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Asking hard questions
on 30 September 2013
This is one of Karen Traviss' later Star Wars books, but will please fans of her Republic Commando series as here she does what she does best - takes a bunch of unknown characters including Jedi knights, clone troopers, a battleship captain and a spy, and chronicles a very short span of their activity in the clone wars, where the good guys are supposed to be the Republic and the bad guys are the separatists. Yes, OK, we do have Annakin Skywalker, his Padawan Ahsoka and clone Captain Rex from the animated movie, but this isn't a formulaic adventure featuring characters we already know. Instead it's Karen asking hard questions again - about identity, human rights and the nature of love. (See her Star Wars: Republic Commando series for more hard questions.)
Spy, Halena, secret lover of Gil Pallaeon, captain of newly refitted assault ship, Leveler, is sent to the planet Athar to gather information about any proposed separatist activity and a potential threat to remove the current republic-friendly government by the downtrodden masses. Unfortunately she's not given enough information and the invasion is already underway. Rumbled almost immediately she requests extraction and Pellaeon and the Leveler happen to be the closest vessel. Unfortunately the refit hasn't been entirely successful and they're on a shakedown cruise with civilian engineers on board who are trying to fix a computer glitch which has taken their most effective weapons offline.
Added to that Annakin Skywalker has sent Captain Rex with Ahsoka and half a dozen fresh-out-of-training clones to familiarise themselves with Leveler's upgrades - that's the theory, but in fact he's just trying to get Ahsoka out of his hair and buy himself a bit of time with Padme - at this point in the Star Wars story arc they are secretly married and Annakin is suffering enormous guilt for forming an attachment. Add to this Master Altis' Jedi sect which allows marriage and children and you have an interesting mix of characters who are going to start questioning a) why Yoda is so keen that the Republic's Jedi knights be kept so strictly single and celibate, b) how and why the Republic knew that a clone army would be needed, c) whether the Republic has the right to treat clone troops like slave soldiers whose individual lives are not important and d) whether the Republic is actually the right side to be fighting on.
This is a simple get-me-out-of-here caper. What makes it interesting are the questions. Annakin and Ahsoka come up against Altis' Jedi sect and begin to question whether attachment will turn a Jedi to the Dark Side as Yoda insists. Halena questions her activities as a spy and whether she's on the right side. But it's the clones who raise the most questions. Karen always has great sympathy for the common soldier, portraying them as complex individuals, even the ones straight out of basic training. Grown to maturity in half the time it takes for an uncloned human, the clones are children in a world that values them only for their expendability. Their camaraderie is as uplifting as it is heartbreaking.
An excellent novel, and not just for Star Wars fans.