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A High Point for Travis
on 23 May 2013
This is Karen Travis's high point entry in the Star Wars canon, largely because it's the only one of her books where anything actually happens. It's not a particularly enthralling adventure but there is at least something going on.
Things start off promisingly enough: Travis demonstrates a truth unstated in the films: that the Jedi don't have a clue how to command an army. In Attack of the Clones we see hundreds of clones thrown away in open battle as they march towards the enemy in massed ranks and the opening shows these special ops troops being similarly thrown away. In-the-field realism is Travis' forte and she rightly highlights that shiny white armour's a pretty rubbish idea. To this she adds the idea that other equipment is unsuitable which is supposition but a reasonable one.
The central mission in the novel pits the commandos in a difficult and realistic situation: crossing a largely featureless arable land to oust the entrenched Separatists. By its nature, this is unremarkable terrain so the blandness of the setting is forgivable and actually makes the task in hand more interesting. It's not what I was hoping for, given the game it's based on (I was expecting something black-ops along the lines of Tom-Clancy's Rainbow 6). This plays out as a run-of-the-mill combat mission which is ok but nothing brilliant. The stand-out aspect is the lead enemy, a Mandalorian- the first non-Fett appearance I can recall from the novels.
It's not too bad, which is high praise from me considering what I think of this writer. Beware if you're thinking of buying though: things in this series go massively downhill from book 2 onwards. Taken in isolation, this book would be fine but if you're commitng to the series, bear the following in mind...
I have three bug-bears with Travis' writing. The first is that nothing ever happens in her books (Hard Contact actually being the exception). These are volumes that are 400-500 pages long but you'd struggle to recall an actual plot. In gunning for realism she's pushed the balance too far and people generally sit around doing nothing. Such probably is the reality of being a soldier but this is Star Wars- escapist fantasy- not reality.
Second, Travis has an obsession with making her creations better than anything else in the canon. Look out for the native "wraiths". These can make themselves invisible or change appearance at will and are conveniently invisible in the Force. They're stupidly invulnerable, the product of Travis's insistence on writing her creations in as super-awesome-better-than-anything-else. She's like a child in a playground saying "I'm wearing anything-proof armour and I've got a gun that can shoot through any-thing proof armour". The Beskargam (Mandalorian Iron) used in the Mandalorian's armour is a case in point: it's genuinely anything-proof (ok, there's pre-existing mention of the toughness of Mandalorian armour but Travis makes sure hers is better than Boba Fett's when she gets to write about him).
Thirdly, Travis hates Jedi. How someone who writes Star Wars books can hate the Jedi, I don't know, but she does. In Travis' hands the Jedi aren't guardians of peace and justice, forced reluctantly into a war not of their making but uncaring, warmongering bullies who command their slave armies with callous disregard. Of course, this isn't true of HER Jedi. HER Jedi are super-awesome-better-than-anything-else. They, and only they, are on the side of the clones and question the morality of the war. Again, this isn't too apparent in this book: we only see it in Etain's briefing but the head of Jedi intelligence is portrayed in the harshest possible light.
So, read this book if you like- on it's own it's alright- but for the love of the Force, don't get the rest unless you're a completist.