Star Wars: Thrawn Ascendancy: Greater Good by Timothy Zahn

Star Wars - Thrawn Ascendancy - Greater Good Cover

Publisher: Penguin Random House Audio (Audiobook – 27 April 2021)

Series: Thrawn Ascendancy – Book Two

Length: 16 hours and 17 minutes

My Rating: 4.75 out of 5

One of the most impressive authors of Star Wars fiction in the world today, the legendary Timothy Zahn, returns with another epic entry in his Thrawn Ascendancy series, Greater Good, which continues to explore the early life of that awesome Star Wars character, Grand Admiral Thrawn.

Zahn is an outstanding author who has been writing Star Wars fiction since 1991, with the highly regarded Heir to the Empire.  Since then, Zahn has written several amazing Star Wars novels in both the current canon and the Star Wars Legends canon.  While I have not read all of Zahn’s Star Wars novels (yet!), the ones I have were all incredible and are some of my all-time favourite Star Wars novels (such as the awesome Star Wars: Scoundrels).  However, his most distinctive works have all surrounded the awesome character of Thrawn.

Grand Admiral Thrawn is an alien officer in the Imperial Navy, renowned for his amazing tactical knowledge, brilliance in battle and ability to discern insights about his opponents by observing their personality or culture, especially art.  Ever since his introduction in Heir to the Empire, Thrawn has been a firm favourite among the fans, so much so that he was one of the few characters from the Legends extended universe reintroduced in the new canon.  This reintroduction was done in the third season of the Star Wars: Rebels animated series, where he served as an impactful antagonist for the third and fourth season.  It also looks like Thrawn will also be getting a live-action appearance at some point in the future after his name was dropped in The Mandalorian, which is pretty damn exciting.

The character has been heavily featured in the current range of Star Wars novels, as Zahn was brought back in to write some exciting new Thrawn-based novels.  This started with a brand new Thrawn trilogy in 2017, made up of Thrawn, Alliances and Treason, which showed how Thrawn joined the Imperial Navy and his early career as an officer.  These novels were all incredible reads (Thrawn got a five-star review from me, and Treason was one of the best books I read in 2019), and I loved the character’s unique adventures.  Thrawn’s story was furthered expanded last year with Chaos Rising; the first novel in Zhan’s Thrawn Ascendancy series, which examines the character’s pre-Empire life. 

While the armies of the Republic and the Separatists battle for supremacy in the Clone Wars, another deadly conflict is occurring beyond the bounds of known space.  Deep in the unexplored regions, known as the Chaos, the mighty Chiss Ascendancy have just defeated the forces of General Yiv the Benevolent, shattering his empire, the Nikardun Destiny, and bringing peace back to their territories.  As the Chiss Ascendancy returns to normal, they are unaware that they are still under attack from a malevolent and clever foe that is determined to finish off the Chiss once and for all.

On a Chiss agricultural planet, a group of peaceful and seemingly harmless aliens have arrived, seeking to temporarily make a home.  In addition to their good nature, kind hearts and unique spices, these aliens have also brought something of great value that many people will kill for.  As news of the alien’s resources spread, cracks begin to appear in the very foundation of the Ascendancy, as the various powerful families fight for supremacy.

With civil war on the horizon, the future of the Chiss Ascendancy may lay in the hands of the brilliant and infamous Senior Captain Mitth’raw’nuruodo of the Chiss Expansionary Defence Fleet.  Thrawn, who is personally responsible for the defeat of Yiv and the Nikardun, is currently investigating the origins of their attack on the Ascendancy and, in doing so, comes across a previously unknown planet destroyed by its own deadly civil war.  As Thrawn attempts to explore this new mystery, he soon finds himself in the midst of a dark conspiracy.  An unseen force is attempting to take control of the entire Chaos, and the Chiss are the greatest obstacle to their plot.  Hamstrung by politics, family ties and his own inability to see the deeper motivations of his fellow Chiss, can Thrawn stop the oncoming conflict before it is too late, or will the Chiss Ascendancy burn from the inside out?

Zahn has once again produced an exceptional and outstanding piece of Star Wars fiction that further explores the fantastic early adventures of his greatest creation.  Greater Good is an excellent middle novel in this cool trilogy, and readers will deeply enjoy this book’s blend of intricate storytelling, great characters and impressive universe-building.  All of this results in an exciting and compelling novel that quickly draws readers in and has absolutely no trouble keeping their attention.  I had an outstanding time getting through this great novel and I was able to power through its audiobook format in no time at all.

At the heart of this outstanding novel is a clever and addictive narrative that follows Thrawn and a bevy of supporting characters as the Chiss Ascendancy finds itself in danger from an indirect attack.  Greater Good follows on immediately after Chaos Rising, and examines the next stage of a compelling conspiracy against the Chiss, while also focusing on Thrawn’s battles during this period.  The author utilises a substantial number of alternate perspectives to tell a rich and varied story and, while Thrawn is the centre of much of the book’s plot, Zahn has widened the focus of the novel with several compelling storylines and characters.  These include an investigation into the origins of a Nikardun attack on a remote planet, several jaunts out into different parts of space, internal political conflicts that are a threat to Thrawn, and exciting encounters with other inhabitants of the Chaos.  There is also a substantial focus on a new plot to destroy the Chiss, which includes several compelling flashback sequences that examines the origins and initial planning of the conspiracy.  This use of flashback is pretty impressive, and while certain aspects of the antagonist’s storyline are a tad odd, it was still an interesting tale.  I really enjoyed the vast array of different storylines and character arcs that really highlighted the richness of the setting and the unique plotlines they could inspire.  While some of these storylines might seem rather disconnected at times, Zahn cleverly brings them together at the end of the novel, resulting in a very impressive and intriguing conclusion.

As with most of Zahn’s novels, Greater Good is loaded to the brim with Star Wars lore and intriguing universe-expanding ideas as the author dives deeper into the origins, culture and history of the Chiss Ascendancy.  Zahn really expands on what he introduced in his previous Thrawn and Thrawn Ascendancy novels, especially Chaos Rising, and highlights the proud Chiss warrior culture.  A vast amount of new information of the Ascendancy is featured within this latest book, and the reader gets a fascinating look at the planets, political makeup and social hierarchy of this race, especially at the family level.  Not only is this really intriguing, especially for those readers who have enjoyed Zahn’s previous additions to the Star Wars canon, but the author uses it extremely well within the plot.  Much of the main narrative, including the conspiracy that threatens to destroy the Chiss, is based on their family makeup and the accompanying politics and family mentalities that go along with that.  I felt that Zahn integrated this into the narrative extremely well, forcing the characters to navigate their unusual and insane politics in order to survive.

The author also expands the reader’s knowledge of the previously unexplored area of the Star Wars universe known as the Chaos.  The Chaos, thanks to certain celestial anomalies, is harder to navigate and transverse than regular space; it is a mess of isolated planets, unknown societies and new alien races.  Zahn introduces several new aliens throughout this novel, with each unusual race playing an interesting role in the overall story.  I love the unique Star Wars setting of the Chaos, especially as many of the established Star Wars rules and technology are not as present.  For example, the various warships have some different armaments and shielding, such as acid-filled missiles, resulting in some unique and previously unseen battle tactics.  It was also interesting to see the different takes on the Force that the inhabitants of the Chaos have come up with.  Without any Jedi present, the various races within the Chaos each have their own interpretations or uses for the Force, such as the Chiss Sky-Walkers, young children who can use the Force to help ships navigate the Chaos more effectively, and it was intriguing to encounter different views of this throughout Greater Good.  Hardcore Star Wars fans will enjoy the intriguing additions that Zahn makes to the expanded universe, and the final few pages hint at some major lore introductions occurring in the next Thrawn Ascendancy novel that I am rather curious about.

While this was a great book and piece of Star Wars fiction, I did feel that it required some pre-knowledge of Zahn’s prior works.  The narrative of Greater Good is heavily linked to the events of its preceding novel, Chaos Rising, and while the author does re-explain some of the elements or storylines, a lot of the plot does rather assume you read the first book.  Having greatly enjoyed Chaos Rising, I was able to follow this quite easily, but I could easily see some newer readers getting a little lost or overwhelmed in places.  In addition, parts of the Thrawn Ascendancy series are heavily linked to the events of the previous Thrawn trilogy, and certain references or comments might not make much sense unless you had already read these books.  As a result, I would suggest newer readers check out some of Zahn’s earlier novels first, although it is still possible to enjoy Greater Good without it.  Those readers who have enjoyed these prior books are definitely in for a great treat though and will find the deeper dive into the Chiss and Thrawn’s past to be really enjoyable.

I cannot review one of Zahn’s Thrawn-centric novels without talking about the awesome space battle sequences they contain.  Each of these awesome books features some impressive and detailed space battles as the protagonists encounter a range of ships and fleets that they must fight against.  Greater Good is a particularly good example of this, as Zahn has written several outstanding sequences that are attention-grabbing and fun.  The sheer level of detail and planning that Zahn puts into these action sequences is incredible, and you get an amazing sense of what is occurring during the battle as well as the associated tactics and plans.  The sequences involving Thrawn are easily the best, as Zahn goes out of his way to showcase the character’s tactical brilliance.  This results in some very elaborate sequences, as Thrawn quickly determines the weaknesses of his opponents and uses that knowledge to craft intricate and somewhat insane strategies to utterly defeat them.  Watching these plans come to fruition is always amazing, especially as the reader has no idea in advance what is going on in Thrawn’s mind.  Instead, you only get to see the brilliance and impact of his tactics at the same time as the other characters, and it is always a lot of fun seeing how Thrawn was able to come to his conclusions about his opponents and use them against him.  Zahn comes up with some outstanding sequences for Greater Good that are guaranteed to leave readers on the edge of their seats.

In addition to the awesome narrative, action and universe-building, Greater Good also features an awesome collection of characters, each of whom add so much to the novel.  Naturally, the most impressive character is Thrawn himself.  Even amongst his own people, Thrawn is a strange being who sees the world in a very unique way, and everyone he encounters is impressed by his tactical know-how and unnatural observational skills.  I always enjoy the way in which Zahn depicts Thrawn’s actions in the novel, as Thrawn is one of the few characters whose perspective we do not see.  Instead, Thrawn is only portrayed through the eyes of the major point-of-view characters who observe and react to his actions.  Not only does this remove the inherent difficulties in depicting Thrawn’s mind, but it really enhances the impacts of his deductions and subsequent reactions.  The observing characters view Thrawn making his moves or claiming some impossible bit of knowledge, and then slowly work out how he did it, either through their own observations or thanks to comments by Thrawn.  This is done in a similar manner to the classic Sherlock Holmes novels, with the supporting characters in Greater Good acting in the role of Watson to witness and be impressed by the protagonist’s intelligent leaps.  Like with Sherlock Holmes, the use of the outside narrator in Greater Good deeply enhances the impact of Thrawn’s action, resulting in some awesome scenes.

One of the intriguing aspects of Thrawn’s character in Greater Good that I appreciated was the way in which Zahn continued to highlight his character’s one major weakness: politics.  Thrawn has absolutely no concept of politics, family alliances or some of the inner conflicts impacting the Chiss, and as such is unable to defend himself or others against political ambitions or vindictiveness.  I always really enjoy this trait in the Thrawn novels, especially as it gives Thrawn a noticeable weakness, while also enhancing the impact his fellow supporting characters have, as all of them understand politics better and can help Thrawn in this arena.  This blindness to political realities is particularly important in Greater Good, as not only is Thrawn being attacked by politicians from within his own family but the main threat facing the Chiss is more political than militaristic in nature.  This results in a rather intriguing handicap for Thrawn throughout Greater Good, and it was cool to see the sort of plan that the character came up with to compensate for it, as well as the mistakes he then makes.  Overall, Thrawn is a pretty awesome and fascinating character to follow, and I cannot wait to see what events happen to him in the final book in the trilogy.

Aside from Thrawn, I also really enjoyed some of the supporting characters featured throughout Greater Good.  In addition to being perfect conduits to observing Thrawn’s actions, each of these characters have their own intriguing storylines, many of which are continuing from Chaos Rising.  Examples of this include Thrawn’s old friend, Admiral Ar’alani, Thrawn’s second in command Mid Captain Samakro, the former Sky-Walker Thalias, who has tied her fate with that of Thrawn, and the powerful Mitth family politician, Thurfian, who serves as a secondary antagonist.  Each of these characters is further developed in Greater Good, and I enjoyed some of the cool storylines that Zhan is coming up for them.  Thurfian’s storyline is particularly intriguing going into the next novel, as the final scenes hint that he is going to come into possession of some very interesting knowledge soon.

Zhan also introduces several great new characters throughout Greater Good, many of whose narratives are tied into the malevolent plot to destroy the Chiss.  I found myself quite intrigued by the character of Lakinda, a fellow Senior Captain in the Chiss Expansionary Defence Fleet, who serves alongside Thrawn.  Not only does Lakinda offer an intriguing alternate observation angle on Thrawn, tinged with a bit of jealously and mistrust, but this character provides greater insight into the Chiss family structure.  Lakinda is an extremely loyal member of a mid-tier Chiss family, and she often finds her loyalties conflicted as she attempts to choose between family and the fleet.  This results in some captivating and emotional sequences which really help to highlight the unusual nature of Chiss society.

I also quite liked how Zahn spends time following the main antagonist of Greater Good, the mysterious alien Haplif.  Haplif and his people have been hired by a mysterious third party to orchestrate chaos and dissent within the Chiss Ascendancy to destroy them.  As a result, he masterminds an ingenious plot to promote conflict between various members of the Ascendancy.  I really enjoyed the complex and clever plot that this character came up with, and it was really cool to see him manage to manipulate several people throughout the course of the book, and he was an interesting alternative to the previous antagonist, Yiv.  It was a little odd to see Haplif, a supposedly brilliant planner and master manipulator, find his plans constantly stymied by a spoiled teenager and a backwater rancher, but it was fun to see his arrogance work against him.  All of these characters are amazing, and I really appreciate the time and effort that Zahn put into developing them.

It will not surprise anyone that I ended up listening to this Star Wars novel’s audiobook format rather than seeking out a physical copy of the book.  I absolutely love Star Wars audiobooks, and this was another excellent example that comes highly recommended.  The Greater Good audiobook has a runtime of just over 16 hours, which, while substantial for a Star Wars novel, is extremely easy to get through, especially once you become engrossed in Zahn’s cool story.  Like most modern Star Wars audiobooks, Greater Good makes amazing use of the classic Star Wars sound effects and film score to enhance the story.  I particularly enjoyed its use in Greater Good’s various space combat sequences, and it really amps up how epic those scenes were.

The real standout of this audiobook was the outstanding narration by Marc Thompson.  Thompson is an experienced narrator of Star Wars fiction who, aside from contributing his voice to all the books in the Thrawn and Thrawn Ascendancy novels, has also narrated awesome audiobooks like Light of the Jedi, Doctor Aphra, Dooku: Jedi Lost, Dark Disciple and more.  Thompson does an incredible voice for Thrawn that is filled with the character’s control, intelligence, and gentle menace, and which is very, very close to how the character is portrayed in Star Wars: Rebels.  This amazing voice for Thrawn is easily one of the best parts of the audiobook, and it is fun to listen to the character lay out his elaborate strategies in Thompsons’s awesome tones.  Aside from Thrawn, Thompson also produces a great range of different voices for Greater Good’s supporting characters.  Each character gets their own distinctive voice, which matches their personality and physical qualities, and the listener is never in doubt about who is talking.  I also quite enjoyed how Zahn makes fun accommodations for the various different species featured within the audiobook, tailoring his voices to make them sound more alien at times.  Zahn also gives more rural accents to some of the Chiss characters featured in this novel who are from, or are located on more backwater planets, which I thought was a very nice touch.  All of these amazing features help to turn the Greater Good audiobook in an absolute treat for your ears, and it is an incredible way to enjoy this epic novel.

