Dark Nest III –
The Swarm War
3.8 / 4
3.5 / 4
In the explosive conclusion to the Dark Nest trilogy, Luke Skywalker summons the heroes of the New Jedi Order from near and far, as the Star Wars galaxy teeters on the edge of eternal war. Yet even the combined powers of the formidable Jedi may not be enough to vanquish the deadly perils confronting them.
The Chiss-Killik border war is threatening to engulf the entire galaxy and raising the awful specter of Killiks sweeping across space to absorb all living creatures into a single hive mind. The only hope for peace lies with the Jedi–and only if they can not only end the bloodshed between two fierce enemies but also combat the insidious evil spread by the elusive Dark Nest and its unseen queen.
Leia’s newly acquired Jedi skills will be put to the ultimate test in the coming life-and-death battle. As for Luke, he will have to prove, in a lightning display of Force strength and swordplay, that he is– beyond a shadow of a doubt–the greatest Jedi Master in the galaxy.
Paul: At the start of The Swarm War, Luke Skywalker is trying to impose his authority on the errant knights of the new Jedi Order that he has created, while Han Solo and Princess Leia are trying to reunite their fractured family. Then all-out war errupt between two alien empires, the Killiks and the Chiss, and the Star Warriors are thrust headlong into the front line to defend peace and justice.
In an abstract sense, this novel seems to be about the tension between personal desires and collective agendas, and the clashes between the different groups that claim our allegiances. On a deeper level, it considers identity, and the appropriation of the same symbols and slogans by people with radically different views of the appropriate ends and means.
Phrased in more personal terms, it’s about Luke, Han, Leia, and their extended family – children now grown to adults, old friends, lovers, and now the first grandchildren. For this reviewer at least, seeing the characters from the Star Wars trilogy move forward in their lives has always been the main ‘high’ of the novels and comics of the Expanded Universe.
The main ‘hook’ of modern Star Wars, on the other hand, has been the fact that the familiar characters– characters of truly vast standing in pop culture – continue to face challenges and surprises, situations which change them and threaten to break or destroy them. In The Swarm War, that hook is driven in deep.
As I closed The Swarm War, I was left thinking of The Empire Strikes Back, and Yoda’s regretful sigh as he watches Luke leave Dagobah for a devastating enconter with pain and suffering.
“Now, things are worse.”
And that’s good…
Troy Denning is a brilliant writer of darkly twisted storylines and psychologically complicated, evolving characters. With varying degrees of subtlety and stress, Luke, Han and Leia have all been permanently changed by the events of the Dark Nest trilogy, as have Luke’s wife and son and Han and Leia’s children.
Like ordinary human beings, all of them have been faced with difficult and uncompromising questions about themselves, their friends and family, and the society they live in – and sometimes, they have shirked away from actually asking them, let alone answering. At some point or another, they have all avoided saying what needed to be said.
The effect of all this in The Swarm War is to create a story focused intensely on flawed heroism and addictively dramatic personal quests – the story, in short, of Darth Vader’s heirs.
And Since Denning is one of the three novellists writing the ‘Legacy of the Force’ series that follows on where this leaves off, there’s every chance that the next chapter of the great saga will tackle the consequences head-on.
Of course, Denning is already a very experienced hand at this sort of thing. He has written four previous Star Wars novels, and a raft of other stories and sourcebooks, and as well as his distinctively shaded human characterization and complex situations, he’s also a past master at depicting the compelling little details that make the Star Wars galaxy such a vast and complex playground for the imagination.
In The Swarm War, Denning is at his best, effortlessly combining references to established continuity with brand-new material. But this isn’t just fanservice; it creates a teeming complexity entirely appropriate to the insect world of the Killik Nests, and the interplay of the familiar and the unexpected challenges and unsettles the reader and the character in very effective, and often very subtle, ways.
Of course, because it’s Star Wars, we get the familiar icons of the saga deployed in strength – Star Destroyers and X-wings, Skywalkers and Solos, lightsabers and Dark Jedi. But any expected light-and-dark ‘meaning’ is regularly questioned or subverted.
This is still Star Wars – but it’s a Star Wars that’s at once starker and more complex than much that’s come before. This is a story about a vast Galaxy of diamond stars in velvet darkness, in which the clash of lightsabers – sky-blue against blood-red – seems to be only a symbolic expression of a universals struggle to impose authority and order on the universe, a struggle in which all those involved are as complicit and intimately bound as lovers.
Of course, because The Swarm War is what it is, it can’t be what it’s not. It isn’t a clear-cut story in which heroes defeat villains. Denning’s writing uses tightly-limited third-person POVs, and shuns easy interpretations and exposition. He doesn’t tell the reader what to think, or whether a character has made the right judgement call – instead, he leaves readers and characters alike and try to grapple with the complexities and nuances of the story.
