Saturday, April 23, 2016

Just read: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, A Clash of Kings, and Star Wars novels: Aftermath, Dark Disciple, and Darth Plagueis

See last month’s post about why I’m reading the new canon Star Wars novels (link).  I’m taking a short break from my usual theology and outdoor skills books.  The min-reviews below will also be featured on my Goodreads page soon.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

by Seth Grahame-Smith, Jane Austin, Tony Lee, and Cliff Richards

Stay with me here:  Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is a graphic novel adaption of a zombified bestseller spoof/tribute novel of Jane Austin’s romance classic Pride and Prejudice, which has also recently been adapted as a horror/comedy film.  The story itself is essentially an abridged version of Jane Austin’s “Pride and Prejudice,” with zombie references thrown in at every possible opportunity.  Britain is overrun by zombies, Lizzy, Jane, and Lydia are zombie slayers, etc.  The artwork is not great. The concept is occasionally amusing, though I’m unsure whether Jane Austin fans will be laughing, recoiling, or ambivalent.  I have not seen the 2015 film adaption, nor do I plan to.

Verdict: *** (Out of 5 stars)

A Clash of Kings (Song of Ice and Fire, Book 2)
by George R. R. Martin

My friends are constantly tweeting about HBO’s Game of Thrones TV series.  For those of us who don’t subscribe to HBO, reading library copies of George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire high fantasy book series may be the closest we’ll get to seeing what all the fuss is about.  Like Book 1, Game of Thrones, this one is a rough read.  Brutal violence, ludicrously lusty behavior, and general unpleasantness must be waded through to appreciate the rich storyline.

And what a story.  Martin’s ability to weave together so many complex characters, motivations, and separate plot threads is unparalleled.  Sadly, I’m hooked.

 Verdict: *** (Out of 5 stars)

Here are a few Star Wars novels I’ve read recently, sorted by descending order of interest:

Star Wars: Aftermath

by Chuck Wendig

There are two reasons that Aftermath is #1 on this month’s Star Wars list, and neither quality nor broad appeal are necessarily either of them.

  1. It's the first Star Wars book that I’ve ever read.  That’s right… Although I’ve been a Star Wars fan since I was a little kid, I’ve never read a Star Wars novel prior to 2016.
  2. It's the first “canon” Star Wars story to take place in the time period after the film Episode VI: Return of the Jedi and before Episode VII: The Force Awakens.  Of course, this distinction was a LOT more buzzworthy before The Force Awakens was released in December 2015, which dispelled a few of the mysteries surrounding that era of Star Wars history.

For the two reasons above, I admittedly was so excited to read Aftermath that I was not examining it critically.  As such, I was able to overlook Wendig’s unconventional writing style that so many other readers loathed.  It’s written in present tense, from a third person point of view.  The prose didn’t flow as smoothly as the next Star Wars novel I would read, Dark Disciple (mini review below).

However, this story of the New Republic’s uprising was engrossing enough to warrant a read for Star Wars fans looking for Easter eggs that tie in to the story of The Force Awakens film [SPOILER: The “Taris” interlude has a potential origin story for the Knights of Ren.  Kubaz sells a red lightsaber which allegedly belonged to Darth Vader to three strangers, who claim they plan to destroy it].  As in the Taris mini-story referenced in the spoiler above, there are also several short, hit-or-miss “Interlude” segments that feature concurrent events from other locations around the Star Wars galaxy.

As a huge fan of the original Star Wars film trilogy, there were many elements that floated my boat:

  • The climactic events of Episode VI: Return of the Jedi were recalled from the new characters’ POV:  Norra had flown with her squadron inside the Death Star to destroy it, bounty hunter Jas Emari had targeted a wounded Princess Leia from a tree on Endor, and Sinjir Rath Velus (who randomly comes out of the closet as a homosexual for no apparent reason, plot-wise) had been hiding in the Endorian bushes as the Ewoks celebrated the Rebel Aliance’s victory.
  • B-list fan favorites from the films such as Admiral “It’s a trap!” Ackbar, Wedge Antilles, and Mon Mothma play crucial roles in the story. Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, and Lando Calrissian are mentioned and even appear in holographic form (in Leia’s case).  Even Boba Fett is referenced [Spoiler: It’s revealed that Boba’s suit may still exist and can be worn by anyone… so who exactly WAS that who got swallowed by the Sarlacc in Return of the Jedi?]
  •  Characters mock some of the sillier elements of the Star Wars film prequel trilogy era (fanboy points for the hilarious smack talking of George Lucas’ lame “Roger roger” battle droids).
  • Most excitingly… [Minor spoiler- Han Solo and Chewbacca get their own interlude, setting up a Solo adventure (pun intended) to free the Wookies of Kashyyyk]
·         [7/28/16 Update:  After reading Aftermath: Life Debt, I learned I was dead wrong about the following, which I originally included as a speculative "bonus spoiler"]:  Could Admiral Rae Sloane’s mysterious boss at the very, very end of the novel be the legendary (these Star Wars EU puns keep getting worse) Grand Admiral Thrawn from the enduringly popular but now non-canon Thrawn book trilogy?  Just a theory.

