Wes: Conviction marks the beginning of the last act of the Fate of the Jedi series and Aaron Allston's final entry in it. Unfortunately, it's also his weakest novel and does little to generate excitement for what remains.
Those of you who have been following this series are more than familiar with the formula by now. One storyline follows Luke Skywalker and his son Ben to a new planet with a semi-obscure group of Force-users, while another deals with the mounting tensions between Chief of State Daala and the Jedi Order on Coruscant, and a third focuses on either sick Jedi or slavery.
Conviction finds the Skywalker boys chasing the monster Abeloth (again) who's wounded (again) and seeks refuge with a group of Force-sensitives (again) on the planet Nam Chorios. If that name doesn't ring any bells, Nam Chorios was the main setting for Barbara Hambly's Planet of Twilight, with its deadly bugs called "droches," sentient crystals, and a sect of Force-sensitives known as the Theran Listeners who commune with the crystals (also a Hutt Dark Jedi (!) ... seriously.). As with the previous novel, Vortex, Luke fears Abeloth will use her power to bring the local population of Force-sensitives under her sway, so he and Ben and Vestara Khai (former member of the Lost Tribe of the Sith who has been forced with the Skywalkers by circumstance, and current owner of Ben's young heart) seek out the Listeners in hopes of warning them first and stopping Abeloth while she's still mending from the last book's beating.
On Coruscant, things have finally reached their breaking point between Daala and the Jedi, so the Order decides the Chief of State will have to be removed from office by force. The third major storyline involves the Solos negotiating Galactic Alliance membership with the recently liberated slaves on Klatooine while a Sith from the Lost Tribe plots to assassinate Queen Mother Tenel Ka (who is conveniently brought to Klatooine to help negotiations).
There are a lot of problems with this book. While Allston is a good writer, and one I've always liked, Conviction, like most of this series, is surprisingly boring.
Now, I know what you're thinking: Why so many parentheses?
And I also know what else you're thinking: How can you say this book is boring? A Jedi coup, a monster you yourself have called the coolest Star Wars villain in ages, crazy plague-causing bugs, and a group of Sith trying to murder beloved characters? This book sounds awesome!
First of all, lay off parentheses. They've been inserting comments and clarifying parts of sentences since before you had your first set of Star Wars sheets, Chachi, and I'll be damned if I'm going to sit back and let you badmouth them.
Secondly, despite how exciting those elements of the story sound and the major events that transpire like the Jedi coup, none of them are executed in ways that are interesting. The entire Skywalkers-hunting-Abeloth storyline is almost identical to what happened in Vortex, only a lot less thrilling. And while I will not be putting any major spoilers in this review, it seems to me that if you have the villain lose in every single book of a series, it doesn't exactly build suspense for a final showdown in your last book. This is the same mistake the creative team made with Jacen in Legacy of the Force. Having the villain get his or her butt kicked over and over again doesn't make them scary, or make the reader fear for the safety of the protagonists. It just gets repetitive and boring.
More disappointing than Conviction's lack of excitement though, was how unfocused the whole book seemed. None of the storylines seem to go anywhere. There are a lot of setups, but nothing ever comes together in a satisfying way.
Again, let's take the Nam Chorios storyline for example: Allston gives us the droches, the sentient crystals, vicious storms caused by use of the Force, the Theran Listeners, but none of it really comes into play. It's not even really clear when all is said and done what Abeloth had planned there. These elements feel more like things on a tour Allston feels obliged to show us but keeps driving past rather than actually integrating them into the plot in a way that's meaningful. Valin and Jysella even show up after we learn that they're still suffering from the Jedi madness Abeloth infected them with, and their presence couldn't be more pointless.
Tahiri Veila's trial fizzles out in a similar fashion. After several books of courtroom scenes and meetings between Tahiri and her lawyer, nothing that has happened--none of the testimony, none of the evidence, nothing about the storyline with her lawyer either being a genius or senile fool--has any bearing on the outcome. In the end, Tahiri's fate is decided by circumstances outside the courtroom, rendering an already padded story completely baffling.
Important characters and plots are introduced in the last third of the novel, adding to the sense that this book doesn't really know where it wants to go. The whole slave-revolt plot still seems like it's out of place in this series. Luke and Ben spend most of the book doing busy work that has very little to do with anything important. Nothing that occurs in the novel seems particularly inspired or original. It feels more like we're just going through the motions in this one.
