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Legacy of the Force IX - Invincible

Wes's Rating

2.6 / 4

Stephen's Rating

2.8 / 4

Adrick's Rating

3.0 / 4

Paul's Rating

3.9 / 4

 

No war can last forever. Now, in the long and punishing battle between the defiant champions of the New Jedi Order and the juggernaut that is the Galactic Alliance, the endgame is finally at hand. With so much lost--and nothing less than the course of the future still at stake--there can be no turning back. No matter the consequences.

The rebel cause is losing ground under the twin blows of Admiral Gilad Pellaeon's assassination and the death of Mara Jade Skywalker. At the same time, having gained the support of the Imperial Remnant and its ruthlessly efficient forces, the Galactic Alliance, with the extraordinary power and dark brilliance of newly ascendant Sith Lord Darth Caedus at its helm, may be unstoppable. Tormented and torn between the call of duty and the thirst for vengeance, Luke has searched the Force and beheld an unspeakable vision of the galaxy enslaved under tyranny more monstrous than even Palpatine's. Now it seems that the last, best hope lies in mobilizing the scattered Jedi for one decisive search-and-destroy mission. The objective: eliminate Darth Caedus.

It's a plan that will be as difficult and dangerous to execute as it is daring. For Caedus is a scion of both the Skywalker and Solo bloodlines whose command of the Force surpasses even that of his grandfather Darth Vader. There is only one who is bound by destiny to stand against him in what will surely be a duel to the death, only one with an outside chance of bringing down the dark lord who was once Jacen Solo.

Failure is not an option. The furious final moments between power and peace are here, and whoever confronts Darth Caedus will decide the outcome--and the fate of those left standing.


Reviews

Wes: The ninth and final book of the Legacy of the Force series, Troy Denning's Invincible, is finally here, capping off the three-author project that has lasted nearly two years. After Tempest and Inferno, my two favorite books of the series, I was very much looking forward to this novel despite some dismay with the series overall and its previous volume, Revelation.

The cover is great. Jaina looks like Jaina and is in a very dynamic, heroic pose. The back of Jacen's head is a little too much like Luke, but that's a minor quibble (and it may be intentional. More on that later!). While not as beautiful as the series' best cover, Sacrifice, it's an easy second.

1. Length & Focus

After the cover, the first thing you're certain to notice is how thin this novel is. At just 299 pages, it's the shortest book in the series and the shortest hardcover I can remember ever being published for the adult Star Wars books (Rule of Two comes close at 315 and Allegiance, Dark Lord, and Path of Destruction aren't far behind.).

Some people may be apprehensive about coughing up $27 for such a short book, but in general, I've never seen any correlation between page count and how much I enjoyed a novel. Some of the best Star Wars books ever published clock in at under 300 pages (Dark Tide: Onslaught and Ruin, Edge of Victory: Conquest and Rebirth, and Traitor to name a few...) and more recently, Denning's last novel Inferno was also just 299 pages, and that was the finest book in this series.

Mechanically, Denning is as good an author as we have in the EU. The words flow off the page beautifully, filled with vivid descriptions, brilliant action scenes, and crisp dialogue. In Legacy of the Force, his writing has really tightened up, becoming blade-sharp and cutting out all the unnecessary fat from his novels. He uses every scene to push the plot forward with what's important and never lets things bog down.

All of this is true for Invincible as well. However, things have become so streamlined that it comes at the detriment of the story for the first time.

Compared to other Star Wars novels, the plot is extremely narrow. The vast majority of the book revolves around Jaina Solo's mission to assassinate her brother Jacen, now Darth Caedus. And with nothing much going on, it really doesn't take that many steps to get there.

That said, Invincible's focused story is a welcome return after Revelation's clumsy plodding through ancillary storylines of the Fett soap opera.

But Invincible's focus is unusual. We get just four characters' POVs: Jaina, Jacen, Ben, and Han. A quick count shows we spend 182 pages of the book's 299 (302 when you add in the prologue) from Jaina's view point, 44 pages from Jacen's, 54 from Ben's, and only 22 from Han's (give or take 1 or 2 pages with each for half-pages). Only 15 of the first 125 pages follow a character besides Jaina, if that gives you any indication of its focus),

No Luke. No Leia. No Tahiri. No Tenel Ka.

And given the events of the story and how little we see any character outside of Jaina, this is very odd.

Make no mistake; this is Jaina Solo's book. Like Traitor for Jacen, or Conquest for Anakin Solo, Invincible is almost entirely about Jaina and her seizing her destiny as "Sword of the Jedi." Now there's nothing wrong with that exactly. Jaina has been short-changed throughout this series, and if anyone deserves some serious page time, it's her. Especially given the fact that she is the series' ultimate protagonist.

But this focus does rob the story of the more epic, Star Wars-feel most people will probably be expecting, especially for the climax of a nine book series. We don't spend much time crisscrossing the galaxy with multiple plot threads being woven at once.

Unfortunately, it does feel rushed. At times, I was left with the impression there may have even been a major rewrite to this novel at the eleventh hour, or at least some restructuring in response to Fury or Revelation. This is purely speculation on my part, of course, but it was something that kept cropping up in my mind as I read.

With such a thin story, I was baffled when I found some padding in the novel. Very early on, Ben is captured by Tahiri and the GAG on Coruscant, and Leia and Jaina go after him:

Leia eyed the medwagon, then said, "You know we don't stand a chance, right?"

"I know that it's Ben"


So even though they both know they'll likely be captured themselves, they refuse to leave Ben behind. The pair steals the medwagon and a high-speed chase through Coruscant ensues for 15 pages. It's a fun little scene, but when Leia and Jaina actually see the trap set up for them, the chapter ends abruptly with them abandoning Ben. Nothing else happens in this chapter, all the characters are left in the same spot they started in, and nothing new or relevant is learned.

In another book, this probably wouldn't be a big deal, but again, when so much of the rest of the story feels rushed, this chapter really sticks out.

2. Characterization & Continuity

There is a lot to love about Invincible. Most of the characterizations are outstanding, particularly that of Jacen. This is the best Jacen Solo we've had since Betrayal, and it's apparent almost instantly as Jacen reflects on mistakes he's made. Gone is the cackling, mustache-twirling villain who was just dying to tie Tenel Ka to some railroad tracks, replaced instead by a Sith Lord who goes out of his way not to kill a group of Imperial Stormtroopers on Nickel One and then barges in on a meeting with the Moffs in a beautifully Darth Vader-esque moment.

This is the Jacen Solo we were promised.

In fact, pretty much all of Jacen's scenes leading up to the big fight were great and left me wishing he'd been used in the book more. Each chapter begins with a joke from Jacen's Young Jedi Knight days, reminding us who the character was and at times, painting an even more chilling portrait of the new Sith. This was brilliant.

Ben is the other standout. I loved him in Betrayal but since then this kid has taken a real dive and become an embarrassment to his name. Amazingly, Denning manages to redeem him in my eyes. In many ways, Ben comes out the biggest hero in the story, proving himself to be dedicated and strong, and a Jedi in the mold of his father.

