I think I can start off by saying – I knew I was going to like this book, but I had no idea I was going to love this book! In fact, Bloodline by Claudia Gray has smashed its way pretty much to the top of my list when it comes to Star Wars books. I’ve only read Lost Stars by Gray previously, and whilst I enjoyed it immensely, I didn’t have the same all-consuming love for it that others had. I thought maybe I had my mind “pre-blown” going in and was worried the same might happen for Bloodline. I was wrong. Every now and then a book comes along and completely lives up to its stellar reputation and Bloodline exemplifies this perfectly.
Bloodline is set in the dark ages between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. It’s part of the Star Wars timeline that we know so little about. We’ve had nuggets from the Aftermath trilogy for sure, but nothing that really helped figure out why or how the galaxy got into the mess of Episode VII, where the First Order came from or, indeed, where the Resistance came from. Thankfully, Bloodline answered some of these questions and whilst a lot is still a mystery, I feel my appetite for post-Return of the Jedi knowledge has been ever so slightly sated by reading this book.
So, as usual for Expanded Universe Leia, she is right in the thick of things when it comes to running the New Republic. Interestingly, the new Government has been split into two parties, the Centrists who favour a totalitarian regime where all planets answer to one Government – and the Populists, who believe that all planets should run themselves. We see a very different Leia here, she’s older, slightly weary and more than a little on edge. I got such a strong feeling of dread from reading this book – made all the more palpable knowing where these events wind up. Han and Leia are still together at this point (yay) and Ben Solo has gone to Luke for training. In fact, we find out that they are travelling the galaxy together, almost completely un-contactable and Leia is only able to send messages seemingly into the void.
I guess I should state pretty early on so you have a good idea as to why I liked this book so much – I really do love politics in Star Wars! I’m a child of the Prequels and so I was always going to enjoy Leia’s political maneuvering as well as the backstabbing and intrigue of the Senate. This whole book felt like a Prequel Trilogy movie, or a Padme-centric Clone Wars episode – and I mean that in the absolute best possible way! That’s not to say that there isn’t action in this book, there is plenty (I mean, this is Leia, of course there’s going to be action!) but for high octane adrenaline junkies this might not be your cup of tea! I actually thought there was a really great blend of action vs politics in this novel. Leia is the sort of senator who is not afraid to roll up her sleeves and get stuck in the action. I thought her mission to uncover the criminal cartels was extremely exciting and walked a great line between a detective story and a thriller.
One of my favourite parts of this story, and the one I found most fascinating, was Leia’s ever-shifting relationship between Casterfo. Ransolm Casterfo is a Senator for the opposition side, a young, charismatic and ambitious politician who frequently butts heads with Leia over their views on the current state of the galaxy as well as the past. He challenges Leia in many ways and I think she grows so much as a character in this book and it’s largely down to her relationship with Casterfo.
Gray also masterfully portrays Han and Leia’s relationship and this book contains my absolute favourite Leia and Han that I’ve read to date (and that includes Legends!). I thought they present as an extremely relatable and realistic couple. I love that they have both come to accept their differences and actually embrace them. They understand that they are very different people but they are always there for each other. It’s odd because they spend so much of this book apart and yet, to me, they have never seemed closer as they did in Bloodline. I think it also does a great job in showing that their relationship was strong and unique, and makes their reunion in The Force Awakens all the more poignant.
It will come as a surprise to no one who has either read the book or other reviews of this book – but Gray absolutely nails Leia. I really don’t know how she does it. This is the best portrayal of Leia I have ever read, I heard every line in Carrie Fisher’s voice and never once doubted that it was her! I thought we got under her skin so well. She’s such a complicated character, I love that despite her world-weariness, she still retains so much of that spirit and passion from the Leia we remember from the Original Trilogy. It was also such a cool idea to see her really process her thoughts on being Darth Vader’s daughter in a way I never feel we quite got in the EU. Sure Truce at Bakura explored it slightly, but this really dealt with her feelings, her utter horror at being related to such a monster – a monster who had tortured her back on the Death Star and terrorised the galaxy for years. All of Leia’s past is part of who she is – but I love that she is never afraid to start over. (Hence why it was so brilliant at the start when she was going to resign from the senate – such a bold decision and yet it was so very Leia!)
Being greedy I would potentially have liked some more answers – mostly surrounding Luke, Kylo and the origins of the First Order. Just when I thought we were going to get some answers as to where the First Order came from, we had the rug pulled out from under us!
I’ll go ahead and pop a spoiler warning here so if you are planning to read the book, just skip the rest of this paragraph and read the overall conclusion below! You have been warned! I thought the cliffhanger ending for Casterfo was slightly frustrating. I suppose we were meant to assume that he died but, since this is Star Wars, unless you see that body you really can’t believe that they are actually dead! We had the same situation with Cardinal in PHASMA and it’s great if these are setting up sequel books which pick these characters back up but I really don’t think that’s the case and it is a tiny bit frustrating to not have solid answers or be left to jump to our own conclusions all the time (especially considering we have so little information regarding any of this time period at all!).
Overall: A deeply compelling portrayal of Leia, coupled with political backstabbing, drama, plotting and “Napkin Gate”, this book is a real heavyweight of the Star Wars Expanded Universe. A must read for fans of Leia or for those wanting to know why the galaxy got into the mess in The Force Awakens!!
5 out of 5 Death Stars! If I could mark it higher I would!