Thrawn Ascendancy: Greater Good is another exceptional piece of Star Wars fiction from Timothy Zahn.  Featuring his iconic and impressive creation, Grand Admiral Thrawn, Greater Good serves as an outstanding second entry in the Thrawn Ascendancy series, which charts the early life of this great character.  With a clever and exciting story, chock full of universe building, fantastic characters and some unique and memorable battle moments, Greater Good is an excellent novel that comes highly recommended.  I have so much love for Zahn’s Thrawn and Thrawn Ascendancy novels and, after really enjoying Greater Good, I am very excited to see how this series ends.  The final book in the Thrawn Ascendancy trilogy, Lesser Evil, is coming out in November 2021, and I cannot wait to get my hands on it.

Firefly: Life Signs by James Lovegrove

Firefly Life Signs

Consulting Editor: Joss Whedon

Publisher: Titan Books (Hardcover – 15 March 2021)

Series: Firefly – Book Five

Length: 377 pages

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

One of my favourite tie-in series returns with another awesome Firefly novel by bestselling author James Lovegrove.  This time, Lovegrove digs up an intriguing unaired plotline for the epic science fiction series and crafts an outstanding story out of it for Firefly: Life Signs.

Set between the events of the Firefly television series and the Serenity film, Captain Malcolm Reynolds and the crew of Serenity are still scraping by, earning a living from barely legal jobs while also dealing with the consequences of their previous capers.  Life seems to be normal (well, normal for this motley crew) until they receive some shocking news: former crewmember Inara is dying from a terminal illness.

Rushing to her side, a devastated Mal learns that Inara is suffering from Kiehl’s Myeloma, an incurable form of cancer.  With only a few short weeks until Inara’s time is up, Serenity’s crew look set to lose one of their own, until a rumour reaches them of a potential cure.  Esau Weng, a maverick scientist, was rumoured to be working on a medical breakthrough that could potentially treat Inara’s condition.  However, the unethical and secretive nature of his work landed him in trouble with the Alliance, who arrested him and bundled him off to their most notorious prison.

Tracking Esau’s location, the crew are disheartened to learn that he has been sent to the prison planet of Atata, a dangerous and harsh place where the worst criminals and dissidents the verse has to offer are housed.  Inmates are abandoned on its surface and are forced to survive with no guards, no protection, and limited resources.  Worse, the planet is a frozen wasteland, nearly uninhabitable thanks to its failed terraforming, with its snow-covered surface filled with mutated animals.  Determined to save Inara no matter what, Mal organises a desperate infiltration of the prison with Zoe, Jayne and Simon.  However, finding Weng will prove to be harder than they imagined, as they are forced to deal with the deranged ruler of the prison.  Can Mal and his team find Weng before it is too late, and even if they can, will his supposed cure be enough to save Inara?

Over the last couple of years, there has been an excellent resurgence in Firefly/Serenity tie-in fiction as new publishing companies have taken charge of producing content for the franchise.  One of the best examples of this has been the new collection of Firefly novels that introduced some compelling original stories surrounding various members of Serenity’s crew.  All of these novels have been pretty awesome so far, and I have really enjoyed the awesome and impressive stories they have created.

While other authors have been lined up for these books, such as Tim Lebbon (who wrote Firefly: Generations), the MVP of this series has been James Lovegrove, who has written four out of the five novels (including this one).  His previous books have included Big Damn Hero (with Nancy Holder), The Magnificent Nine and The Ghost Machine, all three of which have been exceptional tie-in reads.  In my opinion, each of Lovegrove’s Firefly novels has been better than the last, and this continues to be the case with Life SignsLife Signs was an outstanding and clever read that explores some of the most interesting and compelling aspects of the Firefly universe while also getting to the very core of some of its iconic characters.

For his latest Firefly novel, Lovegrove comes up with an awesome narrative that is both exciting and emotionally powerful, as the crew engage in a prison break to save one of their own.  Like the rest of the Firefly books that I have had the pleasure of reading, Life Signs is an extremely fast-paced novel, which makes great use of multiple character perspectives, including all the members of Serenity’s crew as well as several new characters, to tell a complete and intriguing story.  The novel starts at pace, with the crew receiving the devastating news about Inara’s upcoming death, which hits all the characters, especially Mal, extremely hard.  From there the story splits into two linked but separate story arcs: one on the planet and one in space.  The storyline set on the prison planet is pretty good, and it was a lot of fun to see the more criminally minded Mal, Zoe and Jayne attempt to blend in, along with a faltering Simon.  Their attempts to infiltrate the criminal inhabitants of the prison ends up producing several interesting issues that they need to overcome, and they eventually engage in a desperate battle for survival out in Atata’s snowy wasteland.  There are some great twists associated with this part of the story, including a clever one surrounding an inmate who joins their team, and this was a fantastic part of the book.  At the same time, the three other members of the crew are out in space aboard Serenity and must deal with a fanatical Alliance captain who is determined to capture them, resulting in some amazing space exploits which push River to the fore.  Both these separated arcs are pretty awesome, and they come together extremely well, ensuring the reader gets a fantastic blast of action and character development.  I also enjoyed the additional emotional weight that the life-or-death storyline surrounding Inara has, and it was definitely a powerful and compelling narrative that readers are guaranteed to want to finish off as quickly as they can.

Life Signs is an intriguing and clever addition to the wider Firefly canon.  While the story is quite open to new readers or those who are unfamiliar with the franchise, this is definitely a novel best enjoyed by fans of the Firefly television show and additional tie-in media, as there are a number of fun references and major character moments that they will find particularly appealing.  One of the most interesting parts of this book is the storyline surrounding Inara having cancer.  As some Firefly fans may be aware, members of the show’s creative team have revealed that they initially planned a whole major storyline around Inara suffering from a terminal illness, which would have appeared in a future episode of the show.  They even layered a few hints about this in the first season, such as her mysterious syringe and the reasons why she was travelling on Serenity rather than a more luxurious ship.  I was very excited to hear that parts of this storyline were being used in Life Signs and I think that Lovegrove did a great job examining this interesting character thread surrounding Inara.  Not only does this result in some brilliant and dramatic moments, but Lovegrove makes sure to make mention of several of the hints that were shown in the television series, which fans will deeply appreciate.  Lovegrove provides several additional references that eagle-eyed fans will appreciate, such as the very start of the book containing a fun follow-up to one of the crew’s previous adventures.  Lovegrove also subtly ties Life Signs into some of the previous Firefly novels he wrote, including through a key supporting character, and I quite liked the continuity of the novels.  As a result, this is a perfect read for Firefly fans, although general science fiction buffs or those who enjoyed the show will have a great time with this novel as well.

As usual with Lovegrove’s Firefly novels, one of the most impressive highlights of this book is the fantastic depiction of the fantastic characters from the show.  Lovegrove has always done an amazing job of bringing these great characters to life within his novels and I really love his attention to character detail, emotion and their inner selves.  Life Signs continues this trend by thoroughly examining several members of the crew and I deeply enjoyed the emotional and enjoyable inclusions to the plot.

You can probably guess that Inara gets a bit of focus in this novel, due to the reveal that she is dying.  As I mentioned above, I really enjoyed that Lovegrove utilised this story arc in Life Signs, and the author leverages this plot to provide a fantastic and powerful dive into Inara’s character, a re-examination of her actions during the television show, as well as an exploration of her relationship with the other people aboard Serenity.  This serves to be one of the more intriguing portrayals of Inara in this series of novels, although it is rather brief as Inara spends most of the novel in a near-death state.  Due to Inara’s illness keeping her out of much of the plot, a lot of the story’s emotional weight fall to Mal, who ends up getting most of the focus of this novel.  While you do get his typical cocky attitude, fun humour and ability to annoy anyone around him, you also get to see Mal on the emotional edge during this book.  Mal is naturally devastated by the news that his unspoken love interest is dying, and he quickly latches on to any hope for her survival.  As a result, he dives into the hunt for a cure with reckless abandon and ends up taking some big risks.  Lovegrove did an amazing job portraying Mal as a bit deranged in this novel, and it was fascinating to see the usual conscientious captain seemingly prioritise Inara’s survival over the safety of his crew.  There are some amazingly dramatic and moving moments throughout this book as Mal struggles to deal with the emotions surrounding Inara’s potential death, and Firefly fans will be left on the edge of their seats as Lovegrove provides some new angles to their complex relationship.

While a good portion of the novel focuses on Mal and his concerns for Inara, the rest of Serenity’s crew also appear throughout the novel, as each of them has at least one chapter shown from their point of view.  Interestingly enough, both Tam siblings get a decent chunk of focus, with their storylines not as connected to each other’s as usual.  Simon has a great arc down on the prison planet after he is dragged along to determine if Weng can actually help Inara.  Due to his lack of criminal believability, Simon ends up having a very interesting time in the prison, especially after he befriends a seemingly innocent female inmate, who forms a romantic attachment to Simon.  This ends up causing many problems with Simon, due to his poor lying abilities and conflicted feelings over Kaylee, and it was really interesting to see how his arc ended up.  On the other hand, River spends her part of the story aboard Serenity, and is called into action when the ship is threatened by Alliance military vessels.  I loved that Lovegrove spent time exploring River’s piloting Serenity, something that is shown at the end of the Serenity film, and it was really cool to see her do some complex and insane manoeuvres.  The chapters shown from River’s point of view are amongst some of the most entertaining parts of the book, and it is always great to see this crazy genius in action.

Zoe, Wash, Kaylee and Jayne round up the main cast of this book, although each of them has more of a supporting role.  Zoe does have an intriguing storyline that sees her bond with a fellow former soldier in the prison, and there were hints back at her past as a Dust Devil, something that was initially introduced in one of Joss Whedon’s comic books.  All these characters are portrayed in exquisite detail however, and Lovegrove does a good job replicating their personalities and characteristics throughout the story.  Overall, fans of the franchise will love the way that each of the characters are utilised throughout Life Signs, and I cannot wait to see which characters are featured in the next Firefly novel.

Firefly: Life Signs is another exceptional and clever Firefly tie-in novel from the impressive James Lovegrove.  Lovegrove has come up with an exciting and clever tale that successfully utilises a planned storyline from the show and produce an addictive and memorable narrative with it.  Readers will love the awesome call back to this iconic science fiction show including the excellent portrayals of the main cast of characters.  I had an amazing time reading this book and Firefly fans are going to love every second they spend reading it.  While I cannot wait to get my hands on the next entry in this series, which looks set to be Carnival by Una McCormack, Life Signs is an outstanding novel to check out now and comes highly recommended.

Waiting on Wednesday – Star Wars Novels – Second Half of 2021

Welcome to my weekly segment, Waiting on Wednesday, where I look at upcoming books that I am planning to order and review in the next few months and which I think I will really enjoy.  I run this segment in conjunction with the Can’t-Wait Wednesday meme that is currently running at Wishful Endings.  Stay tuned to see reviews of these books when I get a copy of them.  For this week’s Waiting on Wednesday I take a look at several intriguing Star Wars tie-in novels that are set for release later this year.

2021 has so far been a pretty spectacular year for Star Wars tie-in fiction (my favourite so far is easily Victory’s Price by Alexander Freed).  However, the year is far from over and there are still an intriguing collection of upcoming Star Wars novels set for release in the next few months.  Considering it was only just Star Wars day yesterday (and it’s probably still May the Fourth somewhere in the world), I thought I would take this opportunity to highlight which Star Wars novels I am looking forward to in the second half of 2021.  There a several really cool-sounding books set for release before the end of the year, and I am confident that one or two will find their way onto My Favourite Star Wars Novels list next year.

Star Wars - The Rising Storm Cover

The first entry in this Waiting on Wednesday article is the next adult novel in The High Republic range, The Rising Storm by Cavan Scott.  The High Republic is an intriguing multimedia project that is getting a lot of attention at the moment.  Set 200 years before the events of the Skywalker Saga, the High Republic series is made up of semi-connected novels, comics, young adult books, junior novels, anime, and other pieces of Star Wars media.  I have been rather enjoying some of the early entries in this series so far, including the cool first book, Light of the Jedi by Charles Soule, which introduced a lot of the key settings and storylines that will be explored in future High Republic entries.  This next book looks set to follow up some of the storylines started in Light of the Jedi, and I look forward to seeing how Cavan Scott continue this interesting plot, especially after I previously enjoyed his awesome audiodrama, Dooku: Jedi Lost.

Synopsis:

The heroes of the High Republic era return to face a shattered peace and a fearsome foe, following the dramatic events of Light of the Jedi.

In the wake of the Great Hyperspace Disaster and the heroism of the Jedi, the Republic continues to grow, bringing more worlds together under a single unified banner. Under the leadership of Chancellor Lina Soh, the spirit of unity extends throughout the galaxy, with the Jedi and the newly established Starlight Beacon station at the vanguard.

In celebration, the chancellor plans The Republic Fair, a showcase of the possibilities and the peace of the expanding Republic—a peace the Jedi hope to foster. Stellan Gios, Bell Zettifar, Elzar Mann, and others join the event as ambassadors of harmony. But as the eyes of the galaxy turn toward the Fair, so too does the fury of the Nihil. Their leader, Marchion Ro, is intent on destroying this unity. His storm descends on the pageantry and celebration, sowing chaos and exacting revenge.

As the Jedi struggle to curb the carnage of the rampaging Nihil, they come face-to-face with the true fear their enemy plans to unleash across the galaxy—the kind of fear from which even the Force cannot shield them.

This sounds like a pretty fun novel and it looks like Scott has come up with a really interesting story that will continue some of the fantastic threads from the previous novels.  The fight between the Jedi and the mysterious and chaotic Nihil has so far been pretty cool, especially as there is very little information about their past or ultimate motivations.  Scott is also bringing back several of the key characters introduced in the previous High Republic works, and it will be interesting to see how their story continues.  I have a feeling that several questions previously raised in Light of the Jedi are going to get answered here, although I’m sure that Scott will come up with some more mysteries and reviews.  Because of that, I am quite looking forward to reading The Rising Storm, which is currently set for release in late June 2021.  Scott also has another entry in the High Republic coming out later this year, an audiodrama called Tempest Runner, although I may hold off talking about this too much until some more details are revealed (such as the voice cast).

Star Wars - Out of the Shadows Cover

The next book I am going to look at is another High Republic novel, Out of the Shadows by Justina Ireland.  Out of the Shadows is a young adult novel set for release on 22 July 2021, which will explore a different part of the High Republic universe.  I have so far had some great experiences with High Republic young adult novels, as I really enjoyed the last example, Into the Dark by Claudia Gray, which was released earlier this year.  This will be my first book from author Justina Ireland, although I have heard some good things about her Dread Nation series.  Ireland has previously written several junior Star Wars novels, including Lando’s Luck and A Test of Courage, and it will be interesting to see what unique tale she comes up with for Out of the Shadows.

