Legacy of the Force VI - Inferno
1.8 / 4
3.9 / 4
Luke Skywalker wanted to unify the Jedi Order and bring peace to the universe. Instead his wife, Mara, lies dead at the hands of an unknown assassin, his wayward nephew Jacen has seized control of the Galactic Alliance, and the galaxy has exploded in all-out civil war.
With Luke consumed by grief, Jacen Solo works quickly to consolidate his power and jumpstart his plan to take over the Jedi. Convinced he's the only one who can save the galaxy, Jacen will do whatever it takes, even ambush his own parents.
With the rebel confederacy driving deep into the Core to attack Coruscant and the Jedi under siege, Luke must reassert his position. Only he can lead the Jedi through the crisis, but it means solving the toughest problem Luke's ever faced. Does he fight alongside his nephew Jacen, a tyrant who's taken over the GA, or does he join the rebels to smash the Galactic Alliance he helped create?
Legacy of the Force is the currently running nine-book series, detailing the continuing adventures of our beloved Star Warriors 40 years A New Hope. The newest novel released in this series is Troy Denning's Inferno. It's a mass-market paperback which clocked in at 289 pages, and then it contained an additional 10 page round-robin interview of the series three authors, and finally a twelve page preview of Fury. Though I must question if the eight dollars US I spent on those 289 pages of story were really worth it.
There is a fairly standard action-adventure plot here, nothing spectacular, but not total drivel either. Frankly, it feels less like a comprehensive plotline than it does a series of short action adventure stories that make up the novel. It tended to be more like smaller set pieces or events rather than an overall story. There was the post-Sacrifice aftermath event. There was the first battle, then the second, and so on. Basically, I guess my problem is that it felt more like an anthology of Troy Denning short stories set in a common time frame rather than an actual novel.
Settings tended to be exact places: the Jedi Temple, the Anakin Solo, the Wookiee council chambers. We did not get any huge vistas of planetary descriptions nor did we really receive any descriptions of space battles. That's not to say that they didn't happen, but the only time we were in a starfighter cockpit was with Jaina, and she spent more time navel gazing than actually flying. The rest of the time, the space battles were from Jacen's POV as he watched from the Anakin Solo.
In essence the only non-Skywalkers in play were Troy Denning's pet characters of Alema Rar, Saba Sebatyne, Tarfang and Jae Juun. Of course, he introduced a new character in Major Salle Serpa, a slightly mentally disturbed subordinate of Jacen's in the Guard, who I found myself actually liking somewhat. Additionally, I could easily buy into how both Luke and Ben were acting (reacting?) in the aftermath of the previous novel. Yet, I stumbled slightly with Han and Leia, especially in how they thought of their son. The two characters that weren't Skywalkers or Denning-pets were Tahiri Veila and Tenel Ka.
I liked Tenel Ka here. She was strong and aloof when necessary, but had a definite streak of basically herself in the midst of the story's events. We got to see the girl behind the crown so to speak, and it was a very welcome respite from the ice-princess which has been her standard characterization for the past decade.
Tahiri I'm less than thrilled over. I can understand the reasons that she's doing everything, but I don't think I like it. This girl has been through so much, especially during the NJO time frame, and while I can admit to preferring her ending up with Anakin Solo, at this point in time, I'd much rather have her with a happy ending than what they're doing to her here. Let's make this clear, it has been nearly 15 years in-universe since Anakin's death—the girl should be over it by now. Instead, she's effectively the same thing as a crack-whore.
Now, onto my pet rant for shared universes, continuity. Overall there was nothing horridly wrong continuity wise. Yet, as they say, the devil's in the details. There were a number of little things, such as giving Tahiri brown eyes, or Lumiya having a box filled with kaibur crystals (if there were that many of the things, why in the world would Luke have spent all of Splinter of the Mind's Eye hunting through swamps for it?).
Out of all the interesting things we learn in this book, the one that amused me the most is that it is possible to change the past via flow-walking. The first dozen or so pages, reveal that now, the infamous "almost" kiss between Anakin and Tahiri no longer exists, as she did kiss Anakin, due to her older self's interference in the past. As I read those words, I could hear a dozen anti-Anakin Returners groaning at this disruption of what they viewed Flow-walking as being capable of doing.
In the end, I wasn't as thrilled with this novel as I was with Denning's previous book, Tempest, and it was definitely a much weaker offering than either Tatooine Ghost or Star by Star. It had the "Star Wars" feel in the space battles and the lightsabers, and read fine as space opera, but somehow it just did not click. Maybe it was the sense of oppression and depression which is a recurrent theme since Del Rey won the contract.
Another good point for this book is that it is the first novel in this series where the prequels are not slapped upside our heads, multiple times, in the most obvious way possible as if we were nothing more than dumb readers, who shared a single brain cell. In fact, as I was writing this review, I was amazed by the fact that I didn't think, "Oh look, here's the required Prequel tie-in" at least once while reading. Of course, thinking back now, probably an entire third of the book can be construed as being related to a 5 minute scene from the prequels.
I just hope that Denning's third and the final installment of LotF comes out better than this. While I can't find any single thing wrong with the book, the whole thing just did not work for me. As always, I enjoyed Denning's writing, I enjoyed the action scenes, and I enjoyed how he handled the characters themselves, yet despite that, I just felt very blasé about the novel as a whole.
In the end, I have to award it a 1.8 out of 4, just because of that melancholic feeling I was left with at the end.
Paul: Let me start by saying one thing: I love this novel. In my eyes, it's probably the best Star Wars book since the middle years of the New Jedi Order, and the best that Troy Denning has written, too.
