Legacy of the Force II - Bloodlines
3.8 / 4
2.8 / 4
Civil war looms as the fledgling Galactic Alliance confronts a growing number of worlds set on rebellion -- and the approaching war is tearing the Skywalker and Solo families apart. Han's Corellian roots and Luke's dedication to the Jedi order are driving a wedge between the families. Han and Leia's children, Jacen and Jaina, are soldiers in the Galactic Alliance's campaign to crush the insurgents. Luke and Mara are unable to protect their son Ben from war. The quest of an assassin draws out a dreaded name from the past: Boba Fett. And in the new galactic order, friends and enemies are no longer what they seem...
Mike: Maybe Jacen killing Nelani Dinn in cold blood should've been enough, but it wasn't until now that I was completely convinced that the Chewbacca bubble remained burst for the post-Endor EU; in other words, this remains very much a universe where Things Happen. The visceral blood-and-guts atmosphere of the NJO may have taken a backseat to the more traditional swashbuckling what-have-you, and the shockingly alien Yuuzhan Vong may have given way to a good ol' Jedi-cum-Sith story (but, y'know, intelligent), but Kyp Durron this ain't: what's happening here, even in the theoretically "peripheral" paperback material, will Change Everything From Now On.
And not just with Jacen. The most shocking part of Bloodlines, and the pivot upon which the second half of the book turns, is of course Ailyn Vel's death. And it's not even the nature of her death that makes it such a big deal - it's important, of course, and it's certainly the beginning of the end for the fragile Solo family, but that's not what I kept coming back to in my head as I completed the book. What I couldn't stop thinking was "Han's son killed Fett's daughter! Han's son killed Fett's daughter!!"
Until The Unifying Force, Boba Fett's final chronological appearances were in the short stories No Disintegrations, Please and The Last One Standing (okay, there was his ultimately-retconned appearance in the YJK books, but let's just be glad they fixed it and move on with our lives). Both stories depict an aging Fett seemingly ready to cast aside his old grudges, or at least too old and tired to bother with them. When we eventually saw him leading a group of Mandalorian warriors into battle against the Vong, things fit quite well: he'd clearly gotten tired of the same old bounty hunting shtick and had returned to his roots. That, of course, laid the groundwork for his status in the Legacy era, where everything seemed to imply that the "Whose side are you on?" mentality (apologies to Marvel comics) of the Corellian War was going to leave Fett working grudgingly alongside Han Solo for one reason or another.
It was a tantalizing notion, and sure enough, we get to see it to a limited extent, but Ailyn's death took a barely-existent plot thread to which I've been clinging hopefully for several years - the mellowing out of Boba Fett - and smashed it all to pieces. And I couldn't be happier for it. It would've been so very easy to bring Fett and his Mandalorians into the war on the side of the Corellians in some fashion, and it would've been interesting to see, but once the novelty wore off, to be honest, it would've taken all the life out of Fett's character. The jarring death of his daughter sending him back to Mandalore to pick up the pieces of his family may take Fett back out of the spotlight for now (until Traviss' next book, I'd imagine), but it's what the character needed, and more to the point, it's real. A lot of authors, Traviss included, refer to their writing less as crafting a plot than as setting a situation up and simply letting events unfold of their own volition, and Ailyn's death is one of the rare instances in the EU where it really feels that way; where it feels like an unfolding reality instead of "wouldn't it be cool if this happened". Now if only we could get them out of this "every five years" kick...
And speaking of Ailyn, her involvement in this story in and of itself is another thing I like a lot about it, and another example of the trend towards Star-Wars-as-a-reality. For the first time, we're seeing real development going on in the cracks of this universe; development that affects the major literature. Ailyn started life in a Tales story, after all; one that, thanks to the Infinities label, could just as easily have been disregarded entirely. Ailyn's life (and name), instead, was then fleshed out by Abel Pe?a, an author who, as rightfully beloved as he is by us internet people, couldn't be more on the periphery of the Star Wars franchise if he tried. Nevertheless, Bloodlines, Ailyn's first genuine, non-retconned role in a book, couldn't have been what it was were it not for his work.
