Book Haul – 8 June 2019

It’s been a while since I’ve published a book haul, but this has been a really good week for books.  Not only have I gotten some amazing books from the publishers, but I also went out and bought a few new books and comics that I am really excited to check out. I am really looking forward to reading all of these and will hopefully reviews them soon.

War of the Bastards by Andrew Shvarts

War of the Bastards Cover

I have been looking forward to this book for a while now.  The second book in this trilogy, City of Bastards, ended on such an epic note and I cannot wait to see how Shvarts wraps up his series.

Star Wars: Alphabet Squadron by Alexander Freed

Alphabet Squadron Cover

The second in a batch of upcoming Star Wars books I have been looking forward to, this should be fairly epic.

The Stiehl Assassin by Terry Brooks

The Stiehl Assassin Cover.jpg

The Stiehl Assassin is the third book in Brooks’ The Fall of Shannara series, which started with The Black Elfstone. This is the penultimate book before Brooks ends his iconic Shannara universe and should prove to be pretty interesting.

Commodus by Simon Turney

Commodus Cover.jpg

This looks like a fun one. Commodus is a pretty crazy Roman Emperor and a novel focusing on his life should be very entertaining.

Girl in the Rearview Mirror by Kelsey Rae Dimberg

Girl in the Rearview Mirror Cover.png

Alien: Echo by Mira Grant

Alien Echo Cover

This is another one that I have been keen to check out for a while.  Mira Grant is an amazing horror writer and I am interested to see how she tackles the Alien franchise.

Firefly: The Unification War – Volume 1

Firefly The Unification War Cover.jpg

Yay, new Firefly tie-in fiction. I have really enjoyed both of the recent Firefly books, Big Damn Hero and The Magnificent Nine, and this new comic series should also be really cool.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: High School is Hell

Buffy The Vampire Slayer - High School is Hell Cover.jpg

The first volume of a new Buffy The Vampire Slayer comic book series, which is set in an alternate universe from the television show.  This looks really cool and I am very curious to see what they do with such an intriguing story premise.

Throwback Thursday – Star Wars: Thrawn by Timothy Zahn – Audiobook Review

Thrawn Cover.jpg

Publisher: Random House Audio (11 April 2017)

Series: Star Wars

Length: 16 hours and 56 minutes

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed as 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.

While Disney are currently releasing quite a large number of Star Wars tie-in novels and comics, none of them quite had the history behind them that Thrawn did. Timothy Zahn is probably one of the best authors of Star Wars fiction of all time, having written several books in the previous Star Wars expanded universe (now rebranded as Star Wars Legends) before Lucasfilm was bought out in 2012. Without a doubt, his most iconic contribution to the Star Wars universe was the character of Grand Admiral Thrawn, who was introduced in his 1991 book, Heir the Empire, the first book in Zahn’s original Thrawn trilogy. Grand Admiral Thrawn was the Empire’s greatest tactician and naval commander, who led the war against the protagonists of the original Star Wars trilogy following the events of Return of the Jedi and proved to be an effective major antagonist. Thrawn swiftly became a fan favourite, and Zahn revisited the character several times.

While Thrawn was an amazing character, many assumed that he was unlikely to be seen again after Disney shelved the original expanded universe to allow for their own stories and characters. However, Disney surprised many when they announced that Thrawn would be brought back to their extended universe in the Star Wars Rebels animated show. Thrawn was introduced as the show’s main antagonist for the third and fourth season and he shone as the villain of the show, bringing his tactical abilities and unique view of war to bear against the rebels. Brought to life with the voice work of the extremely talented Lars Mikkelsen, Thrawn is easily one of my favourite things about the show’s last two seasons and was a fantastic addition to the plot.

Disney also decided to include Thrawn in their slowly building collection of Star Wars novels, with a whole new Thrawn trilogy commissioned from Timothy Zahn. Given the unique opportunity to have a second go at introducing one of his most iconic creation, Zahn has so far written two books in this series, Thrawn and Alliances. I read and reviewed Alliances last year, but I unfortunately missed getting a copy of Thrawn when it first came out. With the third and final book, Treason, coming out at the end of July, I decided to finally go back and check out an audiobook copy of Thrawn.

In the Star Wars Legends canon, Thrawn was active for a long period of time, essentially from before the events of Attack of the Clones until several years after the events of Return of the Jedi, with a lengthy service in the Imperial Navy. In this book, however, Zahn has to reintroduce his character in a much earlier and compacted period of Star Wars history, as his character could only have come to prominence between Revenge of the Sith and the third season of Star Wars Rebels in the Disney canon. I was quite keen to see this new version of the character, especially as Zahn gets to once again show how an alien managed to rise to the highest of ranks in the xenophobic Imperial military.

Several years after the fall of the Galactic Republic and the Jedi, the Empire reigns supreme throughout the galaxy and is always looking to expand its control. A routine survey of an unexplored world in Wild Space uncovers a small, ramshackle settlement with items featuring writing in an unknown alien language. As the Imperial survey team investigates, they find themselves under attack from an unseen adversary who manages to inflict heavy causalities with minimal resources. Retreating back to their ship, the Imperials discover that their attacker, a blue-skinned, blue-haired alien, has stowed away on their transport. The alien identifies himself as Mitth’raw’nuruodo, a member of the Chiss Ascendency, a legendary race from the Unknown Regions. The Imperial commander takes Mitth’raw’nuruodo, or Thrawn, to Coruscant to be presented to the Emperor, who he impresses with his tactical ability and his mysterious connection to the Clone War General, Anakin Skywalker.

Taking Thrawn into his service, the Emperor makes him an officer in the Imperial Navy, along with his translator, cadet Eli Vanto. As Thrawn and Vanto are first enrolled in the Imperial Naval Academy and then assigned junior roles on a ship, they face opposition and resentment from other members of Navy. However, thanks to Thrawn’s unparalleled tactical and strategic mind, as well as his ability to understand and predict the actions of his opponents on the battlefield, the two are able to rise in the Imperial hierarchy.

As Thrawn is quickly promoted up the ranks, he starts to become obsessed with the enigmatic Nightswan, a brilliant rogue tactician who has been helping criminals and dissidents defy the Empire across the galaxy. At the same time, Thrawn’s inability to understand the political realities of the Imperial Navy proves to be a major threat. Luckily the politically ambitious Arihnda Pryce is willing to provide help, as long Thrawn assists with her plans to gain political power and become governor of her home planet of Lothal. As rebellion spreads through the galaxy, Thrawn leads the assault to cut it down as he heads towards his promotion as Grand Admiral.

This was a pretty outstanding novel. I absolutely loved Thrawn and it is probably the best canon Star Wars novel in that I have so far had the pleasure of reading. Zahn did an amazing job revamping his iconic character by presenting a fantastic new story that not only harkens back to the author’s original novels but also fits the character perfectly into the Disney timelines. Thrawn is an excellent balance of character work, action, political intrigue and exploration of the Star Wars universe, all of which adds up to an incredible novel that I was nearly unable to stop listening to and which results in an easy five-star rating from me.

The events of this book take place over the course of nine years, between the events of Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope. More specifically, it starts 11 years after Revenge of the Sith, and continues directly at the start of the third season of Star Wars Rebels, approximately two years before A New Hope. Thrawn is split into two separate storylines: one that follows the rise of Thrawn through the Imperial Navy and another that focuses on the machinations of Arihnda Pryce as she becomes governor of Lothal. The Thrawn storyline is mostly told from the perspective of Thrawn’s companion, Eli Vanto, although a few chapters are shown from Thrawn’s perspective alone. While the two storylines start off showing Thrawn and Pryce’s separate rises to power and are not initially connected, once the two characters start working together, their stories mesh together a lot more. While I had a stronger preference for the parts of the book focussing on Thrawn, I did quite enjoy the sections focusing on Pryce, as they had some compelling elements and showed a different side of the Empire. The two separate storylines mesh together quite well, and together they tell a complete and intriguing story that highlights how the characters obtained the relevant positions in the Imperial hierarchy that they had when introduced in Star Wars Rebels.

At the heart of this book is the focus on Thrawn, an absolutely amazing central protagonist, whose escapades and adventures are some of the best parts of the book. Zahn has done an amazing job reinventing Thrawn for this new era of Star Wars history, keeping all the character traits that made him such a hit in the original expanded universe, while fitting his character timeline into a much shorter period. Thrawn is still the same highly intelligent alien with an unmatched tactical mind and an appreciation for the culture and art of the various people he encounters. However, in this universe, he achieves his rank of Grand Admiral in a far shorter period of time. Starting with his rescue on a remote planet after ambushing Imperial forces (the entire scene is a rewrite of Zahn’s 1995 short story, Mist Encounter, although with a few necessary changes), this book shows him joining the Imperial Academy, and then climbing the ranks all the way up to Grand Admiral within a few short years. The entire story of Thrawn’s early career in the Imperial Navy is absolutely fascinating, and I really enjoyed this look at the character’s history, especially as his rapid promotions were due to the multiple intriguing military actions he oversaw. His entire storyline is extremely well paced out, and the reader gets a full story that is incredibly captivating. This was a really clever reimagining of the character’s history, and it is a great story to tell.