That being said, I find the idea that Ben has been elevated to the rank of Jedi Knight at 14 after all the bad he's done to be pretty unbelievable, especially given the age of the Solos and all they'd accomplished by the time they were Knighted.

Han and Leia have always been Denning's strongest characters, and they're good here, albeit absent for most of the book. There are also a few moments where their interaction seems forced.

Boba Fett is even great in this book! It's amazing how enjoyable he can be to read about when he's characterized as Boba Fett and not that sulking open-wound that appeared in Karen Traviss' books. It was very refreshing to see it done right, and I found myself wishing Denning had written Boba throughout the series.

Similarly, Jaina seems to have repaired the frontal lobes that had been drilled in the last novel to the point where she's no longer a nervous, quivering fool who spends her time paralyzed by awe for the awesomeness of Boba Fett and his band of merry Mandos. She actually acts like Jaina Solo, a tough and intelligent Jedi Knight who has put her duty to the galaxy above herself.

The only questionable characterizations in the book are that of Luke, which I'll get into later, and Tahiri, whose express lane to Sithdom still doesn't make any sense. The character is almost completely unrecognizable to even the Tahiri we see in Dark Nest, let alone in the New Jedi Order, and there's really no logical transition from Tahiri wanting to moon walk across time and see Anakin, and being willing to kill innocent people.

But then, the Jedi on the Council seem unusually harsh here as well. Early in the novel Jaina goes to the Masters and lays out her case for her being the one to confront and kill Caedus, and the Council is on board. It seems more than a little unJedi-like for the emphasis to be on assassination (their word) and less on stopping Jacen. Only Corran really suggest that there may be alternatives to assassinating Jacen (Unu Thul, anyone?), and while Kenth Hamner also objects, they lose an impromptu vote on the matter.

The reasoning seems to be that the Jedi have exhausted all other options. As Saba puts it, "We have tried arrest, and we have tried politicz, and we have failed because we refuse to see the truth: Caedus remainz in power because he never balkz at the kill. If we wish to remove him, neither can we."

The problem is that this just isn't the case. No real attempt to arrest Caedus has ever been made. The first team that confronted him in Fury was a diversion to put a tracking device on him and the second a diversion to rescue Allana from the Anakin Solo. If they wanted to arrest him, the end of Inferno would have been a good time to do it when Luke had him beat...

More importantly, there has never been a serious attempt to redeem Caedus. The closest we come is Leia in Fury going to him, but again, this is just a diversion for some espionage aboard the Dark Lord's flagship, not a serious plea to him. No one followed Luke Skywalker's RotJ example in this series and said, "That's it, I'm bringing Jacen Solo back to the light or I'm going to die trying!"

I'm not even saying it would work, just that someone had to try for this scenario to be acceptable. And it would have been easy enough to do: Simply have a Jedi try and fail, like Elegos A'Kla back in Ruin, whose death ruled out any chance of resolving the Yuuzhan Vong conflict with diplomacy.

Instead, we're just told that assassination is the only option several times and it's from this faulty premise that the story moves forward.

As for why it has to be Jaina Wilkes Booth who carries out the assassination, Invincible treads into some more sticky territory. Apparently, Luke's killing Lumiya has tainted him, and if he were to kill Jacen too, he would fall to the dark side. So wouldn't Jaina run a high risk of falling to the dark side given the personal feelings involved here as well? It was her aunt and Master who Jacen killed and Jacen is her twin brother? Or do Jedi get one free murder which only taints them, but a second one pushes it too far?

Why not send Kyp? Saba? Give Katarn another shot? All of the above? There are better ways to set up a Jacen and Jaina fight in the story than having it agreed upon ahead of time.

Apart from these issues, the book is pretty solid as far as its reasoning goes. There aren't a lot of plot holes and no damage to continuity that I spotted. Denning even references the "off camera" encounter between Jacen and the Verpine Maternellence from The Swarm War when they come face to antennae in this book-- the sort of connection that often gets lost in the shuffle. Even if it's from a previous Denning book, I appreciate the attention to detail here. Denning also very clearly has a good understanding of the Star Wars galaxy and its technology and it shows.

There are a lot of inventive and exciting action scenes. I particularly enjoyed Jaina falling to Nickel One in a dropsuit (reminiscent of the Myrkr strike team hitting the world ship in those pod thingies) and Darth Caedus taking out a squad of Mandalorian commandos before his first confrontation with Jaina. The entire scene is superb, with Jacen dropping Mirta on her head and then shattering beskar with a light tap from the pommel of his lightsaber.

The duel between Jacen and Jaina that follows is almost as good. Things get a little gory however, when Jaina hacks through Jacen's arm with a metal blade, but it does lead to one of my favorite parts of the book: The Nightsister Blood Trail. When the blood from Jacen's arm sprays across Jaina's neck, it burns and no amount of scrubbing will remove the stains that remain. Apparently, Jacen picked up this little trick from the Nightsisters on Dathomir, allowing him to sense the blood on Jaina through the Force across the galaxy, and he hopes, she will unwittingly reveal the location of the secret Jedi base.

I love when we get to delve into the more mystic Force powers, especially those of the dark side. Sith really shouldn't be just Jedi with red lightsabers who occasionally choke or broil someone with lightning.

That being said, I'm really not a fan of overpowering characters to the point where it sucks the suspense out of the story and there are moments when Luke treads too close to this for my liking. Instead of glimpsing the future as we've seen Jedi do previously, Luke seems to have a pretty accurate picture of how everything is going to happen in Invincible and can even manipulate Jacen's visions so that they can lead the Sith into a trap.

Luke takes the Desmond Hume approach here, convinced any change to the vision he sees will change the outcome and is willing to let Charlie take an arrow to the throat out of fear of disrupting it-- or in this case, trick Boba and his bud'ikas into taking casualties that the Jedi's Wookiee allies would have absorbed in the attack on Nickel One. Not the worst thing ever considering the Mandalorians were planning on using the Jedi in the same way, and there's some justice in that, but when even Jaina remarks that her uncle is "ruthless" there may be a problem.

In fact, there's a dark undercurrent running through much of what Luke does and says in Invincible. So much so that the reader is left not really knowing what to make of the Jedi Grand Master when the book closes.

On page 78 we get what is probably the most interesting part of the book:

"Uncle Luke, there has to be some way to avoid this."

"There isn't." Luke pivoted around and glared down on her with eyes that suddenly looked like a pair of suns blazing up from a dark well. "And it's not your responsibility to worry about those lives. It's mine-- mine, Jedi Solo. Is that clear?"


We've seen "blazing white suns" as eyes and a voice saying, "Mine! Mine!" in two other Denning novels: Tempest and Tatooine Ghost, both as visions of Sith. This is the sort of ambiguity that I always love about Denning's writing: the way this ties together will probably be fodder for discussion for a long time (I see there's already a discussion about this on the lit board started by Trip here. Beware though, it's spoiler heavy!).

I'll spare you my thoughts on the broader implications of this, if there are any, for Luke, Jacen, and the LotF story and whether there's any connection to the mysterious Sith character introduced in Inferno as "White Eyes."

