Iron Fist by Aaron Allston is volume six of the X-Wing series. After their ingenious coup in book five, the Wraiths have earned a reputation. So the shady squad is padded to full strength and sent on a similar, yet potentially more dangerous but also more worthwhile mission: Wraith Squadron is to pose as pirate gang in order to be employed by warlord Zsinj and then expose him to attacks by New Republic military.
Iron Fist is a fun, action packed read despite some sad episodes. Similar to the prequel, the mission itself gives plenty opportunity for curious twists and the less-than-correct attitude of Wraith Squadron makes for lots of inter-character humor. Introduction and development of the new guys is too hasty for my taste, but still acceptable for the format: there are many leaps in time that keep proceedings plausible but also skip exactly those vital integration episodes.
All in all, Iron Fist is a worthy X-Wing book and maybe even one of the better ones, given that there are losses and consequently sad moments.
My other read-in-progress was too big for the plane, so I picked up book five of the X-Wing series, Wraith Squadron. After having been on covert operations repeatedly with the Rogues, Wedge Antilles realises that his pilots are rather unsuited for this kind of mission. Since he believes in the worth of sneaky precision as complement to open warfare, he wants to found a sneaky squadron. He collects the washouts of New Republic navy, people that have no future in regular fighter squadrons and have their main talents elsewhere. He ends up with a bunch of peculiar individuals, everything from slicer over actor to demolition expert. All can handle their fighter, though. Since all of them have problems with authority and themselves, there is plenty of room for conflict. After the newly formed squad accidentally takes over a gunship belonging to warlord Zsinj’s forces, it is ordered to operate the vessel as if it was still occupied by its original owners. This way, they infiltrate New Republic’s now most dangerous enemy for the purpose of data mining and demolition.
Wraith Squadron is a great idea and makes for quite Soloesque reading experience. The Rogues became old since Stackpole’s action focused writing style does not really support longer series. Allston sticks to this paradigm so we get a very entertaining novel. I wonder how Allston is able to keep characters interesting in the subsequent books, given that they are rather shallow. In any case, the squad’s creative problem solving and slow integration into a proper unit is fun to read. Sadly, the big final takes place in space; it might be nice to have a climatic ground or even spy battle for once in Star Wars. The ending is appropriate, without big surprises but with proper payment.
Compilation of covers [wiki
So I am through now. What about the series as a whole? Nineteen books plus some shorter stories by about a dozen authors make up the longest story arc in the Extended Universe so far. I do not think it works. There are some books that are better than others, a few are quite good and a few are rather bad. On average, the narrative’s quality is mediocre. But this is not the major dealbreaker for me, it is continuity. Every author has its own darlings that tend to appear and vanish in an ad-hoc fasion. In one book, some Jedi turn up to play their part, only to be not even mentioned in the next one. I can not put a finger on it, but I am pretty sure mistakes happened, too.
Maybe it has to be this way. We have a huge universe with dozens of charakters that have been important in some novel or trilogy. How can you write a series about a galaxy-spanning conflict without touching them all in some way or risking to disappoint readers? How can you keep focus with hundreds of hotspots? Maybe it cannot be done at all. Some authors seem to have realised that instinctively and chose to remove a small set from the big action and let them have a small adventure that fits somewhere in the big picture. Maybe that would have been the better model? I honestly do not know. Read more »
Finally, the last episode of New Jedi Order, The Unifying Force by James Luceno. It is one big action packed finish, starting with a prisoner extraction complete with information smuggling, speeder pursuit and dogfights. Then, a big Vong attack on Mon Calamari, currently capital planet of the young Alliance. After that, everything converges on Coruscant: Zonama Sekot, both fleets and all major heroes and villians come together to wrap things up.
The Unifying Force is non-stop action cover to cover. There are no more attempts at character or story building; to use popular words: “Now begins the killing, followed by light salad.” We get huge space battles, invasion on ground and melee action, everything that is fun to read. We are never told why, though. Why Coruscant Yuuzhan’tar? Even some minor characters voice the question, but do not press for serious consideration. Why does the Alliance risk everything for a worthless piece of space junk? Nobody knows, but they do and nobody should be surprised by the outcome. I was not convinced by all resolutions or their foreshadowing, but they are good enough.
The end is quite open. It is not clear what happens with the Yuuzhan Vong, Zonoma Sekot, the Jedi and the Galactic Alliance. The main characters, now war heroes, are left with a galaxy to rebuild. I wonder how they will go about it and wether they will be able to keep competing factions together again. The next books sit on my shelves so I will be able to find out — after a break.
Greg Keyes’ The Final Prophecy is the second to last volume of series The New Jedi Order. The war finally progresses in favour of the Galactic Alliance. A number of offenses against spread out Vong fleets go well and people start to consider they might be able to win the war eventually. Command starts a big attack on an important system when the enemy takes out the Holonet — Yuuzhan Vong shapers have finally adapted to technological warfare. Without the comfort of instantaneous communication, Alliance fleets have trouble coordinating, which leaves one commandeered by Wedge Antilles alone in a fight against superior forces.
Meanwhile, the Prophet aka Nom Anor contacts Tahiri with a request: he and heretic shaper Nen Yim want to be rescued from Yuuzhan’tar and brought to Zenoma Sekot which he views as salvation of the Yuuzhan Vong people. Corran and Tahiri go and pick them up. Due to some intrigue, Priest Harrar also tags along. During their travel, the Jedi try to assess wether or not their passengers can be trusted. They talk a lot with Nen Yim and Harrar, and finally some mutual understanding emerges. But Nom Anor has, of course, his very own idea of how the visit on the living should turn out.
The Final Prophecy is nicely written. Keyes focuses quite rigorously on two plot lines and tells them at a high pace. Long-time opponents in one tiny ship, talking about philosophy and religion is a nice touch that imparts new knowledge and connections to both characters and reader. On its own, that part might have been boring, but it is nicely balanced by the more action-packed events around Wedge and Jaina. All in all, the novel is certainly entertaining and worth a read.