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Star Wars Galaxies - The Ruins Of Dantooine
by Voronica Whitney-Robinson with Haden Blackman

Published by Del Rey


Scott's Rating:   1.5 out of 4
Mike's Rating:   3 out of 4
Nick's Rating:   1 out of 4
Adrick's Rating:   0.2 out of 4


This novel is based on the Star Wars Galaxies online roleplaying game.

Shortly after A New Hope, the Empire discovers that the Rebel Alliance has accidentally left a holocron containing a list of their spies on the world of Dantooine. They dispatch spies to recover it. At the same time, the Rebel Alliance starts their own covert mission to recover the list as well.

Key in this race to find the holocron is Imperial bioengineer Dusque Mistflier. Despite being a top notch scientist, she’s hit the glass ceiling within the Empire. She longs to do something more important and make her mark in the universe. When she’s approached by Rebel spy Finn Darktrin for help, she sees her opportunity. Using Dusque’s Imperial credentials, he looks to use her to sneak back onto Dantoonie without rousing suspicion.

Dusque is quickly thrown into the middle of the war and even finds herself falling in love with the Rebel spy. Only Finn’s help and Dusque’s vast knowledge of alien species will help them win the prize and survive.



Scott:

    I think that the idea behind “The Ruins Of Dantoonie” is pretty good. It’s a neat idea to cross the various areas of Star Wars fandom between each other. Getting the book fans to check out the game and vice versa makes good business sense as well. This novel is supposed to hold clues to the online game, so that makes it even more worthwhile for gaming fans to check out.

The other good thing about this book is that you don’t have to play the game to follow it. While playing Galaxies will give you a greater appreciation for the novel, it’s not required to enjoy the story. I have never touched the game and I didn’t have a problem following it.

This book made me realize how much I was ready to read more from the era of the classic trilogy. We get a brief cameo from Darth Vader and I was itching to see him in action. While I’ve enjoyed the NJO and prequel books, I really like reading stuff featuring the ANH and ESB era characters. It has been a while since something has been set then, so it’s a nice change of pace.

I also like seeing effort made to create more new Expanded Universe characters. While I don’t think Dusque or Finn will have any kind of staying power, I like seeing effort being made towards creating other characters to explore the universe.


Mike:

    A few months back, I found myself engaged in a lengthy debate with my lit teacher about whether or not a work produced for a specific commercial purpose could have any inherent artistic merit. Granted, almost everything gets put up for sale sooner or later, but this was in reference to, well, something along the lines of Ruins of Dantooine. Something where the idea didn't originate from the artist; a work that was, essentially, assigned. Especially given the commercial arts major in which I currently find myself, my stance was that basically anything is capable of having artistic merit. It could be argued that assigned works are less likely to have it, but just because someone pays you to paint a tree for the cover of their book about trees doesn't automatically mean it's commercial drivel. Maybe it's because of that that I'm as kind to this book as I find myself being.

Dantooine isn't a bad book. That might not be a shining endorsement, but considering it was completed in six months, by an author completely new to the EU, and only included elements available in a video game, it's saying a lot. To the best of my knowledge, Vonda McIntyre had plenty of time and space when working on The Crystal Star, and look how that turned out. Whitney-Robinson had the dual purpose of trying to tell a good story while also piquing people's interest in Galaxies, and she managed to do a respectable, if not uncanny, job with both. There were many moments in the book where I thought to myself "gee, I'd love to check that out in the game", and I also managed to get pulled into the story here and there, almost in spite of myself. So beyond the A for effort, I don't really have anything else in the way of specific praise for the book.


Nick:

    I applaud Del Rey and Lucasfilm for their attempts to branch out and explore new avenues of publishing, particularly their effort to incorporate the gaming side of Star Wars into mainstream continuity with The Ruins of Dantooine. For too long have games been overlooked, so it was refreshing to see a change of pace. Unfortunately, while the concept was novel, the execution was flawed. This novel wasn’t out and out horrible, but beyond being a nice breather after five years of The New Jedi Order, I don’t have much to say on its behalf.


Adrick:

    It’s always nice to see the Star Wars galaxy filled out with characters that don’t fit into the soldier/Jedi/pilot/Sith/politician categories that stock most Expanded Universe fiction, so having the main character of this book be an Imperial bioengineer was a good idea. I also liked the prologue—Darth Vader can start any book out with a bang, and the Inquisitor character, Loam Redge, was interesting. Oh, and the characters names are pretty cool.



Scott:

    Spoilers are present ahead, so proceed with caution!

I wanted to like this book, but it wasn’t to my tastes at all. I found just too many problems with it. First off, the plot as described on the back of the cover doesn’t even kick in until about page 186 of 285 pages. There isn’t even really any discussion of Dantooine until about that point. Everything up to then is pretty much getting a look at the wide variety of creatures, environments, and weapons in the Star Wars Universe. It made it feel more like it was trying to tie into the game than tell a story.

