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Monday, August 24, 2009

Star Wars Fate of the Jedi 3: Abyss by Troy Denning

Title: Star Wars Fate of the Jedi 3: Abyss
Author: Troy Denning
Reviewed Format: hard cover
Pages: 317
Release Date: August 18, 2009

I’m disappointed it took until the third book for the Fate of the Jedi series to find a track to get back into, but really glad it did. Otherwise, I think I would have given up on a series for the first time ever. Surprisingly, I’m looking forward to the rest of FOTJ now instead of wondering why I’ve let myself be ruled by forces greater than those measurable by the common man: fandom and a great desire to find out what happens in the EU (at the cost of very thin hardcovers that are not worth the price).

First things first, and for those of you who’ve finished the book already, can you believe Denning waited a whole four chapters before making another Jedi go crazy?! I can’t and I just read it! Before I go nutty with glee, Tahiri’s not dead yet. She’s even been let off the hook (damn, that didn’t even last a whole book), but (BUT!) there’s finally something interesting happening between the lackluster and overhyped “romance” that is Jag and Jaina.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. First, a quick synopsis:

Luke and Ben have left the Aing Tii and made their way go the Maw Cluster, that big ominous splotchy area of space that’s been revisited so many times it’s no wonder LucasBooks has finally saturated its very existence with lots of significance and pre-planning. Two other Jedi have “gone crazy,” but this time Cilghal’s got an idea of potential victims and is unsurprised when they do so. Her theory is far from reassuring: if the Jedi who were kept in the Maw as children during the NJO are all in danger of harming themselves or others then the Order has a precarious situation in their hands, especially since a connection does not a cause create. Without a cure or any idea of why Jedi are falling like flies, it would seem that the Jedi, under the lead of “Grand Master” Kenth Hamner, are ready to give up the humanistic approach and let Chief of State Daala encase every last victim in carbonite and have done with it. However, the Jedi have a few more tricks up their sleeve and, if Han and Leia have anything to say about it, won’t be giving in to Daala’s overbearing need for power and control.

That is, with the help of all of their allies, Jedi and non-Jedi alike. And by non-Jedi I mean politician friends. Like Jag and the surprisingly loyal Wynn Dorvan. I say surprisingly because of the two, I never would have suspected it’d be Jag that turned out to be a slimy sleeze ball. Wynn is answerable to Daala herself; Jag is answerable to the Imperial Remnant, all its angry, bitter Moffs, and his genitals (but even that’s questionable). When Jag tells Jaina he’s overheard Daala mention bringing Mandalorians in to police the Jedi, he makes her promise not to tell anyone, knowing full well the awkward position he’s put Jaina in. What actually happened we find out later when Wynn contacts Han and Leia and tells them he let Jag find out that information on purpose thinking he’d be the Good Friend and warn the Jedi, or at least warn other trusted people who could then warn the Jedi. Which we already know he didn’t do.

I loved that Jaina’s loyalties are being tested here, especially with the tension it brings to her relationship to Jag and her family. It makes the couple interesting in a way that moved my indifference for Jag to interest even as I find myself agreeing with Han that Jag just isn’t good enough for Jaina. His position is a little reminiscent of the political fine line Leia used to walk as the Chief of State, but without the emotional investment that makes Leia so easy to love as a character. Jag is just too rigid for me to invest in his relationship with Jaina (which, when it isn’t subject to that same rigidness, is reduced to make-out sessions), but it makes for perfect characterization in terms of what he’s best at: political and military maneuvering.

In the scenes where he’s pulling his weight as a political figurehead, Denning made him bad ass. And I loved that, I actually liked Jag in those scenes because he’s showing honor and duty, the staples around which he was raised and written to uphold. It may not warm me to his character, but it makes me appreciate and understand where he’s coming from and that, I can respect.

Another thing I liked in Abyss was the other tension-causing situation: Javis Tyrr and his unending quest to feed Daala’s anti-Jedi sentiment. I’m not going to take offense that the “good Jedi” are having their names slandered for the purpose of advancing Daala’s political agenda. It’s actually good cause for drama, the thing which engrossing novels thrive on. And Abyss was an engrossing novel. No, I don’t believe the Jedi are bad, baby killers (I made that up), or anything else Daala and her unending supply of gullible supporters take solace in finding suspicious beyond belief. But FOTJ giving them a hard time after dealing with Sith Lord after Sith Lord, especially when the last one was the son and nephew of prominent political and public figures? Totally worth it. Everyone’s being called to task in this series: Luke, Tahiri, Daala (okay, the Jedi have to do a lot of smart dancing on this, what will inevitably prove to be, long task, but still!), Jacen, and because the majority of those are Jedi, the Order itself is under suspicion. If I was a civilian, I’d be tired of Jedi, too.

And apparently, the Jedi are tired of Jedi, too. When two young Jedi decided to “quit”, I thought the same thing Lecersen did, “Jedi can do that?” (p. 110) At the very least, it kept the story on its toes and me intrigued enough to want to keep on reading. There is no doubt that Abyss is a page-turner. Even the weirdness that Luke and Ben found in the Maw Cluster was interesting. Interesting in a Waru kind of way, but interesting nonetheless.

I may be partial to that kind of weirdness, having grown into the EU with stuff like Waru, the Corellian Trilogy, Solo babies wielding lightsabers to save Uncle Luke, Callista… If you didn’t buy into that oddball stuff, there wasn’t much of a way for the early EU to survive in your heart or imagination. Lucky for me that it did because I was totally engrossed in the hypnotic weirdness of Those Who Dwell Beyond The Veil. I was even creeped out when Qwallo Mode eerily channeled Emperor Palpatine’s bribes and Anakin Skywalker’s desires when he said, “Do you think you can stop us all from dying?” (p. 99) Man if that didn’t make me shiver.

