New Jedi Order
Force Heretic II - Refugee
by Sean Williams and Shane Dix
Published by Del Rey
Scott's Rating: 3 out of 4
Mike's Rating: 3.8 out of 4
Nick's Rating: 3.7 out of 4
This is the second book in the Force Heretic trilogy.
Han, Leia, Tahiri, Jag, Jaina, and C-3PO make their way to the planet of Bakura. However, they discover that things have dramatically changed on the planet. The Bakurans are about to ally themselves with the P'w'eck, the slave caste of their enemies, the Ssi-ruuvi. The slaves have broken away from their masters and are determined to use their technology for the good of themselves and the Bakurans. While this sounds like a perfect defense against the Yuuzhan Vong and the Ssi-ruuvi, not everyone on the planet thinks it's a good idea. Protests and rebellions have broken out among the populace. Against this tumultuous political backdrop, our heroes discover that there's more going on than meets the eye. To complicate matters, Tahiri's Yuuzhan Vong alter ego has begun to re-emerge and cast doubt among her friends as to her loyalty.
Meanwhile, Luke, Mara, Jacen, Danni, Saba, Tekli, and the Imperials travel to the portion of the Unknown Regions ruled by the Chiss. They must go to the Chiss homeworld in order to get permission to search for the living planet Zonama Sekot. The Chiss are skeptical of their quest for the legendary planet and wary of their possible intentions, but they allow the Jedi to search their library for clues. It may be their only hope for finding the elusive planet.
Finally, Nom Anor continues to rise in power among the Shamed Ones as he expands the cult of Jedi worshippers.
I've enjoyed Refugee and Remnant because they are nice side adventures to the overall New Jedi Order storyline. Instead of your typical Yuuzhan Vong vs. the Jedi story, you get something a little different and it's a nice change of pace. I also like the fact that we got to revisit a world we saw in a previous book. It helps tie the Expanded Universe together better. And at 400 pages, Refugee certainly gives you your money's worth in reading.
I like the way this trilogy continues to put the Expanded Universe characters in the spotlight. Jaina, Jag, and Tahiri all continue to develop and mature. It's interesting to see Jag lose his edge as he falls more in love with Jaina. It's going to be fun to see how it eventually plays out. Tahiri's inner conflict with her Yuuzhan Vong half turns her into an even more complex, dark character than before. I really wish the fact that Tusken Raiders raised her would come more into play. You'd think being brought up by such a brutal race would help her fight (or accept) the Yuuzhan Vong brainwashing. I also like seeing the romance blossom between Danni and Jacen. All of these things make me eager to see where they lead in the third book.
Refugee was filled with great little scenes. The opening fight scene with the Krizlaws really hooked me. It was fast paced, exciting, and what I was hoping to see in the novel. It appropriately set me up for the rest of the story. I thought having the Chiss library being filled with paper books was a nice touch. Not only is it nice security, but it throws a fun monkey wrench into Luke's quest to find Zonoma Sekot.
First I'd like to mention that Refugee was unique for me, in that it was the first book in the entire NJO that I read without knowing a single thing about it beforehand. And if ever I was gonna go into a story that way, this would be the story to do it with.
Force Heretic, so far at least, has been very different from the majority of the NJO in that the Vong aren't really the big villain. Sure, everything our heroes are up to is for the benefit of the overall war, but in Refugee (and to a lesser degree in Remnant), there's nary a skip to be found. Instead, the gang is doing some old-fashioned detective work, and it's a very interesting change of pace.
Through the Luke/Mara segments, we finally get a real look at Csilla, the Chiss homeworld. The conditions in which their species finds itself make their culture very understandable; stick a couple human families in Antarctica and see how their kids grow up. Chances are they'd mature faster than regular kids, and they'd have very little tolerance for goofing off. And who knows; maybe if that group was left to its own devices for a thousand generations or so, they might even evolve blue-tinted skin and glowing red eyes...but I digress. I was also thrilled to finally witness the return of Baron Fel to the EU (and what I'm pretty sure is the first-ever non-flashback appearance of Syal Antil - er, Fel. For the sister of a guy who had an entire series (two if you count comics) dedicated to him, it's surprising how well she's managed to avoid the EU spotlight all this time. Then there's Jacen and Danni. I've always adored Danni as a character, and after their first little quasi-romantic encounter at Helska way back in Vector Prime, I'd been starting to worry that the editors had forgotten about this particular coupling. Luckily, Destiny's Way put those concerns to rest (take that, Tenel Ka fans!), and I now get to watch Jacen, Big Hero of the NJO whether you like it or not, finally get what he deserves: some affection from someone other than Luke. I was understandably perturbed by the interruption of their conversation at the end of the book when Jacen had his revelation about Zonama Sekot, but hey, that's what Reunion is for. I can't wait!
