the silver age (especially if the Prequels are the bronze age). The Jedi are already struggling with their relationship with the Republic and to whom their allegiance should lie with. Should it be to the Republic or should their only focus be on the will of the Force? As we know from Qui-Got Qinn, “Your focus determines your reality”. With the Jedi Council not in complete agreement on the issue, it is no wonder that the rest of the Jedi are finding themselves divided on what is the best course to be taken with the Nihil and Drengir threats. Ireland does a wonderful job of portraying the political and moral quagmire that is forming on Coruscant with the Jedi stuck in the middle.

Out of the Shadows is my favorite book in The High Republic series so far. I hope that this focus on characters continues in future books, because when you care about the characters it makes the rest of the plot much more meaningful and engaging. The book is rated 4 out of five stars.

This review was completed using a copy of Out of the Shadows provided by Disney Lucasfilm Press.

This review first appeared on The Star Wars Report

Book Reviews · Books · Star Wars

Star Wars: The Rising Storm – Review

iu-3Your overconfidence is your weakness.” – Luke Skywalker

The Republic has launched Chancellor Soh’s first great work in the Starlight Beacon station. The Jedi have helped the Republic navigate “The Great Disaster” as well as worked to contain the Drengir threat. In light of these things, it’s time for Chancellor Soh’s next great work,  the Republic Fair which is to be held on the planet of Valo.

The Rising Storm picks up from the first phase of The High Republic. Chancellor Soh is keen to see the Republic Fair go forward, even with warnings that the Nihil could see this as a prime opportunity for attack. The theme of arrogance overshadows everything in this story. The Chancellor is a prime example, in not taking the threat of the Nihil seriously and thinking that the Jedi can handle them alone, even if they were to attack. The Jedi come face to face with their own arrogance. It’s been some time since anyone has challenged their power in the galaxy and they find themselves learning the foolishness of disregarding threats or thinking themselves powerful enough to handle anything.

The Jedi are also find themselves having their role in the Republic questioned. As the threats increase, are they enough to hold back the tide? The Jedi are peacekeepers, not soldiers. Therefore shouldn’t there be a defense force to help guard against threats to the Republic so that it is not solely relying on the them for everything in that regard? Plus, with the Jedi finding themselves in the role of soldier more and more, they are also finding the temptation of the Dark Side easier to give into, which will create a whole new set of problems.

The Rising Storm is one of the better books in The High Republic series. Cavan Scott’s writing is crisp and his character work, especially between the Jedi is great. The book does still suffer under the weight of having too much going on. The first half of the book is full of movement between characters and places that can leave the reader feeling a bit lost. The High Republic series has thrown so much at readers in the first phase plot wise, that it’s been hard to actually get invested in many of the character since there are just too many to keep track of. And in all honesty, splitting the series between adult, young adult, middle grade and comics has made it difficult to keep up with the story as a whole. Star Wars has done massive series before in literature and so far, The New Jedi Order was much more successful. One, because it was only in the adult novels and two, because the story was able to take its time building, using series within the series to focus on different characters or situations individually while still building the whole.

Ultimately, The High Republic has so much going on with the Nihil, the Drengir, the Jedi and the Republic that it just feels too scattered. Hopefully, as this second phase kicks off, the series will find more focus in the plot and invest in the characters, by spending time with fewer of them, allowing readers to connect more deeply. The Rising Storm is rated 3 out of 5 stars.

This review was completed using a copy of The Rising Storm provided by Del Rey Press.

This review originally appeared on The Star Wars Report.

Book Reviews · Books · Star Wars

Thrawn Ascendancy: Greater Good – Review

Don’t miss The 602 Club review!

Thrawn has defeated Yiv the Benevolent and in the aftermath, the Chiss Expansionary Fleet roots out the leftover Nikardun nests. Unbeknownst to the Chiss, the phantom menace of Jixtus is secretly working to insight a civil war in the Ascendancy. Will Thrawn and his allies be able to decipher his plot and stop him in time?

Timothy Zahn is at the top of his game with the Thrawn Ascendancy series as the second book, Greater Good does not disappoint. He continues to flesh out the Chiss as a people, giving readers even more background and greater understanding of their civilization. Zahn has created one of the most fascinating Star Wars races with the complexity and nuance readers have come to expect from his writing.

Greater Good‘s theme is brilliantly topical. The villain Jixtus is working to destabilize the  Ascendancy by fueling a civil war. To do so, he is using the Chiss nature against itself by sowing seeds of emotionally-driven selfishness in a few of the members of the Forty Great Houses. The Forty Great Houses are the next level of Chiss society, right beneath the Nine Ruling Families. Individuals in a few of these houses are being manipulated emotionally to act in their own “interests” and the betterment of their house, blinded to the dangerous path they’ve set the Ascendancy on. Zahn shows how easy it is to emotionally manipulate people to segregate people along partisan lines, creating chaos for the whole of a society and destroying the greater good in the process.

Greater Good is the best of Star Wars literature, it is telling a story that feels familiar and new all as the same time. If you like the political intrigue of The Prequels or Game of Thrones, this series is perfect. Greater Good continues the story from Chaos Rising and sets up the final book in the trilogy brilliantly, leaving readers longing for the finale; it is rated 5 out of 5 stars!

This review was completed with a review copy of Greater Good from Del Rey Publishing.

This review originally appeared on The Star Wars Report

Book Reviews · Books · Star Wars

Victory’s Price – Review

91JsOLv+dNLThe events of Shadow Fall have left Alphabet Squadron shattered and picking up the pieces in light of Yrica Quell’s betrayal. They have a chance to take down Shadow Wing for good as Operation Cinder rears it’s ugly head again, forcing Alphabet Squadron to defend Imperial worlds from destruction as the Empire eats its own. The end of the war feels near yet our heroes are left with the scars from years of fighting that may never heal.