The story is further ruined because it is very predictable. Within the first few pages you are told that there’s an Imperial spy out there somewhere. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out who it is in short order. It seems that Dusque is the very last one to get a clue. Because of this a good portion of the book is ruined because you already know what’s going to happen. There are only a dozen or so pages remaining by the time the spy is revealed. It’s like the author was playing cards and starting the game off by showing her hand to everyone.

This book is also very much told from the feminine point of view. I have absolutely no problem with this, but it seems that every other page features our heroine complaining about her menial position, needing to be in a position of power, or shivering at the touch of her male companion. She ends up finding a role model in Princess Leia, yet it seems that she admires her more for her ability to tell people what to do than any other admirable trait. I like the female characters that lead for other reasons than simply wanting to be important. Leia is motivated by love of her friends, love for Han, a desire for justice, and a desire for revenge of sorts. You could say Dusque is motivated by the murder of her colleague, but that’s not what is brought up when she finally meets Leia.

The novel also has the main characters encountering almost every character from the films. They run into Lando, Wedge, Han, Chewie, Leia, Luke, and others as they run across the galaxy. Unfortunately these characters don’t really play any part in the plot beyond being there for cameos. It seemed forced and unnecessary. Brief appearances by Vader and Leia would have sufficed as they seemed the most influential to the story.

This story also gives us one of our first looks at Naboo after Episode III. What happened to the planet after the prequels? Was it destroyed? Changed? How did the galaxy react to knowing Naboo was the Emperor’s home system? Now The Ruins Of Dantoonie gives us out first look at the planet and we discover that it’s now home to a casino and creature fighting ring run by Gungans. Huh? Kind of a disappointment. It’s certainly not the cultural center of the galaxy anymore, but I didn’t expect the Star Wars equivalent to cock fighting there.

Other aspects of the story didn’t make sense to me either. Dusque is called a ‘bioengineer’, which I thought meant that she would tinker with DNA, genetically engineered creatures, etc. However, in the book she knows everything about many creatures in the universe. Doesn’t this make her more of a zoologist than a bioengineer? And why does Finn, as an Imperial spy, need the help of Dusque to find the holocron? After all, he knows the location of it, has a tracking device, and has full access to the planet. Why does he need to trick a loyal Imperial bioengineer into helping him? And why are the Rebels dumb enough to leave a list of spies lying around on a planet they are evacuating? And if Finn knows the location of the Rebel base, why doesn’t he report that to the Emperor rather than a list of a few spies? Isn’t the Rebel Base location the most valuable thing? This is only a few of the plot holes I thought about.

Finally, I’m not terribly impressed with the cover. Not only is it an unimpressive image from the game, it isn’t even a scene from the story. Overall this book is a good idea that just didn’t pan out. Maybe the rushed schedule in writing it contributed to all these problems. Maybe not. Better luck next time, though.


Mike:

    That I couldn't think of more than a paragraph or so for the "Good" section reveals the main problem with Dantooine; there just wasn't anything to get excited about. I don't really have any major complaints about the book, but my lack of enthusiasm over the good stuff seems like something of a complaint itself. So here's a rundown of what did bother me:

Plot structure: this book can be both praised and criticized for its ties to Galaxies; while I really did get a good sense of the quest-based nature of the gameplay, it didn't exactly lend itself well to an overarching plot. Like Scott said; the heroes' main mission doesn't even take place until the last third of the book, and much of the rest of the story seems like it was thrown in for no other reason than to showcase adventure possiblities on each of the planets visited. This gets back to the whole "artistic merit" thing I mentioned; while I understand that the author was probably required to include the multiple mini-adventures, I can't help but feel that she could have tried a bit harder to incorporate them into the overall story. The mission to get the map on Lok was tangential enough, but at least it had a purpose in the grand scheme of things. When Dusque and Tendau go hunting for...well, genetic material or whatever it was, on Rori, there's literally no reason for it larger than boredom. The book is almost like three separate adventures, with the loose thread of Dusque joining the Rebellion running between them.

Finn's betrayal: while I agree with Scott that it was pretty obvious who the Imperial agent was, that in and of itself wasn't really the problem for me. There are certain archetypes out there when dealing with this type of character - either the good guys are betrayed 100%, which is usually the case when the author is going for shock value, or the traitor is slowly won over by the good guys, and is redeemed in the end. While I'm not saying Finn had to follow one of these paths exactly, there needed to be more logic behind him going the way he did. I think the story would have been better if it had alternated between Dusque's and Finn's POV, revealing from the beginning that he's the spy, yet allowing us to observe and better understand his initial motivations, change of heart, and ultimate reverse change of heart. As is, I can see no logical reason why Finn would have gone ahead and transmitted the information to Vader after seemingly being won over by his feelings for Dusque. All we get is Dusque's opinion that he was "too afraid of the Empire" to disobey. Okay, but why? And why did he seem to have decided against betraying the Rebels when they left Dantooine? And why on Earth did he need to stab Dusque? He was perfectly willing to lie to Vader about other details of the mission, so what need was there for him to actually try to kill her? I genuinely did like the ultimate resolution of his character, however; his hardening completely in the wake of the betrayal was well done. I just wish we'd gotten to see everything that led up to it.

