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Fate of the Jedi: Allies

Adrick's Rating

2/ 4

Wes's Rating

2/ 4

Paul's Rating

3.6/ 4

 

What began as a quest for truth has become a struggle for survival for Luke Skywalker and his son, Ben. They have used the secrets of the Mindwalkers to transcend their own bodies and speak with the spirits of the fallen, risking their very lives in the process. They have faced a team of Sith assassins and beaten the odds to destroy them. And now the death squad's sole survivor, Sith apprentice Vestara Khai, has summoned an entire fleet of Sith frigates to engage the embattled father and son. But the dark warriors come bearing a surprising proposition that will bring Jedi and Sith together in an unprecedented alliance against an evil more ancient and alien than they can imagine.

While the Skywalkers and their Sith allies set off on their joint mission into the treacherous web of black holes that is the Maw, Han and Leia Solo risk arrest and worse to aid the Jedi imprisoned back on Coruscant. Tyrannical Chief of State Natasi Daala has issued orders that will open a permanent schism between her government and the Jedi Order--a schism that could turn all Jedi into renegades and wanted criminals.

But it is in the depths of the Maw that the future of the galaxy will be decided. For there the Skywalkers and their Sith allies will engage a true monster in battle, and Luke will come face-to-face with a staggering truth.


Reviews

Adrick: Allies takes the Fate of the Jedi storyline in some unexpected directions, a few of which have the potential to change the face of the Star Wars galaxy forever. Although I was not, initially, too enthusiastic about the novel, I have to admit that by the end of the story my interest in the series has been renewed...if Fate of the Jedi can keep building on what's been established here, there may be hope for the series yet.

Luke and Ben, maintaining a tenuous alliance with the Lost Sith tribe, continue to edge toward the Maw to take on the monstrous Abeloth...but first they make a pit stop at Klatooine while waiting for Lando's assistance. Like the Dathomir sojourn in Backlash, this is obviously a space filler for a series that doesn't have enough plot to fill nine books, but Golden uses the time to develop a potentially interesting side plot about slavery.

The notion of this practice in the Star Wars galaxy has been around since the early days of the Expanded Universe, but this is the first time an author has attempted to deal with it openly, rather than using it as background or a source for one-off antagonists. The antislavery movement introduced here has the potential to change the social fabric of the galaxy, and I wonder why it hasn't been the subject of a novel before.

In fact, this actually deserves its own novel--the main characters are only tangentially involved in this story, and it detracts somewhat from the main thrust of the narrative. The main players in this story are the news reporters, surely the least interesting players in this struggle. Still, they are better developed and more interesting than the bland paparazzi members from Omen.

There are many areas of Allies that could stand to be improved. As in Omen, characters make some stunningly dense statements, whether it's Lando noting that Hutts don't have legs (also, Wookiees are hairy) or Luke's statement that "compassion is for those who deserve it" (surely a grave misunderstanding of the character who risked his life to redeem Darth Vader), and the truly interesting things don't start happening until the last third of the novel. But in the end, it's both a definite improvement on both Golden's previous novel and an encouraging step forward for the Fate of the Jedi series.


Wes: The fifth novel in the Fate of the Jedi series, Allies, is a vast improvement over its Christie Golden-penned predecessor, Omen. In fact, it's better in almost every way.

Omen was plagued by poor dialogue, flat jokes, bad--often times comically immature--characterizations, Sith, and a general lack of Star Warsness. It felt as though it had been composed for some other fantasy world and read terribly in the one it landed. Where it suffered most, however, was its story. There just wasn't much there at all. Readers of this series could easily skip from Outcast to Abyss without missing anything that wasn't covered in a few sentences of back story in that novel, the only major event being the engagement of Jag and Jaina, and the revelation of a Lost tribe of Sith (which makes it like every other Star Wars property at the moment).

I'm happy to say that whatever problems one might have with Allies, I am fairly certain that it will not be the above. Golden seems to have found her voice within the Star Wars universe. The dialogue is much smoother in Allies as are the characterizations. That's not to say that there's anything astonishing here either. Christie Golden's writing is still pretty bland. I know of some people who actually prefer that, but I'm not one of them.

The major difference is, that while nothing much happened in Omen, Allies is the most eventful novel in the series so far. Almost all of the major conflicts in the series come to some sort of head, and a few of them are even resolved--possibly to the detriment of the overall story.