Zahn does a great job showcasing Thrawn as an utterly brilliant individual who is clearly smarter than everyone else he encounters. There are some great characteristics to Thrawn, like the way he is able to get into his opponents’ heads and anticipate their actions and intentions. His shear analytic ability is showcased so many times throughout the book, most notably in the way that he analyses the emotions and body language of all the people he encounters. For example, whenever Thrawn is talking with someone, the reader gets a short description of the facial reactions or emotions that the character talking to Thrawn is exhibiting. I’m unsure what this looks like in the hard copy of the book, but in the audiobook version the narrator uses his chilling Thrawn voice rather than his baseline narrator voices. From these short descriptions, the reader gets an idea of what Thrawn thinks the other character is thinking, and it is deeply fascinating to see how this affects Thrawn’s actions. I loved that the author continued to show how Thrawn gains insight into a people’s culture and personalities through their art. Throughout the book, Thrawn is shown appreciating a potential opponent’s art and culture, and then using the conclusions and observations he gleams from the items to alter his strategies or the way that he deals with them. This is a fantastic character trait that I am glad Zahn continued to use in his works.

Probably one of the best things about the character of Thrawn in this book is the inventive and brilliant strategies that he comes up with to defeat his enemies. Throughout the course of the book, Thrawn utilises some deeply inventive plans for both large-scale conflicts and smaller battles, and it is always very entertaining to watch these plans come to fruition. I loved some of the strategies that Thrawn used in this book; whether he is swamping a shielded fortress with artificial tidal waves or using Clone Wars era buzz droids to take out a pirate ship, the end result is just spectacular. In many ways, the Thrawn in this book is a bit like Sherlock Holmes, if Sherlock worked for an evil space empire. His opponent, Nightswan, is essentially Moriarty (a man nearly as smart as Thrawn, who sells his tactical abilities to members of the underworld), and the author uses this to make the battle scenes even more intense, as a brilliant attack from Nightswan is countered by an even more sophisticated move from Thrawn. In addition, Thrawn also has a loyal sidekick in Eli Vanto, who is essentially the Watson to Thrawn’s Sherlock. Not only are there certain similarities between the two within the story, such as the way that Thrawn takes Vanto and train him in his methods, turning Vanto into an extremely competent strategist, but Zahn also uses him in a similar literary way to Watson in the Sherlock Holmes novels. Vanto is used as a proxy for the audience, so when he questions Thrawn on how he came up with his plans or anticipated his opponents, the audience gets a full explanation within the scope of the story. Thrawn was an extremely awesome character in this book, and his presence helps turn this into an outstanding read.

In addition to the character of Thrawn, Zahn also looks at Governor Arihnda Pryce, another major antagonist from Star Wars Rebels. Zahn spends a good amount of time showing Pryce’s past and how she went from a nobody to a powerful planetary governor with major political connections and a history working with Grand Admiral Thrawn. I liked this look at Pryce; her story is pretty compelling and it offers a great look at the political side of the Empire. Pryce is already a pretty despicable character in Star Wars Rebels (she is responsible for the tragic death of one of the main characters), but this book does a masterful job of showing just how evil she is. While it starts off showing her experiencing early hardship and difficulties, she quickly stops being a character you can root for the moment she has any sort of power within her grasp. The way she turns on her friends and her extreme act of self-preservation towards the end of the book are pretty dark, and you cannot help but dislike the character even more after reading her full arc in this book. This was some really good character work, and Zahn does an amazing job showcasing Pryce’s motivations and despicable nature.

If you are a fan of massive and electrifying space battles, there is a lot for you to love in Thrawn. Zahn has packed this book with a huge number of large and impressive battles between Imperial ships and the various pirates and rebels that are encountered throughout the story. There are some really fun ship-to-ship battles throughout this book, and they are absolutely spectacular to watch unfold. Thanks to the brilliant adversary that Thrawn faces for most of the book, the characters face some unique opposition, such as Clone War era ships, like the vulture droids, and an impressive island base with massive guns. These result in some amazing sequences, especially when Thrawn comes up with a surprising strategy to defeat the opposition. I had a lot of fun listening to these battle sequences, and they are a real highlight I feel that many readers will enjoy.

Thrawn takes quite an interesting look at certain parts of the Star Wars universe, and fans of the series will enjoy the author’s canonical deep dive into the Empire at the height of its power. Quite a lot of time is spend showcasing the ins and outs of the Imperial Navy, and readers get a good idea of how it operates and its system of command as the main character rises through the ranks during the course of the book. In addition to the military side of the Empire, the storyline focusing on Governor Pryce highlights how brutal Imperial politics is during this period, as she attempts to gain power and influence. Zahn also includes a number of key characters from Star Wars lore and inserts them into his story. Characters such as Grand Moth Tarkin and Colonel Wullf Yularen (a background Imperial character in A New Hope who was given an expanded role in The Clone Wars animated show) are used quite successfully in this book and offer some interesting insights into additional aspects of the Empire. There are also the obligatory hints at the Death Star (seriously, nearly every piece of Star Wars fiction set in the period has some mention of a “secret Imperial project”) and other elements of the Star Wars movies. I quite enjoyed this intriguing look at the Empire between the events of the first two trilogies, and it helped with the story.

Like most Star Wars tie-in novels, Thrawn is intended more for dedicated fans of the franchise, although I felt that this book would be particularly accessible to those readers with only a basic knowledge of the Star Wars franchise. Zahn does an excellent job explaining key aspects of the Star Wars universe that fans who are only familiar with the movies might not understand, and the book features some really fun and exciting moments. As a result, this might be the perfect book to try if you are interested in exploring the Star Wars expanded universe for the first time, especially if you happened to enjoy Thrawn in Star Wars Rebels. There really is so much in here for dedicated Star Wars fans to enjoy, and those readers who grew up with Zahn’s original Thrawn trilogy will no doubt be extremely curious to see this new version of the character.

Like most of the Throwback Thursday books I review, I chose to listen to the audiobook version of Thrawn rather than read the physical copy. The Thrawn audiobook is narrated by veteran Star Wars audiobook narrator Marc Thompson and runs for 16 hours and 56 minutes. I have mentioned before that listening to a Star Wars audiobook is an intriguing experience, as the productions are filled with all manner sound effects, including a number of iconic sounds from the Star Wars franchise. Thrawn continues this tradition, featuring a huge number of sound effects in pretty much every scene. These sound effects are really effective at creating an ambiance and atmosphere, and the reader gets a whole other experience of the events occurring in the book. This includes a background susurration during parties and large gatherings or the sound of blaster fire during a battle sequence. While I really love how most of these sound effects work, I did have a slight issue with an effect used to alter the voices of a certain alien species. The producers added a high-pitched screeching echo to the voices of the aliens known as the Afe in order to simulate their unique vocal patters as described in the book. However, this sound effect is extremely distracting and unpleasant, and I found it hard to listen to the dialogue of the Afe characters. While these characters were only in the book for a short while, their voices were extremely memorable and it is hard to forget that screeching sound. On the plus side, the audiobook also featured several pieces of John Williams’s epic music from the Star Wars films at key parts of the book, which helped enhance several of the scenes and bring the audience into the story.

In addition to all the sound effects and music, the Thrawn audiobook also featured the vocal talents of narrator Marc Thompson. Thompson is an extremely talented voice actor, and his work in Thrawn was pretty amazing. He has an excellent voice for the character of Thrawn that not only sounds like Lars Mikkelsen from Star Wars Rebels but which also carries all of the character’s intelligence and charm. Thompson comes up with a great voice for Eli Vanto, utilising an accent that screams space yokel and which stands out from the voices of other Imperial characters in this book. I was also quite impressed with how Thompson was able to imitate key characters from the Star Wars universe. For example, Thompson does a great Emperor Palpatine voice and also comes up with passable imitation of Grand Moth Tarkin. I felt that Thompson really got the heart of many of the characters he narrated, whether by showcasing Thrawn’s cool intelligent manner or by replicating the arrogance that comes off many of the book’s Imperial characters. As a result, I would wholeheartedly recommend the audiobook version of Thrawn, as not only do the producers continue to make good use of sound effects and music, but they also use an amazing narrator to bring this story to life.

I had an absolute blast going back and listening to Thrawn for the first time. This is an exception piece of Star Wars fiction and Zahn does an outstanding job bringing his iconic character, Grand Admiral Thrawn, into the new Disney canon. Featuring a ton of amazingly entertaining moments and some excellent character work, Thrawn is an exceedingly fun book that will prove to be extremely appealing to both hardcore Star Wars fans and novice readers. This was a wonderful five-star read, and I cannot wait to see how Zahn wraps up this trilogy.

Top Ten List – What Upcoming Television Shows could Replace Game of Thrones?

Like many people, I spent last night watching the Game of Thrones finale. While many are currently debating the quality of the final season, and will probably keep debating it for many years to come (I think I’ll keep my own opinion about this final season secret for my own safety), you cannot deny the impact that this show has had on worldwide television.