It's been a long time since we had a Star Wars story in which Luke Skywalker was so clearly the protagonist--perhaps you have to go all the way back to 1977. On top of that, the author has an excellent grasp of the voices and motivations of the Star Wars characters, and he also has a very good sense of the way that things work in the Star Wars Galaxy, from socio-economic pressures to technological capabilities and political movements.
That doesn't limit the scope or drama of this novel, though. Instead, it adds a subtle sense of depth and authenticity, and moreover, it enables Denning to twist the plot in surprising new directions, which still feel entirely plausible as organic developments of the story. I don't want to spoil the fun for those who haven't read the book, but the surprises here didn't feel like they were arbitrarily plotted for shock value. They seemed to be borne from the intersecting pressures of established characterization, and the trajectories of events in the Star Wars backstory.
As part of that capacity to transform people and events without losing their essence, Inferno also brings a much-needed clarity to the ongoing plot of "Legacy of the Force", the nine-book sequence of which it is part. In the preceding novels of the series, most of the characters have either been caught in awkward alliances with ideological enemies, or trying to straddle both sides of the conflict. Here, at last, a Jedi Master squares off against a Sith Lord, while a fleet of Star Destroyers faces a massed attack by X-wings.
In itself, that's a good thing--but it also raises a question: why did this take so long?! This is already book six of the nine-book series, and the story is also picking up on plotlines from the preceding Dark Nest trilogy, even the New Jedi Order before that. There's been rather a lot of buildup to get us to this point, and I suspect that the series as a whole might have benefited if it had reached a place like this a year or two ago.
To an extent, that delay may actually work in Inferno's favour: this is the Star Wars book I've been waiting for for several years! But, conscientious reviewer that I am, I'd be interested to know how new readers are reacting if they haven't been immersed in the backstory for all that time.
I should note that the first couple of chapters lay out the main characters' positions and mindsets rather clearly, so this might actually be a useful jumping-on-point for new readers; but the story does build on dramatic events in previous stories, notably the preceding hardcover Sacrifice, and the ending of Inferno is a reminder that it is a chapter in an ongoing series, leading on directly into the next novel. That segue is handled in a very capable way here, as the conclusion moves seamlessly into a teaser chapter for Aaron Allston's Fury, and it left me eager to read the next book in the series.
The only problem with this approach is that it feels slightly like the book has broken off in media res. All the components of a conclusion are in place: there's been a battle, the antagonists have been driven off, and the heroes are looking back at the events that just occurred; but there's no closure on the emotional journey, no sense that this is really more than a scene-change, or a transition between two volumes of a single story.
I suspect that just one extra scene might have helped define the ending better--assuming, of course, that closure is what you want here. In a multi-novel series like "Legacy of the Force", there's probably a case for leaving things open at this point.
Moreover, questions about the wider direction of the storyline certainly didn't detract from my enjoyment of this novel. It's fast-paced, and handles some relatively dark scenarios with a lightness that made me grin a lot, and laugh out loud on several occasions. On my first-read-through, I was labouring under a really bad toothache, and the pain was gone completely by page three. I didn't even come up for metaphorical air for a hundred pages or so--I was that engrossed. My enjoyment hasn't diminished on subsequent read-throughs, either.
Any scientists out there who want to look into this book as an alternative-therapy anaesthetic for Star Wars fans?
There isn't anything in Inferno that stands out quite as brilliantly as the scenes told from the point-of-view of the insane Jedi Knight Alema Rar in Denning's previous "Legacy of the Force" book, Tempest--but Alema does return here, and serves as the means to reveal a surprising twist to the reader, among other things.
Elsewhere, without spoiling any major surprises, I think I can safely say that Luke Skywalker shows what it means to be the Grand Master of the New Jedi Order, his teenage son Ben takes some brave, dangerous decisions as he continues to serve in the ruthless Galactic Alliance Guard, and Tatooine-born New Jedi Order heroine Tahiri Veila makes a welcome reappearance, and seems to be heading in an unexpected, but potentially intriguing, direction.
One thing that I like a lot about Troy Denning's novels is the depth of motivation that he's able to imbue his characters with. It's rarely spelled out on the page, but I get the sense that even the most noble of ideals may be less pure than their proponents believe. The agendas explicitly outlined in the book often feel like flawed rationalizations of emotionally-driven actions.
I don't want to say too much that might influence the reactions of un-spoiled readers, but perhaps the battle-lines here aren't those of a fundamental clash between light and dark, as they might seem at first. For example, one of the supposed heroes wields a lightsaber as ruthlessly and aggressively as Darth Vader, and a villain escapes by drawing powerfully on the light side of the Force.
I suspect that the clarity of purpose which shines out in this novel is not meant to reflect any higher purpose or moral truth: rather, it seems borne from a desire for unambiguous action, and a rejection of shaded ambiguity--emotions that are felt both by the characters, and by many readers of this series. And Inferno is no worse a book for doing that.
Denning's strengths, I think, lie in action, character psychology, humour, and narrative point-of-view. Particularly memorable turns of phrase are perhaps less of a feature, but perhaps it's better for the words to be well-chosen and effective without being ostentatious: I can't recall the prose being anything other than brisk, lucid and communicative, and there were nice literary echoes of Matt Stover's Traitor at some points, and also--unless I'm very much mistaken--of Dante's Divina Commedia, as well.
All in all, I'm giving this book a powerful 3.9/4, close to full marks. It isn't quite the perfect Star Wars novel (that's Greg Keyes' Conquest, as I argued here last month), but it has very few flaws, and an awful lot to recommend it.