Turn Back 10: BETRAYAL by Aaron Allston (Arrow)

TurnBackTimeClockIn this second edition of Turn Back 10, I’m taking a look at an early Star Wars novel review. In the first few months of CR, I read and reviewed a lot of Star Wars fiction. Not long before I started the blog, I had picked up a couple of newer novels in the series, having stepped away for quite some time. I can’t remember what it was that made me re-start, but I did and I got sucked into it in a big way.

They were among some of the first novels I received from a publisher for review. I think this may have coloured my reviews — I didn’t lie about what I liked, but I think I did (in the very early months) focus more on what I liked than what I didn’t. I don’t think I am alone among reviewers to have done that, not that I would ever recommend it. I also think I read many of the Star Wars novels while still in the glow of renewed fandom. This loyalty would slowly wane as ever-more novels in ever-more convoluted series-within-series were published. My interest in reading SW novels cratered in 2013, as I tried four and finished none. With the The Force Awakened behind us, and a new era in SW fiction and movies upon us, though, who knows if my interest will be reignited?

Anyway, here’s my review of Betrayal by Aaron Allston — the first in the nine-book Legacy of the Force series — from a time when the now-“Legends” novels were still pretty great…

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AllstonA-LotF1-BetrayalBETRAYAL by Aaron Allston (Arrow)

This is the era of Luke Skywalker’s legacy: the Jedi Master has unified the order into a cohesive group of powerful Jedi Knights. However, as this era begins, planetary interests threaten to disrupt this time of relative peace and Luke is plagued by visions of an approaching darkness.

Melding the galaxy into one cohesive political whole after the savage war with the Yuuzhan Vong is not the easiest task, and already some worlds are chafing under the demands of the new government. Civil war may be brewing, and the Skywalker-Solo clan find that they might not all be on the same side. Meanwhile, evil is rising again — out of the best intentions — and it looks like the legacy of the Skywalkers may come full circle…

Betrayal is the beginning of the latest Star Wars series, which ushers in (yet another) dark time for Luke Skywalker and his expanding clan of family and friends. This time, the darkness doesn’t come from beyond the galactic rim. This time, its source is far closer to home.

Mr. Allston — already well known and loved for his previous excellent contributions to the Star Wars universe — starts this nine-part series off with a real bang, throwing the reader straight into the action with Jacen Solo (Han Solo and Princess Leia’s son) and Ben Skywalker (Luke’s son) discovering a weapons-trafficking operation on Adumar — one of the many planets that have pledged allegiance to the fledgling Galactic Alliance. From death defying free-falls and displays of lightsaber mastery, to speeder chases and unreal acrobatic feats, the first chapter alone is enough to grip readers (new and old) with heightened excitement for this promising series.

While this is obviously part one of a longer series, the novel contains enough to keep the casual reader interested and entertained throughout — be it the thought of now-elderly Han Solo galavanting about the universe in an attempt to prevent a looming civil war, or the equally-elderly General Wedge Antilles (which people will know from the original movies, but perhaps have missed — he was a member of Rogue Squadron, who rose to general rank in the Expanded Universe) getting the better of some GA operatives tasked with keeping him in check — it’s a devious, elegantly simple plan, that should raise a smile on even the most cynical reader’s face. The dialogue between Antilles and another general, Tycho Celchu is equally entertaining, and shows that, while the ideas and events of the story might be serious, this is still meant as entertainment and Mr. Allston has a deft wit which he uses very well — never devolving into farce, and never overwhelming us with puns or jokes. A healthy balance.

Over-shadowing everything is the steadily darker path that the aforementioned Jacen Solo is taking. To be honest, his new character is a welcome change from the New Jedi Order series, which portrayed Jacen as whining, prissy and just annoying as a philosophically-wracked teenager. While there was some development towards the end of the series (Traitor saw him subjected to horrific amounts of torture), his new coldness and more detached attitude towards human (or, as it’s Star Wars, alien) life makes him a much more interesting potential-bad guy. As mentor for Luke’s son, though, there is greater possibility for future tragedy — what will become of the son of everyone’s favourite Jedi if his teacher falls to darkness? Will he be sacrificed for the greater good? Will he be drawn into darkness with his master? Only time will tell.

Expertly written by Aaron Allston, with a perfect mix of humour, plenty of action (on the ground, with lightsabers drawn, and in space) and political intrigue, Betrayal is an excellent start, never letting up the pace and always dragging the reader on. I couldn’t put it down, and often found myself reading well into the dawn hours, unable to tear my eyes off the pages. A very encouraging sign of what is to come.

Allston also writes the fourth book in the series, Exile (paperback out now, and review pending) and the penultimate volume, Fury (released later this year). If anyone wanted to dive back into the Star Wars universe, although earlier novels would perhaps be recommended, in Allston’s Betrayal they would receive a literary, space opera treat. With enough explaining of backstory, it wouldn’t require previous knowledge of the New Jedi Order series, and would no doubt be just as enjoyable (if not more so, as the NJO series did start to get a little too long in the tooth…).

Nothing is set in stone during this first novel, except that the remaining eight volumes will be full of new twists in the Star Wars tale, as the Solos and Skywalkers find themselves split on either side of the escalating galactic conflict.

Watch this space. (A review of the next three books – Bloodlines, Tempest and Exile — will be posted early next week.)

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Rather embarrassingly, I spelled Allston’s surname wrong every time in the original review… Shameful.

I have absolutely no clue why I referred to this as “literary”. It is not. As I said in the intro — I was still in my enthusiastic-new-reviewer phase.

The review is from a time when I was trying to write better and longer reviews. I certainly succeeded in doing the latter. Not so much the former. I don’t really remember many specifics of this novel — a lot of the SW plots have blurred into one, to be honest. (Maybe it was a good idea to reboot the Expanded Universe, after all.) I do remember enjoying the first few books in the Legacy of the Force series, but then losing interest. The ending, eight books later, was disappointing and not nearly as tragic or momentous as I’d hoped. Jacen’s fall to the Dark Side and eventual comeuppance was… fine. Anti-climactic, and not as interesting as it could have been.

Despite still enjoying some of the novels after this, the Legacy of the Force certainly marked the beginning of the end for SW fiction and me. The following nine-book series, Fate of the Jedi, I never finished (didn’t even crack open the final novel, Troy Denning’s Apocalypse). In some ways, I think the last few books I did read (but so many in the end that I never finished), just turned me off Star Wars fiction. I stuck to watching the movies, and haven’t really missed novels in the series. I haven’t even re-read any in more than a decade, I think.

Given my disappointment with The Force Awakened, too, I don’t know that I will be jumping on the SW fiction bandwagon anytime soon. I’ve dipped in to a couple of the newest novels, and each time I’ve found myself very quickly thinking, “Nope, I just don’t care enough.” I’ll be re-watching Episode VIII soon, and maybe after I have I’ll like it as much (or nearly) as most other people have. Just… don’t hold your breath.

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