Bottom line: no, this isn't the greatest EU story ever told, but it's still reasonably entertaining. While I don't quite share Scott's desire to see more stories in the OT time period just now (especially not with 18 years of almost-empty pre-ANH history about to go up for grabs), it was nice to get a quaint little Rebels vs. Empire story thrown in amongst three years of Yuuzhan Vong and Clones. Especially one that doesn't involve Han, Luke, or Leia.


Nick:

    In the past, I haven’t been too critical in my reviews; as long as I was entertained, I gave the book a reasonable rating. Times change, however, and as a college student that time is more precious than it was in the past. If I read a book in my free time, it had best be enjoyable, and that’s where The Ruins of Dantooine failed to deliver.

First and foremost, Ruins lacked energy; the entire book felt disconnected and sterile. As a result, I cared little for the characters, nor the disjointed series of “quests” that served as a loose plot. The novel read as if the author had gone through an early-90’s Choose-You-Own Adventure book and chosen a random path. “Your friend is being attacked by a pack of armored rats with acidic bile. Do you help your friend, or flee for your own life? Turn to page 237.”

I also didn’t like the fact that so many of the main characters of the Classic trilogy were forced into the books. For the most part, the cameos served little purpose. Vader and Leia were perhaps the only two characters whose roles couldn’t have been filled by a different character.

On an unrelated note, I didn’t like the feminine aspect of the book. I’m all for equal rights and treatment, but this aspect of the story was overplayed. I felt like I was reading a female empowerment guide, and at other times a dime-store romance novel. The cookie-cutter relationship between Dusque and Finn was paper-thin and overly dramatic, especially so when she proclaimed her love for him.

Lastly, the cover was terrible, although the author can’t be faulted for that choice. They could have at least put a picture of some of the characters or creatures from the book. That said however, there cover does feature stormtroopers, and there were stormtroopers in the book...


Adrick:

    In general, I am a positive sort of Star Wars fan. I like a lot of stuff other fans live to hate. The much maligned Phantom Menace actually turned me on to Star Wars, and not away from it. You won’t find me bashing Vonda McIntyre or Barbara Hambly, either. I thought The Crystal Star was extremely weird, but a fun adventure nonetheless. I believe that Children of the Jedi and Planet of Twilight, while often skirting the edge of weirdness, actually capture the feel of the Star Wars galaxy very well and are chock full of interesting tidbits of Expanded Universe lore.

Even when I didn’t like a book (Triple Zero) or when I found it absolutely bland (Jedi Trial) or when I thought the underlying concept was fundamentally flawed (Legacy of the Force), I will admit that at least the story was executed with some degree of skill. I am not a demanding reviewer.

With all that said, I believe that Ruins of Dantooine is the worst Star Wars novel ever published. Whitney-Robinson does introduce several potentially interesting characters like the aforementioned Inquisitor, the Ithorian Tendau Nandon, and Rebel agent Finn Darktrin…and instead of exploring any of them, she keeps her point of view confined to a single character: Dusque Mistflier. Dusque reflects often that, as an Imperial bioengineer, she was never given any assignments of real value. She believes that this is because she is female, and that the male scientists were jealous of her abilities. While gender discrimination is certainly on the list of evils perpetuated by Imperial establishments (along with, y’know, planetary genocide and outright slavery) I’d be willing to bet it was probably Dusque’s chronic insecurity, her insatiable desire for approval, and her astonishing gullibility rather than her gender that held her back.

Because of those…qualities…Dusque becomes extremely annoying after the first 100 pages or so. I’ll admit that I don’t know much about the Galaxies game, but isn’t one of its best features the ability to team up with fellow players? Why not round out the book with some more characters? But even though Whitney-Robinson mentions a lot of other rag-tag teams during the book, they remain anonymous and unimportant to the main plot.

So it’s Dusque and only Dusque we follow through more than two hundred pages of side quests, animal attacks, brief cameos by more interesting characters, gaping plot holes, a thoroughly unconvincing romance between Dusque and Finn, and, occasionally, actual missions and battles against the Empire. It becomes fairly obvious that there’s a traitor in Dusque’s team out to foil her adopted quest for the holocron, but since there are all of two people (counting Dusque) on her team, it’s (excruciatingly) painfully obvious throughout most of the book who is the spy. (Hint: It’s not Dusque.)

One could say that this is just a book based on a video game, after all, but then so are the infinitely superior Republic Commando series, the Jedi Knight graphic novels, and even the story sections of the X-Wing and TIE Fighter strategy guides—all of which are much more interesting reads than Ruins of Dantooine.



Scott:

    Nothing to add here!


Mike:

    The implied irony and humor in the Finn/fish hunter incident. That definitely isn't irony, nor is it terribly funny.


Nick:

    The failed attempts to spice up the book with a little humor. I actually had to set the book aside after the Finn / fish incident. Not only was it not funny, but there was a sentence following the incident that tried to explain the humor. I actually counted six sentences related to the joke, and depending how picky you want to be, you could count a few more. Talk about overkill of something that wasn’t even funny in the first place.


Adrick:

    The fact that I almost passed on Hard Contact because of this book.


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