Review of Star Wars: Honor Among Thieves by James S.A. Corey

18209565Title: Star Wars: Honor Among Thieves (Empire and Rebellion #2)

Author: Joe Schreiber

Publisher: LucasBooks (Random House)

Format: electronic ARC

Where I Received the Title: NetGalley

Review:

I have long been a fan of Star Wars and the expanded universe and have also been diligent and enthusiastic in reading both James S.A. Corey’s The Expanse space opera series and Daniel Abraham’s epic fantasy series, The Dagger and the Coin. So to say I have been anticipating Honor Among Thieves is an understatement.

To make things even more compelling, this novel is about Han Solo. A man’s man. An I-shot-first, fearless rogue who if given the chance, every 1980’s kid would want to be if it wasn’t for Boba Fett’s sweet mech armor. So here I am, finally with an electronic copy in hand, ready to don a set of Star Wars jammies, with a Han Solo action figure to my side, and read this novel in one sitting.

The first thing that jumped out at me was the writing was not quite typical of the Daniel Abraham/Ty Franck duo that penned the wonderful novel, Leviathan Wakes. The punchy dialog that I am used to reading in Jim Holden seems almost artificial when it is transplanted on Han Solo. The Star Wars favorite talks tough, but seems completely unsure of himself in his head, which in a way is inconsistent with the Han Solo character of the expanded universe.

From my viewing and reading, I see Han Solo as a hardened, but still intrinsically good man. A.C. Crispin fleshed out his character beautifully in a trilogy that told of a young boy who had to deal with death and losing a mother figure and then later, a lover that he would have spent the rest of his life with. This portrayal of Han Solo showed how his character struggled to deal with the feelings of loss and how it led to a life as a smuggler and nearly a life-long bachelor. Timothy Zahn also captures his essence well in Scoundrels and Choices of One, giving us some filler adventures from the same period as Honor Among Thieves. And then of course, the original film trilogy first captured Han in his many shades of gray, showing his allegiance first to himself, and then to the Rebel Alliance. It finally took a princess who could match his courage and wits to open his heart to others beyond himself.

In the first book of the thematic trilogy, Razor’s Edge, Martha Wells brought Leia further into the spotlight, showing us her undeniable courage and intelligence. Good characters often struggle to make difficult decisions and Wells put Leia in these types of situations, allowing her leadership abilities to shine. It had an exciting plot with lots of action.

In contrast, Honor Among Thieves was at times dull, with very short action scenes. The book failed to draw on the expanded universe and ultimately left me with a forgettable story that I could barely finish. I really hate to write negative reviews, but given that this book will likely be one of the highest selling science fiction books this year, I feel compelled to mention that science fiction novels can achieve so much more. As can James S.A. Corey (an author combo I still will continue to read without reservation). Maybe my expectations were too high or maybe I was too tired/distracted when I read it, but each page was a chore and much of the story is already lost on me. If you are going to read a book in this series, pick up Martha Wells’ book first. If you are new to the expanded universe and are longing to read of Han Solo, pick up A.C. Crispin’s trilogy. This book is probably good for Star Wars or James S.A. Corey completists, but you will be much more satisfied if you delve into The Expanse series that the duo is writing. In fact, I highly recommend you do — it’s one of the best space operas being written today.

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Review of Maul: Lockdown (Star Wars) by Joe Schreiber

lockdownTitle: Maul: Lockdown (Star Wars)

Author: Joe Schreiber

Publisher: LucasBooks (Random House)

Format: electronic ARC

Where I Received the Title: NetGalley

Review:

Without a doubt, one of the most intriguing villains of the prequel trilogy is the devil-horned Sith, Darth Maul. The obedient apprentice to Darth Sidious wields a twin-bladed light saber and is more powerful than many of the best jedi. But in Lockdown, Maul must hide his powers of the force to destroy a space prison that houses some of the most dangerous criminals in the galaxy.