After the failed assassination attempt on Nickel One, Luke uses his powers of illusion and Jacen's own blood trail against him, leading him into a trap. In the interim, Jaina spends her time recovering and learns a new Force power of her own from Luke-- shatterpoint. Instead of the shatterpoints of events or people, a concept we were introduced to in Matthew Stover's book on this subject, Denning applies it to objects.

This seems like a natural extrapolation and it's described and explained well, but, like the medwagon chase, it could have been excised from the book in favor of something more relevant. After a training session in which we watch Jaina shatter a variety of materials, this power never comes up again. Jaina never uses it in anyway against Jacen in their final battle.

I assume it was introduced to explain what Jacen did to the beskar armor earlier in the book, but the amount of time spent on it seems unnecessary. It feels so wedged in that it makes me wonder if there was supposed to be more to it.

3. The Showdown: Jaina vs. Jacen

Luke's trap leads to the big showdown of the book. The next section contains major spoilers about Invincible. Highlight to read-- but I ask that you please skip over it if you have not read this novel yet. In my opinion, you will likely enjoy the book much more if you don't know how it ends.


The resolution to Legacy of the Force comes in the form of a brutal lightsaber duel between Jacen and Jaina Solo. As is stated on the dust jacket, it is a "Duel to the death." Jaina never offers Jacen a chance to surrender during the battle-- in fact, she sort of denies him the opportunity.

Caedus is desperately trying to get to his former lover, Tenel Ka, and their child Allana, in order to warn them of an Imperial nanovirus genetically programmed to target her bloodline, which is about to be released on her flagship. He actually deactivates his lightsaber at the peak of the duel and makes this plea to his sister:

"Jaina, listen to me." There was a throaty, gurgling quality to Caedus's voice, and it seemed obvious that the only thing keeping him on his feet was Force energy-- a lot of it. "You need to get out of my way. I'm trying to save Tenel Ka and Allana."

"Sure you are," Jaina scoffed. As she spoke, she extended her Force awareness in all directions, trying to figure out why Caedus was stalling when his body was running out of time. "Just like you saved Isolder."

"Isolder would have made the same choice. In fact, he did." Caedus clipped his lightsaber to his belt, a trust-building gesture that might have some meaning, had he not been a lying Sith murderer. "Jaina, we don't have time for this."

"So die already."

Jaina launched herself into a Force flip, tumbling over the conveyor belt head-down so that she could strike before Caedus had time to unclip and ignite his lightsaber.


Now, one can hardly blame Jaina for not believing her brother here, but you have to wonder why the situation is constructed this way in the first place. This goes back to the fact that no one has really even tried to bring Jacen back, and here, Jaina is basically denying him a chance to do something good. And being a pretty poor Jedi on top of it.

What's worse is that this is the only dialogue between the pair during the entire fight. There's even less in their first duel, mostly centering on Jacen's confusion at it not being Luke Skywalker standing in front of him when Luke was casting an illusion of himself over Jaina.

This is the first time these two have seen each other since Bloodlines. The first time since Jacen became a Sith Lord. We never get an emotional, "You were the chosen one!" moment or even a simple, beautiful, "I love you," as Jaina drives her blade into Jacen's heart and ends his life.

While the duel itself is well-written and brutal, it seems incredibly anticlimactic. There's never a moment where you think Jacen might actually win in this book. He's only got one arm, and the fight starts with Jaina sucker-stabbing Jacen in the guts with her lightsaber. He loses the use of a leg soon after (A friend of mine compared him to Monty Python's Black Knight and that seems appropriate).

Even if that wasn't the case, Jacen has lost in almost every book in this series. His one real victory comes in Sacrifice when he kills Mara, and even that was a just barely. In the last three LotF books, Jacen lost to Luke, ran away from the final fight in Fury, and then even got knee-capped by a few Mandalorian commandos and only survived because Fett decided to let him live.

Now, I'm no expert on storytelling, but I'm fairly certain you don't build suspense by letting your villain get his choobies kicked in every novel leading up to the climax only to have him lose again. The whole thing is so unsurprising that it becomes kind of dull.

More than anything, I wanted to be surprised by the ending. Instead, we get exactly what anyone would have guessed as far back as Fury, if not earlier. The whole situation is made all the more tragic and disappointing by the fact Jaina never even offers Jacen a chance to surrender. She simply murders him.

Now, while I may be disappointed in the lack of emotion in this final conflict, I do appreciate that Denning doesn't feel the need to tell us what the characters are feeling all the time, even in a scene like this. And the aftermath of the duel where Jaina is despondent and holding her brother in her lap is very well done.

I also want to give kudos to Denning and the whole LotF team on allowing Jaina to be the ultimate protagonist in this series. I had my doubts when the series began, as we've never seen a female character take on the key role in a large Star Wars series like this before, and I know the GFFA is still largely a "boys' club," so it was nice to see them showing some courage in this respect. I was always pulling for the twin duel, a throwback to Denning's New Jedi Order offering when Tsavong Lah wanted Jacen and Jaina to duel as a sacrifice to their gods, so I was at least pleased to see that, even if it turned out to be disappointing.



4. The B Plot

The B plot of Invincible, and the only other thing really going on in the book, revolves around Ben and Tahiri. As I mentioned earlier, Ben is taken prisoner on Coruscant by Tahiri and the GAG. What follows is one of the most uncomfortable and disturbing scenes I can remember in Star Wars.

Frustrated that her attempts to torture Ben have yielded nothing of the whereabouts of the Jedi, Tahiri decides it's time to change tactics-- and tries to seduce him instead. Now, this is probably a good time to remind you that Ben is just 14 and Tahiri is a 28 year old woman.

Tahiri rubs bacta on his sores suggestively and Ben calls her out on it in homage to The Graduate. I kept waiting for Chris Hansen to saunter into the cell and put a stop to this scene, but unfortunately, Ben is left to his own devices. It doesn't go any farther than Tahiri purring and stuffing her hand in his underwear to rub his hip, but I think that's probably far enough, don't you?

Now, in previous books, I've noticed that Denning seems to enjoy making his readers squirm a little, but I do feel that a line may have been crossed here. In another series, in a place where this sort of thing was going to be handled seriously, it probably would seem more acceptable, even if the subject matter is bound to make anyone uncomfortable. But there is something very un-Star Wars about it. It didn't ruin the book for me, but I know there are going to be people who are very upset by this and I don't think I could blame them if their reaction is more intense than my own.

In fact, there's quite a lot of sexual innuendo in Invincible. Nothing we haven't seen before really, and certainly nothing like the interrogation scene-- just more of it.

Anyway, during the course of the Ben and Tahiri storyline, Ben ends up traveling with Tenel Ka's twin cousins (a pair of flirty lushes named Trista and Tayrn) while Tahiri is horrified by the murder of Lon Shevu (who has more personality in the scene leading up to his death than he has in all of Legacy of the Force thus far). Her faith in the dark side and Jacen Solo is further shaken when Jacen drops a hammer on her, revealing that when they flow walked back to Anakin's death on Myrkr, she hadn't really changed the past by kissing him, only her memory of the past.

