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Another hot-headed Jedi?,
This review is from: Edge of Victory I: Conquest (Star Wars: The New Jedi Order) (Paperback)
Is there anything that Greg Keyes can't do? I've loved almost everything of his that I've read. The Star Wars: The New Jedi Order series has been floundering a little bit with a string of rather dull books, but Keyes comes in and saves the day again. Edge of Victory I: Conquest is just what the doctor ordered, with great tension, a personal story of a character that has seemed fairly clichéd up until now, and some wonderful action as well. Keyes takes young Anakin Solo, the impulsive youngest son of the Han and Leia, and turns in a tour de force. With this book, we begin to understand Anakin a little bit, and there is very little to complain about. I'm glad that, after a year where I just couldn't be bothered to continue the series, this book has brought me back into caring.
After the fall of Duro, the sinister Yuuzhan Vong have offered a deal to the galaxy: if the galaxy gives up its Jedi Knights, then the Vong will not continue their attack. Thus, Jedi are being ambushed all over by either ordinary citizens or an organization calling itself the Peace Brigade, and times have taken a dark turn. With Han and Leia recuperating from the events in Balance Point, the Solo children are attending a meeting of all of the Jedi, where Luke Skywalker is trying desperately to convince a young Jedi hothead named Kyp Durron to accede to Luke's defensive strategy. He's unsuccessful, and the Solos are torn between the two sides. Whatever way the Jedi finally go, Anakin realizes that the Vong will eventually attack the Jedi academy at Yavin, and races off to save them, especially his best friend Tahiri. Unable to get the New Republic to send any ships, Luke convinces an old friend, smuggler Talon Karrde, to take his ships to help him. They're too late, however, as the Academy has already been overrun and Anakin is missing, having gone after the captured Tahiri. The other Jedi are safe, but can Anakin save his best friend before she's turned into one of them?
I just love Keyes' writing style. It flows very naturally, making the action seem more intense and the character moments more intimate. By concentrating on Anakin for the most part, Keyes is able to take us deep into his mind, seeing why he is as impulsive as he is. He still blames himself for Chewbacca's death, which is one of the many driving forces for why he's so intent on rescuing Tahiri. He's quick-thinking, which makes it so he isn't punished for his impulsiveness as much as he perhaps should be. This can lead to an ever-worsening situation, however, and we see that as his plans go awry at times. When he meets up with the "Shamed" Vong warrior Rapuung, we see Anakin in even starker detail. Anakin is everything that is repulsive to Rapuung, and Anakin quickly learns that sometimes you have to do things you may not want to do in order for your plans to succeed. All of this is captured perfectly by Keyes, and it's the best portrayal of Anakin I've seen yet in the series.
That being said, the other characters in the book are also extremely well-done. With the exception of the first couple of books, we always seem to get a look inside what makes the Vong tick, and this book is no exception. We see some other sides to the Vong, however, with the "shapers" (who apparently are the ones who do most of the genetic modifications to the various Vong organic machines) and the "Shamed Ones," Vong who have either lost the favour of one of their gods or done some other heretical crime. Rapuung is interesting because he's been falsely shamed by one of the Master Shapers, Mezhan Kwaad. He is after his revenge, which isn't death (the Vong embrace death). Instead, it's the public humiliation of having her admit that she caused his downfall and his warrior's scars to be removed. Thus, working with Anakin is a means to an end, but in the meantime, we find out a lot about the Vong religion and their values.
Not only does Keyes do a masterful job with characterization (not just these two, but everybody, as there isn't a single character misstep in my estimation), but he does the action well too. The initial attack on the Academy is wonderfully done, with Anakin having to come up with increasingly desperate plans to save them all, especially when he gets unwanted help. The starship combat between Karrde's ships and both the Peace Brigade and the Vong is outstanding. In fact, Keyes is able to pack a lot of stuff into 290 pages, and there is not a wasted word in there. All of it is either to further the story, or increase our understanding of the Vong. Sometimes, it's both.
My usual complaint about the Star Wars books is the amazing amount of coincidences in them, but I can't even do that here. The only mild complaint I can make is that there are two "last second" rescues. However, one of them is set up earlier in the book and the other one is completely understandable considering how the Jedi minds work and link together, even though the last one does come a bit out of left field. The rescue at the end of the book is only coincidental in its timing (think the first movie, Episode 4).
No book is perfect, but the above is really the only thing I can complain about. Edge of Victory: Conquest is a tightly written book that will hold you until the end. It's a fairly easy read and the pages will fly by. Personally, I think this is because I was gripped right from the beginning and Keyes wouldn't let me go. Now that's a good book! This one's definitely a keeper.