Some games are played for life or death.
Javul Charn is the most famous pop star in the galaxy?and 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 Javul?s bodyguard, he realizes that openness is not her strong suit?and 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 Javul?s tour and why. When Han Solo suddenly joins Javul?s 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 herself?straight into a world that may be too dangerous to survive.
I?ve 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 Reaves?s other novels we have a Black Sun connection, a mysterious assassin, and a sarcastic droid. It?s almost retro in its inclusion of characters from 1996?s 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 Perry?s 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 isn?t new information, but it influences Dash?s actions throughout the novel. It?s 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 it?s because he doesn?t 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 fan?or so it seems.
It?s 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 isn?t channeled here as well as it could be. We get a few thriller-worthy so-bad-it?s-good passages, such as ?When he?d kissed her, he?d felt her fear. It trembled on her lips, quivered in her breathing. It wasn?t his manly charms that had made her shake, he knew. Tonight, Javul Charn had more than stage fright.? But the most visceral parts of the best thrillers aren?t here. We?re told a lot about the ever present sense of danger, but we don?t feel it. The mystery isn?t absolutely page-turning; certainly not in the same way as the spy subplot in the Medstar novels.
And perhaps because it?s intended to be concentrated on Dash, the cast of characters isn?t as well drawn and entertaining as in other Reaves novels. Javul Charn?s 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 weren?t that memorable.
That said, Shadow Games is a nice change from the Jedi and Sith dominated stories we?ve been seeing recently. The intergalactic rock tour setting is something that hasn?t 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 ?adopts? a mouse droid is one of the funniest I?ve 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.