Although, I have to admit, it was almost a little too much when bad D&D names like the Lake of Apparitions, Mirror of Remembrance, Mists of Forgetfulness, Throne of Balance, Font of Power, and Pool of Knowledge started creeping into the narrative. Denning definitely doesn’t get points for originality there if he’s the one that came up with those award-winning titles. The ghosts (or whatever you want to call them) Luke and Ben ran into were also stretching my belief and for the sake of spoilers, I won’t say who or what they saw, but I was disappointed Nimueh or some other Lady of the Lake didn’t pop a hand out with some ultra mega Lightsaber of Vanquishing in her grasp to offer Luke the means of finally riding the galaxy of evil once and for all. Some things just weren’t meant to be.

When it comes to little things I liked or disliked, I’ll just mention them briefly. For the fans that don’t particularly like the Mandos--and some will no doubt find glee in the fact that a few of them get beat up by Jedis (GASP) or empathize with Leia finding them “too cold” to waste the sacrifice of one of their own and risk an entire mission to save a pal--I , as a Mando fan, thought they were still good in this book. Because we got to read from their point of view in LOTF, they were written to be sympathetic characters, but since in Abyss they were hired by Daala to police the Jedi, that automatically puts them on the “bad guy” side with a job to do, one that the reader is not supposed to like. We never get inside of their head; their involvement here is transparent. That doesn’t bother me at all.

But Leia’s got a problem when she says they’re “too cold”. Why? Because a page earlier she’s just done the same thing she accuses the Mandos of doing! Which is telling her companions to dump the Jedi cargo (an actual Jedi) if it comes to that because the mission is more important than saving everyone; saving one is “good enough.” I mean, come on. If you’re going to criticize Mandos, at least don’t make your sympathetic characters out to be big hypocrites!

I was caught off guard with Luke assuming Ben was going to be the next Grand Master after him--as if it’s a duty passed on through the family like royal responsibility.

I was confused when Han and Leia freely discussed Jacen’s real relationship to Allana (still do not care for her) with Allana. I probably just forgot which book they decided to finally tell her the truth, but was it actually written in the text that Allana was told? Was that a real scene or something that happened between books?

I’m not sure how I feel about Abeloth. Creepy? Denning managed to make the Lost Sith a little more interesting, but I’m wondering how a tribe that was so isolated for such a long time is familiar with popular culture enough to know who Luke and Ben are. Although, referring them (the Lost Tribe) as “a particular strain” (p. 309) of Sith is hilarious. The Sith as some kind of virus is exactly the metaphor I was looking for!

Denning does not know how to write C-3PO. I think he mistakes the "missing the point" humor at 3PO's expense we all know and love and instead writes him as an annoying, extremely detail-oriented droid.

The expressions “bloah,” “barvy,” and “sleemo” are stupid and should never be used again. I mean it.

Abyss might have raised more questions than given direct answers (I think Daala knows more about the Maw than she lets on), but I liked this. It gave more direction and potential for the rest of the series to explore and, hopefully, answer. So far, it’s the best out of the three and I’m totally looking forward to Backlash. I think the extra 100 pages helped a lot.


Anonymous said...

I also liked this book, though it certainly wasn't without problems. The FOTJ series in general needs to pick up a bit (and to have longer books)... I'm hoping the fact that the future novels have all been put back a bit means they're spending more time on making them better.

On Jaina/Jag: I love their relationship, mainly due to the Dark Journey / Rebel Dream / Rebel Stand sequence in the NJO series. However, I haven't been particularly impressed with how it's been written from late NJO to FOTJ... or how they've written Jaina in general really, with a few exceptions (I liked LOTF: Invincible for instance, other than thinking it needed to be longer and have a more thought-out ending).

I was also irritated at the Ben-expected-to-be-GM thing. What is it about Ben anyway? I don't dislike him as a character, I just don't think he merits all the fuss the writers seem to be making of him.

Erika said...

@lothy: I'm looking forward to the next FOTJ book because 1) it's got a wider window between this release and itself and 2) I'm hoping the series realizes it's already on the 4th book and something needs to happen.

I'm not a big fan of Jaina as a character and I find Jag boring, dry, and dull. He picked up a little in this book which was his only saving grace for me ("he has personality!"). I'm a fan of Zekk/Jaina, but Legacy ruined that.

I don't think anyone really knows what to do with Ben! The poor kid has been in how many different scenarios since he was born: kid, war hero, famous offspring, good guy, bad guy--he's all over the place. I am enjoying his bonding sessions with Luke, though. They're touching. :)

logankstewart said...

Great review. I just finished this book (I've been on hold at the public library for 4 months!) and I definitely agree: this was the best book in the FotJ series so far. I liked most of the scenes involving Luke and Ben, and some of the Sith stuff, but pretty much everything on Coruscant was a drag.

I'm looking forward to seeing how this series plays out, though. For some reason I'm looking forward to the passing of Luke, Han, or Leia (It's sticks in my mind that Han is a 72 year old man still trudging about the galaxy!) and seeing the galaxy come together. I'm also very eager to see the book series connect with the Legacy comic series.

Erika said...

@logankstewart: That's a long time to be on the waitlist! I'm glad you finally got to read it.. Any chance waiting for Backlash will be much shorter? It continues to get better. :)

I'm not a fan of the Legacy comics. I'm a bit upset they've determined the immediate future by writing about the far future. It takes away all surprise for the character I've become invested in. I did hear they're finally ending it at #50, though.

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