Synopsis:

The darkest secrets are the hardest to bring to light….

Sylvestri Yarrow is on a streak of bad luck with no end of sight. She’s been doing her best to keep the family cargo business going after her mom’s death, but between mounting debt and increasing attacks by the Nihil on unsuspecting ships, Syl is in danger of losing all she has left of her mother. She heads to the galactic capital of Coruscant for help, but gets sidetracked when she’s drawn into a squabble between two of the Republic’s most powerful families over a patch of space on the frontier. Tangled up in familial politics is the last place Syl wants to be, but the promise of a big payoff is enough to keep her interested…

Meanwhile, Jedi Knight Vernestra Rwoh has been summoned to Coruscant, but with no idea of why or by whom. She and her Padawan Imri Cantaros arrive at the capital along with Jedi Master Cohmac Vitus and his Padawan, Reath Silas―and are asked to assist with the property dispute on the frontier. But why? What is so important about an empty patch of space? The answer will lead Vernestra to a new understanding of her abilities, and take Syl back to the past…and to truths that will finally come out of the shadows.

I have to say that I really like the sound of Out of the Shadows, and I think that this cool novel will prove to be an incredible addition to the High Republic.  I like how Out of the Shadows is planning to bring back several of the awesome characters introduced in previous High Republic novels, such as Jedi Knight Vernestra Rwoh, who Ireland created in her previous novel, A Test of Courage, and Cohmac Vitus and Reath Silas, who were introduced in Into the Dark.  At the same time, this novel is also going to introduce a fun new character in Sylvestri Yarrow, and I am intrigued about the interactions between her and the four Jedi characters.  I am quite intrigued about where Out of the Shadows’ story is going to go, and it will be interesting to see how it ties into the rest of the High Republic range.  Ireland also has another piece of High Republic fiction coming out later this year, and I will have to grab the cool manga series she is doing with Shima Sinya and Mizuki Sakakibara, The Edge of Balance, when it comes out later this year.

Star Wars - Queen's Hope Cover

One of the other Star Wars books I am quite keen for is the young adult book, Queen’s Hope by E. K. Johnston.  Queen’s Hope will be the third entry in a fun series Johnston has been writing that follows the adventures of Padmé Amidala and her handmaidens.  The first two novels in this series, Queen’s Shadow and Queen’s Peril, have followed very different parts of Padmé’s life, including early days of being Queen and her transition to life as a Senator.  This upcoming book, which will be released in early November 2021, will be set during the Clone Wars.

Synopsis:

A peace-loving senator faces a time of war in another thrilling Padmé Amidala adventure from the author of the New York Times best-sellers Queen’s Peril and Queen’s Shadow!

Padmé is adjusting to being a wartime senator during the Clone Wars. Her secret husband, Anakin Skwyalker, is off fighting the war, and excels at being a wartime Jedi. In contrast, when Padmé gets the opportunity to see the casualties on the war-torn front lines, she is horrified. The stakes have never been higher for the galaxy, or for the newly-married couple.

Meanwhile, with Padmé on a secret mission, her handmaiden Sabé steps into the role of Senator Amidala, something no handmaiden has done for an extended period of time. While in the Senate, Sabé is equally horrified by the machinations that happen there. She comes face to face with a gut-wrenching decision as she realizes that she cannot fight a war this way, not even for Padmé.

And Chancellor Palpatine hovers over it all, manipulating the players to his own ends…

I have to admit that I was a little surprised to see that Johnston was still continuing this series.  While I did enjoy her previous Padmé Amidala novels, it felt a little played out after the second book, mainly because the publishing order was a little disjointed.  However, this next book does sound pretty awesome, and I am rather keen to check it out.  Thanks to shows like The Clone Wars, this period of Star Wars history is pretty well chronicled, although there are plenty of great opportunities for stories and tales, especially around Padmé.

I am rather curious to see more of Senator Amidala during this period, and I am looking forward to learning more about her political exploits, especially with future Rebel Alliance leaders (as seen in some of the deleted scenes of Revenge of the Sith).  This will no doubt be complicated by the inclusion of Sabé, Padmé’s handmaiden and body double, who serves as a fantastic secondary protagonist in this series, and having her covering for her mistress for a long period of time should result in some thrilling moments. I am also really keen to see more of Chancellor Palpatine’s manipulations and machinations, and it should prove interesting to find out how he is playing everyone.  One thing that I am not too keen on is the inclusion of Anakin Skywalker in this story.  While there are many fine aspects to Anakin as a character, his romance with Padmé never really worked in the film, thanks to too much whining, murder and sand (the sand, not the sand!), and hopefully that won’t be too prevalent in this upcoming book.  It will be interesting to see how Queen’s Hope turns out and I think it should end up being an excellent read.

Star Wars - Thrawn Ascendancy - Lesser Evil Cover

The final book I really want to feature is the third and final book in the awesome Thrawn Ascendancy series, Lesser Evil, by Timothy Zahn.  The Thrawn Ascendancy trilogy is a great collection of books that examine the early life of one of the best characters in the entire Star Wars canon, Grand Admiral Thrawn.  Serving as a prequel series to Zahn’s Thrawn series (made up of Thrawn, Alliances and Treason), the Thrawn Ascendancy novels are a fascinating series heavy in Star Wars lore.  The series has so far consisted of Chaos Rising and Greater Good, which only came out a few days ago.  Due to its recent release date, I have not had a chance to read Greater Good yet, but I already know I am in for an excellent time with it.  However, Zahn has clearly been on a writing roll (like everyone, he has probably had a lot of spare time in the last year), and his next book is set for release on 16 November.

Synopsis:

The fate of the Chiss Ascendancy hangs in the balance in the epic finale of the Star Wars: Thrawn Ascendancy trilogy from bestselling author Timothy Zahn.

For thousands of years The Chiss Ascendancy has been an island of calm, a center of power, and a beacon of integrity. Led by the Nine Ruling Families, their leadership stands as a bulwark of stability against the Chaos of the Unknown Regions.

But that stability has been eroded by a cunning foe that winnows away trust and loyalty in equal measure. Bonds of fidelity have given way to lines of division among the families. Despite the efforts of the Expansionary Defense Fleet, the Ascendancy slips closer and closer toward civil war.

The Chiss are no strangers to war. Their mythic status in the Chaos was earned through conflict and terrible deeds, some long buried. Until now. To ensure the Ascendancy’s future, Thrawn will delve deep into its past, uncovering the dark secrets surrounding the ascension of the First Ruling Family. But the truth of a family’s legacy is only as strong as the legend that supports it. Even if that legend turns out to be a lie.

To secure the salvation of the Ascendancy, is Thrawn willing to sacrifice everything? Including the only home he has ever known?

Now, it is hard to talk about this upcoming novel when I have not even read the preceding book yet, but I can guess that I am really going to enjoy Lesser Evil.  This book will no doubt contain Zahn’s amazing storytelling and impressive development of his most notable character, and I look forward to more outstanding space battles.  This will probably be one of the best Star Wars novels in 2021, and I cannot wait to see how Zahn rounds out this fantastic series.

Aside from the four above novels, there is also a potentially interesting book coming out called Ronin by Emma Mieko Candon.  Ronin will be connected to an upcoming Star Wars animated series, Star Wars: Visions, which will contain several animated shorts from various Japanese anime studios.  Ronin will apparently tie into one of these upcoming shorts, and I look forward to seeing what the short film is like and how this intriguing novel will be connected.

As you can see from the above, there are some really cool Star Wars novels coming out later in the year, and I am quite excited.  All of the above books sound incredibly awesome and I fully intend to read and review each of them.  Based on my overwhelming love of Star Wars, I have no doubt that I will love them all.  It does look like I am going to be busy with Star Wars stuff this year though, especially as I am going to also check out the Star Wars comics, including some High Republic comics, as well as the audiodrama and manga I mentioned above.  Still, this should be a lot of fun and I cannot wait to get to it.  First step is start reading the second Thrawn Ascendency book, which I am going to start doing right now.

Top Ten Tuesday – My Favourite Star Wars Comics

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme that currently resides at The Artsy Reader Girl and features bloggers sharing lists on various book topics.  For this week’s Top Ten Tuesday, the official task participants were given were to list their ten most recent reads.  Instead, I thought that May the Fourth would be the perfect opportunity to highlight what I consider to be the best Star Wars novels and comics out there.

For this list, I checked out all of the Star Wars comics that I have read in the last couple of years in order to figure out which were my absolute favourites.  This was another fun experience for me, and I think I had a somewhat easier time deciding on my favourite comics than I did with my favourite Star Wars novels.  I was pretty happy with how this Top Ten list turned out, as it features 10 outstanding and impressive entries in my main list, as well as a decent honourable mentions section.  For some of the longer series (those with multiple volumes), I chose to feature the whole series on this list rather than individual issues or volumes.  I felt that this provides a much more comprehensive list, and as most series are written and drawn by the same people, it is really easy to lump them together as one big product.  This ended up being a pretty awesome list, and I think I have a fairly varied list of comics here.  I will admit that I have a bit of a dearth of knowledge when it comes to comics written before the current canon, as I have only read a few scattered comics from the Star Wars Legends range.  Still, I am happy with all the below entries, so let us see what made the cut.

Honourable Mentions:

Doctor Aphra (2020)

DoctorAphra2020-1

So far, only the first volume of this intriguing series has been released, and while it was pretty good, it did not live up to the amazing heights of the previous Doctor Aphra series.  I have a strong feeling that the future entries of this series are going to be very awesome and it is entirely possible I will bump this series to the main Top Ten list this time next year.

The Rise of Kylo Ren

Star Wars - The Rise of Kylo Ren Cover

Kanan

Star Wars - Kanan Cover

Top Ten List:

Darth Vader: Dark Lord of the Sith

Darth Vader Dark Lord of the Sith Volume 1

One of the first Star Wars comic series I ever read fully was Darth Vader: Dark Lord of the Sith.  Written by the legendary Charles Soule (the only writer featured on both this list and my favourite Star Wars novel list) and drawn by Giuseppe Camuncoli, this series follows Darth Vader in the aftermath of his transformation from Anakin Skywalker in Revenge of the Sith.  This comic catches Vader at his rawest emotional period, and I loved the complex and powerful stories that Soule weaved around this iconic figure.  This comic had the perfect blend of emotion, action and character development, and every single entry (including Volume 2: Legacy’s End and Volume 3: The Burning Seas), was exceptionally well written and intensely addictive.

Star Wars (2015)

Star Wars (2015) Volume 1 Cover

You really cannot talk about Star Wars comics without mentioning this awesome long-running series, which was the centrepiece of the Star Wars comic franchise between 2015 and 2020.  Set between the events of A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, this series features the joint adventures of Luke, Leia, Han, Chewie, C-3PO and R2-D2 as they attempt to overthrow the Empire.  Filling in many gaps between the films, this series contained some clever and unique storylines that explore the Rebellion and the harsh battles they fought.  This series started off big with an epic first volume, Skywalker Strikes, which not only had some awesome opening issues as the team faces off against Vader for the first time but which also shows the first time that Vader found out that Luke was his son (a very epic scene).  There is an immense amount of talent behind these comics, with several awesome writers, including original writer Jason Aaron, Kieron Gillen and Greg Pak, as well as an outstanding array of artists, such as John Cassaday, Salvador Larroca and Phil Noto.  The different teams produce a little variability in the series, but they managed to produce an excellent and clever array of stories and big moments that make this series an absolute treat to read from one end to the other.

Darth Vader (2015)

Star Wars - Darth Vader Volume 1 Cover

While I did read some other Star War comic series first, this would be the one the really made with fall in love with the genre.  Created by the awesome team of Kieron Gillen and Salvador Larroca, this great comic follows Darth Vader right after A New Hope and sees Vader set out to gain more power and influence after discovering the true identity of Luke Skywalker.  Teaming up with his new subordinate/prisoner, Doctor Aphra, Vader tears through the galaxy while coming to terms with the fact that he has a son.  An epic and powerful series that is consistently awesome from start to finish, this is one of the absolute best Star Wars comics out there and all four volumes (including Vader and Shadows and Secrets) are five-star reads.

Doctor Aphra (2016)

Doctor Aphra Volume 1

Spinning off from the Darth Vader (2015) series, this comic chronicles the wild adventures of the titular protagonist, Doctor Aphra, as she attempts to con everyone she comes across, be they family, former lover, deadly droid or Dark Lord of the Sith.  Initially produced by the character’s original creators, Kieron Gillen and Salvador Larroca, this long-running series was later written by Simon Spurrier, who produced some outstanding storylines with support from an excellent cast of artists, including Kev Walker, Andrea Broccardo and Emilio Laiso.  I absolutely loved this great series from its first issue, and it has some extraordinary storylines to it.  Both of the volumes I reviewed, Unspeakable Rebel Superweapon and A Rogue’s End got five star reads from me, and I would definitely give the same to most of the earlier volumes in this epic and extremely entertaining series.

Vader Down

Vader Down Cover

There was absolutely no way I could exclude this fantastic limited series off this list as it is the very definition of pure awesomeness.  Vader Down is a clever and memorable crossover between the 2015 Star Wars and Darth Vader series and features the creative teams from both comics coming together to create a joint story.  This cool limited series sees Vader forced down on a Rebel controlled planet while trying to capture Luke.  Facing off against a horde of Rebel soldiers and vehicles, Vader does what he does best and annihilates everyone he comes across as he hunts his prey and the people who betrayed him.  At the same time, Han, Leia, Doctor Aphra, and the entire supporting cast of both series get drawn into an epic showdown as they all try to escape with what they want.  An outstanding and action packed comic with some amazingly clever inclusions to it, this is an incredible piece of Star Wars fiction to check out.

Star Wars (2020)

Star Wars (2020) - Volume 1 Cover

Following the coordinated end of the original range of Star Wars comics, Marvel immediately started a new assortment of series in 2020, set between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.  The flagship series of this new range was the Star Wars (2020) comic, written by Charles Soule and featuring art by Jesus Saiz, Ramon Rosanas and Jan Bazaldua.  While I have so far only read the first volume, The Destiny Path, I am deeply enjoying this fantastic series which follows the key original trilogy protagonists (with the exception of Han, because he’s frozen) as they come to terms with their defeats in The Empire Strikes Back.  Featuring a great focus on Luke’s journey to become a Jedi master, Leia’s attempts to bring the Empire down and save the man she loves, and Lando’s quest for redemption, this series has a lot of potential and is a great recent entry to the canon.

Darth Vader (2020)

Darth Vader - Dark Heart of the Sith

One of the newest additions to this list is the excellent Darth Vader (2020) series by Greg Pack and Raffaele Ienco.  Set directly after Luke refuses to accept him as his father, this series contains an epic and powerful narrative about Vader as he comes to terms with his rejection in the most destructive way possible.  The first volume in this series, Dark Heart of the Sith, was one of the best things I read in 2020, and I have a feeling this entire series is going to be one incredible and powerful thrill ride.

Target Vader

Star Wars - Target Vader

From the minds of Robbie Thompson and Marc Laming comes this excellent limited series, Target Vader, which brings back iconic Star Wars Legends bounty hunter Beilert Valance.  This series follows Valance and a group of dangerous bounty hunters after they are given an impossible assassination mission to kill Darth Vader.  Watching a group of bounty hunters go up against Vader is pretty awesome, and there are some great moments to this compelling read.  I had a lot of fun with this series and it is definitely worth checking out.

