I've mostly been avoiding the new Star Wars canon due to the fact nothing has really grabbed me the same way the Legends universe did. At the end of the day, Star Wars Legends had Luke Skywalker's wife, Han Solo and Leia's children, plus all manner of interesting new stories to tell about the future. A novel about Grand Moff Tarkin is underwhelming because, really, what's the point about learning the backstory of a big old Space Nazi? It's not really a tale begging to be told.
Then again, I've read an anthology about all the aliens at the Mos Eisley Cantina so perhaps I was prejudging.
Either way, I decided to pick a copy of the book up and give it a whirl.
It's not bad.
At the end of the day, Wilhuff Tarkin is something of a limited character you can do things with. He is a man who callously murdered billions of pacifists in front of a prisoner. He's a really-really bad person. The novel does it's best not to portray Wilhuff as a cartoon but it doesn't really expand upon the surface details much either.
Tarkin is a technophile who believes in the survival of the fittest as well as the ruthless suppression of dissidents because they threaten the public order. He's also a bit of a snob despite coming from the Outer Rim territories where he should, theoretically, know better.
These are mostly things people could have guessed.
The biggest insights into the character come from the description of the Tarkin family ritual which sends their heirs into the wilderness to live hellish survivalist training for a few years. This is meant to teach them the values of civilization as well as toughen them up. It's also meant to strip them of their morality so they became focused only on survival as well advancement of their cause.
In Wilhuff's case, it works.
Indeed, the proving which Wilhuff goes through reminds me a bit of the somewhat extremist perspective on hunting which many of my fellow Southerners hold. Quite a few extremist libertarians and reactionary conservatives equate hunting to a way of life that justifies doing numerous questionable things. Ironically, they're contrasted with the hunters who walk away from their trips with a new found appreciation of life and the environment.
Strange how that works.
One of the more interesting elements of the book, though, is setting up Grand Moff Tarkin against a group of terrorists. These terrorists are 90% like the typical Rebels you'll find in the ranks of Star Wars heroes but they don't hesitate at large-scale collateral damage either. Honestly, I think I would have been more interested in them if they'd been a bit more ruthless and overtly evil. Just because the Empire is bad doesn't mean their enemies have to be any better. The twist on their goals, however, does hint at a larger dissatisfaction with the Empire which will lay the seeds for the future Rebellion.
Sadly, Darth Vader's presence in the story is almost entirely superfluous, remaining inscrutable and there as more a cameo more than anything else. Aside from giving some insight into how "normal" Imperial officers perceive Vader, he doesn't really add much. Tarkin is too competent to need Vader's influence and the threat the two face isn't powerful enough to threaten one of the pair let alone both.
Overall, I liked Tarkin and am pleased James Luceno is continuing to do work in the Star Wars universe. He manages to backdoor a lot of elements from the previous canon back into continuity such as COMPNOR and the ISB. None of this can help the fact it's about a thoroughly despicable slimy character. Ironically, this is the one book I would have appreciated the appearance of the character of Admiral Daala. If anyone could have brought out Tarkin's humanity, it would have been her.