We are living in a moment of time where there are some incredible television shows out there, and the cultural impact and popularity of Game of Thrones is partially responsible for it. Not only did the show introduce the world to a whole new group of actors, many of whom are going to be major stars for years to come; it also showed world that television can be just as big, if not bigger than movies. Game of Thrones contained a huge amount of CGI, drama, dialogue and action sequences that put many major films to shame, and the quality of the CGI and action improved when the show’s budget ballooned out. I would argue that the popularity of shows such as Game of Thrones has encouraged more actors who gained fame in movies to jump back into television shows, often to great effect. It is also interesting to note that the success of Game of Thrones has allowed for more fantasy shows to be made, as studios were more eager to back fantasy series, such as American Gods, after seeing how many people were interested in Game of Thrones. Now, with Game of Thrones gone, there is a substantial void in the television line-up that many networks are working to fill.

That’s where this article comes in. Ever since the end of the show has been announced, I have been wondering what television show is going to step up and be the next big epic television show. What is going to be the next Game of Thrones? As it happens, there are quite a few big and intriguing television shows on the horizon and this is a Top Ten List that I came up with that talks about which series I think have the most potential to fill the void left by Game of Thrones.

This sort of an article is a bit of a departure from what I usually write about; however, I’m going to justify it by saying that most of the shows I will be talking about are adaptations of books or comic books. I will be excluding shows that have already been airing for a while, although I did consider some of the sequels, prequels of spin-offs that have been announced. I am not saying that future seasons of shows such as Stranger Things, The Handmaid’s Tale, American Gods or The Walking Dead are not epic; it’s just that I am more interested in what new stuff is coming out. I admit, this is also a bit of a list of shows I am probably going to watch in the future, but I think they could all have the potential to emerge from Game of Throne’s significant shadow.

  1. Upcoming The Lord of the Rings Television Show

For the No. 1 position, I put the show that many people think has the most potential to outshine Game of Thrones, the new planned television adaptation of The Lord of the Rings. Without a doubt, The Lord of the Rings has to be the most iconic and popular fantasy book series of all time. The book series have already produced some incredibly epic movies, as well as the somewhat enjoyable The Hobbit movies. Naturally, any television show based on The Lord of the Rings books is going to be massive, and there is so much potential for massive battles and elaborate sequences, especially if the series is done right. Added in to that is the fact that the various production companies (mostly Amazon) are pouring some serious money into the show, and it will apparently be the most expensive television show ever made, taking the spot currently held by Game of Thrones.

There are not too many details about the show at the moment. A press release indicates that the show will look at “previously unexplored stories based on J. R. R. Tolkien’s original writings”, which indicates that they will be looking at stuff set way before the events of The Hobbit. Many people believe that this could mean that the series will cover Sauron’s first attempt to take over Middle Earth in the Second Age, as well as the forging of the One Ring, and you have to admit there are some amazing storylines that could be explored there. There is currently no release date for the show, nor has anyone been officially cast, but I think that no matter what happens, the sheer potential and appeal of The Lord of the Rings, as well the massive production budget, will turn this into a show really worth watching, and one which will prove to be the biggest challenger to Game of Throne’s reign as biggest television show of all time.

  1. The Mandalorian

The Mandalorian.jpg

Now, this may be because I am a massive Star Wars fan, but oh boy, oh boy, am I keen for The Mandalorian. The Mandalorian is an upcoming live-action Star Wars television show, set to be released on 12 November 2019 as one of the starring shows of the new Disney+ streaming service. Set five years after the events of Return of the Jedi, the show will be set in the outer reaches of the galaxy and focus on the criminals and bounty hunters living out there. The show will primarily focus on the Mandalorian, a lone gunslinger with the iconic Mandalorian amour and weapons that Bobba Fett made famous.

While some of the latest Star Wars movies have been less than stellar, there have been some outstanding television shows, books and comics set in the Star Wars extended universe (check out my reviews of some of these here). The Mandalorian will be the first Star Wars live-action television show and has a huge amount of potential. Not only is Disney pumping in $100 million for the first 10 episodes but the show is being written and produced by showrunner Jon Favreau, whose previous production credits include Iron Man, The Jungle Book and The Lion King. They are also bringing in some significant talent to act and direct the various episodes. Favreau is directing an episode, but so is Takia Waititi (whom I worship after Thor: Ragnarok), Bryce Dallas Howard, Rick Famuyiwa and Deborah Crow.

Let’s also talk about the cast: you have Game of Thrones and Narcos star Pedro Pascal as the titular Mandalorian, which is going to be pretty awesome, even if he’s wearing a helmet for most of the show. You also have Gina Carano, from Deadpool, as the female lead; Nick Nolte; Breaking Bad’s Giancarlo Esposito; Apollo Creed himself, Carl Weathers; as well as a bunch of other great actors, including Taika Waititi voicing a murderous droid, which should be fun.

All of these add up to one hell of a show, and the recently leaked trailer and footage look pretty damn awesome. Expect movie quality graphics here, as well as some top-level acting and direction. I was extremely tempted to put this as my No. 1 show, and I am so very keen to check this out.

  1. Watchmen

Watchmen

Watchmen, by Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons and John Higgins, is considered by many to be one of the greatest comic book series of all times, and HBO is pinning their post-Game of Thrones future on a television adaptation of the series. Most people would already be familiar with Zack Snyder’s movie adaptation of the series (which is a bit mixed, but I liked it), and this upcoming television adaptation has some real potential as well.

Set to be released in late 2019, the new Watchmen adaptation already has a large and impressive cast put together, including Regina King, Don Johnson, Tim Blake Nelson and Jeremy Irons. Not a lot of plot details have been revealed, although I believe it is going to be set after the events of the comic series and movie, especially as Jeremy Irons is playing an older version of Ozymandias. The first trailer showed a group of people dressed up like Rorschach, and it is possible they want to reveal the truth told in Rorschach’s journal that was sent to the New Frontiersman. I also believe that part of the plot will be pulled from the current series, Doomsday Clock, minus all the DC characters.

If done right, this Watchmen show can easily become one of the top shows of 2019, and the showrunners can take the series pretty much anywhere they want to. With the huge comic book fanbase already interested in this show, expect Watchmen to attract a huge audience.

  1. Upcoming MCU series

Quite honestly, nothing is hotter at the moment than the Marvel Cinematic Universe. With Avengers: Endgame only just recently blowing everyone’s mind and getting closer and closer to becoming the highest grossing film of all time, fans are eager to see where the story goes from here. For many of the characters, their story will be continued not in a movie but in a television show on Disney+, which I am jointly making my No. 4 choice. I admit I am cheating a little here, but as it is likely that these series will be somewhat connected (I am sure there will be crossovers and the like) and Marvel are creating a massive television universe, I am going to look at them together.

There are currently four planned live-action shows set to be released in 2020 and 2021, including The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, WandaVision, Loki and a currently untitled Hawkeye series. There is also an animated Marvel’s What If…? series that will air on Disney+ but will not be connected to the other series.

With cast members from the movies leading each of these shows, there is no way that this will not be an amazing bit of television. By themselves, each of these shows has more potential than any other comic book television show currently out there thanks to their connection to the MCU, but when considered together these shows will be incredibly awesome. Expect Disney to spring for all manner of cameos from the MCU for the series, as well as some other impressive casting decisions (what big-name actor isn’t going to want to get involved in this?). I am also looking forward to seeing where all of these characters go after the events of Endgame, and there should be some awesome storylines happening here.

It looks like my Marvel comics/MCU addiction is going to be well taken care of in the next few years, and I am really looking forward to each of these shows, although I have some slight concerns about how much I’ll enjoy WandaVision. I think I am looking forward to Loki the most, mainly because Tom Hiddleston is just outstanding as the character. The Hawkeye series and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier will also be great, and I am especially keen to see how Falcon and Bucky go without Cap holding them together (hoping for a bunch of Chris Evans cameos there).

  1. The Witcher

MV5BMjUyNjUzNDg1NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODczOTU2NjM@._V1_UY268_CR110,0,182,268_AL_.jpg

You can bet your bottom dollar that Netflix is more than keen to get in on the fantasy game, especially after losing all their Marvel series. They actually appear to be set to have one of the first series to fill the hole that Game of Thrones leaves in the fantasy genre with their adaptation of The Witcher. Andrzej Sapkowski’s The Witcher books are a well-loved series, especially in Europe, but their adaptation into the outstanding videogame series of the same name has also made them an extremely popular series in America.

The Witcher series follows Geralt of Rivia, a magically empowered monster hunter who wanders the land by himself, shunned by most other people. He encounters all manner of people on his journey, including a mysterious princess and a powerful sorceress, and he is constantly fighting for his own survival. As a result, this is a television series that can take its story practically anywhere and can adapt stuff from the books and games, as well as making new storylines as required.

The series is set to be released later this year, and the lead role has already been filled by Superman himself, Henry Cavill (who rocks the character’s trademark silver hair fairly well). I am a fan of this series (check out my review for the last The Witcher book here), and I have a feeling that this could be a massive series. It’s definitely going to have a huge and varied audience, with casual viewers, fantasy fans and gamers all keen to see this. I have not seen any footage of this show yet, but if the creators can get some good storylines and graphics going with this show, it could easily become one of the best fantasy television series on the market.