The concrete explanation on flow walking was very much appreciated even if it is a bit flimsy. It was certainly something that needed tying up, and I thought it was a nice touch when we learned that Jacen had learned the power from the Aing-Tii because he was desperate to find a way to bring Anakin back himself, and was distraught when he learned that it could not be done.

I'm going to add some spoiler highlighting for a second time in this review, because I think this is probably the book's best surprise:


After Shevu's death, Ben feels Tahiri's reaction to it and believes there is still good in her, that she isn't completely gone like Jacen. He sets out to save her from the dark side and succeeds.

This is definitely the bright spot of the whole novel and quite surprising. I really thought Tahiri would be a goner in this one the way her characterization had been spiraling. While she does sort of fall out of Sithdom as quickly as she seems to have taken it up, it is made up for by the fact that this also redeems Ben's character in a big way in this series.

I really missed the funny, good-natured kid we saw in Betrayal and had grown quite disgusted with him as the series went on. But Ben wins out here. He pulls a Luke Skywalker, brings Tahiri back to the Light Side, and somehow has become the only one doing the right thing these days.

The scene left me feeling very good about both characters.


5. The New Order

Invincible saves its biggest surprise of all for the last few pages-- Admiral Daala, the one-eyed psychopath who attempted to destroy the Jedi Knights, the New Republic, and the Imperial Remnant-- a woman so deranged she would actually have sex with Grand Moff Tarkin-- is now the Chief of State of the Galactic Alliance.

And no, I'm not kidding.

This is so over-the-top ridiculous it makes it difficult to take anything from Legacy of the Force seriously. Denning seems to acknowledge this through Jaina:

"Daala?" Jaina gasped. She stared at the screen in disbelief for a moment, then finally snorted and looked back to her parents. "Very funny, guys, but I'm not really in the mood for practical jokes."


What makes this even harder to swallow is that outside of Jaina, no one seems to object. We're told that her appointment was agreed on almost universally, and even Han and Leia seem to be of the, "Let's give her a chance," mindset.

Now, this is probably just a setup for another prequel-rehash series in which the evil Jedi-hating Chief of State goes after the Order and rules with an iron fist, but it's kind of sad that this is the best reason I can come up with to explain this choice.

6. Final Thoughts

When all is said and done I have a very hard time deciding whether this is a good book or a bad book. It's certainly not of the caliber of Tempest or Inferno but it's also important to state that most of big problems here are problems with Legacy of the Force and not with Invincible itself. Unfortunately, it's difficult to separate the two.

The biggest problem is that after eight books, the series didn't have a point, and after the ninth, it still doesn't. All that happened in this series was that Jacen became a Sith for like three months, Mara died, and then there was another major death that tore the Skywalker/Solo clan further asunder... But why? What was gained here? It's just tragedy for the sake of tragedy.

There is an attempt in Invincible's final pages to give the series meaning with Jaina's revelation that Jacen's fall to the dark side had succeeded in uniting the galaxy... against him!

There are two major problems with this though-- everyone saw that coming as far back as . It was obvious the galaxy would unite against Jacen. And more importantly, the galaxy was united in exactly the same way before LotF. At the end of the NJO, the Alliance, Imperial Remnant, Hapes Consortium, and Chiss Ascendancy were allies. Even after the Killik Conflict and the tension between these factions, the war was resolved fairly peacefully and all sides remained allies.

The only reason there was a real war in LotF and a galaxy that needed reuniting was because of Lumiya and Jacen, so this is absolute nonsense.

Fairly or unfairly, Invincible will carry the burden of LotF's failures because it is the final book in the series and the last word on the subject-- the last chance to repair some of the problems.

There are many good things about Invincible but even judging it as a stand alone book and ignoring the fact that it's climax of Legacy of the Force, the book falls short on its own terms.

2.6/4.





Stephen: So, another long, drawn-out, multi-novel Star Wars event has come to a close. With the release of Star Wars Invincible (ISBN: 978-0-345-47746-0) by Troy Denning, the nine-part Legacy of the Force series is officially over. At 299 pages, this is the shortest novel in the LotF imprint, and there are not that many books that are shorter. In fact the only one that springs to mind is the A New Hope novelization which clocks in at about 260 pages in my hardcover format. Why is this so important? Mainly because I just dropped $27 on this book. That's dinner out--and not just for me, but for me, the wife and both of my kids, and if I go to Chick-fil-a I'd get change back.

Just for the record, I am not going to be discussing LotF as a whole, nor am I going to be discussing the successes or failures of this novel as the end-cap to that series. I'm leaving those discussions for my planned review of LotF. This review will focus on the strengths and weaknesses of this novel alone.

So, with that out of the way, let's move to the plot! As in all of Denning's novels, the plot reads like a mixture of a movie and a video game script. There are defined arcs, with the action jumping back and forth at more or less random points as we swing from one portion of the galaxy to another in an effort to keep the plot plodding along. Fundamentally, there's not anything wrong with the plot, it's a typical, action-adventure plot, built with the standard three-act play style of most movies. As I said, there's nothing WRONG with this plot, outside of the fact that it's somewhat forgettable.

Waking myself up from thoughts on the plot, I'll focus on the characters. Since this is a Star Wars novel produced by Del Rey we had a relative close knit cast. Ben and Luke Skywalker, Jacen, Jaina, Han and Leia Solo, and then the rest of the EU. I still fondly remember when characters without the last name of Solo or Skywalker would feature predominately in the storyline. But back on topic; what we get is the Jedi, the Sith, and the odd cameo by Boba Fett, Mirta and Jag. Unsuprisingly, the Boba and Mirta that we see here are not the saintly, unstoppable Mandalorians which we had read about in Revelation. Additionally, the Jaina we read here is not the awe-struck, Mando's are awesome girl-child that was in Revelation, but rather the more war-weary woman that appeared in Betrayal. And of course, the Ben we read is yet again divergent--his man-love for Shevu and Lekauf has been toned down a bit, and he can actually go a whole scene or two without thinking about Lekauf; and amazingly enough, he is able to be a Jedi without the need to second-guess his Force abilities.

Yet, these shifts in characters aside, within the context of this novel, the cast's characterizations stay the same, or the evolve naturally from the events within the novel. Speaking of evolving, we do get to see Tahiri here. While we still don't get into her head in the same fashion as we get into Ben's or Jaina's (who are the POV characters when she's on screen), what we do see is not as overtly outside of the realm of possible end points for her character from the NJO as the Tahiri we have been seeing.

What did disturb me somewhat was the obscene over-powering of the Jedi. It's long been something which the authors have struggled against, and for simplicities sake we'll call it the Dragon Ball Z (DBZ) factor. DBZ, and by extension most other fighting-based anime, have a formula they follow: the character is strong, gets beaten, comes back stronger, only to find out there's another bad guy who's even stronger coming so the whole process can be repeated. Bantam-era EU suffered this badly, culminating in the fact that the authors would go out of their way to injure Luke so that he wouldn't be able to draw upon the full range of his Force powers. At the end of the Bantam-era, Zahn went through the trouble of effectively de-powering Luke, a de-powering which lasted throughout the NJO, and that has effectively been undone by the Dark Nest trilogy and LotF. What's sadder is that it's a fact that has now been applied to the rest of the Jedi. This is bad for story telling purposes because we are left with only two possible choices for compelling stories: a bad guy stronger than Luke and the Council combined, or Luke and the Council getting beat down so they can't use the full range of their powers.

