New Jedi Order - Balance Point
by Kathy Tyers
Published by Del Ray
Scott's Rating: 3.5 out of 4
NOTE!! - This review contains some spoilers from the story. If you have not read the book yet, turn back!
The Yuuzhan Vong continue their march through the Star Wars Galaxy led by Tsavong Lah. Already in place ahead of the invasion is Nom Anor. In disguise on Duros, he poses as a New Republic scientist trying to clean up the planet which is contaminated with pollution. Anor is literally right under the nose of Princess Leia who has brought refugees to Duros fleeing the invasion. Leia leads the group trying to make Duros habitable for the displaced aliens.
Meanwhile, Han Solo and Jacen lead the refugee relief at another shelter on Duros (unknown to Leia). Jacen has now decided to totally cut himself off from the Force in an attempt to avoid disaster. A vision of the future tells him that an important crossroads is coming and that his decisions will be at the center of what happens. Fearful of the Dark Side, he essentially runs away from the Force. However, when Jaina joins them after being wounded in battle, she makes him rethink his position. Can he abandon the Force if it means his loved ones could die?
Meanwhile, Luke and Leia continue to debate with the politicians on Coruscant to no avail. They refuse to cooperate in effectively stopping the Yuuzhan Vong threat. However, that all becomes secondary when Mara Jade learns she is pregnant. She is concerned for the baby because of the disease ravaging her body, yet overjoyed at the same time. Determined to stay focused on the threat at hand, Mara still goes into dangerous territory with Luke and Anakin in an effort to track down a missing Jedi apprentice on Duros.
With all of the Skywalker and Solo clans on Duros, the stage is set for the Yuuzhan Vong to invade. The aliens intend to use the polluted planet as a staging ground for the invasion into the Core. Little do our heroes know that the local inhabitants have sold out the Jedi and the refugees in an attempt to appease the invaders.
I didn't care for Truce at Bakura very much, but I really enjoyed Tyers' work in Balance Point. She seems to have a perfect handle on each of the characters and how they should act. I also think having a female author is even more important when it comes to writing about Mara Jade becoming pregnant. She provides unique insight into what it is like to have a life forming inside you. This is especially true with Mara who is Force sensitive. Tyers seems to sneak in a pro-life perspective on the pregnancy that is entirely appropriate from the Jedi point of view. After all, they draw their power from all life, so they would be especially attuned to it within their own body. That is the way it is described as Mara first detects the baby forming inside her. Tyers also writes about the problems between Leia and Jaina. Jaina resents Leia for not being around. Interesting to see the trials and tribulations of Leia as a working mom be addressed.
Tyers seems to also be forming some real world historical parallels in this novel. For example, the Jedi are ignored and ridiculed by the politicians in what seems like a "separation of church and state" position. They are later attacked because of their "religion". At one point the refugees are forced to shave their heads. This seemed to echo the Jews in concentration camps. Little things here and there give the story and edge and a realistic touch.
There is a fair amount of action, which I always love. And unlike many of the other novels, this book primarily takes place in only two locations - Coruscant and Duros. This makes the story seem a little more cohesive since the characters aren't rushing all over the galaxy. It also gives the story a much more personal feel since it takes the time to show the "little people" in the Star Wars Universe. It also allows all of the Skywalker and Solo families to have an adventure together rather than split across the galaxy. It's nice to see them all work together as a team for once.
Del Rey did a good job by updating the galaxy map on the inside cover. It shows the invasion route of the Yuuzhan Vong as well as the key planets in the story. There's also a summary of the story so far in the New Jedi Order which is a handy refresher.
Finally, a word about the cover. I wasn't thrilled with it at first, but now I love it. This is mainly because there is a hidden image on the back featuring an unborn child (hinting and Luke and Mara's baby). That was a nice trick to hide such a big spoiler in plain sight. If it hadn't been pointed out, I doubt I would have seen it.
The side story about the search for the missing Jedi apprentice seemed to be merely a plot device to bring all the characters together in one location. I thought there was a bit more story worth telling there, but it was almost completely overlooked.
Also, a big deal is made about decontamination in this story. When the refugees are attacked by a strange new alien creature, they are later shaved and decontaminated. This was never an issue in any of the books, comic, or movies, yet they hopped from planet to planet all of the time. Seems like they were equally likely to pick up strange bugs those other times. Why is it such a hot issue now?
Three things have bugged me in the NJO Books - Han's gloomy character, Mara's illness, and Jacen's whining about the Force. In the last few books, it appeared that all of the were resolved at one point or another, yet they flare up again here. Han gripes at Leia, Mara still fights the Yuuzhan Vong disease to save her baby, and Jacen very prominently refuses to use the Force while people die around him. All of these things I either didn't care to read about or I didn't think they fit the character. They seem to be resolved yet again in this book (I hope), but I won't hold my breath. I do wish other issues could be visited more in depth like the re-establishment of the Jedi Council, Kyp Durron, or more. The characters also wonder if the Emperor could have stopped the Yuuzhan Vong. Can't this come into play in New Jedi Order? How about bringing back the Sith?
The ending lacked a bit of spark, but it was still enjoyable.
When the Yuuzhan Vong torture Leia. They make the torture on the Death Star look like a cake walk.