As one can expect from Schreiber, the author of the Death Trooper horror novel, Maul: Lockdown contains some gratuitous violence. The prison is part of an underground gambling ring where opponents are matched for fight-to-death cage matches — a contest in which Maul finds himself a frequent combatant. But Maul’s mission isn’t simply survival. That would be too easy. He must negotiate his way through the prison to broker a deal with a secret arms dealer to procure a nuclear device. And… all this must be done with revealing his powers in the force.

So what are we to make of this death sport novel? I will say this — if the premise interests you, I think you will find the book pleasurable to read. The action scenes are fast and exciting and there’s enough of a plot to justify the action. With that said, this novel is very self-contained, taking almost entirely aboard the space prison. There are some appearances by Jabba and Darth Plagueis and a few other minor characters, but this isn’t a sweeping novel that expands the universe.

Chronologically, Maul: Lockdown takes place after James Luceno’s Darth Plagueis, but to compare these novels is not exactly a fair comparison. They achieve very different things. Maul: Lockdown is a popcorn book filled with battles and action and does very little to provide deep insight into the overall arc of the era. Regardless, I plowed through this book in just a few sittings.

I think this book should get fairly high reviews, mostly for the fact that Schreiber delivers what readers of this book will expect and more. A light plot, lots of fight sequences, and more insight into the character of Darth Maul.

Review of Razor’s Edge by Martha Wells

17345202Title: Razor’s Edge (Star Wars: Empire and Rebellion #1)

Author: Martha Wells

Publisher: LucasBooks/Del Rey-Spectra

Format: e-ARC

Where I Received the Title: NetGalley

Review:

I have read several novels in the Star Wars universe, but the time period surrounding the original trilogy holds a special place in my heart. And it seems appropriate to note that my favorite is the Han Solo trilogy by A.C. Crispin, who sadly succumbed to cancer earlier this month. Not only did she brilliantly capture the character of Han Solo, but she showed how a back-story and plot can be tied-in to an already existing narrative (something Lucas even struggled with in the prequel trilogy).

Martha Well’s novel, Razor’s Edge, is also part of a trilogy. The other two volumes are Honor Among Thieves by James S.A. Corey (!) and an untitled Luke Skywalker novel by Kevin Hearne. I mention this because knowledge of the trilogy sets a theme for each title. In the case of Razor’s Edge, it’s a book about Leia.

Leia has always been a strong character in the Star Wars universe. For much of it, she is unaware of her jedi heritage; however, she consistently demonstrates strong leadership skills and a keen sensibility. If the original trilogy can be faulted, it is that it teeters on the edge of falling into misogynist tropes. In episode IV, Leia is a damsel in distress, but when she is “rescued,” we see her taking the initiative to save Luke and Han from death. In episode VI, she is a bikini-clad slave to the overbearing Jabba before she chokes him to death. These paint Leia as an unlikely hero, simply because she is a woman or princess. In Razor’s Edge, Wells doesn’t waste time flirting with these played-out plot devices and starts us right in the action with Leia as a leader.

The story takes place shortly after Episode IV when the rebel alliance is scattered and thinned out. The Empire, despite losing their secret weapon, is deep and strong. To reconcile their situation, Leia leads a ship of rebels to procure materials for their secret base on Hoth. They steer clear of the Empire, but unfortunately the galaxy is still a dangerous place and they find themselves captured by space pirates. To Leia’s surprise, they are from her home planet of Alderaan. She must find out the motives behind their capture and her crew must outsmart and outfight their way to freedom.

The challenge in writing a novel in this time period is that it is constrained by a tight and well-known Star Wars history, but Wells’ story arc is satisfying. Razor’s Edge is filled with action scene after action scene, which allows us to see Leia demonstrate her leadership and show that she is willing to make the hard decisions that others apparently aren’t able to make. The scenes are good, but the continuous fast pace left my mind numb toward the novel’s conclusion.