Of course, the pessimist in me fears that we'll just get stories which features the Jedi making consistently stupid decisions, or angsting in indecision.

Switching modes quickly before my pessimism wins out, the continuity of this book (outside of the continuity of characterizations) is nigh upon spotless. I don't remember a single continuity flub--which is a rare thing these days. Additionally, the editing worked well as I only remember a single mistake in the novel (look for a blue lightsaber, where there should be a green one). My one complaint on the physical product would have to be the cover. I'm still trying to figure out just how Jaina is supposed to contort her body into that particular pose. What I do find amazing is the fact that, unlike her brother's appearances (especially on the Betrayal cover), Jaina looks like an older version of the Jaina on most of the NJO covers that she appeared on.

Now, we get to the fun part; the theme.

Much like the previous Denning novel I failed to find one. This was space-opera at its best. It neither took itself seriously, nor implied that we should. Oh, I'm sure someone more post-modern than me could wring some concept on how the title factors into Jacen's beliefs about himself, or the Jedi Council's actions or just something. For me, a good yarn without any deep, hidden meanings is good. Especially after the less-than deeply hidden meanings I read in the previous Star Wars novel.

What disturbed me the most about this book was how all off the left-over, dangling Legacy of the Force threads were tied up.  All of those things which the first four and a half books were focused on, and which were more or less ignored in the past three, were brought to a close here. Miserably and rather perfunctorily, but they were closed. Yet, that's a discussion for the LotF review--what's important for this book is that Denning does close the threads. And truthfully, I came into this novel fully expecting them to not be addressed at all.

What does all that mean? Basically-I liked this novel as a stand alone story. Its failings are how it ties into LotF as an overarching storyline, and its reliance on uber-powered Jedi (which leads us to DBZ). The first issue is reflected in the fact that there's not a lot of back-story to set things up. We're dropped more or less into the story at full run, which means that for a reader who hasn't read Revelation, it might be hard to to catch up on what's happening. This hit-the-ground-running thing is coupled with the less than stellar way to resolve all the hanging threads. The second issue is defined above and I don't feel the need to go over it again. The good thing is that those issues can be overcome--and they are.

While the plot isn't the best, it's a fun enough read to take your mind off of the issues I stumbled across. In the end, it's an average book. It's not stellar, and I'd have rather paid the paperback price of $8 rather than the hardback price of $27, but I still enjoyed reading it--which in the end is really all that matters. I'm giving this a score of 2.8 out of 4.





Adrick: I feel for the fans that began following the Expanded Universe with young adults series like Young Jedi Knights and Junior Jedi Knights--I really do. The characters from those two series began literary life as innocent, hopeful young characters in innocent settings. It's rather shocking that characters designed for children to identify with have since been plunged into madness, depravity, and darkness... and some of them may never return.

Troy Denning understands how intrinsically horrifying this path has been, both for the characters and the readers. Anyone who has been able to keep up with the plodding Legacy of the Force series for its entire nine book run knows that Jacen Solo has taken on the mantle of Sith Lord and the moniker Darth Caedus, and that Tahiri Veila, a former Junior Jedi Knight, has become his Sith Apprentice. Denning deals with the transformations skillfully: the book opens with a flashback to the Young Jedi Knights #2: Shadow Academy, and he continues to remind us of who Jacen used to be by placing quotes from the younger Jacen at the beginning of each chapter. These are all Force-awful jokes, Jacen's trademark in the Young Jedi series, and serve as painful counterpoints to Darth Caedus's evil. Even while Denning is daring enough to suggest that Caedus may be beyond redemption, he never forgets the young hero that was Jacen Solo.

So while longtime readers may be distressed at Jacen, Jaina, and Tahiri's fates in the novel, they can at least rest assured that the author is fully aware of the long history these characters have, and has made sure that these fates are believable. After having suffered some kind of character regression in Revelation, it is good to see Jaina back in top form in this novel as she takes on the tragic role of Caedus's executioner. I also rather enjoyed Ben Skywalker's (somewhat) lighter adventures. Having renounced both loyalty and vengeance towards Caedus, Ben comes into his own in this novel; playing spy, flirting with Hapan agents, facing off against a killer battle droid, and redeeming one of the villains. He is his father's son.

All in all, I enjoyed reading Invincible more than any post-Return of the Jedi novel since The Unifying Force, and so I give it a pretty high 3 out of 4. Readers expecting some kind of definite closure to the larger Legacy of the Force series may be disappointed, however. The war between the Alliance and the Confederation vanishes with the barest of explanations, the cosmic or mortal fates of two major characters are left unresolved, and the new leader of the galactic coalition is probably the most preposterous plot point since the Glove of Darth Vader. I can see that a lot of this may be leading into the next series, but it would have been nice to see this series end with a more definite conclusion. Denning does try to give the tragedy of Darth Caedus some deeper purpose, but I don't think either of his explanations would stand up to much scrutiny.

Finally, I'm not sure what is up with these last few novel titles. Revelation contained little that was revelatory. Invincible highlights the weaknesses of even the most powerful characters. False advertising, I say!





Paul: I'm a big fan of Troy Denning's Star Wars novels anyway, but such a positive reaction deserves double emphasis here. I've not been feeling particularly enthusiastic about Star Wars recently, and in particular, I don't feel that the "Legacy of the Force" series has always hung together brilliantly.

One book can't completely reverse all that--but Invincible is still an uncompromisingly good Star Wars novel, and in the end, that's what really matters.

Sure, I didn't think it was quite as much pure, straightforward, toothache-curing fun as Denning's previous novel in the "Legacy of the Force" series, Inferno; but it was still a lot of fun, and there's a good reason why it wasn't as straightforward: as the concluding novel of the series, it simply had a lot more to do.

Whereas Inferno could just let rip with massive X-wing attacks and Leia-vs.-Ewok wrestling matches, Invincible had to provide an effective ending for a nine-book series that hasn't always been notable for internal consistency or overall cohesion.

One way to deal with this sort of situation is to do what Tim Zahn did in Specter of the Past. There, from page one, the book simply cut through the mid-Bantam-era's tangle of warlords and changing characterization with the confidence of a Star Destroyer, and left the continuity to sort itself out in its wake.

I liked that at the time, but Denning, writing the final story of a nine-novel arc, seems strongly committed to bringing the whole series together. It's a task I'd have called tricky, due to the narrative deconstruction (whether accidental or deliberate) that's characterized this series.

It's even harder when you bear in mind that an effective conclusion isn't just about lining up the mechanical details of continuity and characterization. It has to find the right mood and tone, too... and I think Invincible did it brilliantly.