Allies picks up exactly where Backlash left off: Luke and Ben Skywalker leaving Dathomir with their Sith prisoner Vestara Khai only to be ambushed by her Sith cohorts. But the Sith aren't there to kill them. Instead, they want to form an alliance with the Skywalkers to destroy the super-terrible Lovecraftian ancient evil called "Abeloth" imprisoned in the Maw (I'm going to go out on a limb and say this is where the title comes from) that Luke believes is responsible for all the Jedi going crazy on Coruscant. The entire premise here is pretty contrived, as is a lot of the tap dancing along the way in order to wedge in an anti-slavery plot that runs through the book, and none of it works particularly well. It never feels natural, reading more as an excuse to keep Ben and Vestara together to further a romance plot.

And that is one place in which the story does not match up well with the end of Backlash. While it was clear in the last novel that the authorial triumvirate of Fate of the Jedi was going to set up some sort of forbidden love story between the teens, it seems to have jumped ahead quite a bit in the millisecond between Allston's novel and Allies. Ben was realizing just how evil and manipulative Vestara was at the end of Backlash when the Sith girl called her Order to slaughter and capture a group of Nightsisters. But in the opening pages of Allies, both teens have a full-blown crush on one another and are fully aware of it. So is Luke.

This isn't the only stark difference in characterization between the two novels. As I've noted in previous Fate of the Jedi reviews, Golden and Denning's characterization of Chief of State Daala seems very different from that of Aaron Allston. It's a trend that continues with Allies, where Daala is an unsympathetic villain in the vein of Sidious, focused on control of the Jedi Order even if it means destroying them, and so intent on the appearance of "keeping peace" that she's willing to put down anti-slavery protests with lethal force.

Daala's fanatical obsession with the Jedi leads her to dispatch an army of Mandalorians to the Jedi Temple on Coruscant and demand that they release the sick Jedi under threat of extermination. The tension of the events that follow is often undercut by a seeming lack of urgency from everyone involved. The Jedi inside don't seem particularly worried about it. The Jedi outside the Temple, like Jaina Solo, don't really do anything about it. Instead, she flies off to join Luke with the Sith in her own storyline that goes absolutely nowhere. I won't even go into Han and Leia's brief and very silly part in all of this.

But there are some good moments in the conflict too, and it was nice to see things finally reach a boiling point on Coruscant with Daala and the insane Jedi after the first few novels were so static and repetitive in this regard. I'm excited to see where it all goes.

The other major plot thread in Allies involves the trial of Tahiri Veila for the murder of Gilad Pellaeon back in Legacy of the Force. Her trial is exactly like a US trial, down to the lawyers, number of jurors, judge, bailiff, and even the look of the court room, which felt pretty uninspired to me. There was really nothing in it to ground it within the Star Wars universe except a droid stenographer, and I found the whole thing to be a missed opportunity to do something more creative.

I did enjoy the case Tahiri's attorney made, which is actually quite convincing. I was surprised to actually be convinced of her innocence when it was done.

On the down side though, it's implied in Tahiri's testimony that she had a sexual relationship with Jacen Solo throughout her apprenticeship to him in the last series. I found this pretty disgusting for a number of reasons, and it doesn't really fit either character, in my opinion. Jacen had convinced himself he fell to the dark side to protect Tenel Ka and their daughter Allana, who he claimed to love, and Tahiri let herself fall because she was still in love with Anakin Solo. Granted, we know Jacen was pretty deluded, and I'm not suggesting people don't have sex with others when they're hung up on someone else, but this seems very twisted to me and out of character, and that's not even getting into the fact that Anakin was Jacen's brother or the way Jacen was stringing Tahiri along with Flow-walking like a drug dealer. But given the fact that Tahiri's entire defense hinges on her inability to refuse even an implied order from Jacen, I think this would fall squarely in the category of rape.

Is this really a place we needed to go? Hasn't the character of Tahiri Veila suffered enough?

There's also the aforementioned anti-slavery plot that bleeds into multiple storylines. Its surprising how little slavery has been addressed in the GFFA given its presence on so many worlds outside of the Alliance and its influence on the life of the main character in the Star Wars saga, Anakin Skywalker. It's not handled badly in Allies, but the fact that its happening on so many planets at once all of the sudden was a little hard to swallow. This sort of thing happens in real life too, of course--revolutions of common ideals sparking at the same moment in different parts of the world just because it's their time. But it did feel more like a matter of plot convenience here.