  1. Avatar: The Last Airbender (Live Action)

OK, before I talk about this, let us just agree that M. Night Shyamalan’s movie adaptation, The Last Airbender, never happened. OK? Good!

In my opinion, Avatar: The Last Airbender is easily one of the best animated shows of the last 20 years. Featuring some first-rate storylines and a style heavily inspired by Japanese anime, Avatar is set in a world where certain people, known as benders, have the ability to control the various elements: earth, fire, air and water. Only one person, the Avatar, has the ability to control all four elements, and they take up a peacekeeper role for the various nations. But when the Avatar, a young airbender called Aang, disappears, the ruler of the Fire Nation engages in a genocidal war against the other nations, wiping out the Air Nomads and all the airbenders. After being trapped for 100 years, the still young Aang emerges and, with the help of his new friends, must train in the remaining three elements in order to become powerful enough to oppose the Fire Nation.

Netflix announced they were doing a live-action remake of this series last year, and fans were excited to finally get the live-action version of the show they deserved. Both of Avatar: The Last Airbender’s creators, Michael DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, are set to be executive producers and showrunners, and if anyone can produce a great Avatar live action series, it is those two. They have already announced that they will be casting a culturally appropriate, non-whitewashed cast, which is already a huge step ahead of Shyamalan’s movie.

The series is currently set to be released in 2020, and I think it will be one of the best shows of next year. I absolutely loved the animated show and cannot wait to see where DiMartino and Konietzko take this series. This is one that will appeal to a younger audience than the other shows on this list, although all those people who are already fans of the animated series are bound to watch this as well. I think this new Avatar adaptation will be an easy hit, and if the creators can replicate the magic of their animated series, then this could be massive.

  1. Game of Thrones spin-off series

I cannot talk about potential successors to Game of Thrones without mentioning the various Game of Thrones spin-off shows that are currently being planned by HBO. I know some people might not be keen on these after the last season of the main show, but there are a huge number of spinoff shows out there that proved to be very successful, and if any series is capable of producing an iconic spin-off series, it is Game of Thrones.

There are currently three Game of Thrones series in early production at the moment. Two are currently being written, although their setting is yet to be confirmed. George R. R. Martin has suggested that some of these new series would be based on stories from his companion book, Fire and Blood, which chronicles various stories about the Targaryen dynasty. Readers can possibly expect stories about their initial conquest of Westeros, their fight to maintain it, the civil war known as the Dance of the Dragons, or perhaps an adaptation of the Tales of Dunk and Egg.

There is also one series that is currently being filmed. This series is going to be a prequel series set around 10,000 years before the events of Game of Thrones, in the Age of Heroes, and is likely to focus on some of the major events that occurred during this time, such as the foundation of some of the great houses and the first time the White Walkers attacked Westeros. This series has already pulled together a massive cast, with Naomi Watts as the lead. A huge range of up-and-coming British talent has also been cast, as well as a few veterans like Miranda Richardson and John Simm (Queen Mab and the Master in Westeros, should be interesting). I’m not sure when this series will be released, but if they are filming at the moment, expect a 2020 release.

I honestly do not see why these series could not be just as awesome as Game of Thrones, and I am sure that many fans will be keen to see different periods of this fantasy world’s history. I think that the writers of this series will really have to up their game in the face of the criticism of Game of Thrones season 8, and it remains to be seen whether there is a certain fatigue from Game of Thrones fans that affects viewer numbers for this show.

  1. Snowpiercer

For the eighth show on my list, I am looking at the upcoming television adaptation of Snowpiercer. This show might be a tad too niche and out there to fill the Game of Thrones gap, but I think it has the potential to appeal to a certain audience. Snowpiercer is an adaptation of a 1982 French graphic novel, Le Transperceneige, which was previously adapted into the 2013 movie Snowpiercer starring Chris Evans. This show will be a fresh adaptation, unrelated to the movie, aside from the overarching premise of humanity escaping frozen conditions on a giant moving train. There will also be similar themes of class warfare, social injustice and the examination of politics aboard the train, as well as certain secrets coming to the surface.

Snowpiercer has already put together a pretty massive and impressive cast, including Daveed Diggs and Jennifer Connelly, and the various character descriptions that have provided sound like a lot of fun. The show is set to premier in 2020, and I think that Snowpiercer could turn into quite an entertaining and popular series.

  1. Star Trek: Picard

There has been a bit of a Star Trek television revival in the last few years, with Star Trek: Discovery coming out in late 2017, and several additional series planned for the horizon. While Discovery has had a pretty solid run, the show that many Star Trek fans have been looking forward to is Star Trek: Picard, which sees the return of Patrick Stewart in his most famous role of Jean-Luc Picard.

Picard is set to be released later this year and will be set 18 years after the events of Star Trek: Nemesis. Plot details about this series are still a bit vague at this point, but it sounds like in the intervening years Picard has left Starfleet, possibly under controversial circumstances. However, events such as the destruction of Romulus (as shown in the 2009 Star Trek film) have forced him back to Star Fleet. Not only will this story focus on Picard’s present but it will also act as a sequel to Star Trek: The Next Generation, showing why Picard is no longer the captain of the Enterprise. It also sounds like this will be a much darker story, with more morally ambiguous supporting characters and a much more different Picard.

Out of all the upcoming Star Trek series, this has to be the most interesting one, and the one most likely to attract a massive following. Having Patrick Stewart return is a real coup for the Star Trek creators, and I am really interested in seeing how much the character has changed. This one promises to be a really good show, and I think it has some real potential to be one of the best Star Trek shows of all time.

  1. The Kingkiller Chronicle.

I finish my list off with a show that I think could be as popular as Game of Thrones if it gets off the ground. I previously mentioned how much I loved Patrick Rothfuss’s epic book series The Kingkiller Chronicle, which is probably one of the best fantasy book series out there at the moment.

A planned television adaptation has been in the works for some time, with Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda attached as an executive producer and composer. Unfortunately, like the third book in The Kingkiller Chronicle, an adaptation of this series has yet to appear, and no real details about it are available at the moment. I’m a little uncertain if this one will actually happen, and if there were some more details this would be way higher up on this list. Still, if it does eventuate, I think it could be absolutely amazing and could be exactly what those fantasy fans waiting for the next Game of Thrones are looking for.

 

Honourable mentions:

Y

Based on the amazing series, Y: The Last Man by comic legend Brian K. Vaughan, Y is set to be released in 2020. I loved the comic, which features a post-apocalyptic world where every male mammal, with the exception of one human and his monkey, suddenly died. The comic it is based on was pretty epic, but a promised adaptation of this series has been in development hell for years. If this one does get released next year, it should prove to be very good and attract a large fanbase.

Good Omens

p16137173_b_v8_ab.jpg

Out in a few days, and featuring David Tennant and Michael Sheen, this one should be really fun, but it might have a much more limited audience than most of the other shows on this list.

Star Wars: Cassian Andor series

Another upcoming Star Wars series, this planned series which will appear next year on Disney+ will act as a prequel to Rogue One and fill focus on the character Cassian Andor, played by Diego Luna. A spy thriller with the complex character of Cassian Andor sounds incredibly awesome, especially as Alan Tudyk is set to return as the voice of K-2SO. I think The Mandalorian will be bigger at this point, but I am sure this will also be incredibly fun and pick up a lot of viewers, provided we are not saturated by Disney live-action series at that point.

 

I hope you enjoyed my list. What shows do think could be the next Game of Thrones. Let me know if the comments below.

Star Wars: Master & Apprentice by Claudia Gray – Audiobook Review

Master & Apprentice Cover

Publisher: Random House Audio (16 April 2019)

Series: Star Wars

Length: 11 hours and 42 minutes

My Rating: 4.75 out of 5 stars

2019 is shaping up to be an amazing year for fans of the new Star Wars extended universe, a group of which I consider myself to be a proud member, with so many awesome Star Wars books and comics being released.  After reviewing the first Star Wars book for 2019, Queen’s Shadow, a few weeks ago, I have been really looking forward to getting to grips with the franchises second 2019 novel, Master & Apprentice by Claudia Gray.

Master & Apprentice is a canon Star Wars novel set around eight years before the events of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.  It focuses on two of the main characters from this prequel movie, Jedi Knight Qui-Gon Jinn and his Padawan, Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Qui-Gon Jinn is an experienced and powerful Jedi Knight, having been trained in the Force by the legendary Count Dooku, who himself was trained by Master Yoda, and is ready to face any threat or danger that lies in front of him.  However, his greatest challenge may prove to be his own Padawan, Obi-Wan Kenobi.  The two Jedi are polar opposites to each other: while Obi-Wan is by-the-book and rigid in his respect of rules and protocol, Qui-Gon routinely shows very little regard for the rules and laws that bind the Jedi and constantly finds himself at odds with the Jedi Council.  Despite years of working together, the two Jedi struggle to understand each other.  Qui-Gon sees every mistake of Obi-Wan’s as his own, while Obi-Wan is unable to understand the reasoning behind Qui-Gon’s actions, nor his obsession with the ancient Jedi prophecies that many see as dangerous and unreliable.  Their tenuous and strained relationship is further tested when Qui-Gon is unexpectantly offered a place on the Jedi Council, a move that would likely end their partnership.  With feelings of betrayal and failure hanging over both of them, they are suddenly assigned a critical mission that is likely to be their last as master and apprentice.

