[ Book Review ] Luke, I am not in this book at all

Star Wars: The Old Republic – Fatal Alliance by Sean Williams

(Oh, 3.5 happy canaries! Happy, dammit, happy!)

Audiobook read by Marc Thompson

Star Wars Fan Intro: The Hutts have found a new civilization and are willing to sell the information to the highest bidder. Representatives of both the Republic and Sith Empire (and some uninvited guests) have traveled to Nal Hutta to attend the auction, including a Jedi Padawan, a former Republic trooper, a mysterious Mandalorian, an Imperial Spy, and a heartless Sith apprentice.

Non Star Wars Fan Intro: Giant slug-like creatures are holding an auction for information about a new planet they’ve found. They’ve invited good guys and bad guys to attend. May the man with the most money win.

JediCanary Time Out: One, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic is my favorite video game ever of all time. Two, I’ve got the collector’s edition of SWTOR pre-ordered and have had a glimpse of the beta (and have joined a guild, and read everything about the game, and, and, and…) So trust me when I say that you don’t need to be familiar with either games to read and enjoy this book, but you’ll appreciate it more if you are.

JediCanary Time In.

Unlike the rest of the Star Wars EU (that’s “Expanded Universe” for you non-Jedi), Fatal Alliance is in a wholly new timeline; approximately 3,650 years before the farm kid from Tatooine blew up his first Death Star. It’s also the first novel in the Old Republic series, a media tie-in series for Star Wars: The Old Republic (SWTOR), a Massive Multiplayer Online video game that’s still in its beta-testing stages.

While the character types are familiar to the Star Wars mythos, the timeline isn’t, so the writer has the daunting task of drawing an old crowd into a new, MMO-able world. The book not only sets up the era’s/game’s powerful factions, but it establishes the eight major, playable SWTOR character classes, too.

While it takes several chapters to (slowly) establish the (multitude of) main characters (that required constant referrals at first to the dramatis personae to keep everyone straight), and several (more) chapters to establish the (confusing-at-first) plot, you have to keep in mind this isn’t another chapter in the never-ending adventures of Luke Skywalker. It takes a while to set things up.

Lemme emphasis that: Fatal Alliance takes a while to set things up…

But still, I kept reading. Despite the languishing-pace of the first few chapters, the strong character voices and motivations kept my interest, and left me wondering just how far these characters would go to get the Hutt’s prize. The narrative develops an MMO-style plot–not in the “The Smuggler attacked using Dirty Kick while the Jedi Consular healed the group” sense, but in the “This isn’t a story about a lone Jedi taking on the galaxy” sense. We get a group of people questing for the same goal… and betraying each other in the process.

Something else that kept me reading? Williams has some of the best character descriptions I’ve read in a while. Here’s how he describes the main antagonist, Sith Lord Darth Chratis:

“His face was a mess of deep wrinkles and fissures from which two blood-red eyes peered out at the world. His knife-thin lips were twisted in a perpetual sneer. Occasionally, a tongue so pale it was almost transparent appeared to taste the air[…] One withered claw reached down to touch her chin. His fingernails were like ancient crystals, cold and sharp against her skin. He smelled of death.
[…]
Darth Chratis paced across the angular narthex in which he conducted his audiences. Displayed on the walls around him were relics of his many victories, including bisected lightsaber hilts and shattered Jedi relics. Absent were the tributes to his many Sith enemies. Although Darth Chratis hadn’t earned the fear and respect of his peers simply by outperforming them, he didn’t boast about those he had forcibly removed from his path. His reputation was enough.”

Damn.

Fatal Alliance is filled with similar, third-person narrator descriptions, and a smattering of show-don’t-tell asides by the characters themselves.

I both read Fatal Alliance and listened to the unabridged audiobook (45 minute commute to work eats up most of my reading time). The audiobook is read by one of my favorite readers, Marc Thompson. He’s recorded plenty of other Star Wars audiobooks (Legacy of the Force series and Fate of the Jedi series to name a few) and he doesn’t so much narrate the story as act it out.

My favorite voice was also of my favorite character, the smug and over-cocky bastard of a smuggler named Jet Nebula. He sounded like a combination of Badger from Firefly and every Clone Trooper from Star Wars: The Clone Wars. I kept envisioning Captain Rex wearing a mighty-fine hat whenever Nebula spoke.

Add in the sound effects and music from the films, and it’s like listening to an old-time radio drama.

The Star Wars Expanded Universe is an intricate part of the franchise’s mythos, and one of the elements that lead to the increase in popularity in the 90s. Without the EU, we wouldn’t have the upcoming game, let alone the books and comics. Plus, who doesn’t love a story centering around political intrigue with lightsabers? It’s also a great introduction into the mythos of SWTOR.

If you aren’t already excited for the up-coming game, you will be after reading Fatal Alliance.

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