Dark Nest II – The Unseen Queen
by Troy Denning
Published by Del Rey
Mike's Rating: 3.5 out of 4
This is the second book in the Dark Nest Trilogy. The following is from the book cover:
Despite being given new worlds to populate, the insectoid Killiks have not found peace. An unknown enemy has been attacking the new nests -- and the Killiks hold the Jedi responsible. Traveling back to the Unknown Regions to unravel the mystery, the Skywalkers and Solos discover an evil far more familiar than they ever expected... and even more terrifying. Why does the Dark Nest want to kill Mara? Will Jacen's apocalyptic vision trigger another galactic war or prevent one? And perhaps most ominous of all, what deadly secret are the Killik's hiding?
To find out, Luke, Mara, Han and Leia must embark on a perilous journey into the uncharted void between right and wrong. The ferocious Unknown Terrors are only the beginning of the awesome challenges that lie ahead in their quest to fathom the unfathomable. For an obscure dispute is about to explode into chaos, pitting Jedi against Jedi -- and threatening the very galaxy itself.
The more I think about it, the more sense it made to have Troy Denning write Star By Star. Between Myrkr in that book, Kr in Joiner King, and the Dark Nest ship in Unseen Queen, it's clear that Denning, if nothing else, is the master of putting our heroes in royally messed-up situations.
Well, maybe he's tied with Stover. He's up there, is the point.
That, more than anything else, is the primary feeling I've been taking away from the Dark Nest books so far: each one manages to raise the bar of how badly we can rough these people up. I'll admit to feeling a little bad for the big three by this point, but I imagine things are only gonna get worse for the next generation over the next few years. Part of me wants to question whether Denning is capable of writing a book where the danger knob is turned down a bit, but Tatooine Ghost proved that wasn't a problem, so I'm left assuming he's simply some kind of sadist.
In any event, I have to admit that the guy knows how to write these characters. I have my issues with his writing style, as discussed below, but I will never fault him for characterization.
Speaking of which, one of my favorite contributions Denning has made to the EU has to be Saba. So many of the NJO-era Jedi have proven to be cranky at best (Corran) and *achem* jerks at worst (Kyp), that it's nice to have at least one stable Master retconned in there. Saba's quirky, to be sure, but there's no EU Jedi more firmly on the light side or more reliable than Saba; she's the embodiment, for me, of everything that I liked about the Old Order. I can't think of anyone better to handle Leia's training - which, incidentally, is now my single favorite aspect of this trilogy. After years of screwing around with Leia's training, it's unbelievably refreshing to see the EU finally buckle down and take care of this.
I've mentioned my issue with Denning's handling of GFFA profanity before, so I won't bother going through it again here except to say that it continues. See my Shatterpoint review if you're curious.
What I do want to address, and had meant to cover in my Joiner King review, is Denning's aliens. The Killiks' behavior is annoying at times, and frustrating at times, but they're a hive mind and all that, so it's believable enough that I can endure it. But Denning seems to revel in species stereotypes a little too much for my enjoyment. One of the things I like the most about books by Michael Reaves and Steve Perry (and others) is their ability to handle alien characters in a way that's plausibly strange yet endearingly familiar. Denning, with notable exceptions like Saba and Admiral Bwua'tu (though the latter came close at times), seems to resort far too often to "oh, those mercenary Squibs" and "oh, those meticulous Sullustans". He's proven himself to be better than that, so I don't know why it's so common in his books. Some people are suggesting that Jae Juun is going to be the Falcon's new copilot; I'm okay with that in theory, but I'd like it a lot more if Juun had a bit more Den Dhur in him.
Man, oh man. Crappy back cover copy has been a running joke among EU fans for a long time now, but it just doesn't get worse than this: "Luke, Mara, Han, and Leia must embark on a perilous journey into the uncharted void between right and wrong. The ferocious Unknown Terrors are only the beginning of the awesome challenges that lie ahead in their quest to fathom the unfathomable."
The void between right and wrong? Unknown Terrors? Fathom the unfathomable? I can't think of any clearer proof that the copywriter should be fired than that last phrase. If Ambiguity was an Olympic event, this thing would get the Gold Medal. I take that back; they'd have to invent a new medal that's even better than Gold.
I swear; someday I'm gonna write a book whose protagonists are literally just sitting around trying to fathom things.