Poe Dameron

Poe Dameron Cover

I have so far featured a few comics by Charles Soule so far on this list, but I also have to include the Poe Dameron series.  Working with artists Phil Noto and Angel Unzueta, Soule has done an incredible job of making Poe and his cohorts in the Resistance compelling and complex protagonists (something the films struggled with).  With fascinating connections to other Star Wars comic series, this great work is set in the lead-up to The Force Awakens and examines the complex shadow war between the Resistance and the First Order.

Vader: Dark Visions

Vader-DarkVisions-TPB

The final entry on this list is the entertaining miniseries, Vader: Dark Visions, which takes a unique look at Darth Vader.  This intriguing comic contains just five issues, each of which tell a very different story of Vader, which sees him viewed as a hero, a lover and the scariest being in the galaxy.  Written by Dennis “Hopeless” Hallum and featuring five separate artists (Paolo Villanelli, Brian Level, David Lopez, Stephen Mooney and Geraldo Borges), this is a truly unique look at Darth Vader and I loved every clever tale within.

That is the end of my second Top Ten Tuesday list of today.  I really enjoyed highlighting all these excellent Star Wars comics, and I would strongly recommend all of the above as they are really exceptional reads.  Just like with my Top Ten Favourite Star Wars Novels list, I am planning to revisit this list every Star Wars day, and it will be interesting to see how different it is in a year’s time.  I am not too sure what will get added to this list next time, although I think there are a few interesting crossovers coming, as well as the new High Republic comics.  Make sure to come back in a year to how the list will have changed.  In the meantime, check out my other Top Ten Tuesday list with my favourite Star Wars novels on it.  And May the Fourth be with you!

Top Ten Tuesday – My Favourite Star Wars novels

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme that currently resides at The Artsy Reader Girl and features bloggers sharing lists on various book topics.  For this week’s Top Ten Tuesday, the official task participants were given were to list their ten most recent reads.  While I rather liked this official topic, I have instead done something very different.  Rather than come up with one list, I am instead going to do two separate, but similar lists that revolve around May the Fourth.

As most of you are probably aware, May the Fourth has officially been designated Star Wars day (May the Fourth be with you!), which is something I am rather passionate about.  I absolutely love Star Wars, and you only need to check out my Star Wars tab on the right of this page (go on, you won’t regret it), to see how much I deeply enjoy the franchise’s novels and comic books.  There is an impressive and rich collection of Star Wars tie-in fiction out there, and I have had a wonderful time over the last couple of years reading and reviewing many amazing examples.  As a result, I thought that May the Fourth would be the perfect opportunity to highlight what I consider to be the best Star Wars novels and comics out there.  This is a bit of a continuation of a list I put up last Star Wars day, which was a combined list of novels and comics.  While I think that my last list came up pretty well, I decided that this year I would be better served featuring two lists, this one for novels and another for comics.

In order to fill this list, I had a thorough look through all the Star Wars novels I have read in recent years to choose the absolute best ones.  This proved to be a fun and enlightening experience, although I did have a hard time deciding on my favourites from an amazing collection of books.  In the end, I was able to come up with a good Top Ten list with my usual generous Honourable Mentions section.  I cheated a little by combining some trilogies together into one entry.  However, as these books are supposed to be read together, I think that this was the best way to feature them.  This ended up being a varied and intriguing list, featuring a great range of very different authors and Star Wars settings.  While most of the featured novels are from the current Disney canon, I have also included a couple of Star Wars: Legends books which have some great stories.  So let us see which awesome books made the Top Ten List.

Honourable Mentions:

Death Troopers by Joe Schreiber

deathtrooperscover

A fun and fantastically crazy Star Wars: Legends novel that sees Han Solo and Chewie go up against a load of deadly zombies aboard an abandoned Star Destroyer.  A wild and scary ride, this was a great Star Wars novel and one of my favourite horror books.

Ahsoka by E. K. Johnston

Ahsoka_novel_cover

A compelling and fast-paced novel that follows the adventures of Ahsoka Tano, one of the best characters introduced in the animated television series, between the events of The Clone Wars and Rebels.  This is easily my favourite Star Wars novel from E. K. Johnston (Queen’s Shadow and Queen’s Peril are also pretty good), and I loved how the audiobook was narrated by the voice of Ahsoka, Ashley Eckstein.

Dooku: Jedi Lost by Cavan Scott

Dooku - Jedi Lost Cover

An impressive retelling of the early life of Count Dooku, showing some of the events that led up to him becoming a Sith Lord.  This is best enjoyed in its audio drama format, which features an epic voice cast of Star Wars audiobook narrators.

Doctor Aphra by Sarah Kuhn

Doctor Aphra Audio Cover

Another great audio drama, Doctor Aphra is an amazingly funny and clever story, featuring a unique and memorable protagonist.  While I really enjoyed this great book, I left it off my main list as it does not contain an original story; instead it is a retelling of several comics (such as Vader, Shadows and Secrets and Vader Down), which will be featured on my other Top Ten list.

Top Ten List:

Thrawn trilogy by Timothy Zahn

Thrawn Cover

The first entry on this list is the deeply impressive and clever Thrawn trilogy from one of the leading authors of Star Wars tie-in fiction, Timothy Zahn.  This series retells the origin story of one of my favourite characters in the entire Star Wars canon, Grand Admiral Thrawn.  This series contains three epic novels, Thrawn, Alliances and Treason, all of which are pretty damn amazing (especially the first novel, Thrawn).  This entire series comes together extremely well, and I love the in-depth look at this outstanding character, as well as the focus on his awesome tactical brilliance.

Alphabet Squadron trilogy by Alexander Freed

Alphabet Squadron Cover

The other trilogy that I needed to include on this list is the intense and powerful Alphabet Squadron by Alexander Freed.  Made up of Alphabet Squadron, Shadow Fall and Victory’s Price, these books follow a group of damaged pilots fighting in the aftermath of Return of the Jedi.  This is a complex and captivating character-driven series with some amazing examples of space fighter combat, and I love Freed’s compelling and emotionally rich narrative.  All three books in this series are really impressive, but I really have to praise the final entry in the series, Victory’s Price, which did an amazing job wrapping up this superb trilogy.

Thrawn Ascendancy: Chaos Rising by Timothy Zahn

Thrawn Ascendancy - Chaos Rising Cover

In addition to his Thrawn trilogy above, Zahn has also written a fantastic prequel series, known as the Thrawn Ascendancy books.  These novels follow a young Thrawn as he fights to preserve his species in the unexplored spaced outside of the Republic/Empire.  Featuring a narrative rich in fascinating lore, this is a great story for the hardcore Star Wars fan, who will love this dive into an awesome character’s background.  I loved Chaos Rising, and I am looking forward to enjoying the next two entries in this series, Greater Good (which has just been released) and Lesser Evil (out in November 2021).

The High Republic: Light of the Jedi by Charles Soule

Star Wars - Light of the Jedi Cover

Next up on this list is the first entry in the compelling High Republic multimedia storyline, Light of the Jedi, by bestselling author Charles Soule.  Set 200 years before the events of the Skywalker Saga, the High Republic novels follow the Jedi at the height of their power as they fight against a dangerous and insidious new opponent.  Light of the Jedi was a fantastic first book in this storyline, perfectly introducing the setting and key events of the High Republic, while also containing a compelling and action-packed story.  A highly recommended book and a must-read for anyone interested in checking out the other entries in the High Republic range (such as Into the Dark by Claudia Gray).

Master and Apprentice by Claudia Gray

Master & Apprentice Cover

If you love the two Jedi protagonists in The Phantom Menace, than you have to check out Master and Apprentice by Claudia Gray.  Gray has crafted together an exciting and emotionally powerful novel that follows Qui-gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi on one of their early adventures.  This was an outstanding and incredible Star Wars novel that is really worth checking out.

Dark Disciple by Christie Golden

Star Wars Dark Disciple Cover

The extraordinary Dark Disciple, by master tie-in author Christie Golden, utilises the scripts of several unproduced The Clone Wars episodes, showing the fates of fan-favourite characters Asajj Ventress and Quinlan Vos during the Clone Wars.  This is another touching and captivating character-driven novel, and readers will quickly become engrossed in this unique tale of love, betrayal and inner darkness.

Scoundrels by Timothy Zahn

Star Wars Scoundrels Cover

Timothy Zahn strikes again, and I have no choice but to feature yet another one of his books on this list.  Scoundrels, which is set in the Legends canon, is an excellent and wildly entertaining heist novel which follows Han, Chewie, Lando and several of their friends as they try to pull off an impossible theft.  I loved this amazing blend of Star Wars and crime fiction elements, and this was a very fun book to read.

Lords of the Sith by Paul S. Kemp

Lords of the Sith Cover

Two of the best villains of all time, Darth Vader and the Emperor, team up for the next entry on this list, the action-packed thrill ride, Lords of the Sith.  Paul S. Kemp created a really fun and exciting book which follows these two outstanding characters when they are stranded on a hostile planet and find themselves under constant attack by rebels, monsters and traitors.  While the focus is in the cool action, Kemp also takes the time to explore the complex relationship between dark master and apprentice, and readers are in for an excellent time with this great book.

Maul: Lockdown by Joe Schreiber

Star Wars - Maul - Lockdown Cover

The next book is actually the latest Star Wars novel I have read, Maul: Lockdown.  Set in the Legends canon years before The Phantom Menace, Lockdown follows the always awesome Darth Maul as he finds himself trapped in a dangerous prison and forced to fight in a series of death matches.  This is a dark and captivating read, and I loved the fantastic and clever narrative that Schreiber came up with for this amazing book.  A highly recommended read that has convinced me to check out even more entries in the Legends range.

Tarkin by James Luceno

Star Wars Tarkin Cover

The final entry on this list was the excellent Tarkin by James Luceno.  Tarkin is an intriguing book that examines amazing Imperial antagonist, Grand Moth Tarkin.  Featuring a great split narrative that explores the character’s younger exploits while also following an adult Tarkin as he hunts for rebels with Darth Vader, Tarkin is an outstanding read, and I deeply enjoyed this clever dive into this complex Star Wars character.

Well, that is this latest Top Ten Tuesday list done.  I had an outstanding time pulling this article together and it was fun trying to determine which Star Wars novels were my absolute favourite.  All of the above novels come very highly recommended and are a lot of fun to read, especially in their audiobook format.  I am planning to make this top ten list an annual occurrence every Star Wars day.  I imagine this list will look very different next time, as not only are there several great new Star Wars books coming out soon but I am also planning to go back and explore some other awesome-sounding entries in both the current canon and the Legends range.  Make sure to come back in a year to see which Star Wars books I recommend then, and in the meantime, check out at my other Top Ten Tuesday list of favourite Star Wars comics.  And May the Fourth be with you!!!

Star Wars (2020): Volume One: The Destiny Path by Charles Soule and Jesús Saiz

Star Wars (2020) - Volume 1 Cover

Publisher: Marvel Comics (Paperback – 10 November 2020)

Series: Star Wars (2020) – Volume One

Writer: Charles Soule

Artist: Jesús Saiz

Colour Artists: Arif Prianto, Jesús Saiz, Rachelle Rosenberg and Dan Brown

Letterer: VC’s Clayton Cowles

Length: 136 pages

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

The next stage of the Star Wars comic universe continues as Charles Soule, Jesús Saiz and their team of talented artists present the first volume of the Star Wars (2020) series, The Destiny Path.

Star Wars (2020) #1 Cover

Shortly after the Disney buyout of Star Wars and their subsequent creation of a whole new canon, Marvel Comics started to develop a new range of Star Wars comics.  While there were several great series, limited series and standalone comics set during various periods of Star War history, the main series were set between the events of A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back.  These key comics, which included the Star Wars (2015), Darth Vader (2015) and Doctor Aphra (2016) series, did a fantastic job of filling in the gaps between these two films and presenting readers with some clever and unique adventures.  All these series came to an end in late 2019, with their plots coinciding with the start of events from The Empire Strikes Back.  In the wake of their cessation, Marvel announced four new Star Wars comic series that would take their place (after suffering some pandemic-related delays), set in the aftermath of The Empire Strikes Back.  While I have already looked at some of these comics, including the first entry of the Darth Vader (2020) series, I think it is time that I explored the flagship series of this new run of comics, the Star Wars (2020) series.

The Star Wars (2020) series will explore what happens to the main cast of protagonists after the events of The Empire Strikes Back and is set in the year or so between that film and Return of the Jedi.  This looks set to be a long-running series that will not only tell its own tale but will tie in to the events of the other current comics, probably resulting in some crossovers.  This first volume, The Destiny Path, contains issues #1-6 of the Star Wars (2020) series and serves as an excellent and compelling introduction to the rest of the series.

Star Wars (2020) #2 Cover

Following the battle of Hoth, the Rebel Alliance is in disarray.  With their fleet scattered around the galaxy and the might of the Empire reigning supreme, these are the darkest days the Rebellion has ever faced, especially as the Empire appears to have found a way to locate their ships and hiding places.  The hope of the entire Rebel Alliance may lie in the hands of its greatest leaders and heroes, but, after the events on Bespin, even these shining beacons of rebellion have been damaged beyond recognition.

With Han Solo captured by the Empire and handed over to the bounty hunter Boba Fett, those on the Millennium Falcon are dispirited and lost.  However, finding a Rebel cell under attack prompts them into action.  Despite missing the man she loves, Princess Leia is determined to rescue him and revive the Rebel Alliance by any means necessary.  At the same time, reluctant Rebel recruit Lando Calrissian attempts to make himself useful, despite mistrust from everyone around him.  Finally, Luke Skywalker, after losing a hand and finding out the horrible truth of his parentage is in shock.  Worse, his meeting with Vader appears to have damaged his connection to the Force, and neither of his masters will appear to talk to him.

Star Wars (2020) #2 Cover2

As the Rebel Alliance seeks a way to survive, each of these players, with the help of Chewbacca, C-3PO and R2-D2, begin the next stage of their journey.  As Luke seeks a lightsaber, Leia looks to find a way to save Han and Alliance, while Lando looks for redemption in all the wrong places.  All their journeys lead the back to the scene of one of the worst moments of their past, Bespin.  But how far will Luke, Leia and Lando go to achieve their goes, and will they be able to survive the dangerous enemies chasing them?

This is an outstanding and intense Star Wars comic that does a wonderful job of setting up a brand-new series of exciting adventures.  Charles Soule, who has written some of the best Star War comics out there, creates an exceptional and captivating tale that highlights the tragic consequences of The Empire Strikes Back.  Featuring some incredible artwork, amazing big moments, and a perfect portrayal of some of the iconic original trilogy cast, this is an outstanding and awesome comic.