Another conflict that left me cold in this book is a little spoilery, so I'm going to make it highlight-to-read. You've been warned. Highlight the white space beneath at your own peril!

Jaina breaks off her engagement with Jag. Given how poorly both characters have been handled in the series so far and their nauseating interaction, this may be for the best. My problem with it stems from the drama feeling very manufactured. I have no doubt that in a few books these two will be back together, and I'm afraid the obvious conflicts between them will not be addressed. I hope I'm wrong and there's some real examination done for both Jaina and Jag about their relationship, and an actual solution made that honors both characters as I think it's something that needs to happen. I just don't have any confidence that that's what we're going to get in the end.

What is most surprising about Allies is where it leaves us in the series. Two of the major plots end in cliffhangers while a couple of others appear to be resolved. Unfortunately, they are the more interesting of the series and their resolution is fairly anti-climactic. I hope there is more here than there appears to be and things are not through on these fronts.

For all their contrivances, I still enjoyed the Luke & Ben join the Sith storyline and the attack on the Jedi Temple. The Sith are written better, but not as true to form as in Abyss or Backlash. The budding relationship between Ben and Vestara holds a lot of possibilities and I loved seeing Abeloth again, who I think is one of the best villains to come along in the EU in some time.

There are some annoyances throughout the novel, however, and a few continuity gaffes. Golden seems to be under the impression that Mara Jade owned the Jade Shadow when she was the Emperor's Hand instead of acquiring it midway through the New Jedi Order when she was a Jedi Master (off by a good twenty-five years). There were also a few moments where the author confuses the Chev with the Chevin. Golden is not the first author to do this (paging Tresina Lobi...), but in the parts of the story that take place on Vinsoth, having the slaves switch to slavers and vice versa makes for a very confusing read. Kyp Durron's name is also spelled as "Durran every time the Jedi Master is mentioned. The editing seems very sloppy.

Christie Golden's habit of undercutting surprises or the punch-lines to jokes in Omen was pleasantly absent from this novel though, as was most of the immaturity of a group of adults calling themselves "The Unit." This did rear its ugly head when we learn that Kenth Hamner's new assistant has been given a special nickname: "K.P." It stands for "Kenth's Pet." Get it? Everyone calls her "K.P," even Han and Leia and the Masters on the Council.

I'll pause here while you groan...

But by far the most irritating occurrence in this book has to do with Jaina Solo. In all but one scene in which Jaina is in in this book, she refers to herself in dialogue as the Sword of the Jedi--literally saying "I'm the Sword of the Jedi," in almost every one, some times more than once (I think I counted 7 times). And the only scene she doesn't say this, someone else says it for her.

I'm fine with Jaina thinking this, but referring to it as some sort of official title just comes across as absurd to me.

I don't want to nitpick though or come down too hard on this novel. There are a lot of good things in this book, some solid action, and exciting stories along with several surprises. As I said, it's a vast improvement over Omen and definitely not a book one can skip if they wish to follow the rest of the Fate of the Jedi series.


Paul: Allies is the second Star Wars novel by Christie Golden, and it's also the fifth book out of nine in the new Fate of the Jedi series, which means it's the middle chapter of the storyline.

Fans often expect the central episode of a Star Wars series to be a bit like The Empire Strikes Back, and that expectation is probably increased this time around, considering that this is the hardcover release that accompanies the movie's thirtieth anniversary.

Allies doesn't disappoint. But, in keeping with the way that this series has developed from the outset, it doesn't do what you'd expect, either. There are no heroes flash-frozen in carbonite here, nor even any arrowhead-hulled space-battleships. The movie references and thematic echoes are generally subtler and more complex. Like Empire, this story includes a dramatic ground-assault siege, a developing romance between contrasting heroes, a lone young Jedi in an X-wing searching for definition, and a central father-child relationship; but they're all presented in new ways, so that most of the parallels only become apparent afterwards.