Fellow Jedi Rael Averross, another former apprentice of Dooku, has requested Qui-Gon’s help with a difficult political dispute on the planet of Pijal.  Averross has been serving as regent for the planet’s young queen, who is days away from ascending to the throne and signing an important treaty.  A series of attacks which has rocked the planet is apparently the work of The Opposition, a band of political performance artists turned terrorists.  Once the two Jedi arrive on the planet, they quickly find that the situation is far more complicated than initially believed.  With corruption and secrets around every corner, Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan attempt to get to the bottom of everything, even utilising a pair of jewel smugglers to help with their inquiries.  However, their investigations are hampered by their opposing points of view, which only worsen when Qui-Gon places great stock in a dark vision of the future he has foreseen.  Can they overcome their differences to unravel the plot, or will they fail their mission?

Claudia Gray, also known as Amy Vincent, is a prolific and experienced author, best known for her first body of work, the Evernight series, which started in 2008.  Since then she has written a number of other series, including the Spellcaster, Firebird and Constellation series, as well as the standalone novel Fateful.  Gray also has a huge amount of experience writing Star Wars fiction, having previously written three Star Wars tie-in novels in the new extended universe, including Lost Stars, Bloodline and Leia, Princess of Alderaan.  As a result, the story of Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi is in safe hands as Gray produces an outstanding, compelling and character-driven novel that delves deep into the Star Wars lore to create an amazing story.

Master & Apprentice presents a clever and exciting story that sees the protagonist attempt to uncover the mysterious events unfolding on Pijal, while also dealing with their many personal and emotional issues.  The story is told from the perspective of a range of characters in the book, and each of them adds their own thoughts and experiences to the story.  The overall story arc on Pijal becomes quite complex, with many different and intriguing sides to the conflict, and the people behind the events are not who you think.  I had an amazing time enjoying this book.

In this fantastic piece of fiction Gray goes into some intriguing parts of the Star Wars universe and lore.  This is actually the furthest back the new extended universe books go, so it offers the reader a great opportunity to see some of aspects of the pre-movie Star Wars universe.  While there are some hints at the events to come, as well as references to some major characters in the upcoming movies, the book contains a significant amount of new content and antagonists.  It is actually quite refreshing to read a Star Wars book that is not tied into the Skywalker family or featuring the Empire or the First Order as an antagonist.  I quite enjoyed the look at the pre-The Phantom Menace universe, including the new planet of Pijal, and the inclusion of the immoral Czerka Corporation, who previously appeared in the pre-Disney Star Wars universe.  While those fans of the Star Wars franchise who like to consume more than the movies will absolutely love this book, Master & Apprentice should prove to be fairly easy to read for those people who have at least seen The Phantom Menace, as it is a pretty intriguing science fiction adventure.

Those readers who are interested in a deeper dive into the Jedi of the Republic era are in for a real treat in this book, as Gray delves into aspects of their history and lifestyle.  Throughout Master & Apprentice there are a number of scenes set in the Jedi Temple, as well as a number of discussions about how and why the Jedi do what they do.  Perhaps one of the key things highlighted in this book is how the traditional Jedi master and apprentice program worked.  Several different apprenticeships are shown, and the reader gets a good idea of what is entailed in this relationship, what training the Padawans go through and how the process turns them into the eventual guardians of peace in the galaxy.

One of the most unique and fascinating aspects of Star Wars and Jedi lore that Gray examines are the fabled Jedi prophecies.  The prophecies were created long ago by an ancient group of Jedi sages, and are reputed to reveal events from the future.  The prophecies become a key part of the story, as not only do they drive a wedge between Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan but they are also shown to have a major influence over Dooku when Qui-Gon was his Padawan.  The prophecies have been mentioned in the movies before, with the most famous prophecy about the coming of a chosen one who will bring balance to the Force, referring to Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader.  While the chosen one prophecy is referenced in Master & Apprentice, several other prophecies are mentioned, including one that comes true in this book.  I was really quite intrigued by the author’s examination of the prophecies; while they have been mentioned in the movies, I did not know too much about them.  Dedicated fans will no doubt have fun trying to tie some of these prophecies into the movies and other associated pieces of Star Wars media.  For example, there is one that clearly refers to Princess Leia that is repeated a couple of times.  I personally was very curious about one prophecy that was mentioned towards the end of the book, which was referenced as being obsessed over by Count Dooku.  It was a particularly portentous-sounding prophecy, and I wonder if it will have anything to do with recent revelations in the trailer for the next Star Wars movie, The Rise of Skywalker.

The story contained within Master & Apprentice is a strong, character-driven affair which features a compelling central cast, each of whom gets an in-depth analysis from Gray.  Not only is there some compelling examinations of the main two characters, Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan, but Gray also introduces several intriguing and entertaining new characters who really add a lot to the story.

There is a great examination of the younger Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi in this book, as Gray examines not only the relationship between the two characters but also aspects of their past and their personalities.  When the two characters are introduced in the first prequel film, The Phantom Menace, very little is known about them, save that Obi-Wan is nearing the end of his apprenticeship and the two of them disagree on certain matters, such as the future of Anakin Skywalker.  Master & Apprentice offers a whole new, deeper examination of these characters and explores how these two Jedi came together and appeared so close, despite some differences in their personalities and styles.  I thought that this deep dive into the relationship between these key movie characters was utterly fascinating, and it made me reconsider aspects from the movie.  The strained relationship between the two characters becomes a major factor of the book, and Gray creates an emotional storyline around it as Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan work to overcome their issues while facing external threats.  This was an excellent part of the book which readers will quite enjoy.

In addition to looking at their relationship and how the two characters become close, Gray also looks at other aspects of their past.  This is particularly true for Qui-Gon, as Gray spends time highlighting Qui-Gon’s apprenticeship to Dooku and his friendship with Rael through a series of flashbacks.  These flashback scenes are quite interesting as they show several key events that were responsible for turning Qui-Gon into the character he was in the movie and go a long way to explain why he was such a hesitant master for most of Master & Apprentice.  There was also an intriguing and extended look at how and why Qui-Gon became so obsessed with the Jedi prophecies.  Qui-Gon’s research and fascination with the prophecies becomes a major part of the book, which really appealed to me, and which also explains a lot about the Qui-Gon’s actions in The Phantom Menace.  For example, it explains why Qui-Gon was so sure that he had found the Chosen One in Anakin Skywalker, and why he was determined to train him, even if it meant defying the will of the council.  These storylines also explain certain aspects of Obi-Wan’s personality that occur within the movies.  For example, the bond and respect that are formed between Obi-Wan and his master explain why he was so willing to take on Anakin as an apprentice after Qui-Gon’s death in The Phantom Menace.  It also adds another layer to Anakin’s betrayal in Revenge of the Sith, as Anakin has not only betrayed Obi-Wan and the Jedi but also Qui-Gon’s memory and his belief in Anakin as the chosen one.  This might explain why Obi-Wan, upon defeating Anakin, so passionately shouted “YOU WERE THE CHOSEN ONE.”  There were also some cute aspects to Obi-Wan’s life that are explained, such as why he had such an aversion to flying and how he was able to ride the lizard mount in Revenge of the Sith.  I quite liked how both characters developed over the course of the book, and I felt that Gray did an amazing job bringing these characters to life and providing an excellent story about their past.

While Gray’s portrayal of the main two characters is really good, I also have to say how much I loved some of the side characters that the author introduced in this book.  My favourite has to be Rael Averross, the unconventional Jedi who has a connection to Qui-Gon’s past.  Rael Averross is pretty much the opposite of all the Jedi readers would mostly be familiar with.  He’s a hard drinking, womanising (which he claims is technically not against the rules of being a Jedi), death stick using scoundrel, who hates nearly every aspect of being a Jedi Knight.  He was an extremely entertaining character whose actions and scruffy appearance are part of a persona the character has created to disguise the guilt, fear and resentment from his past.  I also liked how he was the only character able to identify and point out what the actual result of someone fulfilling the prophecy and finding the chosen one, something that every other Jedi apparently missed.  Rael was such an interesting counterpoint to the other Jedi characters in Master & Apprentice, and his influence on a young Qui-Gon was quite intriguing.  It will be interesting to see if Rael shows up again (I believed he is used in a recent Star Wars audiobook, Dooku: Jedi Lost) as he has the potential to be a key character in the new Disney expanded universe.

Other characters utilised within this book are the two jewel smugglers co-opted by the Jedi to be their guides on Pijal, Pax and Rahara.  While both these characters are a lot of fun, the standout one has to be Pax.  Pax is a gaudy and socially inept character whose inability to interact with other people is due to the fact he was raised by a ship full of protocol droids.  Pax is full of sass, sarcasm and insults, and is easily the most entertaining character in this entire book.  Rahara is also a great character.  A former slave of the Czerka Corporation, Rahara is the more normal of the two characters.  However, her former enslavement still haunts her and drives much of her more noble actions in this book.  Individually, both these characters are pretty cool, but together they form a great team who play off each other well.  Their emotional attachment to each other is another great part of the book and seeing the lengths that the usually pragmatic Pax will go to for Rahara is very heart-warming.