Worse still, is the behavior of some of the book's characters. The entire Jedi Order seemed out of character to me in Vortex, and that has continued in Conviction with their overly aggressive approach. The Jedi reacting with force back in Allies when Daala had her Mandalorian buddies attack the Temple and execute a young Jedi would have made sense, but there coup here seems rash and sort of bizarre. Why not go through official channels for a vote of no confidence? Daala's actions are extremely unpopular, and if her use of Mandalorian commandos to put down slave revolts was revealed to the public (which it already sort of was in Vortex) it seems like she could be removed relatively easily through existing mechanisms in the government. It's not as though she's a secret Sith and no one else knows it or believes it but the Jedi. She's doing things that almost any rational being would find detestable and these actions have already been documented (I'm going to ignore the fact that Daala stopping slave revolts on worlds outside the Galactic Alliance has never made a bit of sense to me for now (and, for that matter, that Daala being elected as Chief of State has made even less sense)).
And from a writing standpoint, didn't we just do a series where the Jedi had to remove a crazy Chief of State?
Other characters don't fare much better. The Sith from the Lost Tribe all seem to be about the same character, and it's a fairly disposable one. While the cover art is gorgeous and Tahiri's scenes are pretty good, she's barely in the novel and Tenel Ka's part is absolutely miniscule. The creative team still doesn't seem to know what to do with Jaina Solo. She has a very small role in this one yet again, but we do get the obligatory scene where she sits in Jag's lap.
What does work in Conviction is the continued struggle between Luke, Ben, and Vestara, whom the Skywalkers are hoping to bring to the light side of the Force. Their mission on Nam Chorios isn't exactly gripping, but the dynamic remains the most interesting of the series, and as a reader, I actually feel invested in whether or not Vestara is able to truly renounce the dark side.
Allston also does another nice job writing Han and Leia's precocious granddaughter Allana, whose role in the story takes a darker turn when she is haunted by dreams of her mother, Tenel Ka, being murdered. The curiosity and honesty of a child's point of view really shines through in Allston's hands, and he proves adept at balancing her nature in a weightier emotional event without either making light of the traumatic circumstances or squelching all the fun--not an easy task.
Tahiri's story, while brief and disappointing in the way it nullifies so much of what came previously, does provide some excitement and interesting character moments. And the tidbits we get about Abeloth are promising. I still have hope that this villain will be one of the best in Star Wars. The elements are all there if the writers are able to execute it properly.
The Nam Chorios storyline also provides some closure for a long-dead character that I found fairly satisfying, and was glad to see.
As is often the case with Aaron Allston, there are some good laughs in Conviction. There are times where the humor seems a bit forced and even out of place in some emotional moments, but it goes a long way to keeping the story fun, which Star Wars should be. It's the general charm of Allston's writing that carries an otherwise lackluster story.
Overall, Conviction is a fairly mediocre book with a disconnected plot that never seems to come together and puzzling actions by many of its characters. Fate of the Jedi is really starting to feel like one big mess.
If youíve made it past the six previous novels into this, the final third of the long, drawn out, repetitive Fate of the Jedi series, you can breathe a sigh of relief: in this book, stuff finally starts happening.
Conviction sticks closely to the established Fate of the Jedi formula, itís true. Luke and Ben, now with Sith chick Vestara in tow, arrive at a planet with unique Force-using groups, while Jedi on Coruscant attempt to deal with the increasingly irrational Chief of State Daala. We even have a few of Abelothís crazy Jedi for good measure, even though that storyline has already been (mercifully) resolved. But this time we actually see a few game changing events, particularly in the storylines of Daala and Tahiri. Itís not resolution, which would have been welcome, but at least itís something different.
Luke, Ben, and Vestara end up on Nam Chorios this time around, a planet that was introduced in Planet of Twilight a number of years ago. Itís interesting to see how the world has changed in the intervening years, and itís good to see a planet that hasnít been explored as much in the EU as, say, Dathomir. The close ties between Luke and Ben cause Vestara to reexamine her relationship with her Sith father, which is an interesting piece of character development.
Meanwhile, Han and Leia are called in to help negotiate with members of a slave uprising on Klatooine. Here we see the intriguing slavery plotline, introduced somewhat late in the series, dealt with in a more sophisticated manner than in previous installments. The Klatoonian characters were interesting, and the politics were well played. The legitimization of the anti-slavery movements here feels closer to a historic moment in Star Wars history than anything else in the series. I also enjoyed Allanaís story here, as she experiences visions of her own, and must act on them for the first time.
Overall, the Fate of the Jedi format gels well in Conviction. The adventures are interesting, the concepts are well executed, and the characters act and sound like themselves. Allston seems to have reigned in his often-wacky sense of humor here, which is appropriate. If this were the third novel out in the series, this would be promisingÖbut at this point I can only recommend it to those already invested in the Fate of the Jedi series.