Star Wars (2020) #3 Cover

For this cool first volume in the Star Wars (2020) series, the author has come up with an extremely compelling and clever multi-part narrative that I deeply enjoyed.  The Destiny Path has a strongly character-driven story, following Luke, Leia and Lando as they attempt to recover from the traumatic events of The Empire Strikes Back.  The narrative starts right after the heroes escape from the Cloud City at Bespin (technically before the closing scene of The Empire Strikes Back) and places the shell-shocked characters right in the middle of a firefight against an intriguing new foe.  The next stage of the story contains an intriguing couple of sequences aboard the Rebel medical frigate, showing off some new angles to the film’s final scenes, while also following Lando and Chewie as they head to Tatooine to scope out Jabba’s palace.  This part of the narrative is very clever and exciting, especially as it paints Lando as a bit of a wildcard, with unclear loyalties.  The next section of the comic takes Luke, Leia and Lando back to Bespin, each for a different reason.  There are some high octane and emotionally rich comic issues here, especially as all three of the characters are forced to face up to their recent mistakes and losses, while also taking on the Imperial garrison stationed there.  All of this leads up to the final part of the book, which is primarily focused on Luke, who journeys to several distant planets following a vision to find a new lightsaber.  There are some really cool sequences here as Luke continues to battle his own personal demons (and a real one, but we’ll get to that later), before eventually coming away with an unexpected prize.  All these disparate storylines work really well on their own, but their real strength lies in the way in which they tie together perfectly throughout The Destiny Path.  You end up getting a fantastic story as you follow one major event to the next, and I liked the unique tales contained within each section.  All of this serves as an awesome and powerful start to the Star Wars (2020) series, and there are plenty of hints of awesomeness to come as the Rebels bounce back while Luke continues to grow as a Jedi.  Epic Star Wars storytelling at its best!

Star Wars (2020) #3 Cover2

There is no way that I can talk about The Destiny Path without geeking out about some of the cool and memorable Star Wars elements and references featured within.  I deeply, deeply enjoyed seeing the intriguing and dramatic aftermath of The Empire Strikes Back that Soule envisions here, especially as he took the time to explore the various traumas and consequences of the events at Bespin.  This was a fantastic heart of the entire volume which is going to appeal to all fans of the Star Wars franchise.  Other cool Star Wars moments that fans will love include the mysterious events occurring around the Skywalker lightsaber.  This lightsaber, which disappears at the end of The Empire Strikes Back and reappears in The Force Awakens, is a major item throughout the Star Wars canon and I liked seeing Luke trying to find it in the bowels of Cloud City, only for it to slip into another mysterious person’s grip.  It will be interesting to see what happens to that in the future, and foresee it being a fascinating narrative thread throughout this entire series.

In addition to these elements from the films, Soule also fits in a lot of other cool references and call-backs to previous Star Wars comics, especially ones that he has had a hand in.  The most obvious of these was the appearance of Verla, who Luke encounters while trying to find a new lightsaber.  Verla is a Force-sensitive woman who first appeared in The Burning Seas volume of Soule’s Dark Lord of the Sith comic series.  It was great to see that Verla survived, and Soule does a good job working her into this story, portraying her as the damaged and cynical former Jedi student who is just trying to survive.  Verla’s inclusion allows Luke to learn more about Vader, both as a Jedi hunter and a Jedi named Anakin, and it was interesting to finally see him learn about the Jedi purges, Order 66, and the Inquisitors.  I also noticed a lot of mentions about the High Republic in this volume.  I really should not be too surprised about this, especially as Soule is one of the leading creative minds behind the High Republic range, having written the first novel in the series, Light of the Jedi.  It looks like Star Wars (2020) is going to rely on several events from the High Republic books, and I am intrigued about how Soule will work them into his cool story.  All of these Star Wars elements are extremely cool, and I think that they will deeply appeal to every fan of this franchise.  While mega fans are obviously going to love some of the more obscure references that Soule fit into this comic, this series is also very easy to enjoy if you have a more basic knowledge of Star Wars.

Star Wars (2020) #4 Cover

I do have to quickly highlight that one of my favourite parts of this entire comic is one of the final sequences in the volume.  In this sequence, Luke visits an abandoned Jedi temple which is filled with a mound of untouched treasures, including a lightsaber which he desperately needs.  However, it turns out that this entire building is a trap (Luke was warned, to be fair), as he is quickly attacked by the ghost of the Grand Inquisitor.  The Grand Inquisitor is an awesome character who served as the main antagonist of the first season of the Star Wars Rebels animated series.  Soule has previously utilised him in his Dark Lord of the Sith comic series, especially the first two volumes, Imperial Machine and Legacy’s End, but this current comic is set after his death in Rebels.  There are so many cool elements to the Grand Inquisitor’s return in this comic, including a fantastically drawn fight between him and Luke, where Luke encounters a double-bladed lightsaber for the first time, and I loved the Grand Inquisitor’s fiery, spiritual appearance.  However, the best part of this whole unique inclusion was the characters final interaction with Darth Vader.  Here it is revealed that Vader is the one trapping the Inquisitor’s spirit in this world, using him as a tool and a trap.  When the Inquisitor begs Vader for his release, Vader refuses, as the Inquisitor still has use to him.  The forlorn spirit starts to fade, but not before sadly uttering “there are worst things than death”.  This is an outstanding call-back to the character’s final words in Rebels, and it was so cool to see his morbid prediction come to pass.  This whole sequence really pushed The Destiny Path up a level for me, and I love how the creative team worked this into this fantastic and awesome comic.

Easily one of the best parts of this entire comic is the creative team’s portrayal of the iconic Star Wars characters who serve as the main protagonists of this amazing first volume.  Soule has done an incredible job writing a character-driven narrative around these protagonists, and I love his in-depth examination of their psyches and actions following The Empire Strikes Back.  The author pulls together some great storylines around these characters, and I loved seeing what amazing adventures they went on between these two films.

Star Wars (2020) #4 Cover2

One of the main characters explored during this book is the original Star Wars hero, Luke Skywalker.  Now, Luke is going through a lot at this point, having just had his hand chopped off and learned that his father is Darth Vader.  Luke spends most of the first part of the novel absolutely traumatised by these events and ends up doubting himself while also concealing this revelation from his friends.  To compound his issues, Luke finds his connection to the Force somehow damaged or fractured, as neither of his masters, Obi Wan Kenobi and Yoda, are reaching out to him.  This results in a more scattered Luke, and I loved the way that Soule dove into his damaged mindset.  There are some great and powerful moments throughout this comic that show off Luke’s trauma, as well some dramatic moments when he lashes out uncontrollably with the Force.  After receiving some visions and engaging in a hunt for a new lightsaber, Luke starts to come to terms with the events surrounding him, and it is great to see him recover somewhat, including by learning more about his father.  This slight reconciliation with his identity enables Luke to regain his control over the Force, and there are some very cool scenes where he uses his powerful and advanced abilities against the Empire.  Overall, this was a pretty spectacular look at Luke, and I really appreciated the cool story that Soule spun around him.  It will be interesting to see what is going to happen to Luke in the future entries of this comic, especially as he continues along his journey to become a full-fledged Jedi.  It will also be cool to see more of Luke’s new yellow lightsaber, which was an intriguing decision by Soule which I think is going to really pay off.

Star Wars (2020) #5 Cover

In addition to Luke, a lot of the story focuses on Leia.  Like the rest of the characters, Leia is pretty traumatised, as she discovered her love for Han only to lose him in seconds.  While at times she seems in control, especially as she works to salvage the Rebels fleet, she is clearly still impacted by this loss.  As a result, she desperately attempts to find a way to save him from Boba Fett, even if that means risking herself and her friends.  Her recklessness leads her back to Bespin with the others as she attempts to find more about the carbonite freezing process.  While Leia’s arc is possibly the least interesting (which isn’t a criticism; it’s just the other two main characters have some outstanding stories), she does have some great moments in this comic, and I especially loved the visual of her also trapped in carbonite.  It was also great to see more of badass Rebel leader Leia in this comic as she steps up and takes charge to protect those around her.  I imagine that the creative team have some great ideas for Leia in the future and I cannot wait to see what they are.

The other main character of this volume was the flashy and charismatic rogue, Lando Calrissian, who finds himself stuck with the other protagonists after helping them flee from Bespin.  Despite his attempts to do the right thing at the end of The Empire Strikes Back, Lando is still not trusted by anyone, as they blame him for his betrayal and the loss of Han.  As a result, Lando attempts to find some form of redemption with them, although he mostly comes across as a self-centred bastard.  Soule works a really intriguing storyline around Lando, and I loved seeing his meeting with Jabba the Hutt as he makes some initial inquiries into Han’s location.  Lando is able to talk his way out of a meeting with Jabba, although the reader is left wondering whether he plans to sell out the Rebels.  This nicely leads into his storyline on Bespin as he accompanies Luke and Leia back there.  It was great to see Lando returning to his city, especially as he manages to con his way through a range of different Imperial obstacles, and he was fully in his roguish element.  While Lando appears to return to Cloud City for selfish reasons, such as throwing a big middle-finger to the Empire, his jaunt does awaken his inner hero a little, and you get a glimpse of the person we eventually see in Return of the Jedi.  Lando is easily the most entertaining character in the entire comic and most of The Destiny Path’s humour is derived from his interactions with most of the other characters.  He is a very funny character, and it was great to see so much focus on him after barely featuring in the last stage of Star Wars comics.  I look forward to seeing what Soule and the creative team have for him in the future, and I think he is going to be the MVP character of the entire series.

Star Wars (2020) #5 Cover2

Aside from the three main characters above, The Destiny Path also includes a great range of other characters from various points in Star Wars history.  Like its precursor comic, Star Wars (2020) also follows Chewbacca, C-3PO and R2-D2, although I think these three great characters were a little overshadowed by Luke, Leia and Lando in this volume.  Chewie does have a bunch of fun moments throughout the comic, mostly in his interactions with Lando, and it is entertaining to see him be forced to deal with the cocky former friend.  R2-D2 does have a great sidekick time with Luke, and it was always fun to see him save the mighty Jedi’s life again and again.  There is also an interesting focus on a couple of new or lesser-known characters.  For example, it looks like Soule is going to spend a bit of time following Kes Dameron and Shara Bey, the parents of a certain Poe Dameron.  The Destiny Path also introduces an intriguing new antagonist in the form of Commander Zahra, a fanatical Imperial officer placed in charge of eliminating the remnants of the Rebel Alliance.  Zahra is tactical genius who I understand is going to have a major role in some upcoming comics.  This volume proves to be an excellent introduction to this cool new character, especially as it establishes her dangerous intelligence, murderous mentality and the insane grudge she bears against Leia, all while she commands the unique Star Destroyer, Tarkin’s Will, which still bears scars from being hit by wreckage of the original Death Star.  Zahra proves to be an outstanding antagonist, and I cannot wait to see what deviousness and insanity she brings to the rest of the series.

I definitely need to highlight the incredible and eye-catching artwork that was an outstanding and memorable feature of this awesome comic.  The artistic team behind this comic did an amazing job from start to finish, and every page was a visual treat for the eyes.  While all the art in this comic is great, there are a few things that really stood out to me, such as character design.  The artists do such an incredible job capturing the main characters throughout this comic, especially in the first issue where all their post-The Empire Strikes Back pain and emotion is on full display.  It was uncanny how similar these characters looked to their portrayal in the film, and it is a testament to the artists’ amazing ability.  There are also several awesome combat sequences scattered throughout the comic and I loved the way in which the art brought them to life.  A particularly good example of this was the opening space battle between the Empire and a small Rebel fleet.  The artists come up with an incredible background for this fight, which takes place between a sun and a concentrated barrage of green turbolaser bolts, which are being used to fence the Rebels in place.  This was so visually pretty, and it really enhanced the cool story and fighter combat that was taking place in front of it.  I also deeply enjoyed the way in which the artists have recreated several key scenes from The Empire Strikes Back.  These scenes, which include Luke losing his hand, finding out that Vader is his father and Han giving his iconic “I know” to Leia, are scattered throughout key parts of The Destiny Path.  Not only are these cool visually, but they are also clever from a writing point of view, dragging the readers back to the emotional impact of these events and driving how much they are still sticking in the mind of the protagonists.  I cannot overstate how awesome this art is and I had an absolute blast seeing every explosion, Force burst and clever flashback that they were able to fit in.

Star Wars (2020) #6 Cover

Well, if the above multi-page rant above didn’t give it away, then I’ll say it clearly here: this comic is incredible!  Soule, Saiz and the other talented artists have done an amazing job with this first volume of the Star Wars (2020) series, and The Destiny Path is an epic and awesome read.  I loved the in-depth examination of these key characters after The Empire Strikes Back and there are so many cool Star Wars elements worked into the story.  This is one of my favourite Star Wars comics and it gets a full five-star rating from me.  I cannot wait to see what extraordinary stories and powerful artform this fantastic creative team comes up with next and I need to order the next volume in now.

Throwback Thursday – Star Wars: Maul: Lockdown by Joe Schreiber

Star Wars - Maul - Lockdown Cover

Publisher: Random House Audio (Audiobook – 28 January 2014)

Series: Star Wars

Length: 12 hours and 20 minutes

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

This is part of my Throwback Thursday series, where I republish old reviews, review books I have read before or review older books I have only just had a chance to read. 

2021 has so far been a fantastic year for Star Wars novels with excellent releases such as the two Star Wars: The High Republic novels, Light of the Jedi and Into the Dark, and the final entry in the Alphabet Squadron trilogy, Victory’s Price.  I have been really enjoying these new Star Wars novels but I recently got a hankering for something a little different and decided to go back and check out some of the older Star Wars tie-in novels.  While there were several intriguing options (I was strongly eyeing off A New Dawn by John Jackson Miller, Darth Plagueis by James Luceno and Razor’s Edge by Martha Wells), I eventually settled for the one of the last entries in the Star Wars: Legends range of books, Maul: Lockdown by Joe Schreiber, an intensely exciting and dark novel with an amazing story to it.

Welcome to the space station Cog Hive Seven, the most dangerous prison in the entire galaxy.  Here inmates are forced to fight to the death in matches broadcast to millions of gamblers across the Republic determined to make a profit off the blood of the galaxy’s worst killers and criminals.  No one escapes from Cog Hive Seven, and every one of its deadly and evil inhabitants know that they will eventually die there.  However, not even these deranged inmates are prepared for the new evil that has been thrown into their midst, the lethal dark-side assassin, Darth Maul.  

Sent by Darth Sidious to contact a secretive weapons merchant, Iram Radique, Maul has disguised himself as a notorious mercenary and killer.  Determined to complete the mission his master has given him, Maul begins to upend the prison to find the elusive Radique, quickly establishing himself as a destructive force of chaos.  However, his notoriety also sees him forced into progressively more dangerous matches against some of the deadliest creatures in the galaxy. 

Bereft of his lightsaber, forbidden from using the force and with bombs injected into both his hearts, Maul must rely on his brutal combat abilities and own inner strength to succeed.  But the closer he gets to finding Radique, the more he realises that not everything is as it seems aboard Cog Hive Seven and that his target will do everything is his power to avoid meeting with Maul.  Worse, dangerous factions have taken notice of the prison and its deranged warden and soon Maul must contend with a death cult, the followers of Jabba the Hutt and a horrifying monster living within the walls of the prison.  Can even Darth Maul overcome the odds in front of him, or will the creatures of Cog Hive Seven swallow him whole?