If you pay attention, though, you'll find that the main themes of Empire are all there; Lando Calrissian gets to be VERY cool; and Allies does the central thing that the original Episode V did so well: it shakes up the storyline, sending it off in new directions, and leaving the reader eager for more. Moreover, the subtle way that the defining motifs are used gives Allies a distinct new identity of its own, making it exciting and unexpected without losing any of its identity as part of the ongoing storyline. I felt this was an excellent way of handling the demands of writing for this franchise, and I was impressed by the ability of a relative newcomer to produce a story that was so fresh, while remaining so palpably Star Wars.

There were some minor technical issues with this novel--a few lines that could have read a little smoother, especially in the first half, and an unnecessary number of spelling mistakes, which really ought to have been caught in the editing process. But these distractions don't really detract from the overall effectiveness of the book, and they're offset by the good stuff: the author, although she's new to writing for the franchise, seems to be a long-term fan and clearly loves the Star Wars setting; and her main strength is in characterization, which means that the characters and the events they're involved in have a real effect on the reader. When these two skills are combined, the result is impressive... most impressive.

The movie themes and movie characters are all handled with confident skill, and again as in Golden's previous contribution to the series, a lot of classic Expanded Universe continuity is lovingly and effortlessly revisited. But where this author's skill becomes most apparent is in the scenes featuring new characters. These newcomers, many of them brief cameos, stand out instantly as individuals but are also very Star Wars in their attitudes and identities, thus establishing unspoken connections within the story, and in the wider pattern of the mythos: a young girl from Tatooine resembles both Tahiri Veila and the two Skywalker movie heroes in several different ways, while a domestic slave's prim professionalism makes a clever and implicit connection between his status and See-Threepio's. Golden's use of a couple of the supporting Expanded Universe characters seemed more cautious, but this felt like it was a careful and dilligent handling of people she didn't quite have a feel for--and other recurring characters were among the very best portrayals in this book, one perhaps above all. More on that in a moment.

Another thing that's impressive about this book is the way that the plotlines are handled: there are four of them, and they interact in very complex ways. Characters shift from one to another, and events entangle and connect. And it all seems natural and effortless.

In what's probably the main story, Luke Skywalker and his teenage son Ben have forged an uneasy alliance with the Sith. Perhaps unexpectedly, Luke allows himself no empathy for these unreliable allies, but I thought this decision worked, and I suspect it should work for most readers. If you see Skywalker as a heroic opponent of bad guys, then you can probably accept that these Sith are not lost souls to be redeemed like Vader, but basically villains like Palpatine or even Jabba--committed to treachery, not to be trusted, and deserving a smackdown when they break their word. On the other hand, if your view of the Jedi Grand Master is more complicated, you might see his lack of compassion as a sign of combat stress, and wonder if his protective attitude to Ben echoes Vader's possessive attitude to his own son, or even Palpatine's perverse control of Vader: is the Jedi Master in need of saving, himself? Either reading works, however, and that flexibility of interpretation is another of this novel's strengths. The Sith too are an excellent portrayal of a ruthless warrior culture, united by their shared heritage and exotic social values, but all individual nonetheless. The cynical but strong-willed Vestara is an ideal foil to Ben's mix of idealistic moral heroism and instinctive sexual attraction, their teenage romance a fun and subtle play on Han and Leia. Gavar Khai, Vestara's father, gets to play Palpatine to her Vader too, but as a ruthless, combat-hardened Saber who also genuinely loves his family, he resembles Luke Skywalker more than the Jedi Master might be willing to accept. Lastly, High Lord Taalan is the real Palpatine figure here, a black-cloaked villain, a survival-of-the-fittest predator armed with the Force as a practical weapon, refreshingly un-mystical in his attitude, dramatically convincing in his psychology: it's been a very long time since there's been such an effective antagonist with a red lightsaber.

The story that seems to be providing the most consistent framework for this series is the one widely regarded as the 'B' plot, the ongoing attempt by Admiral Daala's government to crush the Jedi Order. Here, this gains in both pace and tension, with assault troops advancing on the Temple--in a move that echoes Attack of the Clones as much as Empire, but the heroes inside the base can't seem to recognize that they're being defined into retreat and rebellion by the Battle of Hoth reference. This sense of distance from the threat, at once helpless and unreal, is articulated for the reader by locating the military action through the lens of a long-range news camera, and through casual, conversational characterization; but it's all setup for the most dramatic impact in the entire novel: in a sudden switch to high-zoom close-up, events take a dark twist for the worse. And the author makes us care.