Verdict:  **** (Out of 5 stars) for Star Wars fans, *** (Out of 5 stars) for non-fans

Star Wars: Dark Disciple

by Christie Golden

Dark Disciple, the second Star Wars canon novel I’ve ever read, was a pleasant surprise.  Prior to reading, very little of what I knew about this book appealed to me: The cartoonish cover, the Clone Wars TV show reject origins, etc.  But THIS is the book I should’ve read as an introduction to Star Wars lit.

Golden’s writing style is engaging, and she invites readers to truly empathize with the budding romantic relationship between the rebellious Jedi Knight Quinlan Vos and former evil foe/Nightsister/assassin Asajj Ventress.  Even non-Star Wars fans may find themselves caring about the fate of these two.

The storyline pairs unlikely duo Vos and Ventress in a secret mission by the Jedi Council (Obi Wan, Yoda, and the rest) to assassinate Ventress’ former master, Count Dooku/Darth Tyranus.  Most readers have seen Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith and already know whether or not Count Dooku survives the assassination attempt.  However, there is still plenty of excitement and suspense surrounding the action set pieces.  Characters’ meditations on the potential power of Jedis leveraging the Dark Side of the Force to save the lives of millions blur the line between good and evil in interesting ways. And the will they or won’t they? developments provide a nice emotional grounding to the plot.

There are a couple of gaping plot holes that are necessary to maintain continuity with the films (no specific spoilers… but let’s just say that our two flawed heroes go out of their way to NOT accomplish a couple of key objectives, with at least two memorably flimsy excuses spelled out).  These illogical but necessary concessions to Star Wars canon barely diminish the storyline at all.

Highly recommended, albeit unexpectedly.

Verdict: ***** (Out of 5 stars) for Star Wars fans, **** (Out of 5 stars) for non-fans

Star Wars Omnibus: Quinlan Vos: Jedi in Darkness

After reading Star Wars: Dark Disciple, I checked out this Quinlan Vos graphic novel compilation for a little more background on this complicated and morally flexible Jedi Knight.  There are some very cool revelations about Order 66 (Palpatine’s largely successful plan to slaughter of the Jedi in Episode III: Revenge of the Sith).  Other than that, this collection is mostly for Quinlan Vos completists.  And it’s “Legends” now, not canon.

Verdict:  *** (Out of 5 stars) for Star Wars fans, ** (Out of 5 stars) for non-fans

Star Wars: Darth Plagueis

by James Luceno

The non-canon (I’m pretty sure this novel is now downgraded to “Legends” status) Darth Plagueis novel provides a deeper backstory for the tale that Palpatine tells Anakin Skywalker in 3rd person about his former Sith master in the film Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.  As dry as George Lucas’ scripts for the film prequels were, hearing this story told onscreen via straight up exposition was somehow more intriguing than reading this often boring book.

The prologue starts out in fascinating fashion as we learn about the fate of Darth Plagueis’ master, Darth Tenebrous.  Disappointingly, the momentum screeches to halt by Chapter 2.  And later, when the spotlight switches to Palpatine, the proceedings devolve even further to become mired in the political superfluity that made the prequel film trilogy so dull.

On the plus side, there are appearances by Darth Maul, Qui-Gon Jinn, Count Dooku, and Sifo-Dyas.  And Star Wars fans can get their fill of Sith history dating back to the Old Republic, the dismantling of Darth Bane’s “Rule of Two,” a cool lightsaber fight with Darth Venamis, and occasionally cool insight on the nature of the Dark Side of the Force.  Whether or not this “Legends” novel’s worthwhile contributions to Star Wars lore will be preserved in an upcoming canon novel or film remains to be seen.

Verdict: *** (Out of 5 stars) for Star Wars fans, * (Out of 5 stars) for non-fans

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