I think readers of this blog will not be too surprised to hear that the moment I found out that there was a book that followed Darth Maul participating in death matches aboard a space prison, I knew I would have to read it, and boy am I glad I did.  Maul: Lockdown is an impressive and fantastic novel that I found to be instantly captivating and which I powered through in a short amount of time.  Author Joe Schreiber, whose previous novel, Death Troopers, featured an outstanding story about key Star Wars characters encountering a zombie horde (it is as awesome as it sounds) came up with a pretty epic narrative for this Star Wars novel, and I really enjoyed this cool, Darth Maul-centric book.

I have to say that I was really surprised about how complex and impressive Maul: Lockdown’s narrative turned out to be.  Based on the plot description, I would have expected a simple, action-orientated story, but instead Schreiber crafted together a dark and powerful Star Wars tale with some compelling mystery elements.  This book reads a lot like a prison thriller, with Maul thrust into the middle of a dangerous jail which he must navigate to find his target.  While there is a natural focus on the fights between Maul and the other dangerous inmates, which results in some exceptional action sequences, the author also works in some great mystery and crime fiction elements that combine perfectly with the Star Wars backdrop.  The author utilises a bunch of multiple perspectives to show the chaotic nature of the prison, and there are several great storylines based around supporting characters which twist their way around Maul’s central story of surviving and attempting to find the secretive arms dealer. 

As the story progresses, more and more dangerous elements and antagonists are thrown into the narrative, including monsters, deranged cultists and even Jabba the Hutt, intensifying the obstacles facing Maul and raising the thrilling stakes of the narrative.  I really enjoyed the main storyline of the hunt for Radique, and there were plenty of false leads and twists around who he was and where he was hiding.  I did think the eventual reveal of the character (spoiler ahead!!!) was a tad weak, mainly as it ended up being a character we hadn’t seen before (spoiler end), but it was still an interesting and exciting centre to the narrative.  Schreiber also weaves some excellent horror elements into the story, especially surrounding one unique creature in the prison.  The author makes this creature particularly horrifying to behold, both because of its appearance and its unsettling abilities, and there are some real terrifying sequences surrounding it.  All these great elements come together perfectly into one fantastic and captivating tale that proves to be extremely addictive and very clever.

This is an exciting Star Wars novel that fans of the franchise are really going to enjoy.  Maul: Lockdown was one of the later entries in the previous Star Wars extended universe which is now known as the Star Wars: Legends range.  Despite no longer being considered canon, the Star Wars: Legends books still have some great stories, such as the impressive heist novel Scoundrels, and this was a pretty cool entry.  Set a year before The Phantom Menace, this book is loaded with a ton of references to other pieces of Star Wars media, including several previous Star Wars: Legends novels and comics, Schreiber’s previous book Death Troopers (featuring a clever cameo), and even an old Star Wars video game, Bounty Hunter.  There are lots of interesting pieces of Star Wars lore in here, and the author features a couple of major figures from the prequel films, as well as a few obscure characters from some of the older Star Wars novels, including a corrupted Padawan of Count Dooku I had not heard of before (she is not in the new canon).  I really enjoyed the author’s inclusion of a battle of intrigue between Darth Sidious and his master Darth Plagueis, and the story in Maul: Lockdown has some great connections to certain events in the Darth Plagueis novel.  While Schreiber has included a lot of high-level lore, I felt that this was quite an accessible Star Wars novel and anyone who saw Darth Maul emerge in The Phantom Menace will definitely enjoy this darker and captivating piece of Star Wars fiction.

One of the most intriguing things about this novel is the way in which the author attempts to dive into the mindset of fan-favourite character Darth Maul.  Ever since he whipped out his dual-bladed lightsaber in The Phantom Menace, Maul has been a much beloved figure in the Star Wars franchise, but you do not often get to see much of his inner thoughts.  While I would probably be happy reading a simple hack-and-slash adventure featuring Maul, I really appreciated the way in which Schreiber takes the time to examine Maul’s inner psyche, and you get an intriguing glimpse into his thoughts about his mission, his purpose in life and his loyalty to his master.  I found it quite fascinating to see the way in which Schreiber portrays Maul’s complex feelings about Sidious, as he is both simultaneous absolutely loyal to him while also being deeply suspicious about his intentions.  Maul spends most of the book believing that everything he is experiencing is a test or deception levelled at him by his Master and he also hints at his suspicions that he will eventually be betrayed.  While this examination of Maul’s more complex thoughts and feelings is quite interesting, it is also perfectly counterbalanced by a huge number of scenes that examine just how much of a badass Maul is.  Schreiber has loaded this book up with awesome and brutal fight sequences pitting Maul up against a range of deadly opponents, which are made even more awesome by the fact that Maul is unable to use either his lightsaber or force abilities.  Instead, Maul shows off his impressive unarmed fighting skills and his natural cunning, as he overwhelms his opponents in some brutal and clever ways.  The author also fits in some compelling hints and depictions of Maul’s training and early life, which I found to be very interesting, particularly as some of these events slightly differ from the current canon.  All of this makes for an exceptionally cool Darth Maul novel, and I loved seeing this great character in all his deadly glory.

I ended up checking out Maul: Lockdown on audiobook, which is easily the best way to enjoy a Star Wars book.  The Maul: Lockdown audiobook has a reasonable run time of 12 hours and 20 minutes, which dedicated listeners can get through in a couple of sittings.  I absolutely powered through this audiobook myself, especially once I got caught up in the cool story, and I had a great time experiencing all the features of this format.  Like most Star Wars audiobooks, Maul: Lockdown makes excellent use of the iconic sound effects and musical scores from the Star Wars films and television series to enhance its story.  The sound effects are particularly impactful in Maul: Lockdown, and I liked the way they made the many fight sequences pop with the sounds of violence and weapons blasting.  They also made one horrifying creature even more terrible to listen to thanks to the slithering and sucking sounds that played when it appeared.  This audiobook also made great use of John Williams’ amazing scores.  I always love hearing the inspirational and moving Star Wars music during these audiobooks, and while it was more restrained in this audiobook than some others I have enjoyed, it still helped to make several emotional or exciting scenes just a little more epic.

In addition to the cool sound effects and awesome music, Maul: Lockdown’s audiobook also made great use of exceptional narrator Jonathan Davies.  Davies is a veteran narrator who has lent his voice to several Star Wars novels in the past, such as Doctor Aphra, Dooku: Jedi Lost, Master and Apprentice and Lords of the Sith.  He does a fantastic job bringing the various characters in Maul: Lockdown to life, and I really enjoyed the unique tones that each character received.  I really liked the voices that he used for established Star Wars characters, which were close, if not spot on, to how they appeared in the films or television series.  This includes the menacing tones he came up with for Maul, which contained all the character’s barely supressed anger and hatred, and he did a rather good Darth Sidious which was reminiscent of Tim Curry’s take on him in The Clone Wars animated series.  Davis also did a perfect Jabba the Hutt (not exactly sure that is a compliment, but please take it as such), and I loved hearing him do Jabba’s iconic laugh.  Overall, his narration was pretty damn awesome and, when combined with the fantastic sound effects and great musical inclusions, helped to really enhance Maul: Lockdown’s narrative and continued the trend of outstanding Star Wars audiobooks.

Star Wars: Maul: Lockdown by Joe Schreiber is an outstanding and awesome novel that sees one of the best characters in the Star Wars canon fighting for his life in a dangerous setting.  Featuring a powerful and addictive narrative, loaded with intrigue, betrayal, and a whole lot of violence, this is a rich, clever, and dark Star Wars novel that comes highly recommended.  I had an incredible time reading this cool and captivating book and I really need to check out some of the other amazing sounding novels in the Star Wars: Legends range.

Star Wars: Victory’s Price by Alexander Freed

Star Wars - Victory's Price Cover

Publisher: Random House Audio (Audiobook – 2 March 2021)

Series: Star Wars: Alphabet Squadron – Book Three

Length: 16 hours and 19 minutes

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

One of the best Star Wars tie-in series comes to an epic and impressive end, as Alexander Freed presents Star Wars: Victory’s Price, the amazing third and final entry in the awesome Alphabet Squadron trilogy.

Since its inception in 2014, the current Star Wars extended universe has featured an amazing range of novels that tie into the various movies and television series.  One of the best has been the Alphabet Squadron trilogy from acclaimed author Alexander Freed.  Alphabet Squadron is a particularly compelling trilogy that follows a fantastic group of mismatched Rebel and Imperial pilots who continue to fight in the aftermath of Return of the Jedi.  This series has so far featured two excellent entries: the great introductory novel Alphabet Squadron, and the outstanding second entry, Shadow Fall, both of which I have deeply enjoyed.  As a result, I have been looking forward to seeing how the series ends and I think that Freed has left the best to last with this epic and powerful read.

The Emperor and Darth Vader may be dead, and the second Death Star destroyed, but the war is far from over.  Nearly a year after the battle of Endor, conflict still reigns in the galaxy between the forces of the New Republic and the remnants of the Empire.  In nearly every battlefield, the Empire’s forces are in retreat and disarray, apart from the notorious pilots of the 204th Imperial Fighter Wing, better known as Shadow Wing.  Led by the dangerous Imperial TIE Fighter ace, Colonel Soran Keize, Shadow Wing continue to bring death and destruction to the Empire’s enemies, slipping away when their vile deeds are done.

However, despite their skills and strategies, Shadow Wing is in constant danger as New Republic forces, under the command of General Hera Syndulla, are pursuing them.  Syndulla is determined to end the threat of Shadow Wing utilising the ragtag pilots of the unique unit known as Alphabet Squadron, each of whom has a score to settle with Shadow Wing, to lead the fight against them.  However, the members of Alphabet Squadron, Wyl Lark, Chass na Chadic, Nath Tensent and Kairos, are still recovering from their last traumatic encounter with Shadow Wing on Cerberon, as well as the revelation that their former leader, Yrica Quell, was an active participant of Operation Cinder, the Emperor’s genocidal last order to destroy multiple disloyal planets.

As Hera and Alphabet Squadron attempt to find their prey, they begin to discover just how dangerous the cornered Shadow Wing has become, as their opponents begin to enact a new version of Operation Cinder.  Worse, Alphabet Squadron are shocked to discover that Yrica Quell is still alive and has re-joined her old comrades in Shadow Wing.  As the two forces engage in battle again, the loyalties of Alphabet Squadron will be tested like never before while Quell attempts to determine just whose side she is truly on.  The conflict will finally end above the skies of Jakku, as the Imperial and New Republic fleets engage in their final battle.  Can Alphabet Squadron finally put an end to the evils of Shadow Wing, or will Soran Keize’s master plan change the entire galaxy forever?

Now this is what all pieces of Star Wars fiction should be like.  Victory’s Price is an exceptional and impressive novel that had me hooked from the very beginning.  Not only does Freed do an amazing job of wrapping up the Alphabet Squadron trilogy but he also provides the reader with fantastic action sequences and some outstanding characters.  This is easily one of the best Star Wars novels I have read in ages and it gets a full five-star rating from me.

For this final book, Freed has come up with a powerful story set within the iconic Star Wars universe.  Starting right after the events of Shadow Fall, Victory’s Price sees the members of Alphabet Squadron separated and traumatised as their protracted and personal conflict with Shadow Wing begins.  This leads into a series of exciting encounters and battles in space as Alphabet Squadron pursues Shadow Wing during their latest mission, while the leader of Shadow Wing hatches a plan to end the war on his terms.  At the same time, each of the characters attempts to deal with issues or distress raised in the previous novels, whether it be Quell’s conflicted loyalties or Chass’s post-fight trauma.  All of this leads to some epic and impressive final confrontations as the two sides meet for the very last time.  This was an extremely good character-driven read, and I loved the very cool way that Freed finished off this amazing series. 

While it is an amazing Star Wars novel, Freed focuses more on the war part of the book, turning this into a gritty story of survival, loyalty and conflict, which makes for a powerful piece of fiction.  While obviously best enjoyed by those readers familiar with the rest of the series, Victory’s Price is a very accessible novel which new readers can follow without any trouble.  Thanks to the awesome use of multiple character perspectives, Victory’s Price has an excellent flow to it, and the readers are supplied with clever twists, cool action sequences and impressive character moments as the protagonists come to terms with their place in the universe and the constant fighting.  This ended up being quite an intense tale of war and life, which not only perfectly wrapped up the Alphabet Squadron series but which also had me engrossed from the very minute I started reading it.

One of the major things that I liked about this book was the way in which it added to the Star Wars expanded universe.  This series has always done a cool job of exploring what happened after Return of the Jedi, and it is always interesting and somewhat more realistic to see that the war did not end as soon as the Emperor died.  However Freed has painted this period as a particularly dark and deadly part of the war, and I love seeing how he envisioned what happened to members of the New Republic and Empire after Endor.  Victory’s Price focuses on the very end of the civil war, showing another side of the events that lead up to the battle of Jakku and fitting its original characters into this conflict.  This is a cool part of the book, and I loved seeing another version of the epic battle of Jakku, a major conflict that has been featured in several other novels and pieces of fiction.  Freed also takes the time to explore and answer several other intriguing questions, such as the mystery behind the Emperor’s messengers, the creepy red-clad droids who project holograms of the Emperor’s face, which sought out various Imperial commanders after Endor and ordered the various genocides of Operation Cinder.  The solution surrounding the messengers ends up being rather intriguing, and there are even some clever parallels to World War II in there.  Due to the intriguing elements of Star Wars lore featured within, Victory’s Price, like the rest of the Alphabet Squadron series, will probably be enjoyed most by major fans of the franchise, but there are a lot of compelling elements that readers of all knowledge bases will appreciate.  This was truly an exceptional piece of Star Wars fiction and I cannot wait to see what Freed adds to the canon next time.

I really must highlight the outstanding action scenes that Freed came up with for this book.  I am a man who likes his Star War’s action, and I have to say that Victory’s Price has some of the best sequences that I have ever had the pleasure of enjoying.  Due to the novel’s focus on fighter pilots, there are naturally a huge number of amazing combat scenes as the rival pilots engage in complex battles in space.  Freed has saved the best for last in this final Alphabet Squadron novel, as the opposing pilots find themselves fighting in a range of unique situations.  The battle scenes are extremely well crafted, filled with elaborate details and fantastic depictions of complex manoeuvres and clever tactics that are guaranteed to keep you on the edge of your seat with their intense action.  They are also quite emotionally rich, as you witness your favourite characters constantly face near-death experiences in this final entry in the series.  Highlights of these great battle sequences included two fantastic duels between the protagonists and the leader of Shadow Wing, which sees some fancy flying between some of the most skilled pilots in the series in some very distinctive landscapes.  I also really loved the final, elaborate battle set above Jakku, which proved to be a major part of the second half of the book.  Not only do you get the desperate and packed main conflict between the entire New Republic and Imperial fleets, which features destruction and death in every direction, but you also get a more private and quiet final battle between a group of Alphabet Squadron led New Republic fighters and Shadow Wing.  This smaller pitched battle between the two sides fits perfectly into the midst of the wider conflict and is filled with personal turmoil and antagonism as these two rival squadrons meet for a final time.  All these battles come out as being extremely epic and powerful, and I loved every second of the gritty and deadly fights they contained.

While I have a lot of love for Victory’s Price’s epic story, intense action, and clever Star Wars connections, easily the best thing about this book are the complex and well-written characters.  Each of the major characters featured in Victory’s Price have been introduced in the previous Alphabet Squadron novels with some complex and powerful storylines.  In Victory’s Price, all these great arcs reach a climax as the characters meet their final destiny and their stories comes to an end.  I really enjoyed the satisfying conclusions that Freed came up with for his outstanding characters, although in many ways it was sad to see their stories finish.  Still, I really appreciated all the great character arcs contained in this final novel, and Freed ensures they go through the emotional wringer before they go.