I found that Razor’s Edge was a nice addition to the Star Wars universe, highlighted by Wells’ strong characterization of Leia. I would rank it better than most and worth reading for those who share in the nostalgia of the original trilogy. Also for fans of James S.A. Corey and the Expanse trilogy, this book will likely tie into the Han Solo novel that will be released in March of 2014.

Review of Scoundrels by Timothy Zahn

13573427Title: Star Wars: Scoundrels

Author: Timothy Zahn

Rating: 3 star

Publisher: LucasBooks

Format: Hardcover

Review:

Let’s start at the beginning — the very beginning. You can’t help but love the cover of Scoundrels. A police lineup shows Chewie, Han, and Lando wonderfully rendered, bringing back the nostalgia of the original trilogy. But a simple heist with this trio would be much too simple and turning the cover to the back shows that Han has a much bigger plan in mind.

scoundrels_cover

I will refrain from making an obvious movie connection with the premise of this novel. Yes, it is true that Han is leading the ultimate heist to steal “cash” out of a vault. And yes, his crew does consist of eleven people. And once again, yes — each of these “scoundrels” has a unique and special ability that is required by Han to pull off this elaborate plan so he can finally pay back Jabba.

When I first saw the title, Scoundrels, I expected a few things. First, I expected to see the shady side of Han — the smuggling rebel who would talk back to a princess in order to get his reward. I also expected to see some camaraderie with his faithful wookie. As for Lando, I wasn’t sure he fit correctly into the continuity as I had always assumed the stunt Han pulled against him was stealing the Millennium Falcon. This book tells us otherwise.

I won’t go into details of the plot, but let’s just say that Han comes across an opportunity to break into the Black Sun crime sindicate to steal back what amounts to a fortune of credits. He reluctantly accepts this challenge and enlists a host of smugglers to accomplish the task. Several obstacles and missteps threaten to foil Han’s plans and what seems to be a typical caper ends with a twist that I never expected.

What frustrated me from the beginning of the novel was the effort in making Han to be such a good guy. I absolutely loved A.C. Crispin’s Han Solo trilogy, which told of his hard upbringing, giving us insight into his reluctance to getting in relationships and his strong connection with Chewie. In Scoundrels, Zahn goes to extremes to make Han a benevolent hero. When a bounty hunter comes to collect, Han shoots him with his familiar gun-under-the-table, but it is immediately justified by saying that the bounty hunter shot first. As for the fortune they are stealing, once again we are given a long explanation about how this is stolen money and Han needs to help return it to its faithful owner with the promise of a hero’s portion.

I appreciate that Han has a good heart, but part of the appeal of Han is that he doesn’t fit the typical Star Wars archetype of being wholly good or wholly evil. He’s a smuggler who’s out for himself, but also has a soft side.

Zahn is a talented writer and perhaps I am being a little harsh in my review (but given the many good reviews, I give myself liberty in sharing my qualms). For the most part, the novel is light-hearted and fun, filled with dialog and twists and turns that keep the action going. There are no Jedi or Sith Lords, which I appreciated and thought would distract from the point of the novel. I would have liked for more interaction between Han and Chewie, but overall Zahn handled the interactions between the many characters well.

The plot of the novel was well thought-out and creative, but I wasn’t as inspired by the story as I had hoped. At times it got bogged down with excessive dialog between characters that were essentially just filling a role in the heist without being particularly interesting. This wasn’t due to a fault in the writing. That is far from the truth. It’s just that adding character depth to a team of eleven is difficult with the limited amount of space to work with within a novel.

For Star Wars fans, particularly those wanting to fill in some empty pieces of the original trilogy, I think you may find this read a delight. Expect some action, some humorous and sarcastic banter from Han, and a few plot twists. For me, it was a decent read that was worth my time, but it doesn’t rise to the level of A.C. Crispin’s Han Solo trilogy. Nonetheless, I appreciate Zahn’s approach and it does add a little depth to explain Han and Lando’s troubled relationship in The Empire Strikes Back.