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This is not the passing of the torch we were promised
on 9 July 2013
Months before the scheduled release of Crucible a lot of news was floating about the interwebs and much of it was quite explosive. Who would have thought that George Lucas, the gatekeeper to the Star Wars franchise would ever sell off his most prized possession, and to Disney too. Well, he did and his decision to do so is what is bringing episodes VII, VIII, and IV. But George's decision to sell off Star Wars was not the only big news to be whispered about, big news was also impacting the literary branch, too. Now that Fate of the Jedi had wrapped up a new layout was to hit readers, and that was to be the end of the large scale series and a reintroduction to stand alones. So, here we are, a new stand alone, so lets delve in.
Over the last few decades Star Wars fans have been exposed to expansive story arcs laid out by The New Jedi Order, The Legacy of the Force, and The Fate of the Jedi. And as one would expect, those books have had quite the impact on the Expanded Universe. But with all large story arcs some loose threads are left dangling in order to open new doors later on, and some are just left dangling. This is where Crucible comes in. The first "Big Three" (Han, Luke, Leia) book since the climatic end of the Fate of the Jedi series attempts to advance some leftover plot points from stories past and also present a fresh new story to boot. But in the end does Crucible deliver what it promised? Well, lets find out.
I must admit that when Crucible was first announced I wasn't all that excited for it. Given Fate of the Jedi had worn me out with its drawn out storylines and pretty lackluster entertainment value, I wasn't all that excited to read another Big Three book, so my expectations were pretty low going in. Now, after reading the book, I can honestly say that the book has lived up to those expectations, and here's why. After reading hundreds of Star Wars books and comics I know that every installment is not a true stand alone, every book, or comic, is closely tied to events that have happened before or after the events featured in that book's tale, so I knew this book would be no different. What I wasn't prepared for was that this book would be so incredibly twisted in on itself that I would not know the book's true purpose until the last few chapters. Here's what I mean.
]]]Minor and unspecific spoilers ahead]Minor and unspecific spoilers ahead[[[
In the beginning of the book we are taken on a new adventure with Han and Leia being drug into a new threat against their close friend Lando. A new enemy has arisen in the aftermath of Abeloth, and this new enemy is smarter and wiser than we have seen in the past...at least that is what we are told in the book synopsis. What we are really given is an attempt to introduce a brand new enemy with incredible intelligence to weave us a web of intrigue and suspense. However, the book never delivers what it promises. In actuality we are delivered an enemy that is much more tic-tac-toe than chess, and is so weak that even with the help of the most dangerous villains the EU has to offer they cannot help them succeed in their plot to rule the galaxy...or even their little corner of it.
What the book does deliver is a few new creatures and characters that are quite imaginative. However, once again the book doesn't deliver here either. These new beings, driven by a blend of technology and organic materials, are so underused that by the end of the book when the story calls for them the reader has already lost interest, at least that is what happened for me.
I was really interested in this new creation and wanted so much to see how Denning was going to spin them into the story and how he was going to use them to build suspense and drama, but in the end this avenue was never taken and the new beings tale was crushed by chapter after chapter of Luke, Leia, and Han running around not doing a whole bunch.
While reading the book I took notes as to what I liked and didn't like and will address them here.
First, I wrote down that the book doesn't play to Troy Denning's strengths, and it really doesn't. I know a lot of readers have their own opinion of Denning's work and sometimes I agree with both sides of the argument, but I was a big fan of his Abyss novel in the Fate series. I found his exploration of the Force to be very entertaining and was looking forward to seeing some of that work in this book...I still have images of his lake of fallen Jedi/Sith featured in Abyss. However, we see none of this until the last chapters of the book, maybe the last three or four chapters. To me this was very unfortunate. Not only do we have to wait until the very end to see this aspect, but we have to wait to the very end of the book to find out what the book is truly about.
Second, the lack of alternative perspective was very disappointing. In this book we are introduced to new characters and reintroduced to old ones too. Not only are we not shown their trials and tribulations from their perspective, but we are not given any real narrative perspective to their issues either. A large thread from Karen Traviss's work was left over after her departure and reintroduced in this book, however, we never see any new advancement to that story arc and in the end nothing is resolved. In fact the only resolution to that thread is Luke talking to the others about how he wonders what happened to them...pretty lame.
Third and finally, for a book that is pretty watered down and lacking of any real depth it can be quite confusing at times. Characters are hard to track as first and last names are switched from paragraph to paragraph. Sometimes a character is called by their first name in one paragraph and then their last in the next. Normally this wouldn't be so bad, but when the character list is this long, and characters are not always who they seem to be, keeping track can be difficult at times.
In conclusion the book isn't horrible, but it isn't all that great either. To me it felt a little bit like a glass of Kool-aid that has been left out on the counter for about a week. When you go to drink it you get ninety percent water at first and then ten percent sweet sugar at the bottom. The book just felt weak and uninspired, and in the end that is what really bothers me about it.
I would never tell a reader not to read a book, and I won't start here, but for me this book was not Denning's best...far from it.
P.S. The epilogue contains a huge cliffhanger that may leave some fans wondering if this new story arc will lead to a transition from EU storyline to movie storyline.
Note: I received this book as an Advanced Review Copy (ARC) in exchange for an honest review