At the forefront of these outstanding characters are the five members of Alphabet Squadron who have served as the focal point for the entire series.  The pilots in Alphabet Squadron, so named for their use of a different Rebel Alliance fighter (A-Wing, X-Wing, B-Wing, U-Wing and Y-Wing), are layered and complex individuals, each of whom has experienced their own trauma or betrayal throughout the course of the lengthy war.  All five of these original characters have gone through significant development throughout the course of the previous two novels, and Freed does an exceptional job continuing their journeys in this final book.

The main protagonist of this series is Yrica Quell, a former member of Shadow Wing, who joined Alphabet Squadron in the first novel to help neutralise her former Imperial comrades.  However, it was eventually revealed that Quell, despite claiming she defected from the Empire after refusing to participate in Operation Cinder, aided in the destruction of a planet.  This revelation caused a massive rift in her relationship with the rest of Alphabet Squadron, and she ended up reuniting with Shadow Wing at the end of the second novel.  In this final book, it is revealed that Quell has infiltrated Shadow Wing to bring them down from the inside.  However, upon spending time with her Imperial comrades, she begins to experience doubts about her plan, especially as she sees that the Imperials are just as damaged by the war as she and the New Republic pilots are.  Her plans are further complicated due to her relationship with the leader of Shadow Wing, Soran Keize, her former mentor and the person who initially convinced her to defect to the New Republic.  Quell still has an immense amount of respect for Keize, and strongly believes in several of his plans.  This re-remembered loyalty to Shadow Wing strongly conflicts with her friendships with Alphabet Squadron and the guilt she feels for her role in Operation Cinder, placing Quell in a major quandary for most of the book.  This uncertainty and inner conflict is a really clever part of Quell’s story, and the reader is deeply impacted by her struggle and conflicted loyalties.  This was easily one of the best and most powerful character arcs in Victory’s Price and I really appreciated the outstanding character story that Freed set around Quell.

Victory’s Price also spends a significant amount of time following Quell’s fellow Alphabet Squadron members, Wyl Lark and Chass na Chadic, both of whom have compelling arcs that highlight different aspects of warring soldiers.  Wyl Lark is the young, optimistic member of the squadron who took over leadership at the end of the second novel.  Lark has developed a significant amount throughout the course of this series, and it is great to see him come into his own as a leader and pilot.  However, despite his apparent ease at the role, Lark is plagued by doubts and concerns about the morality of this fight, especially as it conflicts with some of the teachings of his race.  He spends a great deal of this final book coming to terms with his morals, and even attempts to once again contact the members of Shadow Wing to try and find some common ground or a way to end the conflict.  His actions go a long way to humanising the antagonists of the novel and his hope is a refreshing beacon of light in this darker Star Wars book.  I deeply enjoyed seeing the way in which Lark attempts to change the outcome of the war his way, and it was a fascinating addition to the story. 

Chass, on the other hand, is easily the most damaged character in the entire series.  A music-loving veteran pilot who is more afraid of the end of the war and her inevitable slide into irrelevance and despair than her own death, Chass has always been on edge throughout the series.  However, in Victory’s Price, Chass is even more traumatised, especially after learning of the betrayal of her love interest, Quell (which is an intriguing LGBT+ relationship for a Star Wars novel) and has since turned to the teachings of a cult to gain some clarity.  Despite this, Chass is still driven by her anger and her rage and is constantly lashing out at everyone around her, with her death wish a constant anchor around her neck.  Freed has written a complex and moving story around Chass and her suffering, and I deeply appreciate the portrayal of her as a troubled veteran.  I think that Chass’s story comes to a fantastic end in this final novel, especially as she gets closure with several important people in her life.  Both characters are incredibly well written and are fantastic examples of Freed’s exceptional writing ability.

Next up are the final two Alphabet Squadron pilots, Nath Tensent and Kairos.  While both characters have been somewhat overshadowed throughout the series, Freed has developed some intriguing storylines around them which come full circle perfectly in this final novel.  Nath Tensent, a pilot who served both the Empire and the Rebels during the war, has an enjoyable and likeable personality and is the sort of guy who quickly becomes everyone’s best friend.  However, despite the easygoing façade he projects to the world, even Nath is feeling the effects of the war and the constant worry and responsibility is getting to him.  This is particularly exacerbated in Victory’s Price when he becomes a decorated military hero with greater responsibilities and is forced to balance his own selfish goals with the lives of people who look up to him, as well as his very strong concerns for Wyl Lark.  This results in a particularly clever and enjoyable arc, and it was great to see him finally take some responsibility in this war.  I liked the way in which Freed ended Nath’s storyline, especially as it potentially opens another series in the future. 

The final member of the squadron is the mysterious Kairos, an alien of unknown origin with a strong hatred for the Empire and terrifying combat skills.  Despite her intriguing introduction in Alphabet Squadron, Kairos was somewhat left out of the second book after receiving an injury.  However, this is more than rectified in Victory’s Price, as Kairos is featured more prominently and we finally get to see some of her backstory.  Freed comes up with quite the intriguing, if tragic, story for Kairos, and it was fascinating to see her unique alien beliefs and culture, as well as a powerful story of renewal and redemption that accompanies her.  Kairos becomes quite close to two characters in this book, especially after the closest people in her life died in the previous novel, and it was great to see her finally connect, even if only for a short while.  Freed did a fantastic job setting up Kairos’ story in the previous two novels, and I personally loved finally getting some answers regarding this curious character’s identity.

Aside from the members of Alphabet Squadron, several other characters are also shown in great prominence throughout this book.  The one I liked the most was Hera Syndulla, the New Republic general commanding Alphabet Squadron.  Hera is one of the few characters in this novel who Freed did not come up with, as Hera originated in the Star Wars: Rebels animated series and serves as a bridging character to the larger franchise.  Due to how much I love Star Wars: Rebels, I have really enjoyed seeing more of Hera in this series, not only because I am very curious about her post-Rebels life but because she also serves as a great mentor character to the members of Alphabet Squadron.  Hera features a lot more prominently in this final novel and her perspectives are shown nearly as much as the members of Alphabet Squadron.  This extra perspective really added a lot to the story as a whole and I personally really enjoyed seeing Hera take charge and attempt to hunt down Shadow Wing, while also attempting to determine the course of the entire war.  I also really enjoyed the fact that this book shows Hera’s role in the battle of Jakku, which as the largest space battle in the entire civil war, you had to assume she would be a part of.  Hera is naturally a bit of a badass in this battle, as you would expect, and I appreciated that Freed featured more of her in this novel.

The other major character featured within Victory’s Price is Colonel Soran Keize.  Keize is a fantastically complex character who serves as the leader of Shadow Wing and Quell’s Imperial mentor.  Despite nominally being the antagonist of this book, Keize is portrayed as a more of a tragic and misunderstood figure, one who is sick of war and who only has the best concerns of his men at heart.  As a result, Keize is running his own game throughout Victory’s Price and works to get the best result for the members of Shadow Wing.  His convictions, sense of honour and understandable motivations make him a hard character to dislike, and his role in mentoring Quell ensures that she is extremely conflicted when it comes to betraying him.  Keize is also probably the best pilot in this entire series, as he is regarded as the Empire’s ace of aces, and Victory’s Price is where you get to see him soar as he engages in several great battles and duels.  Thanks to this, and his curious character development, Keize is a great character to follow, and I really enjoyed the unique tale Freed told through him. 

Freed also focuses on some of the other pilots on both the New Republic and Imperial sides.  This results in a great combination of complex side or minor characters, each of whom have their own reasons for fighting in the war.  Freed attempts to show that, despite fighting on different sides of the war, these characters really are not that different.  Instead, all of them are soldiers, with several similarities, including their own trauma, PTSD and issues with the war that they are fighting in.  I think it is a testament to Freed’s writing ability that he was able to get me to care about members of the Imperial navy, and it was pretty spectacular the way in which he attempted to show the humanity buried deep within them.  It does mean that the action sequences more emotionally loaded and potentially devastating as you end up not wanting to see some of the pilots dying, but I really appreciated the way in which Freed took the time to explore these compelling side characters.

While I have previously enjoyed the first two Alphabet Squadron novels in their paperback format, circumstances required me to check out Victory’s Price as an audiobook instead, which was pretty damn awesome.  Not only did Victory’s Price feature the usual blend of iconic sound effects and music that makes all Star Wars audiobooks such a treat to enjoy, but I found that the story flowed incredibly well in this format.  With a lengthy runtime of 16 hours and 19 minutes, I absolutely blasted through this book as I became so engrossed in the awesome story and the way in which it was performed as an audiobook.  I also thought that the use of the iconic Star Wars music in the Victory’s Price was particularly impressive, and not only did the music make several of the extended space battle sequences even more epic, but they also really highlighted some of the most emotional scenes in the book and made them strike my soul even more emphatically.  I also really enjoyed the amazing narration from January LaVoy, who has previously provided her voice to the other Alphabet Squadron books.  LaVoy is a particularly skilled narrator whose work on the Star Trek: Discovery tie-in novel, Die Standing, I really enjoyed.  Not only does LaVoy present the awesome details of Victory’s Price in a quick and exciting manner, making each of the action scenes sound particularly cool, but she also provides some great voices for the various characters.  Each of the main characters gets a unique voice which fits them perfectly and which really helps the listener get to grips with their personalities and inner thoughts.  While all of the character’s voices were done extremely well, the best voice that LaVoy did was probably Hera Syndulla’s, which sounded extremely close to the character’s voice in the Star Wars Rebels animated series.  All of this helps to make Victory’s Price’s audiobook an immensely enjoyable experience and I would highly recommend this format to anyone and everyone.

Star Wars: Victory’s Price is an exceptional and powerful novel from Alexander Freed that is one of the best books I have so far read in 2021.  Featuring a dark and gritty war story set during a fascinating period of Star Wars history, Victory’s Price perfectly wraps up the impressive Alphabet Squadron trilogy while also providing some cathartic conclusions to outstanding character arcs that Freed has built up during the previous book.  I absolutely loved this final novel (hence the massive review), and I think that this was probably the best entry in the entire series.  A highly recommended read, especially if you have already enjoyed the rest of the trilogy, this was a truly epic Star Wars novel.

Waiting on Wednesday – 2021 Star Trek Tie-in novels

Welcome to my weekly segment, Waiting on Wednesday, where I look at upcoming books that I am planning to order and review in the next few months and which I think I will really enjoy.  I run this segment in conjunction with the Can’t-Wait Wednesday meme that is currently running at Wishful Endings.  Stay tuned to see reviews of these books when I get a copy of them.  In this latest Waiting on Wednesday article, I highlight three amazing sounding upcoming Star Trek tie-in novels that I am particularly excited for.

Now, those people familiar with my blog will know that I like a good tie-in novel and I routinely read and review novels and comics that are extensions of several popular fandoms, including Star Wars, Warhammer, and Firefly.  While I have been a major fan of a number of franchises for years, one particular fandom that I have only really gotten into in the last couple of years is Star Trek.  Thanks to some of the recent mainstream Hollywood movies, a flurry of reruns on Australian television and some of the newer shows appearing on Netflix, I have started watching more Star Trek stuff in recent years, and I have quickly gotten drawn into this fun franchise.  For example, last year I ended up probably watching the most Star Trek I ever have, especially with some of the awesome new shows that came out, (I really enjoyed both Picard and Lower Decks).  Unsurprisingly, this increased interest in Star Trek shows and movies has also resulted in me checking out more and more Star Trek novels and even some comics, most of which I have then reviewed on this blog.  Many of these, such as The Captain’s Oath by Christopher L. Bennett, Agents of Influence by Dayton Ward and the Star Trek: Boldly Go comic by Mike Johnson and Tony Shasteen, have been very impressive reads, and I am now actively trying to find and review any new Star Trek novels that come out.

2021 is shaping up to be another awesome year for Star Trek tie-in fiction, and I have been keeping a keen eye out for several upcoming Star Trek books.  While I still need to check out Star Trek: Picard: The Dark Veil by James Swallow, which came out in January, there are several further books coming out in the next few months that I am quite excited for.  Each of these upcoming books sound pretty cool and I am rather keen to check them out, especially as two have been written by some of my favourite authors of Star Trek fiction.

Star Trek Wonderlands Cover

The first upcoming Star Trek novel that I am looking forward to is Star Trek: Discovery: Wonderlands by Una McCormack.  McCormack is a fantastic author who has written several great Star Trek novels over the years, including a previous Star Trek: Discovery novel, The Way to the Stars, and the first Star Trek: Picard tie-in novel, The Last Best Hope.  I was a particularly fan of The Last Best Hope when it came out last year, especially as it provide an amazing bridge between The Next Generation and Picard television series.  As a result, I am very excited to see this great author’s next novel, especially as it is another Star Trek: Discovery novel.

Synopsis:

In a desperate attempt to prevent the artificial intelligence known as Control from seizing crucial information that could destroy all sentient life, Commander Michael Burnham donned the “Red Angel” time-travel suit and guided the USS Discovery into the future and out of harm’s way. But something has gone terribly wrong, and Burnham has somehow arrived in a place far different from anything she could have imagined—more than nine hundred years out of her time, with Discovery nowhere to be found, and where the mysterious and cataclysmic event known as “the Burn” has utterly decimated Starfleet and, with it, the United Federation of Planets. How then can she possibly exist day-to-day in this strange place? What worlds are out there waiting to be discovered? Do any remnants of Starfleet and the Federation possibly endure? With more questions than answers, Burnham must nevertheless forge new friendships and new alliances if she hopes to survive this future long enough for the Discovery crew to find her….

Wonderlands, which is currently has a release date of 18 May 2021, looks set to follow the protagonist of Star Trek: Discovery, Michael Burham, during the period when she was trapped in the desolate future without her friends.  This setting opens up many plot opportunities and it will be interesting to see what sort of cool story that McCormack comes up with for this book.  Based on her previous novels, I am extremely confident that McCormack will come up with an exciting and compelling read, and I am hopeful that she takes full advantage of the darker story elements of the Star Trek: Discovery series to create something truly memorable.

Star Trek - Shadows Have Offended Cover

The next Star Trek novel that I am looking at in this article is the intriguing Shadows Have Offended by Cassandra Rose Clark, which will tie into The Next Generation television series.  Shadows Have Offended, which is currently set for release on 13 July 2021, will be the first Star Trek novel from Clark, an author I am relatively unfamiliar with, although I have been meaning to check out her young adult Halo series, Battle Born.  Based on the plot details that have been released, Shadows Have Offended will primarily follow Dr Beverly Crusher, Deanna Troi and Worf, as they encounter multiple problems during a seemingly routine mission.

