New Jedi Order - Traitor
by Matthew Stover
Published by Del Rey
Scott's Rating: 3 out of 4
Nick's Rating: 4 out of 4
Mike's Rating: 4 out of 4
WARNING! This review discusses spoilers from the novel.
Traitor picks up soon after the capture of Jacen Solo in Star by Star. In this story, we see the Yuuzhan Vong attempt to brainwash the young Jedi into believing in their gods and philosophy of life. Leading the efforts are Nom Anor and the mysterious former Jedi Vergere. She also snuffs out his Force sensitivity, thus making his sister and family believe he is dead. While Coruscant is remade into the new Yuuzhan Vong homeworld, Vergere takes the lead in torturing Jacen and indoctrinating him into the Yuuzhan Vong way of life. She also shows him the invaders' deepest secrets. Vergere causes Jacen to rethink his perspective on life, the Force, and his Jedi teachings. But is she grooming him to be a slave of the Yuuzhan Vong or their conqueror?
Out of all the New Jedi Order titles, this one most fits the story within. Vergere seems to be a traitor to the Jedi and the Yuuzhan Vong. Same with Jacen. Nom Anor eventually seems to be a traitor as well. It was cool to see perceptions of these characters flip flop around the traitor theme.
At first I wasn't sure I was going to like this book. I thought it was going to be 300 pages of Jacen being tortured and engaging in philosophical discussions. Thankfully, it was more than that. I thought the introduction of Vergere training Jacen was pretty interesting. It was kind of a twisted version of Yoda training Luke in the swamps of Dagobah. Both Yoda and Vergere broke down their students' preconceptions and then rebuilt their way of thinking. Both had philosophical discussions about the nature of life and the Force. And while Yoda accompanied Luke on a run through the swamps, Vergere follows Jacen through the jungle covered ruins of Coruscant. It was a cool parallel.
There are several cool action scenes in this book. There's an impressive battle in the Yuuzhan Vong "nursery" where Jacen leads a slave uprising. The idea of a central "brain" controlling the slaves (and competing with its siblings) was an interesting concept and of good use for that action sequence. Then there's an intense chase through the ruins of Coruscant. Finally, the grand finale featuring Ganner Rhysode was an fitting addition to the history of the character. It was interesting to see how he reacted in the face of danger, both fearful and brave at the same time.
Traitor is a beautiful novel, filled to the brim with rich sensory details and thought provoking philosophy. In the first chapter of the novel Jacen appears to be the same character that he always has been, that is until he stops trying to fight the pain and chooses to embrace it instead. He doesn't immerse himself in pain for pain's sake, but rather accepts it and gains an understanding of it. This is his first step in a long and indeed painful journey.
Vergere plays her role of the enigmatic alien well in Traitor, sometimes as the caring friend, other times as a cruel taskmaster manipulating Jacen from behind the scenes. I often found myself hating Vergere, while moments later I would see the reasoning behind her frequently hideous actions. I hope to see a lot more of her character in Destiny's Way.
Traitor is full of emotional scenes, but one of the most striking is when Jacen finally realizes where he is - the planet that was once Coruscant. No longer the city-planet of Star Wars history, Coruscant has died, only to be reborn as Yuuzhan'tar, the Crèche of God. Jacen's emotions were conveyed wonderfully in this scene. Having been captured on Baanu Rass above Myrkr, Jacen was unaware that Coruscant had fallen to the Yuuzhan Vong. To return to his childhood home only to find it utterly destroyed was yet another turn of the amphistaff in his heart. I found myself feeling much the same way.
My favorite scene in the novel is Ganner Rhysode's last stand. While not quite as dramatic as Jacen's metamorphosis, Ganner undergoes many changes of his own. In a moment reminiscent of Gandalf's battle with the Balrog in The Fellowship of the Rings, Ganner stands on the threshold of death, holding back wave after wave of Yuuzhan Vong. Thousands of warriors against a lone Jedi, armed only with the Force and the amethyst lightsaber of a martyred hero. Sadly, he had no idea what a dramatic impact his sacrifice would have on the future of the galaxy far, far away.
"None shall pass!"
From the first page, it's clear that Traitor is unlike any Star Wars book we've ever seen. Stover's writing is much more stylized than the typical SW book, and when you're someone like me, who doesn't read any SF or fantasy but SW, it's definitely interesting to experience. Like Scott, I expected the book to be 292 pages of torture and philosophy. Unlike Scott, I was looking forward to that. The idea of tearing down a Galactic society and rebuilding it structurally and philosophically is what's always made the NJO so great to me; the same is true for the prequel era. I'd endure a fleet of Jar Jars just to find out what the next step in Palpatine's Big Plan is.
Where was I? Oh yeah; Traitor.