The crawl for Revenge of the Sith said, “There are heroes on both sides” and Alexander Freed brings this statement to life in his third book of the Alphabet Squadron series, Victory’s Price. The Imperial remnant can no long afford to be at war with the New Republic, yet they continue their terror campaign, Operation Cinder. Freed gets into the head of Colonel Keize to to help us understand the reason why a person like him is more nuanced that might first appear. He’s not fighting for the cause, he’s fighting for the people next to him. It’s better for him to die defending his comrades than land in the arms of New Republic justice. He has no faith that the New Republic will handle trials fairly. Plus it comes to light in the novel that the Emperor made sure everyone in his service had their hands dirty, no matter their job in the Empire, there is no innocence.

On the other side, Freed uses every opportunity to dig deep into the impact years of war has had on the Rebels. In many ways the scars of war are proving Thomas Wolfe’s contention that you can’t go home again, at least not the same as when you left. Few Star Wars books dive into the psychological impact of war the way Victory’s Price does. Fans have become use to characters being able to easily overcome anything thrown at them, Freed doesn’t give us that luxury and the book is the better for it.

The best theme of the book is the way in which one see’s the “other side”. Quell says,

“Keize was just trying to keep his troops alive. Give them a future. And I -” She paused again for a long time. “I started to think maybe they didn’t deserve dying. Even as I watched them murder planets, I started to think of them as -not good people, not decent people, but people. My friends.”

This may be one of the best things to come out of a Star Wars book thematically in years. In a society that has lost the ability to see the “other side” as people, it speaks volumes. If one cannot see the humanity in someone across the aisle, it will enable “othering” and once you start down that dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny.

Another huge plus for the novel is that Hera is given much more page time finally! It’s disappointing that it took two books before that happened. Hera should have been the feature character throughout the entire series.

The last theme that really stood out was the importance of remembering our mistakes and past. Quell says,

”But I haven’t forgotten Nacronis or anything else. I live with the memory of what I’m capable of every day. I need the memory to do better. And wiping out the records of what we’ve done seem an awful lot like helping everyone else forget.”

History, personal and societal must be remembered. It is only through knowing, recognizing and coming to terms with the truth of our mistakes that we can avoid making them again.

Victory’s Price is a rare type of Star Wars book. There is a depth to it that will surprise you. Personally I was not expecting to like this book after the second entry in the series but I was wrong. This might be one of the best Star Wars books in a long while. Victory’s Price is rated 4.5 out of 5 stars.

This review was completed with a review copy of Victory’s Price from Del Rey Publishing.

This review originally appeared on The Star Wars Report.

Book Reviews · Books · Star Wars · The High Republic

Star Wars: Into the Dark – Review

star-wars-the-high-republic-into-the-dark-by-claudia-gray-1There have been two books in The High Republic time period so far, both were released on the same day to kick off the series. Light of the Jedi was an adult novel and A Test of Courage was a middle-grade novel. Into the Dark is the first young-adult novel in the series from best-selling author Claudia Gray. The story follows a group of Jedi who have hired a ship to take them to Starlight Beacon for it’s opening. On the journey they are waylaid by the Emergences, causing them to fall out of hyperspace at an ancient space station that holds mysteries who’s uncovering might signal doom for more than just our intrepid crew.

Gray’s novel is character driven first and foremost. We are introduced to Padawan Reath Silas who is traveling to join his master Jora Malli, the recently named Jedi leader of Starlight Beacon. He’s joined by Jora’s former Padawan Dez Rydan, as well as Jedi Knight Orla Jareni and Jedi Master Cohmac Vitus. Jareni and Vitus have a history with the area of space around Starlight Beacon which Gray expounds upon through interludes that take place twenty-five years before the current story.

The absolute best thing about Gray’s book is how the story feels completely driven by the characters. This is a story about these Jedi in The High Republic, their insecurities, failings, fears, arrogance, compassion, love and struggles with what it means to be a Jedi. Gray really gives readers a taste of what it is like to be a Jedi in this era, how they are different that those we’ve seen before, yet she plants seeds that connect with what they will become.

One of the themes from the previous books was the idea, “We are all the Republic”. In, Into the Dark, Gray takes this theme and instead of just having the phrase said by a character, she shows readers what that looks like through the actions taken by the characters throughout the story. It’s an incredible example of thematic writing and one of the most important keys to writing which is, “show don’t tell”.

Into the Dark, chronologically takes place in the same time frame as Light of the Jedi. This allows the book to give us more detail on the Nihil while also introduce readers to a new villain, the Drengir. Coming into this book, I was not sure how they would make the Drengir work. From the information we’d been given before the book’s release, it just felt like a bridge too far for even Star Wars. Yet in Gray’s deft hands, it works! In fact, it fits perfectly with what we’ve already seen in a previous book, The Mighty Chewbacca and the Forest of Fear!

Into the Dark is the best book in The High Republic series so far. Claudia Gray will have you falling in love with the characters, which in turn helps root you in this era in a way that I personally hadn’t been able to do so far. I couldn’t put this book down. I hope that moving forward, The High Republic will take this story as touchstone and continue to craft stories from character arcs first. Regardless whether you have read the other two book, I highly recommend Into the Dark and it is rate 4 out of 5  stars.

This review was completed using a copy of Into the Dark provided by Disney Lucasfilm Press.

This review originally appeared on The Star Wars Report.