I loved the way that this novel brought the themes and plotlines of the series together, and I like it more and more the further I think about it. More importantly, a lot of it happened in ways that I hadn't anticipated at all--even though I'd thoroughly immersed myself in spoilers before I read the book. And on top of that, it did all this while telling a strong and tightly-focused Star Wars story.

I think Invincible is the most interesting, sophisticated and powerful book to appear in this franchise for many years, and it's probably just superceded Inferno as my second-favourite Star Wars novel of all time.

The first thing I want to consider in explaining why I love this book so much is the novel's overall structure. Thematically and as a narrative, Invincible does two things. Firstly, it takes all the things that I expected as a reader, and twists them around in a way that I found completely unexpected. Simultaneously, it smashes apart the situation in a sharp-edged blast of carnage, and asks how the characters can still get some sort of hope out of them.

In doing this, Invincible also makes sense of the chaos in the preceeding books. We've had fragmented plotlines, heroes being turned into villains, and the remaining good guys doing some questionable things. It's not always been clear if this has been part of a deliberate plotline, or just a reflection of the size and complexity of the Star Wars Galaxy.

I'm pretty certain that Troy Denning knows what he's doing here, though. At first sight, it might seem like the problems of the previous novels are continuing, but their very existence is a strangely positive thing. It reminds the reader of the need for a genuine Star Wars response to the situation, and challenges the characters to find one.

I think this quest is the unspoken purpose of this book, and ultimately, I think, Invincible succeeds. Subtly but effectively, it gives the Star Wars answer.

It doesn't do it in the obvious way, though. And that, too, is another strength.

Most of Denning's Star Wars books, like Star by Star, The Swarm War and Inferno, take place on an unashamedly epic scale, with a wide variety of characters and a panorama of different settings. Here, while the grandeur of the background is not in question, there is a much tighter focus, with only four narrative perspectives--Han Solo; his Jedi daughter Jaina; Darth Caedus, her twin brother, now a Sith Lord; and Ben Skywalker, Luke's teenage son.

Through these four viewpoints, we follow just two narrative threads here, one of which follows Jaina Solo, the other Ben Skywalker, and while they don't often meet through the course of the novel, I think their stories can be seen as responses to one another. Jacen has fragments of a plot, but he's perhaps not as crucial as he thinks he is.

The pinpoint-camera focus of all this has a technical aspect, fixing the reader's attention on a very closely-structured plotline and on the fast-paced thoughts, reactions and experiences of a small, tight-knit group of characters; but more than that, it also evokes a subtle, profoundly Star Wars point, and all without saying a word: the truths you cling to depend very much on your point of view.

Early on, on Coruscant, there's a scene where Jaina Solo is trying to escape an ambush by the Galactic Guard. We've just seen some ruthlessly efficient battlefield tactics from Tahiri Veila, heroic Jedi Knight turned Sith Apprentice and Galactic Guard commander. These seems to establish Tahiri as a villain now, a cold, deadly threat to the heroic protagonists.

Then Jaina starts impersonating a Galactic Guard officer herself, and pulls rank on the nearest Alliance troops, backed up by a couple of manipulative mind-tricks.

Of course, Jaina thinks she's just playing a part, but reading this scene, I felt a sudden dizzying sense of clarity, as I saw the tricks that point-of-view can play, and the difference between outer action and inward intent.

Later, during the climactic battle, Han Solo thinks that his daughter has been killed, and in response, he prepares to send a ship-killing baradium missile into the guts of a Star Destroyer, to take out everyone who's been responsible for the conflict.

This is a move that's designed to kill his surviving Sith Lord son and the Imperial Moff Council, and several tens of thousands of soldiers who're just doing their duty. But the same Star Destroyer has just been boarded by a massive Jedi attack force, including the Masters of the Council and the bulk of the Order's fighting knights... led by Luke Skywalker in person.

Was Han really going to give the Jedi time to escape before he launched that baradium missile? The novel doesn't tell us, but we've known since the start of this series that he privately blames Luke for what's happened to his kids, and sees him as complicit in starting the war as well.

Of course, Han is being cranky here, and he doesn't go through with the plan--as Han himself once said, "No one ever gets to fire the baradium missiles". Even so, the idea alone is a sign of quite how crazy the entire situation has become. And there's more to it than that, as well.

What Han planned to do here also switches back to the parallel events over in Ben Skywalker's plotline, where the young Jedi has to stop Tahiri from detonating a baradium weapon of her own inside the Jedi base on the mining world of Shedu Maad. Thematically, the actions of the opposing sides in this fight are not so contrasted as they superficially appear.

Not only is this a good and subtle story, it's one that I thought was brilliantly told. The prose is as crisp and clear as a view out into the perfect vacuum of deep space, and while Denning isn't the sort of author who tries to impress the reader with fancy word-work, he uses patterns of description to evoke the classic movies and the wider world of Star Wars continuity, and to establish narrative patterns within the novel itself.

There are well-illustrated glimpses of a range of planets, from the well-known cityscape of Coruscant to a remote, abandoned mining planet we've never seen before. A Sith Lord stands on the bridge of his Star Destroyer, and Jaina Solo returns to the sort of crunching hand-to-hand combat she fought through in in Denning's Dark Nest trilogy. Moreover, I think there is more to all this than simply action and word-building. These scenes, by highlighting telling details of a place or an event, express the mood and character of a civilization or a situation.

One thing that particularly stood out for me was the chaos of space-battles, normally seen through the eyes of Han Solo at the controls of a small ship spinning through the thick of it. This took me straight back to Return of the Jedi, but thes scenes are also intertwined with other perspectives within the novel, making contacts that bring the story together as a whole.

Complimentary descriptions build up a connection between Han's experiences and those of his young nephew Ben Skywalker, watching the fireworks of the concluding battle from the surface of a planet under siege. From this, in turn, there develops an unspoken contrast between Ben's reactions now and his earlier response to the chaos of space-battle in Tempest. Within a firmly Star Wars setting, we can see that Ben is maturing as a character--and also what kind of man he might become.

Beyond this, there is also an underlying contrast between the violent colour of laser-beams and explosions, and a quietly electric background of utter darkness, which plays a role in some earlier scenes of the novel. This is not just a matter of visualization and aesthetics, although it works brilliantly in those terms. It is also a very effective way to convey a sense of mood, and perhaps--more subtly and enigmatically--meaning.

A lot of people have expressed a concern that the mathematics of this book's page-count might be too low to provide an effective conclusion to a million-word series. The hardback weighs in at a slim-sounding 299 pages. This isn't as short as it sounds, though.

Hardcovers are formatted differently from paperbacks. Comparing the page-count of Chapter One here with the length it takes up as a teaser in the back of Revelation, I would expect the paperback to work out around 375 pages. Depending on the specifics of typesetting, it might even reach 400. That's a solid size, comparable with The Joiner King or Shatterpoint, or Revelation, for example.

Of course, the raw arithmetic of word-count isn't everything. As far as I'm concerned, this book is long enough to deal with everything it has to cover. I've already looked at the brilliant ways I think mood, characterization and meaning were developed here, but I don't think the story stints when it comes to tying the plotline into the wider narrative of the "Second Galactic Civil War", either.

