New Jedi Order
Agents of Chaos I: Hero's Trial
by James Luceno
Published by Del Ray
Helen's Rating: 3 out of 4
Paula's Rating: 3 out of 4
Scott's Rating: 3.5 out of 4
Merciless attacks by an invincible alien fore have left the New Republic reeling. Dozens of worlds have succumbed to occupation or annihilation, and even the Jedi Knights have tasted defeat. In these darkest of times, the noble Chewbacca is laid to rest, having died as heroically as he lived - and a grief-stricken Han Solo is left to fit the pieces of his shattered life back together before he loses everything: friends, family, and faith.
Refusing help from Leia or Luke, Han becomes the loner he once was, seeking to escape the pain of his partner's death in adventure...and revenge. When he learns that an old friend from his smuggling days is operating as a mercenary for the enemy, he sets out to expose the traitor. But Han's investigation uncovers an even greater evil: a sinister conspiracy aimed at the very heart of the New Republic's will and ability to fight - the Jedi.
Now Han must face down his inner demons and, with the help of a new and unexpected ally, honor Chewbacca's sacrifice in the only way that matters - by being worthy of it.
NOTE!! - This review does contain spoilers from the novel. If you have not read it, you may want to think twice before proceeding.
Luceno has shown us he clearly belongs in the Galaxy Far, Far Away. He knows this Universe, and the people that inhabit it. If a character has something to contribute, we know we can count on them being there. Several characters that had not yet made appearances in previous New Jedi Order titles made cameo appearances in Hero's Trial, and appropriately so, for this story. The placing of characters such as Lowbacca, Tenel Ka, and Belindi Kalenda are quite fitting, given their histories. However, the inclusion of previous characters is also a double-sided lightsaber - see my comments on "The Bad" below.
Moreover, Luceno has a feeling for the sensibilities that are Star Wars - the pathos, the humor, the environment. These are displayed best in the relationship between Han Solo and his apparent new sidekick, Droma. They mesh well together, and with the milieu in which they find themselves. Considering that Luceno has one more novel centering on Han Solo in the offering, we have something to look forward to indeed. There may not a person more able to take advantage of Han's backstory.
I think fans will be pleased to see how Han Solo works through his grief. Luceno is able to write Han quite effectively as he takes him from his former, torn-apart self back to his roots as scoundrel and risk-taker. It's kinda comforting to see the old Han come back. I thoroughly enjoyed reading every bit of Han's storyline.
Fans of Kevin J. Anderson's Young Jedi Knight series will be pleased to see the return of several of his characters. While they're mere cameos, they have been well set up to take on heavier roles in the future.
James Luceno also has a way with words. It's a pleasure to read how the words flow; although I must admit to having to look up a few words! Even his battle scenes (something I admittedly have trouble reading, no matter who is writing them) flow smoothly and grandly across the page.
First up, this book has a very interesting cover by Rick Berry. At first I didn't care for it, but I kept finding myself drawn back to it as I read along. It's interesting to see Han aged somewhat as opposed to other covers. I also enjoy seeing new characters depicted on the covers. In this case it is Droma and Elan.
That brings me to the next thing I liked - Droma. Now nobody can ever take the place of Chewbacca, but Droma is a decent second stringer. He's from a little known race of aliens with powers to read minds and see a little into the future. A kind of race of alien gypsies. He's funny, he's good in a fight, and he's a snappy dresser. I don't know how long Han and Droma plan to tag along together, but it should be interesting. The ultimate irony of the situation is that before, Chewbacca felt he owed a life debt to Han. This time around Han seems to feel he owes a life debt to Droma, so he sticks by his side. It's a rather interesting turning of tables.
Han FINALLY stops brooding about Chewbacca's death in this book. That's the one thing that has bugged me most since Vector Prime (next to Mara being sick, and that is resolved here, too). I never thought Han would sit around and mope if a loved one was murdered. The Han Solo from the movies would have gone out and kicked the butts of whomever hurt his friends or family. That's what we see happening here, though it takes a while to get going. And just as the cover suggests, this is primarily a Han Solo adventure.
James Luceno proves that he truly does know the Star Wars Universe. I've read every novel, children's book, and almost all of the comics, yet he was able to pull up obscure references even I had a hard time placing. It's fun to see all of the expanded universe fiction tied together in a neat little package. Fans of the Young Jedi Knights series will be glad to see the return of Lowbacca (though it is brief).
