Star Wars Double Shot!

Backlash (Aaron Allston) and Allies (Christie Golden)
March 2010 and May 2010 respectively
LucasBooks
Read by Marc Thompson

The Fate of the Jedi arc rolls onward with Backlash as Luke and Ben are sidetracked from from their quest to follow Jacen’s footsteps after their encounter with Vistara Kai at Sinkhole Station in the Maw.  Luke, using some force technique that involves tracking his own blood, follows Vistara to Dathomir.  A brief interlude in which Leia and Han appear allows for some entertainment as the “Old Crew” (minus the droids) is back together again.  The missing droids are left guarding Han and Leia’s granddaughter Alanna who has been left on her own while grandparents jaunt off into the jungle to help Luke.  Awesome parenting there.  Alanna and the droids, as is typical of recent Star Wars, serve as a diversion from the main plot of the story offering very little in service to Backlash’s plot or, in this instance, to overall story arc of the Fate of the Jedi.

Backlash is a case where all the things I’ve liked about this series so far work against the novel.  It isn’t a bad book by any means and it does keep up the pace and tone of the political tension between the Jedi and Galactic Alliance on par with the rest of the series but the diversionary feel of the novel is hard to ignore.  While characterization and tone are as top notch as usual the fact that this feels more like a side-trek then a natural evolution the various plotlines examined so far makes this, for me at least, the weakest novel so far in the series.

I still enjoyed the hell out of it though.  There are some neat character moments and some gripping set pieces and Allston is extraordinarily adept at making Vistara into a charismatic and likeable figure managing to sow doubts about her feelings and motives despite her adept use of the Dark Side.  Allston introduces Dyon Stadd a failed Jedi who has parlayed his abilities with the Force into a career as a negotiator between Dathomiri Tribes and merchant traders.  I’m always a fan of alternative Force users and Dyon’s inclusion is nice touch given the novel’s lack of an in depth examination of non-Jedi Force Techniques.

Allies on the other hand is a step in the right direction.  Picking up right after the cliffhanger conclusion of Backlash.   The titular alliance being one between Luke and Ben and the Sith fleet that ambushes them outside Dathomir’s atmosphere.   The Dark Side has never been one to get along well with itself and the Sith are a bit pissed at Aboleth’s treatment of those who first explored her planet.  It is this common ground, and not a few lies, which prompt Luke to agree to this alliance.

Where Backlash felt like a brief diversion Allies tends to rush things just a bit.  When things happen they happen all at once and are over before you can even blink.  Where the first few novels in the Fate of the Jedi seemed to provide precious few developments in the plot and Allies blasts ahead seemingly wrapping up quite a bit more than one would expect.  It makes the novel extraordinarily engaging and at least a little disappointing.

As in the rest of Fate of the Jedi, Allies does a wonderful job with the characters making you care about and be interested in the the wants, needs, and lives of hero and villain alike.  Golden does a particularly fine job with Chief of State Daala twisting her need to what is right for the Galactic Alliance with an ever increasing amount of paranoia to the point where one suspects that the Jedi might not be the only ones suffering from Abeloth’s influence.  If found the plight of the Jedi under Daala’s tightening grip to be particularly gripping in Allies and, as has been increasingly occurring in this series, making me wish we could focus more intensely one of the several plots unfolding rather then all.

Complaints aside Allies is probably the strongest novel in this series so far.  My complaint really boils down to: there is too much I like and I’m disappointed there isn’t more.  As weaknesses go it’s one a novel might hope to have.  As in my previous listening experiences thus far Marc Thompson does a stellar job.  Seriously Lucasbooks should find some way to lock this guy down permanently as I can’t imagine anyone else going a better job nailing characters both new and familiar.  Audio production is again top-notch with the hum of air filtration, the hiss of doors, the beeping of the droids, and the occasionally blast of music adding to the experience just enough to increase immersion rather than distract from the the text.  Just top notch as usual, I wish every audiobook I listened to was as well produced.

Both Allies and Backlash are available on CD (maybe even at your local library) and via the fine folks at Audible.com (here and here).   Unfortunately with Allies there will be a loooooooooong break in publishing, a bit of boneheaded move by Lucasbooks in my opinion, with Troy Denning’s Vortex not due out until early December.

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