A few years back I decided to finally embrace the idea of April Fools Day albiet with my own twist. Instead of basic pranks and gags I aim for something closer to public art. We're talking the kind of thing that will make someone stop in their tracks and scratch their head. Something of both a perk and issue with this is that it may take weeks or months for the project to be discovered. This makes it so the day itself isn't necessarily so important though the usual advent of good sprin weather tends to spur me on. Sadly this past week has been something of a rollercoaster veering wildly from sunny and pleasant to snowy and wet. Unable to set up my projects thus far I've taken time to catch up on some reading which means it's time to tell yall about more Star Wars.
For nearly the entirity of this feature one book has sat comfortably atop the quality rankings. Of course I'm talking about Lost Stars by Claudia Gray, the star crossed lovers epic of the new expanded universe. Despite the books own flaws such as some overdrafts and a flabby ending no other novel in the franchise has found such a solid a balance of scope, world building, characterization etc. It didn't seem like anyone stood a chance of dethroning that work, until the same author took another shot at the galaxy far far away. I mean who better to take down Claudia Gray than Claudia Gray?
The setting for Bloodline is six years before the force awakens. Our focus is Princess Leia and her service for the new republic senate. Things aren't so good in the senate as very little is accomplished other than bickering between the two primary political parties. Leia belongs to the populist party, a group that believes in individual planets rights to oversee their own affairs. On the other side is the centrist party that hopes to restore a more centralized powerful government that impose it's will throughout the galaxy. Does that sound familiar?
Summing up the story cleanly would prove to be something of a challenge though the core of it revolves around Leia's growing yet difficult friendship with centrist senator Ransolm Casterfo. Initially disgusted by the man when she discovers his hobby of collecting Imperial artifacts the two soon forge a bond while investigating a large criminal organization with deeper ties to something far more sinister. The scenes between these two characters are easily the strongest element of the book with Casterfo proving to be one of the finest new personalities from these books. He's a completely three-dimensional being whose flaws are never too outlandish nor are his positives too garish.
On that aforementioned investigation into the criminal underworld, it really kickstarts a story unlike most others in the franchise so far. There's bombings, assassinations, secret armies, and since it all plays out from a political perspective it comes across as a more unique adventure than the usual planet hopping antics we're accustomed too. Frankly it's a nice change of pace from the basic adventure tales that have so far made up the majority of new cannon. Think of it this way. If novels like Heir to the Jedi and Ashoka equivalent to Flash Gordon or Zatoichi than this is The Pelican Brief.
Two other key characters throughout this tale are Joph Seastriker and Greer Sonnel both of whom are decent additions though neither can match up to Leia or Casterfo. Greer in particular sticks out like a sore thumb due to a strange health subplot that doesn't show up until late in the game. Joph on the other hand is more of the typical Luke Skywalker stand in. He's young, craves adventure, blah blah blah. He's not a bad character by any means, might even qualify as good if he weren't sharing the spotlight with more interesting personalities.
One odd problem through this book comes from the writers background as a young adult author. By nature of her usual genre, Claudia Gray is used to inserting small bits of overemotional asides. In a book like Lost Stars where the cast was made up of teenagers this was acceptable. Bloodine however is about a middle aged politician so such outbursts come across as odd. It's an issue that fades away as the book goes on but a notable problem all the same.
There is another annoying element to this book that probably isn't the fault of the author. Obviously by this point in the timeline Leia has given birth to her son Ben. At this point the kid is off training with his uncle but that relationship between mother and son which would seem pretty important is hardly touched on. I'm thinking this is most likely due to the higher ups in the Star Wars story group advising Gray to steer clear of this major plot until more of it has been properly hashed out during the movies. It's just sad to read the first book about adult Leia and have it largely ignore one of the biggest developments in her life.
One more weakness is the villains. Simply put, they're not the best though that's not as big an issue here as it is in a book like Ashoka as this is more of a character driven drama than that more outright adventure.
Cutting to the chase, was Claudia Gray able to topple her long standing winner? No, not at all, but she did give it a damn fine shot. Having read so many of these books, there are very few I would call out as quality reading, but this is a legitimately good book. There's so much information about the state of the universe and the formation of the resistance to make this a must read for Star Wars nuts. Beyond that, there's enough quality storytelling to make it a worthwhile venture for more casual fans. Let's put it in the rankings.
1. Lost Stars by Claudia Gray
2. New Dawn by John Jackson Miller
3. Bloodline by Claudia Gray
4. Ashoka by E. K. Johnston
5. Tarkin by James Luceno
6. Battlefont Twilight Company by Alexander Freed
7. Moving Target by Cecil Castelluci and Jason Fry
8. Before the Awakening by Greg Rucka
9. Smuggler's Run by Greg Rucka
10. Heir to the Jedi by Kevin Hearne
11. Aftermath by Chuck Wendig
12. The Weapon of a Jedi by Jason Fry
That's all for today, folks. I'm trapped in yet another extended work weekend. On the downside that means you won't hear from me for a few days, on the upside it gives me time to work through the next novel in the series. While on the subject, how many of you out there are keeping up with these books? Any major favorites thus far? Are my rankings absolutely crap? Drop me a line, it'll keep me company at the guard shack.