Legacy of the Force III - Tempest
3.9 / 4
3.6 / 4
Mike's Rating ||
3.6 / 4
As civil war threatens the unity of the Galactic Alliance, Han and Leia Solo have infuriated their families and the Jedi by joining the Corellian insurgents. But the Solos draw the line when they discover a rebel plot that hinges upon the murder of a longtime ally and her daughter.
The Solos' selfless determination to prevent this death cannot dispel the inescapable consequences of their actions, which will pit mother against son and brother against sister in the battles ahead. For elsewhere in the galaxy, a once-forgotten menace, Lumiya -- Dark Lady of the Sith -- is tipping the balance of the Force once more towards the darkness...
Paul: This review is late in appearing for a very simple reason, but one that might seem paradoxical: I liked the book too much.
The sheer enjoyment I got out of this latest contribution to the Star Wars novel series made it hard for me to unravel all my reactions, and explain in coherent terms exactly what it was that made the story work for me. In what follows, bear in mind that Tempest isnít simply an intellectual puzzle-box: itís a space fantasy story that flows naturally and realistically, in a way that I found very satisfying indeed, and what I’m trying to do here is to analyse the underlying reasons for that seemingly organic sense of enjoyment.
Tempest is the third chapter in the multi-author “Legacy of the Force” series, and the sixth Star Wars novel by author Troy Denning. As with Betrayal and Bloodlines, the previous instalments of the series, Tempest combines two basic plots: one following Han Solo and Princess Leia as they try to navigate a course between the shifting factions of a Galaxy spiralling into civil war; the other focused on their son Jacen, as he transforms himself from a Jedi Knight into a Sith Lord, believing that he alone can now bring order and justice to a divided Galaxy.
Of the two storylines, Han and Leia’s seems slighter, for the simple reason that they’re trying to maintain their own moral integrity amid major political and military events. It’s more personal, more intimate in scale — and while it’s hard to go wrong with a plotline that follows the Scoundrel and his Princess as they fly the Millennium Falcon through the storm of an interstellar crisis, this means that the main storyline is built around Jacen.
When I reviewed Betrayal, I hinted at my concern that Jacen Solo was too weak a character to effectively carry the full weight of the main plotline, and Bloodlines reinforced my fears. Denning achieves a neat trick, though, by shifting the burden of agency in the primary narrative onto the more capable shoulders of Luke Skywalker, now Grand Master of the Jedi Order, and his wife, ex-Imperial assassin Mara Jade.
Luke and Mara are understandably worried by Jacen’s role as leader of the government’s anti-terrorist paramilitaries, and also by the unorthodox way he’s teaching his Jedi apprentice — their own thirteen-year-old son Ben. Adding to the concern are Luke’s recurring dreams of a hooded, black-cloaked Sith Lord — we suspect that this is what Jacen himself will become — and his discovery that Darth Vader’s apprentice, Lady Lumiya, has once again emerged from hiding.
So in Tempest, we follow Luke and Mara as they act on their instincts, pursuing the trail of Jacen and Lumiya through the cityscape of Coruscant and out to the Hapes Star Cluster, uncovering devastating evidence about the close links between the Sith and the Galactic Guard, but never quite discovering the whole truth. Instead, Luke confronts Lumiya in a dramatic lightsaber duel, while a full-scale fleet battle rages above the Hapan homeworld.
Jacen, meanwhile, seems to be assuming the role of military commander and Sith Lord with increasing confidence — at least, that’s the impression shared by the reader, the other characters, and Jacen himself. However, I’m not at all sure there’s anything really effective behind the superficial impression of authority and control.
Jacen actually does very little in this novel. He’s been given a Star Destroyer to command, and, in a display of grotesque bad taste, named it after his dead brother Anakin; but he spends his time staring out at the stars, and pacing around in his on-board office, a prisoner in a cage of narcissistic angst. When he does act, it’s blindly shuffling human pieces on a chessboard with no opponent.
It’s a tribute to the strength and quality of Denning’s writing that Jacen’s scenes remain fresh and interesting, the character’s impotence staying subtle and implicit behind the well-modulated facade of familiar Star Wars motifs.
Counterpointing Jacen is Alema Rar — a Twi’lek Jedi Knight who was assimilated by the insectile Killiks in Denning’s previous Dark Nest trilogy. Now, after the defeat and destruction of her hive-mind, she finds herself agonizingly alone, physically scarred and crippled; but Denning’s portrayal of her character and personality is one of the most impressive and powerful strands of recent Star Wars writing, building her personality and actions around a mind as beautiful as it is insane.
Alema is more than just technically high-class writing or a complex and developed character, though. Operating outside the parameters by which most of the other characters perceive the situation, she represents the way in which the Galaxy can never be effectively controlled by a single man or faction trying to tighten their grip — and also, more subtly, reflects the failures of the Jedi Order to deal with problems outside their own psychological comfort-zone (and that’s a point that could, once you realise it, perhaps extend to Jacen also). Both as a character in her own right, and as a contribution to the wider world of “Legacy of the Force”, Alema Rar is thus a key addition to the storyline.