As a conclusion to the series, Invincible covered a surprising amount of ground within its tightly-focused plot. The novel was made to embody a wider pattern of events through characters' brief reflections on off-camera events, and through their encounters with representatives of various other things going on in the Galaxy, from the Moff Council to the hive-minded Verpine, to the Galactic Guard. Moreover, those groups were characterized very effectively as collections of disparate individuals united by a shared cause. Even briefly-seen characters were imbued by Denning with distinctive personalities, but it was particularly good to finally see Boba Fett and his commandos being used by an author other than Karen Traviss.

That's not a criticism of anyone, by the way--the point is that the Mandalorians finally came firmly into the 'A plot' of the series here, even if it was mainly as supporting players. Their value to the storyline was enhanced beyond their military contribution to the war, by Jaina's grudging, Fett-like respect for them, and the sheer personal lethality of Boba Fett himself, and his granddaughter Mirta Gev.

Of course, with such a tightly-focused storyline, there were inevitable trade-offs in the design of this book. The speed of the narrative meant that it had little room for cargo in the form of of sub-plots. The most notable absentees were the Corellian-led Confederation, the ostensible antagonists for the first two-thirds of the series. As an organized faction, they were reduced to pretty much a single one-line reference.

There was also no mention that I can remember of Luke's old wingman Wedge Antilles, and the other Corellian defectors who recently joined the Jedi cause. That said, I didn't really think there was anything lacking here in the end, and I think the background references were effective in their own way. Sometimes, an absence can itself be telling. It's only just occurred to me now that Wedge's daughter Syal was probably among the un-named Blastboat pilots during the Jedi raid on Roche.

That's a particularly nice touch, because Syal should have a lot in common with the POV character in the scene where we first see those ex-Alliance flyers, Jaina Solo. They're both fighter-pilot daughters of Corellian heroes of the Rebel Alliance, with very similar experiences of war. The fact that they're not really inside each other's orbits shows that they're all getting on with the business of warfare in a focused, professional manner, but I wonder if there might be more to it than that.

Jaina doen't even know Syal, which hints at a subtle and continuing process of separation and unnatural disconnection, in contrast with the superficial fact that they're all fighting on the same side now. I think that having a twist like that sneak up on me in hindsight, some time after reading the novel for the first time, is worth far more than any number of obvious continuity nods.

Another group keeping themselves in the background were the new Sith Order, introduced by Denning in Inferno and developed further by Aaron Allston in Fury. They weren't even hinted at directly, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. It's probably better to have the returning reader wondeirng if this detail or that plot-twist represented their machinations, rather than finding some convoluted way to spell it out when none of the POV characters can be made aware of their existence.

The paradoxical combination of off-camera events and intriguing ommissions reaches its climax at the ending of the novel, with its clear overtones of Palpatine's rise to power: Admiral Daala becomes Chief of State of the Galactic Alliance, complete with "thunderous applause".

This is sprung on the reader as a surprise, from outside the main plotline, but I think that's probably the best way to do it--not just because of the effect of such a left-field twist is a perfect way to end this novel, but also considering the dissent about Daala's characterization in the fandom.

A lot of fans regard Daala as something of a joke--perhaps an adequate warlord-of-the-week, maybe even an interesting character, but certainly not a great military commander or a competent politician. Her much more positive and capable depiction in Revelation is at odds with this, and the contrast has led to quite a lot of discussion--and some laughter--in places like TheForce.Net's message boards.

So, by keeping her off the page, Denning avoids a tricky clash of preconceptions, and also a digression that would have probably slowed down the novel even without that problem. Whether by accident or design, the novel's first prominent mention of Daala pairs her with Admiral Niathal, and thus sidesteps individual definition while still setting up her character and her background role in the book.

The more I think about it, the more convinced I am that this was the right way to handle Daala in this novel. I find it hard to see how it could have been done better.

Where characters do get page-time, however, Denning's portrayal of them is uniformly excellent. Take Boba Fett, for example. A truly satisfying depiction of the iconic bounty-hunter these days has to balance the contrasting emphases of three separate depictions: the backstory established in classic Star Wars fiction such as Daniel Keys Moran's short stories; the Prequel-inspired rhythms of Temura Morrison's voice and mannerisms: and the plotline developed for him in Karen Traviss's three "Legacy of the Force" novels. Denning captures all three, blending them into a coherent portrait where the only stiffness is the antisocial attitude of the character himself--the one trait that unites all of his key portrayals.

Tahiri Veila is another tricky character to handle, especially after her depiction in Revelation, which was far from what I--and some other fans--expected of the character. I'm a little cautious about how Denning depicted her, but the fundamental problem is that I can't quite figure out all her motivations, and that is certainly in keeping with my reaction to Revelation. My hesitancy about where one of my favourite characters is going is offset by a sense that the author is writing her this way out of professional respect for continuity and integrity in this book as a part of the series--and by my awareness that my own interpretations of these characters may not always add up with everyone else's.

Also, considering that this book seems to be underwritten by an extensive subtext about the masks and identities behind which people hide their true opinions and intentions, the ambiguity I'm sensing here may be a positive advantage in this book.

That's a point which holds especially true when we consider the two ultimate opponents of this story. Luke Skywalker, Grand Master of the Jedi Order, has reluctantly taken charge of the good guys in wartime. He appears very human: a small, quiet man, aged and burdened by the duty of leading the forces of peace and civilization in the Galaxy.

He's also using the Force to guide his niece Jaina Solo, supercharging her as a living weapon against Jacen and perhaps even directly controlling her actions and decisions. Simultaneously, he's interfering extensively with the Force-visions that Jacen is trying to use to steer his own path--and that of Galactic civilization--through the conflict.

All this raises questions about the purity of Luke's motives, and contrasts oddly with his stated refusal to involve himself directly in the conflict, for fear of becoming tainted by revenge. He is personally involved, even if he is using the Force to pull the trigger rather than landing a punch himself.

Perhaps the most positive interpretation that you can infer out of this depiction is that Luke has deliberately taken the difficult and dangerous decision to strike back against Jacen: he's simply hiding the truth out of a knowledge of how that would play to the Jedi and the Galactic public if he came clean. But that's just one interpretation. However you turn it, I think this novel forces to ask the reader if Luke Skywalker is suffering from some sort of moral delusions, and it certainly doesn't give a direct answer either way.

At worst... well, now it's time for you to go back, and re-read my opening description of Luke:.

Luke Skywalker, Grand Master of the Jedi Order, has reluctantly taken charge of the good guys in wartime. He appears very human: a small, quiet man, aged and burdened by the duty of leading the forces of peace and civilization in the Galaxy.

Does that sound much like Palpatine in the Clone Wars to you?

And what of Darth Caedus, the former Jacen Solo: Sith Lord, psychopath, and ostensible villain of the piece? There can be no doubt that Jacen has some moments of ruthlessness and murderous insanity in this novel, but overall he seemed to be coming out of a dark place, rather than sinking further in. The revalation that Luke has been deliberately interfering with his sense of judgment makes his instability seem more explicable--and perhaps, not his fault at all.