There were also a few flashback scenes featuring Qui-Gon’s mentor and future Star Wars antagonist Count Dooku.  All of these scenes were shown from the point of view of Qui-Gon as Dooku’s apprentice, and they paint a picture of a rigid and severe Jedi who was already showing signs of being tempted to the Dark Side of the Force.  This was a very intriguing portrayal, although I believe that the audiobook Dooku: Jedi Lost, which was released around the same time as Master & Apprentice, contains a lot more of Dooku’s backstory and motivations, and I am definitely going to check this other audiobook out at some point.

As usual, I was deeply, deeply impressed with the audiobook version of this Star Wars book.  The company behind these audiobooks really go the extra mile to make them special, and these tie-in novels are quickly becoming my favourite series to listen to rather than read.  The Master & Apprentice audiobook runs for 11 hours and 42 minutes, and I found that I was able to get through this book quite quickly.  I always find I absorb a lot more of the story with the audiobook format, and with this book I was really able to enjoy the character strife, as well as the new world building that Gray included.  Props need to be given to the amazing sound effects that seem to permeate nearly every single scene in this book.  Firstly, I absolutely love how the incredible and iconic music from the Star Wars movies is used during some of the book’s major scenes.  The music, especially some of the big orchestral moments that defined key parts of the original Star Wars movies, is quite incredible and it does an amazing job of forcefully dragging the reader into the story.  The additional sound effects used throughout the book easily replicate the actions going on around the characters, often using established and recognisable sound from the movies.  I also loved how some of the sound effects could be so effective at creating an appropriate background for the scene by adding in engine noises or the susurration of a loud crowd.

The audiobook format of Master & Apprentice is narrated by Jonathan Davis, who has previously provided his voice to several other Star Wars audiobooks.  I was deeply impressed with Davis’ incredible voice acting range in this book, as the voices he comes up with for the characters are outstanding.  For example, he produces incredible voices for the book’s two main characters, Qui-Gon and Ob-Wan as he damn near succeeds in replicating the two actors voices from The Phantom Menace.  On top of that, his Yoda voice is spot-on, and sounded just like Frank Oz in the movies.  I also liked the voices that the narrator came up with for some of his new characters.  His voice for Rael, for example, does an amazing job capturing the character’s personality, including his more carefree attitude, and the simmering anger that exists for most of his interactions with Qui-Gon.  I also quite like the voice and tone he uses for Pax, and the character’s inbuilt arrogance and emotional shallowness really shine through.

Master & Apprentice is so far my favourite Star Wars book of 2019, and I absolutely fell in love with its excellent story and powerful character work.  Gray takes her readers deep into the Star Wars lore, allowing fans of the franchise to further examine two of the best characters from The Phantom Menace movie.  The combination of Jonathan Davis’ exceptional narration and the production company’s perfect use of classic Star Wars music and sound effects resulted in an absolutely fantastic audiobook that comes highly recommended.  This is one hell of a book, and I cannot wait to see how the rest of the year’s Star Wars books turn out.

Waiting on Wednesday – Upcoming Star Wars 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.  Stay tuned to see reviews of these books when I get a copy of them.

I have never made it a secret that I am a huge fan of the Star Wars extended universe, having devoured several of the books and comics in the last year.  After reviewing the first 2019 entry into the Star Wars extended universe, the young adult novel Queen’s Shadow, last week I thought this would be a good time to talk about some of the upcoming books in the franchise.  There are three Star Wars novels being released in the next four months that I am very much looking forward to.  These three novels represent a very interesting spread of stories across the Star Wars timeline, and each have some very intriguing story premises.

The first of these books is Master and Apprentice, by Claudia Gray, which is coming out in a few weeks.

Master & Apprentice Cover.jpg
Master and Apprentice is an intriguing novel that will focus on the relationship between Qui-Gon Jinn and his young apprentice, Obi-Wan Kenobi.  While previous novels have explored Obi-Wan’s apprenticeship with Qui-Gon, none of these are considered canon anymore, so it will be interesting to see how this relationship is explored in the new extended universe.  This will be fourth Star Wars novel from Claudia Gray, who has already contributed to the current Star Wars extended universe with Lost Stars, Bloodline and Leia, Princess of Alderaan.

Goodreads Synopsis:

An unexpected offer threatens the bond between Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi as the two Jedi navigate a dangerous new planet and an uncertain future.

A Jedi must be a fearless warrior, a guardian of justice, and a scholar in the ways of the Force. But perhaps a Jedi’s most essential duty is to pass on what they have learned. Master Yoda trained Dooku; Dooku trained Qui-Gon Jinn; and now Qui-Gon has a Padawan of his own. But while Qui-Gon has faced all manner of threats and danger as a Jedi, nothing has ever scared him like the thought of failing his apprentice.

Obi-Wan Kenobi has deep respect for his Master, but struggles to understand him. Why must Qui-Gon so often disregard the laws that bind the Jedi? Why is Qui-Gon drawn to ancient Jedi prophecies instead of more practical concerns? And why wasn’t Obi-Wan told that Qui-Gon is considering an invitation to join the Jedi Council—knowing it would mean the end of their partnership? The simple answer scares him: Obi-Wan has failed his Master.

When Jedi Rael Averross, another former student of Dooku, requests their assistance with a political dispute, Jinn and Kenobi travel to the royal court of Pijal for what may be their final mission together. What should be a simple assignment quickly becomes clouded by deceit, and by visions of violent disaster that take hold in Qui-Gon’s mind. As Qui-Gon’s faith in prophecy grows, Obi-Wan’s faith in him is tested—just as a threat surfaces that will demand that Master and apprentice come together as never before, or be divided forever.

This sounds like it will have a complex and character driven plot that will really plumb the depths of this Jedi Master and apprentice relationship.  This is actually the furthest back the new extended universe books have explored, and I am quite excited to see the earlier adventures of these two iconic characters.  I am extremely curious to see how Qui-Gon Jinn is characterised in this book, and I would love to see some discussion about his relationship with Count Dooku.  Master and Apprentice sounds absolutely incredible, and I have already requested a copy.

Alphabet Squadron Cover.jpg
The second book is the ultra-exciting-sounding Alphabet Squadron by Alexander Freed.  Alphabet Squadron, which is set to be released in early June, is the first book in a new original Star Wars trilogy, featuring New Republic pilots in the post-Return of the Jedi timeline.  Freed is another established Star Wars author, having written two books in the current canon, Twilight Company and the Rogue One: A Star Wars Story novelisation, as well as a series of Star Wars comics in the now defunct extended universe.  Alphabet Squadron also has a synopsis out, although I chose to use the one I found on the Penguin Random House website as it contains a lot more detail.

Penguin Random House Synopsis:

On the verge of victory in a brutal war, five New Republic pilots transform from hunted to hunters in this epic STAR WARS adventure. Set after Return of the Jedi, Alphabet Squadron follows a unique team, each flying a different class of starfighter as they struggle to end their war once and for all.

The Emperor is dead. His final weapon has been destroyed. The Imperial Army is in disarray. In the aftermath, Yrica Quell is just one of thousands of defectors from her former cause living in a deserters’ shantytown—until she is selected to join Alphabet Squadron.

Cobbled together from an eclectic assortment of pilots and starfighters, the five members of Alphabet are tasked by New Republic general Hera Syndulla herself. Like Yrica, each is a talented pilot struggling to find their place in a changing galaxy. Their mission: to track down and destroy the mysterious Shadow Wing, a lethal force of TIE fighters exacting bloody, reckless vengeance in the twilight of their reign.

The newly formed unit embodies the heart and soul of the Rebellion: ragtag, resourceful, scrappy, and emboldened by their most audacious victory in decades. But going from underdog rebels to celebrated heroes isn’t as easy as it seems, and their inner demons threaten them as much as their enemies among the stars. The wayward warriors of Alphabet Squadron will have to learn to fly together if they want to protect the new era of peace they’ve fought so hard to achieve.

While I was always going to get this book no matter what, the moment I saw the plot summary mention of Hera Syndulla, of Star Wars Rebels fame, I knew I would move heaven and Earth to get this book.  I absolutely loved Star Wars Rebels and I am extremely keen to read anything that explores the fates of any of the characters from the show.  Aside from the presence of Hera Syndulla, there are so many other cool elements of Alphabet Squadron that make me really want to check it out.  First of all, the focus on a fighter squadron has so much potential for action and adventure, and I am anticipating a ton of awesome dog fights and wonderful examples of ship-to-ship battles in space.  I am also looking forward to the requisite training and analysis of the various flying techniques that tend to follow those sorts of stories, and a squadron made up of one of each of the Rebel Alliance’s iconic ships sounds pretty damn awesome to me.  Finally, I am excited to see the start of a whole new, original Star Wars series, focusing on a whole new bunch of characters.  While the Star Wars books that focus on the characters from the films, shows and games are really cool, it will be interesting to see an extended universe book whose plot is not as closely linked with the overarching story of the movies and televisions shows.  I have a feeling that this might be the Star Wars book I enjoy the most in 2019, and I have high hopes for it.

