Phew! This is a deceptively long book! On my shelf it looks the same size as Specter of the Past, but it’s nearly 700 pages long! It must be written on very thin paper…anyway the reason for mentioning this is I felt this book got off to a slightly slower start than usual – although this isn’t a criticism. We didn’t get plunged straight into the action but got a bit of time to get into the heads of all our main characters which is always good.
So, Mara is stranded and injured on the planet Nirauan, so Luke heads out to rescue her (although, this is Mara, how much rescuing does she actually need?!). Han and Leia plan a romantic getaway which is naturally interrupted by massively important matters of galactic proportions. Han is zeroing in on the names of Bothan traitors who were behind the Caamis attack so he shoots off to try and track them down on the hidden Imperial stronghold of Bastion (in which tippity top secret Imperial records are kept!) but not without first putting in a call to Lando to help him out. Yippieee! I do love a good Han/Lando adventure.
Meanwhile, Leia doesn’t get much time to chill because an extremely stressed out Ghent arrives with a Caamis dignitary. Ghent has managed to slice the garbled message from Admiral Pellaeon which calls for peace. Pellaeon’s message states he will wait at the rendez-vous point for Bel Iblis so Leia hurries off, hoping Pellaeon will still be there to talk – although can she even be sure this isn’t some kind of Imperial trap.
Finally, Talon Karrde is on an intriguing mission to track down the supposedly retired Jorj Car’das. We don’t know much about this mission of Karrde’s, mainly because we only really see things from Shada’s perspective and he is telling her nothing! Shada, by the way, has essentially assigned herself as Karrde’s bodyguard, wanting to do her bit for the New Republic (she originally wanted to be assigned to Han/Leia but they have massive trust issues so she ended up with Karrde).
Shada is an interesting new character – she does strike me as quite similar to Mara, although not a carbon copy. Zahn does write strong female characters very well and whist I liked her as a character I wasn’t 100% convinced of her true motives. She worked well with Karrde and their scenes were extremely interesting to read.
Hands down my favourite scene of the novel was between Luke and Mara when they are trapped in the cavern by some flying scarab beetle things. They have their most honest talk to date as Mara attempts to point out where Luke has gone wrong over the years. This was such seamless continuity from Zahn as Mara referenced the cloned Emperor (nice touch where she said ‘I don’t believe it was actually him! Me too Mara, I have deleted that whole drama with Luke going evil from my own headcanon too!), to the Jedi Temple on Yavin 4, Luke’s inaction with Kyp (another criticism I share). It was such a good and important conversation and I think it could well end up changing Luke as a character forever. Hopefully. If Zahn writes him anyway!
In fact, all of the dialogue between Luke and Mara is excellent in this book and we get huge character development from the pair of them. Mara has let down some of her barriers and Luke is now feeling a much stronger force connection to her. I love how their relationship has gradually changed over the books, it’s not just been a sudden thing – there have been issues between them which need resolving. Like Mara said, confess, apologise and forgive. Plus this was an excellent look at Luke’s views of the force, how he feels he has to hold back on using it in case he falls to the dark side. It really got me thinking how Luke’s fear of this, and fear of doing the wrong thing has really held him back over the last few books. And we all know that fear leads to the dark side….hopefully this talk with Mara will be the bop over the head that he needs to move forward.
Big spoiler warning here – the last good point I wanted to mention was the introduction of Jorj Car’das. It’s another testament to Zahn that he is able to introduce such an interesting character about halfway through the last book in this duology! His back story was incredibly interesting and his encounter with Yoda all those years ago on Dagobah actually made me feel quite emotional! We are so used to seeing Luke through the eyes of Han and Leia, it was wonderful to see a Jedi through the eyes of someone who had NO experience with them and it was a lovely reminder of the good that the force can do!
The climax of this book was sensational – I’d say for about the last 100 pages I couldn’t read fast enough! I think this goes down as my favourite Zahn book to date, topping even The Last Command!
I’m really struggling here to be honest! I’m really trying to be impartial and keep my Zahn fangirl in check but I really can’t think of anything bad to say about this book!
I would say if you go into this duology (say, for example, you’ve just read the Thrawn trilogy) I do think you need to at least have read Kevin J Anderson’s Jedi Academy trilogy as well as a few of the X Wing books and I Jedi. I think I missed out a bit because I haven’t read X wing novels yet or I Jedi, although I do kind of know what happens in parts. Just a point to note before you go in to these books! At the very least look up who Corran Horn is (which I have) or some parts will make zero sense. Other than that you’re all good!
I actually found I didn’t care so much about my previous gripe re no Jedi Academy characters etc, by the end of Specter of the Past and launching into this book I was already so heavily invested in Mara, Karrde, Pellaeon and Shada (characters who aren’t the big three or Lando!) that I had forgotten about the others! Plus the ending reduced my to extremely awkward happy crying in the coffee shop where I was reading! Embarrassing but wonderful!
Overall: a faultless, sensational read by the master of SW literature!
Rating: 5 out of 5 Death Stars