But if you think about it, that’s not really bad. Wicked, maybe. Twisted and dark. Difficult, at times. But I liked it. A lot.
This is good Star Wars!
In traditional TF.N style, I should say something about the "bad" and the "ugly" here as well, and the obvious candidate for the "bad" would be Twi’lek sex-cat Alema Rar – now scarred and crippled, coldly manipulative, locked in conflict with her former Jedi comrades.
But instead, my choice is Princess Leia. The Swarm War sees her finally complete her long journey to Jedi knighthood, and there are moments when she she becomes a lean, arrogant, cold-blooded predator. In her vicious final duel with Alema, she’s only the hero because we see the fight through her own eyes – and unlike Alema, she doesn’t have the excuse of being the brainwashed and mind-controlled slave of an insane enemy.
Maybe this is just a sharp edge on a complex character, but maybe it’s something that’s going to radically transform the dynamics of the Star Wars. Maybe it already has. For now, we have to make up our own minds – and for Legacy of the Force, we can look out seeing where the story goes from here.
Ugly? Lomi Plo. When we last saw her, she was a beautiful Dark Jedi with a crush on Anakin Solo. What’s left of her is a genuinely ugly sight, and she’s not improved by being chopped up with a lightsaber.
Mike: When I reviewed Joiner King several months back, I mentioned a bunch of plot threads that this trilogy was apparently gearing up to address (or at least set up more properly for Legacy of the Force). Figuring that I've said about as much as I can about Denning's writing style by this point (in a nutshell: quirky, but solid; he's the Saba Sebatyne of EU authors), there's little for me to talk about beyond specific plot moments, so it seems appropriate to check back in with those early expectations and see where we stand.
Jacen and the Force: I'm probably one of the few people who's a big fan of Jacen's character, yet still wants to see him go dark in Legacy. I wasn't yet convinced of that eventuality after he inadvertently hurt Ben, and I even gave him a pass on the Ta'a Chume mindwipe, if only because I'd have done the same damn thing. But with all the talk of Legacy's supposed prequel inspirations, I have to admit: when they're watching creepy RotS Anakin tell Padmé "everything's alright now" after the Temple slaughter, and Jacen sees nothing wrong with it, it's clear where this is headed. I suppose it should've been clear from the first words out of Vergere's mouth. It's gonna be damn interesting, but I do wonder what Stover would have to say about it.
Jaina and Zekk: Still creepy, even if they are apparently leaving the Killiks behind now. One thing that's great about Denning is that his books leave a lot of details unresolved (this whole trilogy, after all, came out of a loose thread from Star By Star, which he wrote far too long ago to have known that this opportunity would be coming), so I shouldn't really be surprised that Jaina isn't miraculously cured of her bug-hugging ways at book's end. It'll be interesting to see to what extent her mind-thing with Zekk still exists a few years later; it seems more and more like they might have to kill Zekk off sooner or later. On a related note, another cool dangling thread was Jag's fate, and I suppose to a lesser extent, Alema's. I don't think anybody doubts that we haven't seen the last of Jag, but wouldn't it be interesting if he reappeared with the former Night Herald in tow?
Speaking of killing Jedi off, I would have liked names for the two Jedi killed in the space battle. There are too few Jedi around at this point to just be wasting them anonymously in throwaway lines.
Artoo's history lesson: Pretty much handled the way I expected it, so not a lot to say here. Like I mentioned earlier, Jacen's reaction was a nice touch. Ghent was enjoyable to read about, as well - was he always able to understand binary? - but I'm finding it difficult to continue believing in him as a character. I constantly had to stop during his scenes and remind myself that, at this point, he's 47 years old! I'm not saying that he'd have to have evolved dramatically since his youthful Karrde days, it just seems less and less plausible that he'd still be doing this. Besides, how many 47-year-olds do you know who are the best at anything when it comes to computers?
The Killiks' history lesson: Okay, so we didn't really find out much about the Celestials here, other than the fact that they're called the "Celestials". I do like the idea that the Killiks are under the impression that they've done all this stuff via the minds they've absorbed, but sooner or later, especially since the introduction of the Rakata, they're gonna have to give us some details on these people.
Lastly, Raynar: Once again, I like the lack of a definitive conclusion here. Like Shatterpoint before it, this book does a good job of leaving lots open for further examination; like The Unifying Force before it, I'd be a bit less happy with it if I weren't certain that more answers are forthcoming. Generally, it's been a decent trilogy, but I'm definitely looking forward to the change of pace LotF will provide: familiar locations, familiar characters (Thrackie!), and different authors.
And in lieu of the retired "Ugly" section, let me just say one final thing: Danni! Come back!!