Star Wars: Fate of the Jedi: Vortex
Troy Denning, read by Marc Thompson
Random House Audio (Lucasbooks/Del Rey), 2010
So whoever it is at Lucasbooks/Del Rey that decided it would be a great idea to mingle a little bit of cosmic and Lovecraftian horror into the Star Wars Universe (or horror in general given Death Troopers and the forthcoming Red Harvest) deserves some sort of award. I for one think it is a brilliant combination. That adherents to the Force pale in comparison to entities too horrible to fully comprehend adds a wonderful new flavor to the tried and true space adventure that defines Star Wars. While there is a real strong reaction amongst fans to this series (most reactions fall either towards love or hate with rarely anything in between) I will say that it decidedly different from previous arcs of the Star Wars Expanded Universe but that is most definitely a good thing. Talking about Vortex will necessitate some spoilers from previous volumes and at least one rather large twist from this volume. So, fair warning….
So the latest Star War series, Fate of the Jedi, features the following: explorations into the mysteries of the force, courtroom drama, political drama, romance, teenage infatuation, horrible abomination from beyond space and time, an indictment of slavery, family drama, and internal Jedi squabbles. The largest problem of this series has been rationalizing all of those disparate thematic elements into any kind of cohesive whole and it a problem that Vortex moves towards fixing; though it doesn’t quite get there. Of course as in past volumes, perhaps more so than before, each of these elements are fascinating in their own right.
On the courtroom side Taheiri Veila’s trial for the assassination of Admiral Pelian continues and things aren’t going too well. This section reads like an episode of Law & Order: Coruscant and is quite enjoyable though, as I mentioned, seems to bear the littler relationship to what is going on in the rest of the novel, or series, at large. Natassi Daala continues her increasingly erratic attempts to maintain control of the Galactic Alliance and desperate need to control the Jedi. Her motivation, other than a military-bred need for structure and discipline, is no more clear here than in previous volumes. She seems something of a brittle character at this point with each defiance, whether from the Jedi or from Maati Vant whose new coverage of slavery in the Outer Rim undermines Daala’s position, serves to drive her ever closer to the breaking point.
In fact, despite its seeming disconnect with the other overarching plots, the news coverage by Maati Vant and the unfolding chaos on a random planet thanks to Daala’s employment of Mandolorians to subdue a peaceful anti-slavery demonstration leads to one of the more touching scenes of the novel. Again, I don’t see its connection to the rest of the story but it sure is well written and a bit of a tearjerker to boot. Of course, the tragedy on Blaudu Sextus does finally serve as a wake up call to the Jedi which, while initially triumphant, serves only to increase the inner turmoil amongst the Jedi Council. The characterization of the Jedi throughout Fate of the Jedi has been more human than in past volumes. In essence this series has done more to knock the Jedi off their pedestal and bring them down to a more a human. It is occasionally frustrating but ultimately fascinating aspect of the series that Denning brings to an exciting head late in the novel.
Of course the big reveal occurs early in the novel; Abeloth isn’t really dead. Luke, Ben, and Vistara end up chasing her to another planet where more aspects of her power, far more disturbing than anything we’ve seen so far, are revealed. I am somewhat disappointed that we don’t really get any further explanation or exploration of Abeloth’s nature. Given that Abeloth is an entity well versed in the Dark Side of the force and given the nature of the Force I frequently find myself assuming that somewhere out there has to be a Light Side counterpart. Ancient alien mysteries are always one of my favorite aspects of science fiction novels and seeing Abeloth’s nature, or the ancient alien technology that hid her planet in the Maw, go unexplored is near to driving me insane.
Vortex moves things ever close to an inevitable explosion. The Jedi, more than before, seem to heading towards a confrontation on more than one front and if the real past is anything to go by that never really ends well. Of course being six books into a series with no real payoff for the tension being built might be viewed as something of a failure I have never found myself less than entertained. As in previous audio edition Mark Thompson continues to absolutely kill in his narration and the sound production on Vortex seemed to me to exceed that of the previous volumes on every level. I will again strongly recommend that fans of the series, and Star Wars, check out the audio version of these books. Of course the weight for the next volume is five months with almost another year before the final volume is released next November. I have been enjoying this series and can’t wait for the next volume.