Another interesting point is the addition of (gasp) regular books as an obstacle in the heroes' path. As eBooks and PDAs become more and more common here on Earth, the concept of a society whose members don't even recognize a book when they see one is both fascinating and eerie.
Then there's Bakura. This would be a good point to emphasize one of the Williams/Dix team's biggest selling points: research, research, research. These books have had an impressively Luceno-esque level of incorporation into the fabric of the EU. Frequently the savvy reader will stumble across obscure little bits of info that the authors had no business even knowing in the first place; the story of Valara Saar and Yashuvhu being a great example. Taking the throwaway drunken bigot Cundertol from the Black Fleet Crisis and making him a main character with an important role in the unfolding mystery was a great touch. And boy, was that mystery an interesting one. The Bakura/P'w'eck situation as it's revealed to us is really a work of art. The complexity of the Keeramak's plan, double-shifting alliances, and the enormous amount of players (no two of which seem to be on the same side) all manage to keep things riveting throughout what is by far the biggest storyline in the novel. And then there's the out-of-nowhere reappearance of the HRD droid as a plot device. When I first read Shadows of the Empire, I was worried that the idea of a droid who could pass for human could become a fallback for anyone who wanted a plot twist (Winona Ryder, anyone?), but surprisingly, this is the first time since Guri (I believe) they've ever even come up. And the entechment technology adds a whole new level to the concept; who's to say that Cundertol, enteched life force operating a practically-organic-yet-drastically-improved frame was truly any less human than anyone else?
Nom Anor. I really don't think I need to say much more on his role in this trilogy than I did in my Remnant review; especially since here his role is reduced to only a handful of scenes (all absolutely riveting, despite what Scott says). I do feel obligated to mention the confrontation with Ngaaluh, however. From the moment her scene began I had great hopes for what she could mean for Nom's development as a character, and when it looked as if she was about to die, I was glued to the page to a degree that few Star Wars books have managed in the past. It was all I could do not to cheer out loud when Nom revived her. Keep up the great work, guys!
Lastly, I have to disagree with Scott one more time and say that I love Jon Foster's work with these covers. They may not be neat and tidy interpretations, but they're alive with a gritty energy we never usually see on SW paperbacks; let's not forget there's a war going on. Jaina can fix her makeup later.
And let's also keep in mind that this is the guy responsible for getting Aayla Secura in AotC. We EU people owe him big time.
Refugee is quite unlike any other New Jedi Order thus far in that it doesn?t focus on the Yuuzhan Vong. While the alien conquerors are indeed an omnipresent threat that the reader is constantly aware of, our heroes don?t encounter a single Yuuzhan Vong in Refugee. We see the Yuuzhan Vong in Nom Anor?s few scenes, and a single warrior secreted amongst the Ssi-ruuk, none of the combat involves the Yuuzhan Vong. I wasn?t particularly looking for a break from fighting the Yuuzhan Vong, but the opportunity that Sean Williams and Shane Dix present us with is much appreciated.
The Yuuzhan Vong take a back seat as antagonists in Refugee, allowing an old enemy to return and seize the reigns of conflict. Not seen in a novel since The Truce at Bakura, the Ssi-ruuvi Imperium returns under the guise of the P?w?eck Emancipation Movement and a peace treaty, all the while guided by a devious mutant Ssi-ruuk leader. The Keeramak, the rainbow-scaled mastermind of the invasion, weaves a deadly web of deceit and ever-shifting alliances, one that culminates in an overwhelming battle above Bakura in the final section of the book.
The authors? knowledge of the Ssi-ruuk is impressive, and it really highlights the amount of research that they put into these novels. We see bits of obscure Expanded Universe material scattered throughout the novel, but always in appropriate places. In Remnant, we were blessed with a reference to Kyle Katarn, long ignored by authors. In Refugee, we hear about Yashuvhu, a planet that, to the best of my knowledge, traces its origins to a little-known web supplement for the Star Wars Roleplaying Game. Sean and Shane really dug into the books for Refugee.
While on the topic of research, I particularly enjoyed the inclusion of paper books in the Chiss library, as opposed to the digital devices typically used by the inhabitants of the GFFA. For once the problem wasn?t a Dark Side villain, power hungry warlord, or fearsome beast, but the more mundane obstacle of having to sift through volumes of print books.