Thrawn Treason Cover.jpg

The final book that I will be looking at is Treason, the third book in the Thrawn series by master of Star Wars novels, Timothy Zahn.  Treason, set to be released in July, will continue the story of one of the best villains of the Star Wars extended universe, Grand Admiral Thrawn.  Grand Admiral Thrawn was introduced in 1991’s Heir to the Empire and is one of the most iconic characters in the previous extended universe, serving as a major antagonist for several books.  Thrawn proved so popular that Disney resurrected him for their extended universe, featuring him as a villain in Star Wars Rebels.  In addition, Disney also invited Zahn to reimagine his character’s origin in 2016, with the first book in this series, Thrawn.

Goodreads Synopsis:

Grand Admiral Thrawn faces the ultimate test of his loyalty to the Empire in this epic Star Wars novel from bestselling author Timothy Zahn.

“If I were to serve the Empire, you would command my allegiance.”

Such was the promise Grand Admiral Thrawn made to Emperor Palpatine at their first meeting. Since then, Thrawn has been one of the Empire’s most effective instruments, pursuing its enemies to the very edges of the known galaxy. But as keen a weapon as Thrawn has become, the Emperor dreams of something far more destructive.

Now, as Thrawn’s TIE defender program is halted in favor of Director Krennic’s secret Death Star project, he realizes that the balance of power in the Empire is measured by more than just military acumen or tactical efficiency. Even the greatest intellect can hardly compete with the power to annihilate entire planets.

As Thrawn works to secure his place in the Imperial hierarchy, his former protégé Eli Vanto returns with a dire warning about Thrawn’s homeworld. Thrawn’s mastery of strategy must guide him through an impossible choice: duty to the Chiss Ascendancy, or fealty to the Empire he has sworn to serve. Even if the right choice means committing treason.

This should be a really interesting read, and I believe that it will be the final book in the Thrawn series.  Thrawn is an amazing character to read about, and the adventures of the Empire’s ultimate tactician are some of the best stories in the entire Star Wars universe.  I really enjoyed the second book in this series, Alliances, which saw Thrawn team up with Darth Vader, although the plot of this book sounds like it will be more closely associated with the first book in the series, Thrawn.  I have not had a chance to enjoy the first Thrawn novel yet, although I am planning to listen to it before Treason comes out.  I imagine that this book will wrap up the character’s story before his final appearance in Star Wars Rebels, and I am very intrigued to see how this story arc finishes up.  I will be interested to see Thrawn try and work against the Death Star project, and the return to his home planet has some intriguing potential as well.  Overall, this sounds like another enjoyable instalment in the Thrawn series, and I am quite looking forward to see how the author ends this series, and where he will go from here.

While I may try and get physical copies of these books, preferably before their release dates, I will be strongly tempted to seek out the audiobook versions of these books instead.  Star Wars audiobooks are something special, and I love how they utilise the franchise’s iconic sound effects and music to enhance the story and make them sound out.  I will have to see how I go, but do not be surprised if one or more of the follow up reviews to this article involve the audiobook versions of these books.

I am very excited for these next three Star Wars novels, and I know that I will love all of them.  I love how these books represent such a wide range of stories, and I think that the new Star Wars extended universe is in excellent shape.  Stand by to see what I think of these amazing sounding tie-in novels.

Star Wars: Queen’s Shadow by E. K. Johnston – Audiobook Review

QueensShadow Cover.jpg

Publishers: Disney Lucasfilm Press and Listening Library (5 March 2019)

Series: Star Wars Extended Universe

Length: 8 hours 22 minutes

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

The female protagonist of the Star Wars prequel movies, Padmé Amidala, gets a story mostly worthy of her, as young adult fiction author E. K. Johnston attempts to bridge the character gap between the first two Star Wars prequel movies in Queen’s Shadow, the first Star Wars novel of 2019.

While The Phantom Menace had its flaws, one of the things that the first Star Wars prequel film did right was the character of Queen Amidala, the young, fierce and strong democratically elected Queen of Naboo, who was able to lead her people to freedom.  Portrayed by a young Natalie Portman, the character appeared in the other two prequel movies, where her relationship with Anakin Skywalker became a key plot point of the entire series.  While I am not the biggest fan of how Padmé was portrayed in the second and third prequel films, I was quite excited to read a novel that explored the character in more detail, especially one written by Johnston, who did such a fantastic treatment on the popular character Ahsoka Tano in her one previous foray into Star Wars fiction.  After my previous awesome experiences with Star Wars audiobooks, such as Ahsoka, I chose to listen to this book’s audiobook format, which was narrated by Catherine Taber.

Four years after ensuring the defeat of the Trade Federation on Naboo, Queen Padmé Amidala has served the last elected terms of office and is no longer Queen.  Now free of the responsibilities of ruling, Padmé and her loyal handmaidens now have time to think about a new future.  However, before Padmé can put any plans in place the new Queen of Naboo presents her with a job she cannot refuse: become the new representative of Naboo in the Galactic Senate.

Accepting the role, Senator Amidala travels to Coruscant, the capital of the Galactic Republic, to take up her seat, accompanied by a completely new support staff.  She is quick to discover that her experiences as a ruler have not prepared her for the demanding and treacherous world of galactic politics.  The Senate is a hotbed of corruption and bureaucracy, and Padmé is already considered by many to be a puppet of Chancellor Palpatine.  She also has number of powerful enemies throughout the galaxy who seek not only to discredit her but also to kill her.

However, Padmé Amidala is used to being underestimated, and with Sabé, her former decoy and shadow, watching her back, she begins to forge the political alliances she needs to finally bring some change the galaxy.

This was an interesting piece of Star Wars fiction that I quite enjoyed.  However, it is not without its flaws, and there were a few things that I disliked about the story that resulted in me dropping my overall rating slightly.  But before I talk about the parts of the story that I had issue with, I want to mention the elements of this book that I enjoyed quite a bit.

Queen’s Shadow is an amazing Padmé Amidala story that helps redeem the character after her less than stellar showings in the second and third Star Wars prequel movies.  This book helps make people forget about the helpless, pregnant damsel from Revenge of the Sith (although some deleted scenes from that movie do show some of the politics she was involved with), and instead focuses on her role as a canny political operator.  I was also quite happy that Anakin did not appear as a character in this book; I preferred to see Amidala stand on her own without being defined by her relationship with a Jedi.

Johnston did a spectacular job of creating a novel that bridges the gaps in Padmé’s story between the first and second prequel movies.  At the end of The Phantom Menace Padmé is still queen of Naboo, but by the start of Attack of the Clones she has become a senator, with very little discussion in the movies concerning how this came about.  While I am sure that some of the books and comics in the old Star Wars extended universe would have covered this period of Padmé’s life, Queen’s Shadow is one of the first stories to explore this in the new Disney owned and operated Star Wars extended universe.

The author spends a significant amount of time focusing on Padmé’s early days in the Galactic Senate, including how she formed some of her early alliances, such as with Bail Organa and Mon Mothma, and how she became such a significant force in the Senate.  In addition to this, we get to see how and why several of the minor Naboo characters from The Phantom Menace left Padmé’s side, and how several new characters, such as her new handmaidens and her security guard, Gregar Typho, came into her service.  In addition to serving as a bridge between the two prequel movies, Queen’s Shadow also ties into The Clone Wars animated television show, showing Padmé’s first contact and initial relationships with some of the characters who originated in the animated show, such as Senators Rush Clovis and Mina Bonteri.  While the book does spend time setting up events for Attack of the Clones, Johnston ensures that Padmé and the other main characters reflect on the events that occurred during The Phantom Menace, and the people that helped them during these adventures, such as Qui-Gon Jinn and little Anakin Skywalker.  Overall, I felt that this really helped tie in the events between the two books and is an excellent new piece of Star Wars cannon.

In my opinion, one of the cleverest parts of The Phantom Menace was the revelation towards the end of the film that Queen Amidala was actually being played by two separate actresses: Natalie Portman and Keira Knightley.  In the context of the film, Natalie Portman’s character, Padmé, was the real queen of Naboo, while Keira Knightley’s character, Sabé, was a decoy used for security purposes.  While Padmé portrayed the Queen at the start of the movie, when the Trade Federation invaded there was a subtle switch and Sabé took on the role while Padme could be seen disguised as a nondescript handmaiden in the background.  The two characters would then switch between portraying Queen Amidala throughout the film, with Sabé taking on the role whenever there was a chance the Queen could be captured or killed, while Padmé took on the role herself when official discussions or speeches needed to be made.  Handmaiden Padmé also got her own scenes when Sabé was taking on the role as Queen, allowing the viewers to see this side of the character.  This was and still is an amazing and ingenious part of the movie, which worked due to the similarity in appearances between the two then relatively unknown actresses, a downplaying of Knightley’s role in the film, as well as because of the elaborate makeup, hairstyles and dresses that Queen Amidala wore.  As a result, the general audience were quite surprised at the time, especially as cast lists were not as easily available on the internet at the time.

