by Joe Schreiber
Published by Del Rey
Adrick's Rating: 2 out of 4
The era of the Old Republic is a dark and dangerous time, as Jedi Knights valiantly battle the Sith Lords and their ruthless armies. But the Sith have disturbing plans—and none more so than the fulfillment of Darth Scabrous’s fanatical dream, which is about to become nightmarish reality.
Unlike those other Jedi sidelined to the Agricultural Corps—young Jedi whose abilities have not proved up to snuff—Hestizo Trace possesses one extraordinary Force talent: a gift with plants. Suddenly her quiet existence among greenhouse and garden specimens is violently destroyed by the arrival of an emissary from Darth Scabrous. For the rare black orchid that she has nurtured and bonded with is the final ingredient in an ancient Sith formula that promises to grant Darth Scabrous his greatest desire.
But at the heart of the formula is a never-before-seen virus that’s worse than fatal—it doesn’t just kill, it transforms. Now the rotting, ravenous dead are rising, driven by a bloodthirsty hunger for all things living—and commanded by a Sith Master with an insatiable lust for power and the ultimate prize: immortality . . . no matter the cost.
Death Troopers author Joe Schreiber returns with a second tale of zombie invasion in the galaxy far, far away. This time the setting is an ancient Sith Academy. Given that the Sith are typically masters of horror themselves, seeing the varied reactions of the students toward the outbreak is particularly interesting. Some fight back, others attempt to bargain with the undead hoards, while others embrace the power and madness of zombiehood. They’re not your typical zombie victims, and this makes for a distinctly Star Wars zombie story.
Another advantage of having a zombie story set in the Star Wars universe is the number of different alien species on which the zombie virus can have different effects. In Death Troopers, we saw the virus wreak havoc on the Wookiees in ways unique to them, and in Red Harvest Schreiber brings this idea to bear on other aliens, some more familiar than others. There’s a particularly disgusting—in this case, in a good way—scene involving a variation on a certain scenario from one of the films that I won’t spoil here. Let’s just say it’s…smelly.
Although the zombies are obviously the main draw here, Schreiber’s Darth Scabrous presides over several scenes that evoke more classic horror scenarios, such as the grisly sacrifice and a particularly macabre meal. I would have liked to see more of this in the novel, but it’s a welcome diversion that makes this horror story even creepier.
There have been quite a few downright bizarre Star Wars tales over the years, most of them products of their times. The giant green bunny rabbit Jaxxon of 1978’s Marvel comics and the extra-dimensional baddie Waru of 1994’s The Crystal Star are often cited examples. To that list we should probably add the Black Orchid of Red Harvest who…talks. Telepathically, of course, but yes, this flower…speaks. In extensive, non-plantlike sentences. Coupled with the fairly gimmicky nature of the zombie novel genre, I’m pretty sure that Red Harvest is going to seem just as out-there and dated as the rabbit comics in a few years time.
It doesn’t help that Red Harvest, unfortunately, isn’t as strong a story as Death Troopers was. The characters weren’t well defined—I had a hard time even telling the Sith students apart—and the setting, while interesting, isn’t quite as compelling. A Sith Academy just doesn’t have the iconic appeal or novelty of the classic Star Destroyer.
Finally, I’ve seen this described as a “prequel” to Death Troopers…but those hoping to see some light shed on the mysterious zombie virus may be left unsatisfied. The origins of this strange sickness are pushed even farther back on the timeline, perhaps unnecessarily…I’m not sure why the most ancient Sith are increasingly the source for all of these overwhelmingly evil devices. Surely there should be some kind of alchemical progression in the more “modern” eras…
All in all, Red Harvest is a satisfyingly gory read, but I think the two books have pretty much exhausted the Star Wars zombie story. Unless we see a backstory for the virus, I’m not interested in future installments.
Nitpick time: at one point a character spies a “single word in all-capital sans serif letters”. So, with all the horrifying things going on, we spend time specifying font types? Does sans serif even work for aruebesh? Oh, the mystery and horror of the Star Wars universe…