Calvin Cross is a successful and loyal officer in Intel Wing, the Empire’s intelligence organisation. He is so good that he has been given his own command, the stealth frigate Nighthawk, despite the fact that he is only a half-citizen and therefore stuck at a junior officer rank. His latest mission has been to track down rogue warship captain Raidan who used his position to destroy civilian alien freighters without provocation. Raidan is tried by a tribunal and found guilty, but his motives remain unknown. The prisoner escapes under suspicious circumstances—hijacking a dreadnought in the process—and Cross is again ordered to find him. Cross suspects foul play as several facts do not add up and decides to investigate the underlying situation rather than hunting down the fugitive. While he tries to keep up appearances his mysterious opponents act to stop Cross and his crew no matter what.
Phoenix Conspiracy has a solid, but not brilliant setup. The futuristic world is very similar to ours despite the fact that humanity travels across space; culture and technology appear unchanged for the most part. It works well enough for this kind of story as the reader feels comfortable from page one and can completely focus on the intriguing plot. The conspiracy is nicely set up and the characters are likeable yet complex enough to feel real, including heart-felt emotion and sometimes funny, sometimes nerve-wracking conflicts. Only the ending seemed a bit too hasty and shallow for my taste; but then, this is only part one of a series so I will give Sanders the benefit of doubt, assuming the rabbit hole is deeper than it seems. Phoenix Conspiracy managed to captivate me and I had a good time reading it. I certainly look forward to the sequels!
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Mysterious aliens that enslave humans in order to power their odd technology attack backwater world Bakura. Because the Imperial Navy is busy reforming after the disaster over Endor, the Rebellion decides to help. Literally one day after his battle with Vader and the Emperor, Luke is to commandeer a rescue force with Leia, Han and Chewbacca tagging along. They arrive at Bakura just in time to fend of the latest alien attack and are confronted with natives who are less than eager to accept help from declared traitors.
If you accept the premise of a vile species that wants to conquer the galaxy and happens to begin with it just now, the general plot is enjoyable. Our main characters deal with the effects of the latest battle and revelations; in particular, Luke still has yet to find his place as a Jedi while Leia has to come to terms with Vader being her father. Other than that, The Truce at Bakura is a truly average book. Fans will want to read it as the depicted events are mentioned later.
Five members of the Imperial Stormtroopers go rogue after being ordered to massacre innocent civilians. They feel their oaths are to the Empire and its people but not necessarily the existing chain of command, so they start taking care of local thugs on their own. They have to be careful, though, as deserters flying around in a stolen ship full of Imperial war materiel are generally not seen in the most friendly light.
Leia Organa enlists eager Luke Skywalker and Chewbacca as well as reluctant Han Solo for a diplomatic mission aiming to solve some inner-Rebellion struggles. Although he sympathises with the Rebellions cause, Han is still not sure wether he wants to join full-time; his wish to be independent clashes with his attraction to the princess. Lucky for him, diversion appears as they track down a group of pirates responsible for attacks on Rebellion supply lines.
Young Emperor’s Hand Mara Jade is sent to investigate some Imperial official who might be corrupt or even treasonous. After she finishes her mission some loose ends in the politician’s money flow set her on the trail of a pirate gang she decides to follow.
Allegiance is a great novel. It starts with three apparently completely disconnected nested plot lines which soon start to intertwine. Characters help or interfere with each other without them even noticing. The way this is done is nothing but artful. Fans will enjoy the character background and especially the glimpse inside Stormtrooper helmets—turns out there are good guys after all. Together with Zahn’s usual qualities and characteristic Star Wars flair you get a very entertaining mid-length novel even non-fanatic fans should be able to enjoy.
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We meet younger versions of some of Zahn’s characters, for instance Mara Jade and Vilim Disra. This gives depth to his earlier published books. Especially Mara’s younger self is interesting. For all her competence she is idealistic enough to think that massacres like the one on Teardrop are ills worth prosecuting officially; she has not yet understood Palpatine. This explains how she ends up on the “good” side later but also deepens my impression that the Emperor is not using all bad people; he rather draws decent folk into his employ and twists them.
The ending promises future stories: Mara Jade and her personal Stormtrooper unit, however illicit, on black ops missions sounds like lots of fun.
In Outbound Flight, Timothy Zahn takes us back to 27 years before Yavin and to many a beginning for characters he created. At that time, Jedi Master Jorus C’baoth aggressively pushes for his pet project Outbound Flight to be funded. With a big ship and thousands of volunteers, he wants to explore and settle the Unknown Regions and eventually other galaxies. The Galactic Senate, Chancellor Palpatine and the Jedi Council are all not convinced the project’s merits but Darth Sidious covertly supports it for his own reasons. When Outbound Flight finally takes off, Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi and his Padawan Anakin Skywalker are to observe its progress.
Meanwhile, small smuggler Jori Car’das meets mastermind Thrawn, now a mere Commander in the Chiss Expansionary Defense Force who struggles with Chiss aggression regulations. Once they realise they are like-minded despite all cultural differences they come to trust and teach each other; a development neither one’s boss agrees with.
It was very interesting to finally read the back-story of Outbound flight which was rediscovered in Survivor’s Quest and all the other great characters of Zahn’s. Having read The New Jedi Order I was particularly intrigued by mentions of the Far Outsiders in the context of the Empire; did Palpatine really mean good taking the lead or did he just use the notion of extragalactic invaders to bend upright people to his will? But most importantly, we finally get the origins of Thrawn; how he came to leave his people and serve the empire had been a gap left unfilled for far too long. I greatly enjoyed his screen time; even then, he was a brilliant commander and able to manipulate everyone to his liking.
Outbound Flight ranks somewhere between brilliant and above average. I had fun reading it and enjoyed all the little puzzle pieces. It is definitely one of the better Star Wars books and to be recommended to any fan.
The Courtship of Princess Leia by Dave Wolverton takes up immediately after the events of Solo Command. An exhausted Han Solo returns to Coruscant, eager to meet his darling Leia again. He arrives just in time to witness how the Queen Mother of Hapes, a wealthy star cluster, offers riches the New Republic desperately needs for the war effort—under one condition: Leia has to marry the Queen’s son Isolder. Leia struggles to refuse out of her sense of duty, and Prince Isolder being charming and attractive does not help Han’s cause. Jealous and angry, Han applies smuggler-style problem solving and abducts Leia, only to strand them on Dathomir, an unfriendly planet deep in Zsinj’s territory. Luke Skywalker and Isolder team up to find the runaways and find that Dathomir’s native inhabitants might be more dangerous than Zsinj.
Courtship of Princess Leia is one of those books you do not wish were longer. The driving conflict between Han and Isolder quickly becomes embarrassing and reduces Leia to an almost archetypical damsel in distress. Furthermore, Leia and other women seem to swoon a bit too much for grown women. But then, it fits the shallowness of the setup as a whole. Diverting action made Courtship of Princess Leia an entertaining if not gripping read. It should be interesting to fans as the events influence later years in the EU, others can safely ignore it.
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The plot line around warlord Zsinj ends in this book. It happens in passing; none of the characters set out to continue the hunt. Zsinj just happens to be in the neighbourhood, gets in the way and is taken out. I think the Zsinj plotline deserved a more focused, explosive finale scaled to fit the sense of danger Zsinj is connoted with in prequels. That would have left this book to deal with the problem of Leia’s choice of husband only. Of course, there would not have been much of an ending left to Courtship of Princess Leia in that case; more proof that the plot idea is rather weak.