There is some pretty good action here (which I always love). A pretty spectacular battle takes place in orbit around Ord Mantell as a space station is attacked by the Yuuzhan Vong. The chase becomes even more deadly (and exciting) as the gravity on the station fails. Luceno writes a pretty cool escape from the space station, too. (On a side note, I read part of the book on a plane as it was taking off. As I got to a part where Han Solo blasted his way out of a hangar in a ship, we accelerated and took off. What a rush!)
Overall, I enjoyed this novel quite a bit.
I hate to say this considering all the complaints that have been lodged about the lack of references to previous characters and events, but I honestly think, in some cases, the references in Hero's Trial were overdone. They unnecessarily slowed down the story without adding substance, and obscured the story Luceno had to tell. At times, I was confused as to whether there was a story in this or if this was the spackle job of all spackle jobs. It is one thing to have C-3PO reminence during Chewie's Memorial, and to have Roa play a role in propelling the story. These inclusions worked because they gave us either an insight into a character or fleshed out the idea that Han is returning to his "old self" in some ways. However, while it was cool to see a Marvel Comics reference, it was completely unnecessary to have Mara Jade Skywalker list her husband's former paramours. It was glaringly out of context and awkward. As such, it broke the feeling of involvement for me.
Furthermore, by including every character possible, storylines that could have benefited from a lengthier telling were truncated. I would have liked to see the story focus a bit more on Han and his struggles, internal and external. Until the near end of the novel, I was not completely convinced that Han was doing more than wallowing in self-pity or ready to fight to once again become worthy of the sacrifices made by Chewbacca. Perhaps that is what the second novel of this duology has in store. In a similar vein, we find out in Hero's Trial that yes, Mara has been seeing the Jedi Healer, Clighal. I would have liked this to been more of an event than one relayed in passing. Similarly, Mara's being healed by Vergere's tears was rendered anti-climatic by its short treatment.
I guess we've seee the range of continuity thus far in the New Jedi Order. Vector Prime could have used a few more references, Dark Tide was just right, and Hero's Trial could have used a few less.
The exposition before the real meat of the story left me restless. You don't get into the heart of things until halfway through the book. But the second half of the book kept me reading until the end. So be prepared for a direct read-through when you hit around page 170.
Despite his excellent use of the written word, the battle scenes did not hold my anxiety level much since they didn't involve anyone I knew. One battle scene involved no description from the pilots' perspective at all, leaving me completely uninterested in its outcome. When he did involve the pilot's perspective in a later scene, I still wasn't all that worried since I didn't know anyone he was using.
Many of the supporting characters have been taken from the Corellian Trilogy and the Black Fleet Crisis. And while not necessary for this story, fans would get more out of seeing these characters if they had read these Bantam-era books. Still, I appreciate the effort of bringing in "familiar faces" and hope this is done more in the future.
Every reader has a particular writing style they enjoy. You'll find some authors easy to read, others very hard. Occasionally I found Luceno's writing very hard to read. He seemed to try to pull obscure words out of a thesarus to test even the best vocabulary. Luceno is in his best form when he gets to the point, and this is usually during action scenes or dialogue between characters. But some sentences were overflowing with off-the-wall adjectives. Is his writing bad? Not at all. I just personally found it hard to read in spots.
If you read Rogue Planet, then you know that Vergere is a Jedi in that book, she disappears, then reappears as a pet of a Yuuzhan Vong in this book. That was cool. I thought we were finally going to see more of a bridge between the prequel world and the post-ROTJ world. Finally a Jedi to tell Luke about what the Knights were like before Palpatine! Alas, I was cheated. Vergere disappears again with even less fanfare than she appeared in. All I have to say is that there better be a payoff later in the series.
Finally, as much as I praised Luceno for throwing in references to previous books and comics, I have to agree with Helen that some of it was overkill. It seemed like every chapter referred to some other work. Keep making the references, but scale it back slightly!
I really can't find an ugly for this novel. There isn't anything that jumped out at me. Perhaps that is what I should put here. Nothing lasting stayed with me. I really wasn't touched on a deep level. There was simply too much rehashing and not enough new material in Hero's Trial. I found myself wanting more from it, in a frustrated kind of way.
If you weren't dealing with Han or any of the characters developed by Mr. Luceno, then the characterizations missed their mark. Luke, Leia and Mara seemed to be there merely to provide the dialogue necessary to fill in Han's story. And while this is most definitely Han's book, I feel that more attention could have been paid to giving the supporting cast more depth; even for their short appearances in the book.
And from a purely fan-based perspective, I am really hating the lack of resolution between Han and Leia. I'm not so sure I like that Han and Leia's marriage being in so much jeopardy. I certainly hope that this is resolved, soon!
Droma's wardrobe would fall under the ugly category. :)