As a result, I was extremely happy that Johnston chose to explore the utilisation of the queen’s decoy in some detail throughout this book.  Quite a lot of time is spent discussing the techniques behind the Amidala persona, from the distracting makeup and costumes, to the quick-change techniques that Padmé and her handmaidens utilise, and even several discussions about the ‘Amidala voice’, the imperious tone that Portman and Knightly both performed in The Phantom Menace.  I found this entire exploration of this decoy angle incredibly fascinating, and it gave me a completely new appreciation for how the decoys were utilised in the first prequel film.  The decoys were also a key part of Queen’s Shadow, as Padmé still continues to utilise them as a senator, allowing her to avoid danger and slip away at social gatherings so she can undertake other covert tasks.  The scenes where they utilise them are quite intriguing, and I liked the author’s thoughts on the psychology behind the effectiveness of the decoys and how they are still an effective technique in an advanced science fiction society.  It was interesting to note that both of Padmé’s decoys who appear the films, Sabé and Cordé (who was blown up at the start of Attack of the Clones), have major roles in this book, with both taking on the Amidala persona at some point in the story.

While it was intriguing to see Cordé learn to take on the role of Amidala in this book, the original decoy, Sabé, was a much bigger part of the plot.  Sabé has a significant role within the book and is actually Queen’s Shadow’s secondary protagonist, performing undercover work on Padmé’s behalf.  The relationship between Padmé and Sabé was a really interesting and emotional subplot to explore, as Sabé is quite loyal to the former queen.  How Sabé defines herself as Padmé’s friend and confidant is a significant part of Sabé’s story, and Johnston spends time attempting unravel this complicated relationship.  The overall result is a fascinating inclusion to this story, and one that adds some real emotional depth to the story.

In addition to the focus on the decoy characters, Johnston also spends time looking at the role of Padmé’s royal handmaidens, the young hooded women who followed Padmé around in the first film.  I had never really given the handmaidens much thought before this book, apart from how Padmé was able to hide her identity by taking up a handmaiden’s garb for several parts of the film.  However, Johnston does a fantastic job of explaining the actual role of these characters as Padmé’s confidants, covert operatives, undercover bodyguards and potential body doubles.  I really liked how Johnston was able to turn these minor characters from the films into a significant part of her book, and it was quite interesting to see them be deployed to help with Padmé’s political moves.  Each of the handmaidens, both those who only appeared in The Phantom Menace and those who only appeared in Attack of the Clones, are explored in some detail throughout the book.  The reader gets a real sense of each of the characters personalities, what skills they bring to Padmé’s table and the fates of those handmaidens who served Padmé during the invasion of Naboo are also explained by this book.  This look at the handmaidens is an excellent part of the book, and one that I actually found quite fascinating.

Aside from the look at Padmé and her associates, Queen’s Shadow also examines a number of other aspects of the Star Wars universe during this time period.  For example, there is quite a large focus on politics, both on Naboo, and within the Galactic Senate.  The galactic politics in particular is quite intriguing, and I liked seeing Padmé’s initial impression of Senate procedure and its many shortcomings.  Johnston has also included some fun media articles throughout the book, showing how negative news coverage is being used to disadvantage or advantage Padmé’s political ambitions, which I found to be quite amusing.  There are also some hints at the coming Separatist movement, as several planets are showing discontent with the Republic and certain actions are taking place to undermine security throughout the galaxy.  All of the features are pretty interesting, and I had fun reading about them throughout this book.

Now, while I obviously quite enjoyed many of the elements that Johnston explored in this book (having gone on about them for over two pages), I have to admit that the overall story is actually a bit boring in places and the story really does not go anywhere.  There are some big points, including a quick assassination attempt, piracy, large-scale disasters and potential political crisis, but many of these events has any real significance, follow through or any sort of actual conclusion.  This could potentially be alright if Queen’s Shadow is the start of a larger storyline or a new book series, but I am not too sure how likely that is.  Not only is there no real indication that Johnston will be continuing this story, but the epilogue of the book kind of puts a damper on that, which I will discuss below.

 

BEWARE SPOILERS BELOW:

The epilogue of the book shows Padmé’s funeral, as shown at the end of Revenge of the Sith.  While I did like how Johnston alluded to the funeral at the start of Queen’s Shadow’s by using the same descriptions of Padmé’s floating flower-covered body, and the funeral does put a final end to the story.  The epilogue did show Sabé talking with Senator Organa, so this book could potentially set up a follow-up book focusing on the former decoy either joining the Rebel Alliance or investigating Padmé’s death.  However, this does not really fit with some of the open story points from this book, as the Trade Federation are the most likely people behind the assassination attempts and the piracy, and who cares about the Trade Federation after Revenge of the Sith?  In addition, this book only really explored around a year of Padmé’s life as a senator, and I think it would make more sense to follow more of Padmé’s early political career, especially as there is still around five more years until Attack of the Clones begins.  I suppose you could maybe do a split-timeline story that follows Padmé and Sabé before and after Revenge of the Sith, with the two storylines coming together, although I am not sure how well that would work.  I would like to see Johnston explore this more and give her overall story more shape, I just do not know how likely that is at this point.

END OF SPOILERS

 

While the somewhat pointless story does bring Queen’s Shadow rating down a bit, its audiobook features really help raise it up again, especially with its excellent narrator Catherine Taber.  The audiobook version of Queen’s Shadow runs for around eight hours and 20 minutes, so it is an easy book to get through quickly.  Catherine Taber is the actress who voiced Padmé in The Clone Wars animated show and is also the most recent person to portray the character on screen.  As a result, she is the perfect narrator for this book, as she already perfected a great Natalie Portman imitation voice for the show.  Taber did a fantastic job narrating this book, as she not only is the perfect voice for Padmé but also has an amazing range for the other characters featured in the book.  I appreciated how she was able to craft similar voices for the handmaiden characters, many of whom were chosen to be handmaidens because they were physical and audible matches to Padmé.  This is particularly true of Sabé, and as a result Taber ensures she has pretty much the same voice that Padmé does.  Other high points of Taber’s narration include her rendition of the Amidala voice, as well as the creepy tones she utilises for Chancellor Palpatine, especially when he kept saying “my dear”.  As always, the producers of this Star Wars audiobook load up this version with all sorts of sound effects and classic Star Wars music.  I felt that these sound effects and music really helped enhance the story, and gave it some real atmosphere, and I liked the way that certain things, such as holo-messages between the characters, were altered to make them sound more realistic.  I would strongly recommend the audiobook format of Queen’s Shadow as the best way to enjoy this story, and I thought it was just wonderful.

Queen’s Shadow is marketed as a young adult novel, and it is quite a good novel for a younger audience to enjoy, with only minor sexual references, coarse language, drug use and violence throughout the book.  However, there really is not any upper age limit on enjoying this book, and older readers can just as easily explore Johnston’s story.  While there is no age limit, readers should ideally be a Star Wars fan to fully enjoy Queen’s Shadow.  At the very least, readers should have watched all of the prequel films first to get a full handle on what is happening.  While I imagine someone with no prior knowledge of Star Wars might be able to enjoy reading this, it is probably not the best young adult science fiction book to pick out.  As a result, this book is recommended more for established fans of the franchise, and as a pretty hard-core Star Wars fan myself, I know I enjoyed all of the references and character exploration that Johnston did a lot more.

In the end, I decided to award Queen’s Shadow four stars out of five.  While I really loved all the intriguing elements that Johnston explored in this book, the lagging story did make it a little harder to enjoy.  That being said, I would not hesitate to grab another Star Wars book from Johnston, as she has an outstanding understanding and appreciation of the Star Wars universe.  I do hope that this story is continued in some way, and if it does, I will definitely check out the audiobook version of it, especially if it is narrated once again by Catherine Taber.  Interesting reading, Queen’s Shadow is worth checking out, especially if you are an established fan of the Star Wars franchise.

Book Haul – 22 March 2019

Yay, another week, another series of awesome books, including four great books from some Australian publishers and two volumes that I purchased myself.

 

Superman: Dawnbreaker by Matt de la Pena

Dawnbreaker Cover

The fourth book in the amazing DC Icons series, I enjoyed the last book in the series and I featured Dawnbreaker in one of my Waiting on Wednesday entries.

 

Blood River by Tony Cavanaugh

Blood River Cover.jpg

This sounds like a great piece of Australian crime fiction.

 

Metropolis by Philip Kerr

Metropolis Cover.jpg

The last book in the Bernie Gunther series from the late, great Philip Kerr.

 

Watch Us Rise by Renee Watson and Ellen Hagan

Watch Us Rise Cover.jpg

Not my usual sort of book, but it has an intriguing concept and could be fun.

 

Star Wars: Darth Vader: Dark Lord of the Sith – Fortress Vader

Fortress Vader

The latest volume in one of my favourite current comic book series, this should be epic.  Make sure to check out my reviews for the second and third volume of Darth Vader: Dark Lord of the Sith.

 

Firefly: The Magnificent Nine by James Lovegrove

Firefly The Magnificent Nine Cover

I only just got this one today and I am stoked.  I have been looking forward to it for a couple of months now and it should be pretty epic.  Expect a review for it soon.