Synopsis:

The USS Enterprise has been granted the simple but unavoidable honor of ferrying key guests to Betazed for a cultural ceremony. En route, sudden tragedy strikes a Federation science station on the isolated planet Kota, and Captain Jean-Luc Picard has no qualms sending William Riker, Data, and Chief Medical Officer Beverly Crusher to investigate. But what begins as routine assignments for the two parties soon descends into chaos: Picard, Worf, and Deanna Troi must grapple with a dangerous diplomatic crisis as historic artifacts are stolen in the middle of a high-profile ceremony… while nothing is as it seems on Kota. A mounting medical emergency coupled with the science station’s failing technology – and no hope of rescue – has Doctor Crusher racing against time to solve a disturbing mystery threatening the lives of all her colleagues…

I quite like the sound of this upcoming The Next Generation novel, especially as Clark has come up with two cool sounding separate storylines, including a medical mystery and a theft, and it will be interesting to see how these come together.  I am also curious to see a novel that focuses more on Crusher and Troi than some of the other Star Trek books I have read in the past and it will be interesting to see this story unfold from their perspective.  Overall, this should turn out to be a great read and I am quite excited to check it out.

Star Trek - Rogue Elements Cover

The final Star Trek novel I am looking at here is the next Picard book, Rogue Elements by John Jackson Miller.  Miller is another veteran author who has written several exceptional Star Trek books over the years.  I absolutely loved Miller’s 2020 release, Die Standing, which, with its complex protagonists and clever plot, was easily one of the best Star Trek books of last year.  His next novel, Rogue Elements, is possibly the 2021 Star Trek book I am most excited for, as it will feature one of the best new characters from the Picard show, Cristóbal Rios.

Synopsis:

Starfleet was everything for Cristóbal Rios—until one horrible, inexplicable day when it all went wrong. Aimless and adrift, he grasps at a chance for a future as an independent freighter captain in an area betrayed by the Federation, the border region with the former Romulan Empire. His greatest desire: to be left alone.

But solitude isn’t in the cards for the captain of La Sirena, who falls into debt to a roving gang of hoodlums from a planet whose society is based on Prohibition-era Earth. Teamed against his will with Ledger, his conniving overseer, Rios begins an odyssey that brings him into conflict with outlaws and fortune seekers, with power brokers and relic hunters across the stars.

Exotic loves and locales await—as well as dangers galore—and Rios learns the hard way that good crewmembers are hard to find, even when you can create your own. And while his meeting with Jean-Luc Picard is years away, Rios finds himself drawing on the Starfleet legend’s experiences when he discovers a mystery that began on one of the galaxy’s most important days… 

This sounds like it is going to be particularly impressive Star Trek read and I am looking forward to this book.  As I mentioned above, I really enjoyed the character of Cristóbal Rios, the damaged private starship captain and his crew of emergency holograms, each of them an alternate version of his own personality and distinctive accent, and I am very keen to see a book follow his early exploits.  Rogue Elements also looks to explore some fun crime elements in this darker period of Star Trek history and I love the idea of seeing Rios going up against gangsters, power brokers and relic hunters.  Based on the cool sounding plot, the great source material in Picard and Miller’s outstanding writing history, I know I am going to love Rogue Elements and it should be an awesome read.

As you can see, there are some very cool Star Trek books coming out later this year and I truly believe that I will enjoy all three of the above entries.  Each of these books sounds extremely impressive and I look forward to seeing what unique stories they contain.  I will have to keep an eye out for any addition Star Trek novels later in the year (I know that there is a new Deep Space Nine novel coming out called Revenant, although only limited details are available at this time).  Until then, make sure to check out some of my reviews for other Star Trek novels and let me know which Star Trek tie-in books are your favourites.

Star Wars: The High Republic: Into the Dark by Claudia Gray

Star Wars - Into the Dark Cover

Publisher: Penguin Random House Audio (Audiobook – 2 February 2021)

Series: Star Wars – The High Republic

Length: 11 hours and 11 minutes

My Rating: 4.25 out of 5 stars

The journey into the new era of Star Wars fiction known as The High Republic continues as acclaimed author Claudia Gray presents the next entry into this sub-series with the young adult novel, Star Wars: Into the Dark.

The High Republic is a fantastic Star Wars multimedia project made up of novels, comics and other pieces of Star Wars expanded universe fiction, set hundreds of years before the events of the films, showing a completely different period of Star Wars history.  This project started in January 2021 with the excellent novel, Light of the Jedi, which served as an impressive introduction to the period and the turmoils facing it.  Into the Dark, which runs somewhat concurrently with the events of Light of the Jedi, is the first young adult High Republic novel and presents an intriguing new adventure with a great group of new characters.  This young adult novel was written by the amazing Claudia Gray, author of the Evernight series, who has been making a real splash with Star Wars fiction in recent years.  Not only did she write the awesome-sounding novels Star Wars: Lost Stars, Star Wars: Bloodline and Star Wars: Leia, Princess of Alderaan (all three of which I fully intend to read in the future), but she also wrote the outstanding 2019 novel, Star Wars: Master and Apprentice, which is one of my absolute favourite Star Wars novels of all time.  As a result, I was quite keen to see Gray’s take on The High Republic era and she did not disappoint with a captivating and fascinating novel that was a lot of fun to read.

Jedi Padawan Reath Silas is about to have the adventure of his life, whether he wants it or not.  Apprenticed to the powerful Jedi Master Jora Malii, Reath is happy with his life on Coruscant where he can pursue his academic and scholarly interests.  However, his master has just accepted a dangerous new posting aboard the Starlight Beacon, a gigantic Republic-controlled space station on the frontier of the Outer Rim, far away from everything Reath has ever known. 

However, fate has a funny way of changing even the best laid plans. Reath, leaving Coruscant a few weeks after his master’s departure, finds himself caught up in the disaster sweeping through the galaxy.  Travelling aboard the unusual spaceship known as the Vessel, Reath and three other Jedi, each of whom have their own reasons for leaving the Jedi Temple and journeying into the wilds, encounter a mysterious disturbance out in hyperspace, as the remnants of the ship know as the Legacy Run, splinter out at lightspeed, destroying everything in their path.

To avoid the high-speed fragments, the Vessel makes an urgent jump out of hyperspace and finds itself trapped in an isolated portion of space with several other ships.  Forced to seek shelter in a seemingly abandoned space station, the Jedi and the Vessel’s crew attempt to work with the other ships to find a way to survive until hyperspace can once again be travelled safely.  However, great danger lies in wait aboard this station, as the various crews fight for resources and each of the Jedi are forced to fight their own inner demons.  But there are things far darker and more ancient aboard this station, and Reath and his colleagues will soon be forced to face off against a deadly foe whose reappearance could change the galaxy forever.

Into the Dark is another epic and enjoyable Star Wars novel from Claudia Gray that takes the reader on a fantastic and exciting character driven adventure.  I have been really enjoying the new High Republic pieces of Star Wars fiction and Into the Dark ended up being an awesome and compelling young adult feature that not only contains a great story, but which dives into some fascinating subjects through the eyes of its amazing characters.

Gray has come up with an excellent and enjoyable narrative for Into the Dark which not only ties in nicely with the previous entries in the High Republic line but which also sets several fantastic new characters on a captivating and emotionally trying adventure.  The author starts the story off well, introducing all the key characters in quick succession (indeed six main characters get introduced in one extended sequence), providing some hints at their compelling backstories before sending them on their way into space.  It does not take long before they get wrapped up in the chaotic events that featured in the previous High Republic novel, Light of the Jedi, forcing them to explore the main setting of the abandoned space station.  This naturally leads to a lot of exciting and intriguing events as the characters are forced to survive for a time on the station with the crews of several other ships.  During this time, a lot of story threads start to appear, such as mysterious statues, dangers from the other crews, strange writings on the wall that have significance to one key character and a lingering sense of darkness that assaults the Jedi. 

At the same time, the author dives into several of the main characters’ motivations and the events of the past that drive them, including through a series of interesting flashbacks that have some curious connections to modern day events.  The middle of the novel keeps up the excitement where, after a major event, the characters return home, only to continue to be assailed by the mysteries of the station.  There are several good twists at this part of the book, including a significant reveal about a side character that I really should have seen coming.  Eventually, all the characters reunite and return, only to get drawn into a dangerous confrontation on the station as gathered forces finally show their hand.  All of this results in an explosive and impressive conclusion that leaves some interesting story arcs open for the main characters while also ensuring that the reader gets some satisfying closure about the events of the book.  I really enjoyed this great narrative, which is filled with some clever story threads which come together extremely well into a fast-paced and compelling young adult tale that readers will get through extremely quickly.

Into the Dark is an interesting read which I felt had a wide range of appeal to a lot of different audiences.  This latest book has been marketed as a young adult novel and teenage Star Wars fans will enjoy it.  Not only is this a great Star Wars adventure but the book also features a couple of great teenage characters taking charge and attempting to initiate change, for better or worse, as the universe changes around them.  While primarily a Star Wars novel, Gray does try to make it a little more relevant to teenagers, with some discussions about relationships, drugs and sex that you wouldn’t typically see in a Star Wars novel but which fit the tone of the book quite well.  Like many Star Wars young adult novels, Into the Dark is a book that older readers will also enjoy, especially as it is tied into the main events of the High Republic era.  While I think readers unfamiliar with The High Republic could easily enjoy this book, as Gray makes the text extremely accessible, I would say that Into the Dark is probably best enjoyed by those who have read some of the previous entries in the media project, especially the opening novel Light of the JediInto the Dark has a lot of connections to Light of the Jedi, especially as a major event impacting the main protagonist of this book occurs in this preceding novel, and this latest book ties in well with the rest of the franchise while also enhancing it.  In addition, Star Wars fans will really appreciate the author’s attempt to explore deeper elements of the Force, with the Jedi characters engaging in complex rituals to combat the Dark Side energy they encounter.  The author does an amazing job examining some of the roots of the Force, as well as the mentality and abilities of the people who manipulate it, and it is a fascinating addition to the narrative.  As a result, Into the Dark can be enjoyed by a large range of people who are guaranteed to have a lot of fun with it.

Easily one of the best highlights of this book is the amazing group of new unique characters who Gray has populated this story with.  The author has come up with a great group of intriguing point-of-view characters, each of whom plays a major part in the book’s plot and who Gray spends substantial time introducing and providing some compelling development as the book progresses.  The main character of Into the Dark is Padawan Reath Silas, the bookish apprentice of a great Jedi Master.  Reath is a fantastic young adult fiction protagonist, being a teenager who is thrust into a dangerous adventure against his will and who must find his inner strength to survive and thrive.  The author does a great job developing Reath throughout the novel, especially as he experiences substantial loss and trauma that he must overcome and which changes his entire outlook on life.  This character also provides some fascinating insight into the experiences and troubles of a Jedi apprentice, especially when they encounter great uncertainty about their path.  All of this results in some excellent character moments, and it was a lot of fun to see how Reath developed. 

Another major protagonist of this book is Affie Hollow, the young teen co-pilot of the Vessel.  Affie is another great young adult character, although, as she is more worldly (or the outer space equivalent of worldly?) than the somewhat sheltered Reath, she has a bit more common sense and a heck of a lot more sass.  Affie has a pretty intriguing story arc that sees her investigate the mysterious involvement of her shipping guild, which is run by her adoptive mother, with the space station that the Vessel ends up on.  This investigation, and her own stubborn determination, places her in the middle of some dangerous situations, and she ends up having to make some emotional and ethical choices towards the end of the book.

Other major characters in the novel are two of the Jedi who accompany Reath aboard the Vessel, Orla Jareni, a Jedi set on becoming a Wayseeker, a Jedi independent of the Council, and Cohmac Vitus, a noted and hooded scholar, both of whom are leaving for the frontier for different reasons.  Orla and Cohmac are an interesting pair who are bound together by a long history and a shared trauma in their past.  The events of this novel impact both severely, as it reminds them of the first mission they completed together, which is shown to the reader through a series of intriguing flashbacks.  Despite being fully-fledged Jedi, both Orla and Cohmac are filled with doubts about their order and their purpose, although for very different reasons.  This makes them quite a fascinating pair to follow, as they admit their problems to each other and attempt to come to terms with what it is to be a Jedi Knight and the difficulties that all of them face.  There is also Dez Rydan, a younger Jedi knight who has a close connection to Reath due to them sharing the same master.  Dez is a hotshot, adventure-driven Jedi who, while fun to follow, does not get as much focus as the others, mainly due to the events of the book.  However, he goes through a substantial amount of trauma, which results in some intriguing sequences, and I quite enjoyed seeing his story progress.

While the above group of characters are all interesting and well developed, I have to say that my favourite two characters have the be the hilarious and comedic team of Leox Gyasi and Geode, the other two crewmembers of the Vessel.  Leox, the captain of the Vessel, is a space hippy, down to the outfit, speech pattern and mentality.  Described by the author as essentially being 1990s Matthew McConaughey in a spaceship, Leox has a lot of fun as he breezes through the events of Into the Dark with ease, passing out words of wisdom and advice, and generally being a nice and entertaining presence throughout the story.  While mainly the book’s comic relief (a role he fills perfectly), Leox does have a serious side, especially when it comes to protecting his young compatriot, Affie.  I also liked that the author portrays Leox as asexual, which think is great for the wider Star Wars universe, and I felt Gray introduced and handled it extremely well.  The other great character was the Vessel’s navigator, Geode.  As you may be able to guess from the name, Geode is in fact a large sentient alien rock who can apparently communicate and walk around.  If you had asked me before reading Into the Dark whether I would enjoy a character who is a mute rock, I probably would have had some issues with it, but Gray makes it work extremely well and I absolutely loved the inclusion of this character.  Since Geode does not speak out loud through the entire novel, the reader is a little uncertain whether Geode is actually alive or whether this is some elaborate joke from the characters aboard the Vessel.  Watching Affie and Leox apparently have detailed conversations with him, determine his emotional state just by looking at him, and suggesting that the character has a wild and outgoing personality is pretty hilarious, and I ended up really liking this fantastic character, who was a real solid (snigger) addition to the cast. 

Considering that the last Star Wars novel of Gray’s that I read ended up being one of the best audiobooks I read in 2019, it should come as no surprise that I chose to listen to Into the Dark’s audiobook.  Like pretty much every other Star Wars audiobook I have previously listened to, Into the Dark was pretty awesome in this format, thanks to the use of sound effects and music from the films and animated shows.  The Star Wars sound effects (which include the iconic sounds of blasters, lightsabers, star ships and so much more) add so much cool ambience to the narrative and the amazing music increases the emotional impact of a ton of awesome scenes, even though it was used a little more subtlety with this book.  I also quite enjoyed the narration of Dan Bittner, an experienced narrator whose work I have not previously had the pleasure of enjoying.  Bittner does an impressive job with Into the Dark, as he was able to move the story along at a swift pace while easily keeping the listener’s attention with his narration.  I particularly liked the cool voices that he came up with for the various characters featured in this novel, and he was able to produce distinctive voices that fit the characters really well.  I also loved the “hippie” voice that he came up with for Leox, and the good-natured, ethereal tone really stood out for me and made me laugh.  With a run time of 11 hours, this is not a very long Star Wars audiobook, and listeners should be able to power through it in short order while having a good time.  Overall, this was an impressive production, and audiobook remains my favourite way to check out a Star Wars novel.

Star Wars: Into the Dark is an outstanding and compelling young adult tie in novel that takes the reader on another amazing adventure in the Star Wars universe during the High Republic era.  The always awesome Claudia Gray has come up with a fantastic and captivating tale, anchored around several entertaining and wonderfully complex characters.  The result is an excellent Star Wars novel that will have a wide amount of appeal and is really worth checking out.