Some games are played for life or death.
Javul Charn is the most famous pop star in the galaxyóand the runaway bride of a violent lieutenant in Black Sun, the crime syndicate commanded by Prince Xizor. Or so Javul says. Soon after Dash Rendar, broke and desperate, agrees to be Javulís bodyguard, he realizes that openness is not her strong suitóand that murder is stalking her tour. Between the discovery of dead bodies in a cargo hold and an attack by an unidentified warship, Dash and co-pilot Eaden Vrill desperately try to understand who is terrorizing Javulís tour and why. When Han Solo suddenly joins Javulís road show, the stakes are raised even higher. Now Dash, who has a history with Han and an even worse history with Prince Xizor, follows his instincts, his discoveries, and Javul herselfóstraight into a world that may be too dangerous to survive.
Iíve always found Michael Reaves to be a reliable Star Wars author for delivering character-driven stories in the shadows of the main Star Wars adventurers. Shadow Games is in the same vein; like Reavesís other novels we have a Black Sun connection, a mysterious assassin, and a sarcastic droid. Itís almost retro in its inclusion of characters from 1996ís Shadows of the Empire, not the least of which is Dash Rendar, smuggler and future Rebel.
Rendar is a more sympathetic character here than in Shadows of the Empire. Reaves and new-name Bohnhoff (who was the uncredited co-pilot on Patterns of Force) get more mileage out of his backstory then I remember from Perryís novel, where Dash seemed at times to be little more than a Han Solo stand-in. Here we see a Dash forced into a criminal lifestyle through the actions of Prince Xizor. This isnít new information, but it influences Dashís actions throughout the novel. Itís really fun to see a little used character like Dash in the limelight here. Reaves and Bohnhoff deserve credit for not making this into a Han Solo novel, which would have been easy to do. Solo shows up, of course, but his voice seemed a little off to me. Maybe itís because he doesnít have Chewie to play to play off of.
Rendar finds himself short of funds after a failed Kessel run results in his ship, the Outrider, being severely damaged. Fortunately for him, intergalactic popstar Javul Charn is in need of a bodyguard to help protect her from an overzealous fanÖor so it seems.
Itís here where Shadow Games tries to become an EU thriller, much as Death Troopers was a horror novel. Like the Coruscant Nights novels, the genre atmosphere just isnít channeled here as well as it could be. We get a few thriller-worthy so-bad-itís-good passages, such as ďWhen heíd kissed her, heíd felt her fear. It trembled on her lips, quivered in her breathing. It wasnít his manly charms that had made her shake, he knew. Tonight, Javul Charn had more than stage fright.Ē But the most visceral parts of the best thrillers arenít here. Weíre told a lot about the ever present sense of danger, but we donít feel it. The mystery isnít absolutely page-turning; certainly not in the same way as the spy subplot in the Medstar novels.
And perhaps because itís intended to be concentrated on Dash, the cast of characters isnít as well drawn and entertaining as in other Reaves novels. Javul Charnís deceptions throughout the book keep her from being a truly sympathetic character, Leebo is a poor substitute for I-5YQ, and the rest of the characters just werenít that memorable.
That said, Shadow Games is a nice change from the Jedi and Sith dominated stories weíve been seeing recently. The intergalactic rock tour setting is something that hasnít been done before, and it made for a compelling backdrop for the story. Reaves and Bohnhoff even steered clear of involving the galactic media, something that would have been appropriate here but has been done to death in recent novels. And Dash and Leebo do make an entertaining team; the scene in which Leebo ďadoptsĒ a mouse droid is one of the funniest Iíve read in awhile.
So if you could use a break from the galaxy-changing Force-filled events of The Old Repubic and Fate of the Jedi, and long for a return to the adventurous days of Shadows of the Empire, Shadow Games is a worthy read.