And Traviss more than proves herself capable of handling these disparate sources with ease. Boba Fett's history is related to us in a completely authentic fashion, leaving no stone unturned, from Pe?a's History of the Mandalorians article to A Barve Like That, to the Boba Fett young adult books, and naturally, to Traviss' own recent e-novella A Practical Man. And this breadth of source material is further proof that Star Wars is becoming more like a reality than the series of self-contained Events so much of the post-Endor timeline represented. In other words, these characters are constantly living their lives, having children, growing up, falling from grace, dying, and so on, whether we happen to be observing it or not. What more could a continuity fan want?
Paul: I really don’t know what to make of Bloodlines. In contrast to Mike, I didn’t really enjoy it, but I’m not entirely sure why.
On the one hand, this is definitely a well-told story, economical and disciplined in its construction, intense in its depiction of events.
However, I wonder if that tight structure and control is in itself part of what killed my enthusiasm when reading the book. Perhaps it was a deliberate effect the author was consciously trying to achieve, but the very clarity of the planning and writing seemed to remove the sense of possibility, closing off the view of the intangible horizon and the clear, infinite night sky.
About a hundred pages from the end, I found myself reacting in irrational anger at the way the novel was portraying opposition to the new Galactic Guard militia: the Guard were using ruthless force to preserve security, and the voices that attempted to challenge their approach seemed hesitant and inarticulate, or else loudly demonstrative, or at best, weak and understated.
Star Wars has always been driven by the clear idea that firm authority is a destructive phenomenon - ultimately self-destructive, making heroes of those who oppose it. I can’t say why Bloodlines didn’t articulate that point of view lucidly enough for me, but I do think this omission hurt my enjoyment of the book.
The most clearly definable problem in this novel, however, is with continuity. Star Wars novels are written within a complex, consistent setting that spans an entire Galaxy, and within this context, Bloodlines is the second book in a series that’s supposed to form a single coherent story, following on directly from Aaron Allston’s Betrayal. Unfortunately, there’s been something of a breakdown in the connections here.
I didn’t isolate all the specific problems on my first read-through, but even where I skimmed over the details, I felt a niggling awareness that something wasn’t right, and one notable problem I was aware of right from the start: key events at the climax of the previous book aren’t referenced at all here, which meant that the parameters of the plot and the attitudes of some key characters were different from what I expected.
Of course, these problems aren’t simply internal to Bloodlines. It seems that the writing of the first two books in the series was largely simultaneous, and it’s only because Bloodlines is second in sequence that it has to bear the brunt of the discontinuity between them, when it jars with what’s already established in the reader’s perceptions from Betrayal.
However, it’s more than six months since preview copies of Betrayal were released, and I’m surprised that they couldn’t fix the problems between the two books with a few judicious edits in that time. Moreover, not all the continuity problems can be explained away by reference to the demands of writing different novels simultaneously. To take perhaps the stickiest mistake in the book, the overlap with Bloodlines doesn’t account for the fact that Centerpoint Station (a sort of ancient Death Star that’s the focus of the Galactic crisis, for those who don?t know) is in orbit around the wrong planet in this book.
In the final analysis, however, I don’t feel I understand the context of these continuity errors well enough to make a proper judgement about them; and while I’m not sure if the tight control with which the author wielded the characters and plotline in this book is an entirely beneficial thing, I want to stress that a lot of people who care a lot about Star Wars seem to have really liked this book.
With that in mind, the discipline and strength of the writing here are enough to earn Bloodlines a respectable grade of 2.8/4 from me - 70%: I can respect this book, even if I didn’t enjoy it much, and I can’t say whether or not you’ll like it: you have to find that out for yourself.