The next plotline is about rising unrest among the Galaxy's myriad slaves. This is a new narrative that appears unexpectedly mid-series here--albeit one that was set up very well by a scene in the previous novel. In terms of its internal structure in this novel, it's also the plotline which makes best use of this series' tendency to break down its own expected patterns. For a while, mid-novel, this storyline seems to be focusing on Lando Calrissian and Jaina Solo, but it's really developed through a series of short and scattered cameos by new characters, eventually settling into an encounter between an alien news reporter and an underground anti-slavery organization. While this plotline doesn't pull its punches about the wrongness involved, the moral effects are played as subtly as Luke's alliance with the Sith--the idealistic activist is confident that change will come after a violent revolution; but with hindsight, this dangerous moral confidence also connects back to the militant idealism of the Rebellion, and really recaptures that Empire vibe.

At this point, it's worth mentioning Jaina Solo specifically; she moves through all three of these plotlines, and ends up in an orbital dogfight that reminded me of nothing so much as Sacrifice, the last mid-arc Star Wars novel to do the whole Empire Strikes Back thing. She's defining herself as a character, not yet settled on where she belongs, but showing more life and independence here than she has in ages--even while, once again, characterization and actions are used to create extra emotional weight. The key moment of her storyline is a very clever cross-referencing of Luke's reasons for going to Dagobah and his motives for leaving afterwards, with an added twist of Han and General Rieekan. It's also been great to see her bantering with Kyp Durron for two novels in a row, and I hope it continues: wherever she ends up romantically, the interaction between these two is simply a lot of fun--for both the characters, and for the reader.

The fourth and final plotline of this novel is, I think, the one that's written best of all. It sees Tahiri Veila, ex-Jedi, ex-Sith, on trial for murder. The plot is enlivened by her new defense attorney, an excellent characterization of a brand-new character who manages to be colourful and engaging without diminishing the drama and seriousness of this courtroom storyline. I think this is the first time that there's been a proper trial plotline in Star Wars since The Krytos Trap, and it was pretty much flawless on all points.

But the real star here is Tahiri herself, who--if I'm reading this right--is written both brilliantly and deeply. Golden presents Tahiri's thoughts in a very normal, reassuringly ordinary way: she talks about of closure, expresses discomfort with her chafing handcuffs, and shows a firm and sincere determination to behave right--an internal and seemingly authentic parallel to the way her defense-attorney is presenting her to the jury, portraying her as an ordinary hero who's suffered abuse and victimhood and grief. You might even take it all at face value, too; but the reader who knows the character well will recognize a slight falseness in her thoughts, a denial of her more unusual and authentic reactions: Tahiri has unusual attitudes to pain, identity and beauty, and her behaviour here suggests psychotherapy and the pressure of society's rules about how to fit in--the real cause, I suspect, of all her problems. And then, at the end, the storyline spirals down in a dramatic final scene, the closing twist of the novel--something unexpected, because Empire wasn't structured like this--as the true complexity of her identity is revealed, and there's nothing that she can do to fix it. I'll admit that I love this character to bits, and I'd love to see her able to stand up for her own individualism, and tell society to do something rude with itself in an alien language, but for now, this is simply excellent writing. The emotional impact for me was muted because I was following the skill of the portrait itself, but that doesn't mean I didn't feel this deep down (the comparison that comes to mind is the surrealist sci-fi movie Alphaville, which is a huge complement); and not everyone will read these scenes in the controlled way that I did--the finale reduced one of my best friends to tears. Either way, it's fundamentally brilliant.

Overall, I'm giving Allies a score of 3.6 out of 4, an excellent 90%--the same score as I gave to Aaron Allston's Exile, the last Star Wars novel I read that used the themes of Empire and continuity in anything like this way. Almost all those dropped points are for the spelling mistakes, as well.

(As an aside, I should menion that this is the second Star Wars novel, after Backlash, that I've read as an e-book, and I'm really liking the format: note, though, that I'm using the PDF version, and can't comment directly on Sony or Kindle. It's cheaper than a hardcover, easier to get hold of, and the quirks of formatting that I noticed before seem to be solved a bit here. All I'd ask is for a proper cover image. Ultimately, the fact that I'm only mentioning the format at the end is a reflection of how little it got in the way of my reading pleasure.)

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