There's a name for experiences like this book, but sadly, this isn't the appropriate forum for it. Let's just say it starts with "mind", and ends with another four letters. In other words, this book is the greatest thing that's ever happened to the EU. Sadly, there are a lot of people that won't enjoy it at all. There are fans out there who want nothing out of Star Wars but entertainment, and if that's what does it for you, you might be better off re-reading Enemy Lines (don't get me wrong; those are fabulous books, but they're just pure entertainment). Traitor, on the other hand, is enjoyable on a multitude of different levels; it shatters the entire idea of who the Jedi were; of how the GFFA works. Stover may not think any of the book's content should come as a great surprise to fans, but it will. The whole midi-chlorian mess proved that fans have a very dogmatic idea of how the Force works, and anything that forces them to look beyond that is dangerous to them. This book opens the door to all kinds of possibilities: Will Jacen continue using the "dark side", given his new understanding of it? How will the other Jedi react to his new philosophy? Could this change the way everyone, even Luke, fights the Vong?
And on top of that there is, of course, the pure entertainment factor. No matter how Earth-shatteringly philosophical a tale is, if you can't enjoy getting from point A to point B, the philosophy isn't doing anybody any good. Luckily, Stover shares Ganner's penchant for the flamboyant. Every single action scene had me at the edge of my seat. Every debate between Nom Anor and Vergere (or between Nom Anor and Tsavong Lah, or Nom Anor and Ch'Gang Hool...) had me beaming at such expert usage of my all-time favorite NJO character. I'm truly terrified to think of what might happen to him in Destiny's Way. Speaking of which, that was another high point for me; this is the biggest role Nom Anor's had in a book since Balance Point.
To reiterate, this book isn't for everyone. It's the nature of such monumental work to have a polarizing effect on those who take it in; you can't say anything of real quality without upsetting certain groups of people. But if you're the type of person who doesn't mind a romp through the fields of existentialism, who's willing to have their perspective of the GFFA rebuilt from the ground up like the Vong are doing to Coruscant, hold onto your hat. It's a damn treat.
While I found Traitor enjoyable, it is probably my least favorite of the New Jedi Order novels. This is because the book was very heavy on philosophy and lighter on action. That doesn't make it bad. It's just my personal tastes. My biggest gripe with the earlier New Jedi Order books were the debates between Jacen and Anakin about the nature of good vs. evil and the Force. I found them contradictory and tedious to read through. That is a major feature of this book as Vergere and Jacen spend numerous pages discussing those same topics. While necessary to the story, I find them the least interesting aspects of the story. Their conclusions about the Force and the Dark Side also seemed contrary to the mythology in the movies, too.
I also thought that the Yuuzhan Vong accepted Jacen's "brainwashing" a little too easily. They may be religious fanatics, but they aren't stupid. I thought they were much too willing to accept their greatest enemy as one of their own. Jacen hadn't even scarred himself or submitted to regular inflictions of pain which were everyday parts of Yuuzhan Vong life, yet they let him have access to the most vital parts of their worldship and eventually their homeworld. If going through some torture and then spouting out rhetoric about "infidels" is enough to convince them that you're one of them, then their buildup as being tough and smart up till now has been kind of worthless.
Jacen's brief flirtation with the Dark Side is wasted, too. It ends up being an almost identical story to that of Jaina's in Dark Journey. They both get mad, shoot a few lightning bolts, then end up good again at the end. I would have much rather have seen one twin be good and the other turn bad and then have them face off.
I also wasn't entirely sure about the explanation why the Yuuzhan Vong were invisible in the Force to the Jedi. As best I understand it, they simply operate on a different wavelength of the Force than the Jedi are used to seeing. If that's the ultimate explanation, it's a kind of unsatisfying one. It lacks the mystery or plot twist which I was hoping for. I thought it would have tied into midi-chlorians or the origins of the Force more, but it didn't.
Finally, the cover is rather disappointing. It features an X-Wing and a picture of old Coruscant, neither of which really have any bearing on this story. This isn't a cover that would make me as a casual reader interested in the book.
I don't have much to say in this category, however, a few aspects of the book were mildly disappointing.
Despite their fanaticism, I found the Yuuzhan Vong's acceptance of Jacen's conversion to be a little unbelievable. With the exception of Nom Anor, the Yuuzhan Vong accepted Jacen as the genuine incarnation of a god, going as far as to take orders from him. I concede that the thousands of warriors who took part in the ceremonial procession to the Well of the World Brain had no prior knowledge of Jacen's actions aboard the seedship, but it still seemed to be a bit of a stretch. Perhaps we will see some further explanation of this in future books.
Another small gripe I had about the novel is the explanation of the Yuuzhan Vong's apparent absence in the Force. Although I think this was meant to be more of a small insight rather than a final explanation, I still would have liked this part to have been expanded.
The cover of Traitor didn't live up to my expectations. I personally prefer the traditional painted covers over the photo montages, with Cliff Nielson's mixed media works being the exception. Most of Steve Anderson's other work is attractive, but in my opinion the cover of Traitor is not up to snuff.
They left Nom Anor on Coruscant!! As many times as we've heard Nom mention his secret escape-to-NR-space-and-plead-for-his-life plan by now, I was dying to see it finally happen. There's no way Lah will spare him this time; the only plausible way for his character to move forward now is to force him to work alongside his enemies, if only to protect his own hide.
Vergere jamming a hook into Jacen's chest to implant a Yuuzhan Vong seed. Yowtch! You never saw Yoda do that.
A female refugee, still in her teens, being digested alive in the belly of a cavern beast.
The cover. Oh yeah, and the amphistaff grove - great vacation spot, but I wouldn't want to live there.