Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Star Wars: Aftermath: Life Debt review

    I wasn't a big fan of Chuck Wendig's Aftermath novel. I really wanted to know what the situation was after the Battle of Endor but it seemed focused, instead, on a ragtag band of misfits trying to disrupt an Imperial conference. Really, it drew unfortunate comparisons with Heir to the Empire, which was the beginning of the Star Wars Legends universe. Heir to the Empire starred Han, Luke, and Leia who are a hard act to follow when you're beginning a new Expanded Universe.

    Bluntly, I read Star Wars novels to read about the Original Trilogy characters and a handful of others who have earned my interest. It's not enough to put your story into the Star Wars universe, you have to compete with some of the most likable characters in fiction. Some of the original Legends characters succeeded: Mara Jade, Nomi Sunrider, Bastila Shan, Zayne Carrick, Corran Horn, and a few others but these were rare corusca stones in the sand dunes.

    Still, I didn't dislike Aftermath. It just wasn't what I wanted and I wanted to give its sequel a try. I'm here to say this is much closer to what I wanted and the prominent presence of Princess Leia, Han Solo, and Chewbacca plays a large part in this. Luke Skywalker is curiously absent but I'm willing to make allowances for the fact it's a combination of OCs with the Original Trilogies heroes.

    The premise is the New Republic has hammered the Empire badly but this has resulted in it being distilled into a solid steel blade which is much more dangerous than its parts. Admiral Rae Sloane, my favorite character of the previous novel, has since become Grand Admiral Sloane and is now leading the New Empire. She is nothing but a catspaw for Admiral Gallius Rax, a mysterious underaged Imperial officer who is pulling the strings on her forces.

    I like Gallius Rax as a character because he's not the schemer Emperor Palpatine is but is obviously a student of his methods. He's more a Kim Jong Il figure in that he inherited his position while also being raised to it. I won't ever rank him with Grand Admiral Thrawn or Isard (he's far too normal for the kind of cosmic villainy which Star Wars thrives on) but he's entertaining as a contrast to Rae Sloane. Sloane, herself, is a much more interesting figure and someone I think actually might be the first OC to rank with the more beloved of the old universe.

    Rae would very much like to seize the Empire from Rax and rule as more than his figure-head but doesn't really comprehend the bizarre web of manipulations going on around her. The fact Rax is probably answering to Supreme Leader Snoke shows just how out of her depth she is in this game. Despite this, she comes off as an extremely competant character and the kind of Imperial you'd might admire if they weren't fascist scum.

    The rest of the books plot is the aforementioned ragtag band of misfits being sent by Princess Leia to rescue Han Solo. This leads to some very funny scenes like the fact they find Han after about a day and a half with no detours or troubles along the way. It's a wonderful subversion of the usual way these things go and just opens the door for the real plot. Chuck has a good grasp of these sorts of twists and makes use of them to appropriate effect. We all know how a "typical" Star Wars story is supposed to go and the story sometimes zigs when previous ones would zag.

    Of the original characters starring in the Aftermath trilogy, I have to say I've come to like them all. Norra Wexley, her son Temmin, and Sinjir Rath Vellus are all entertaining characters. I admit, I would prefer if Chuck would use more Earth names. Norra is the one who sticks out most in my mind because that rolls well off the tongue. I also liked the Zabrak bounty hunter Jas, who is always good for a self-interested laugh. Weirdly, I think this group would work better in a video game where you got a chance to know and adventure with them. I'm intrigued by the possibility of Norra and Wedge Antilles becoming a couple but that requires me to shed some of my Legends prejudices (No! Iella is Wedge's wife!).

    I had some issues with the book when a main character used torture to get information. I've made my opinion on the subject clear multiple occasions. Torture is an unforgivable crime only usable by villains and I can no more have sympathy for a hero who does it than I would one who does sexual assault. Second, torture doesn't get any actionable intelligence in real life and is in fact a stupid way of interrogating a single person because pain doesn't actually make people less likely to lie. I'm deducting a point from the book for that, which is a shame because I otherwise support it as well as the increased presence of LGBT characters in the setting.

    In conclusion, I really liked this book except for some small bumps. I have an idea of where the story is going now and am interested in what's being set up. I like the villains, the protagonists, and there's some genuinely touching moments spread throughout. Still, it was off to a slow start in the first book and the use of torture by a protagonist is not appropriate for Star Wars.


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