Moreover, when Jacen's behaviour here is contrasted with Luke's, an interesting possibility emerges. His instability isn't necessarily a sign of his evilness--it's a reflection of his continuing humanity, his vulnerability, and his desparate attempts to hold onto some shreds of good-guy status, while trapped and confused in the role of Sith Lord, with no-one willing to rescue him.

In the end, the events of Invincible made Jacen a much more sympathetic and vulnerable figure than I had expected. Even if you don't think that the Palpatine-like aspects of Luke's depiction signify anything more than a sharp and dangerous edge on his essentially heroic character, the novel quietly unravels the assumptions that made all the other major characters start to think of Jacen as a target to be destroyed--even as his twin sister takes him apart with a lightsaber.

From one Solo twin to the other--Jaina, the nominal protagonist of this novel. At the end of Invincible, I was left wondering if Jaina had unwittingly become the new Darth Vader, the deadly weapon of her Master, Luke Skywalker. He even uses her to destroy the person she loves most, the twin brother with whom she shares her Force-bond, in a sacrifice that quietly evokes what Darth Vader did to Padmé.

Afterwards, she wakes in a medical facility, locked inside a life-support unit, in a Galaxy without the person she loved most.

There's no permanent cyborg armour, no scream of rage and loss, but that doesn't really change what's happened.

That's quite a dramatic suggestion to make, for all the quiet, subtlety with which the novel delivers this part of its conclusion, but I think it's one that makes a worrying amount of sense. Even if Jaina isn't quite as obviously trapped as Vader was at the end of the Prequels, even if Jedi Order isn't really the equivalent of the evil Empire, I'm left asking myself serious questions about the determination and self-sacrifice embraced by the ostensible heroes of this novel.

And even if the eventual answer is to vindicate Luke and Jaina, I still think those are important questions to ask.

There may be another twist here, too. At one point, Jacen looks into the future and sees Luke on an Imperial throne, but we know that Luke is using his own presence to mask Jaina's in Jacen's visions.

Jump forward to the Star Wars: Legacy comics, and we find that the future Imperial dynasty seems to be descended from Jaina's love-interest Jag Fel. So perhaps Jacen was actually seeing Jaina's destiny? Perhaps Luke's plan is going to backfire in a way he can't quite see yet, with Jaina becoming not just the consort to an Imperial peacemaker, but a powerful, ruthless Empress in her own right--or perhaps the Fel dynasty are actually part of the Skywalker plan for the future itself, in some dark and unsuspected way....

There are always possibilities, as someone once said in another sci-fi franchise. But, if I'm reading this book right, if Luke and Jaina are basically the new Sidious and Vader, where do we turn for some optimism, hope, and freedom in this Star Wars story? Who's our Obi-Wan Kenobi, or our Han Solo?

Well, as I said at the start, I think that a situation like this automatically creates the need for heroism in response, giving a challenge that has to be answered: that's what Star Wars is all about. There's also a war-orphan named Amelia, Jacen's secret daughter, now adopted by her Uncle Han--the parallels to Luke and Leia only snuck up on me as I read this review through one final time before putting it online. But for the real answer, the one that pays off in this novel itself, I think we need to head over to the other plotline.

Ben Skywalker was probably my favourite thing in this novel. Sure, this fourteen-year-old Jedi Apprentice has acquired an alarming habit of being chatted up by older women, but it's hard not to smile at the humour with which these scenes are played, and they also serve an important thematic point. The moment, mid-book, when he walks into a bar and orders himself a cocktail--trying to be James Bond, echoing Luke in the cantina in the original movie--is the moment when the fun begins again.

Ben's mistakes in this novel, when his actions lead to suffering, are down to his belief in Jedi duty, or his pride in his special forces training, but his shining moments are the ones where his determination to do the right thing wins out, and over the course of the novel, there's a subtle movement from the one mindset to the other.

This is the most positive conclusion in the story. Ben Skywalker became a hero in this book, coming to see his abilities and training as tools to be guided by his conscience, rather than being limited and imprisoned by the agendas of his teachers. And the way he did it was completely unexpected, handled with wit, irony and surprise.

Part of the credit for Ben's redemption has to go to Taryn and Trista Zel, Hapan secret agents and distaff cousins of the royal house. They take an interest in him, and make him have some fun. By far the more important role, however, belongs to Tahiri Veila, Jacen Solo's Sith Apprentice.

It's delightfully unexpected, and utterly brilliantly done. Ben starts out the book swapping between Jedi stubbornness and GAG mission-focus. It's still with him after he's captured by the Alliance, and Tahiri takes charge of his interrogation. In an effort to get vital information from him without resorting to torture, she starts to come onto him.

A lot of fans probably thought this was crazy, but bear with me. Trust me?

Ben's initial reaction, after a few moments of weakness, is to reassert his Jedi/soldier stubbornness; but a sense that she's trying to be nice has sneaked in through his defences (and, let's be honest, he's picked up a little crush). This is what flips him out of his Jedi/soldier mindset, and enable him to see Tahiri as a person, someone worth saving--and, ultimately, that's what enables him to act as a human being himself.

Tahiri Veila may not realise it, but she redeemed Ben Skywalker in this novel, not by being an unalloyed hero, but simply by being recognizably human--and that's probably the single most important and positive thing that happened here.

My interpretation--and it's not necessarily correct--is that the two contrasted plotlines can be read as echoes respectively of Revenge of the Sith and Return of the Jedi. Luke, in the role of Palpatine, turns Jaina into the symbol and tool of his power, by using her to sacrifice the last great threat to his political ascendancy, the person in the Galaxy she loves most--Jacen. Meanwhile, almost unnoticed by the wider conflict, Ben is standing up for hope and humanity, finding the strength of character to stand up for what his instincts tell him is right, and at the same time, revealing positive human qualities in unexpected places.

How all this is followed up in subsequent books remains to be seen, but with Denning--and Aaron Allston--among the authors for the up-coming "Fate of the Jedi" series, there's a chance that some of the best aspects of "Legacy of the Force", including the promises and hinted implications of this novel, will be brought forward into future books.

That said, my goal here isn't to launch into a wide-ranging critique of the franchise, but to review Invincible. And, as I made clear at the start, I think it's a resounding success.

Overall, this might be the very best Star Wars novel that DelRey have realeased in hardcover. It's certainly up there with Tim Zahn's Survivor's Quest and Matt Stover's Shatterpoint, and in the paperback line, Denning's own Inferno, and Aaron Allston's excellent Exile. It's in the same league for me as Greg Keyes' superlative Edge of Victory: Conquest, although it stands out in its own right, because I think it's playing a completely different sport.

I can't really think of any ways that this book could have been better. The nearest thing I have to a substantial criticism is that the word 'fellow' surprised me a couple of times. For me, the word suggests a jolly and rather innoffensive English felloh, so it was an odd intruder in relatively hard-edged scenes. I suspect this may be a matter of accent, though. If it makes you think of a good old American feller, then there's going to be no problem with it in this context.

As a novel, and as a Star Wars story, Invincible is superb. I'm giving it an emphatic 3.9 out of 4. That's a score of 98%.

I told you I loved it, didn't I?

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