The same sense of boundless complexity and a Galaxy too big to be governed feeds into the wider narrative. The big space battle at the end is chaotic, confusing, and hard to follow in places — but that, I think, is part of the point: this a situation is that none of the characters are in control of, least of all those who unleashed it. Likewise, the one or two apparent continuity errors that fans have picked up on in this story may be deliberate indicators of the limits of the information available to the characters, the eternal gap between what we think we know, and what the real truth is.
All this is subtle, though — implied rather than illustrated. Perhaps it’s even unconscious. I found it an enjoyable contrast with the intellectual clarity of Bloodlines; but in another sense, Tempest is dazzlingly clear: after some surprising quirks of characterization in Bloodlines, the Star Warriors here once again feel, think and act like the people I expect them to be.
I can’t guarantee that everyone else will enjoy Tempest as much as I have — but what I can do is give it a resounding recommendation. Try it, and if you find anything that seems strange to you, ask yourself — as you read on — whether there might be a reason for that. I hope it works as well for you as it did for me.
I enjoyed this book immensely, both on the basic level of fast-paced adventure with Star Destroyers and lightsabers, and also as a complex depiction of a Galaxy of exquisite detail and variety, a place of intimate familiarity and undiscovered vastness.
In other words, it’s Star Wars.
Stephen: I always enjoy Denning's writing; it tends to be clean & concise with a wonderful pace - as long as he's not writing large fleet battles (which are usually chaotic things that lead to confusion on the reader's part). That weakness aside, Tempest is a much better offering than Bloodlines. I know it's not exactly fair of me to compare two such different authors, but they are supposed to be writing a cohesive story here.
And so far, that is where LotF is failing the most. I've enjoyed two of the three books so far, yet even those two don't really flow together as a cohesive storyline - maybe it will be better by the end, and I can only hope that it is, but I can't help but think that DR/LFL would have been better served by commissioning three trilogies rather than a nine-book series.
With that said, Tempest still works, both as a stand alone novel and as an entry in LotF. It clears up a few of the more glaring issues which Bloodlines introduced and introduces surprisingly few of its own. In fact outside of the Chu'unthor issue (which Denning didn't introduce) there were none that I could remember after reading.
Of course there are stumbling blocks in the narrative, mainly Nashtah. She's used effectively and is characterized nicely, but I just don't see the point. Why introduce another bounty hunter when Traviss spent so long on the most widely known bounty hunter in the GFFA?
We have characters reintroduced into the story as well - and at least one that could easily be viewed as a resurrection, despite the "issues" which DR/LFL and Denning himself supposedly have about bringing characters back to life. And of course there's still no Anakin Solo - but at least he's actually mentioned, unlike in Bloodlines. And for the most part these reintroduced characters work well within the story - and play vital (if contrived) functions in service to the plot.
Of course, there is one major problem with the book. I can't seem to remember it. I've read the thing three times so far, and I still have to go back and thumb through the thing while I'm writing this review. It's obscene. With Bloodlines the stunningly bad characters and horrid continuity glitches allowed me to easily see what was wrong - and literally dreading a second reading for the review. On the flip side, in Path of Destruction, the vibrant characters and training sequences left me happily able to write a review after only one reading - and wanting to read it again. That said, I know at least one person who would describe "book amnesia" as the epitome of good storytelling: You read the story, it works well for you, and there's nothing so offensive that it interrupts that sense of joy you've got from reading.
My ramblings aside, I really did enjoy this book. The characters tended to stay in character, though Ben did come across as a bit more of an idiot here than he has in previous books - but that's okay because he's a thirteen year old idiot. The fight scenes are well wrought with the exception of the large fleet battle - and in Denning's defense it is insanely hard to write clear fleet battles on paper. They are best suited to visual mediums. Yet the battle itself isn't that bad; I knew what was going on, I just had a hard time visualizing it. Regardless, by now, you probably already know if you like Denning's writing or not and this is more of the same - my thoughts are that his writing would probably best be described as "cinematic."
All in all, I recommend this book and give it ninety percent, 3.6 out of 4.
Mike: While reading Exile the other day, I finally realized why i'd had such trouble figuring out what to say about Tempest.
It's not a bad book. It's a good book. Or rather, the plot is good. I liked everything about it as far as the development of the story is concerned; Alema defies all reason by continuing to be an interesting antagonist, Aurra Sing makes an intriguing return (well...briefly), and Jacen - well, he opens fire on the freaking Falcon! It's intense, gripping, and coming along nicely.
What I realized is that, well, Aaron Allston is the master of humor in the EU. Likewise, Karen Traviss (okay, depending on whom you ask) is the military expert, Luceno is the continuity guy, Stover is Mr. Grim & Gritty, et cetera. I can't think of anything that Troy Denning does so well as to stand out in any way. I have found some things about his books that are unique, but not really in a good way - overly stereotypical alien characters, for example. He's a fine writer, and he's produced some great books, but that greatness has been entirely dependent on plot, whereas certain other SW writers can (and have) made interesting books out of premises that are only so-so.
I guess you could look at it as a good thing. Again, I'm not really saying anything bad about the book, I'm just explaining why it was hard for me to review. The current crop of Star Wars authors is nothing if not diverse, and while some have caused their fair share of controversy, no one will argue that they all stand out. Denning's narrative voice, on the other hand, almost seems to be the EU's "Default" setting these days. Not bad, just...standard.