Former executor Nom Anor was presented with the less mundane obstacle of infiltrating the Supreme Overlord?s court. Nom Anor?s character really took a turn in Remnant, and he continues in this new direction in Refugee. I was somewhat disappointed by the lack of his scenes, but that made each one that did pop up that much more enjoyable. I was glued to the page during each one, especially when we finally got to see Shimrra?s reaction to the heresy.
Tahiri?s storyline is growing more interesting with each passing novel, and is sure to come to a head in Reunion, and even more so in The Final Prophecy. In the end, will Tahiri be the same young woman we?ve always known, or will she become something greater?
Most new character offerings tend to last only a few novels. In Refugee, we are introduced to a new Chiss character, a female commander known by her shortened name, Irolia. For some reason I felt a somewhat personal connection with Commander Hess?irolia?nuruodo. Maybe it was her attention to detail, or maybe something else. Whatever sparked this connection, I hope the commander joins us for future adventures.
For one of the book?s most interesting characters, the authors resurrected a man from The Black Fleet Crisis, Molierre Cundertol. Mike touched on an excellent question with the character of Cundertol ? who?s to say that he?s less human than anyone else? This question of immortality and humanity comes up a lot in Sean and Shane?s novels, and it is always fascinating to see where the story leads us. Unfortunately for Cundertol, his ambition got the better of him and the immortality factor was removed from the equation.
I think my biggest problem with this book is that it was not what I expected. That doesn't mean it's a bad story at all. It just means I was looking for it to go in directions that it never did. For example, I was hoping to see a battle between the Yuuzhan Vong and the Ssi-ruuvi. They are two cultures that are very similar in many ways, yet one hates machines while the other turns living beings into machines. I wanted to see these two species with such differing philosophies get in a knock down drag out fight, yet it never happened. Instead we get to see the Bakurans and our heroes battle the Ssi-ruuvi again like we did in Truce at Bakura. In fact, the end of the book even suggests that the Yuuzhan Vong have infiltrated the Ssi-ruuvi which seems even more contrary to their religious beliefs than usual.
Another lost opportunity was the visit to the Chiss homeworld. Rather than explore their world and learn more about their society, we only get a brief glimpse of a very small portion of the population. I also wasn't clear why the Chiss would help the GFFA by sending Jag and a group of fighters, yet they treated them like enemies when they showed up needing help. It seemed contradictory, but I probably missed the explanation somewhere.
I had also hoped the storyline would have Star Wars return to its mythological roots. I was thinking that Luke's quest for Zonoma Sekot would be like Jason and the Argonauts or something. Sure enough, it starts out that way in the opening scene, but it pretty much concludes in the library on Chiss. I thought there was more story to be told there in the quest, but it never happened.
Finally, I found myself annoyed with several other aspects of the story. Why do the Ryn know everything? They seem arrogantly aware of everything that's happening in the far corners of the galaxy. And for a secret race of spies, they sure seem to openly brag about their accomplishments and have a lot of outside accomplices. The sub-story with Nom Anor is really not doing anything for me either. For some reason his rise to power among the Shamed Ones has not engaged me at all. I understand that it's an integral part of the story, but it doesn't interest me. I did, however, think it picked up by the end. I hope it continues to develop in the next book.
Overall, Refugee is a good Star Wars story, but not my favorite. I thought it had a lot of potential that was never fully realized. I do look forward to seeing more of Dix and Williams' work, though.
There is literally only one thing in the entire book that bothered me: large as they may be, I find it very hard to believe that a Vong could really pass himself off as a Ssi-ruu. Not only do their extremities look a little too small in places to properly conceal a Vong arm or leg, but just imagine trying to mimic a Velociraptor-like walk and posture all the time. You'd have to be a very small (and patient) being to pull off something like that.
I have to agree with Mike ? the idea of a Yuuzhan Vong posing as a massive Ssi-ruu general struck me as a bit farfetched, even for Star Wars. Maybe those gablith masquers are more effective than we thought.
I don't know if that's Jaina or Tahiri on the cover, but it seems to be one of the more unflattering depictions of her I've seen.
What's with every name in the Fel family coming from Syal's side? Jagged is her father's name, and Wynssa was her stage name; even their yacht was called the Starflare, the other half of her stage name. I'd say it's pretty clear who wears the Corellian bloodstripes in that family.
The Glove of Darth Vader series. Man those books sucked.