on November 30, 2003
I had hoped for more from the followup to the fantastic Dark Tide series. The book is not poorly written, and the story is generally satisfying, but the book focuses solely on Han Solo, completely ignoring the rest of the galaxy. While Solo's adventures are reasonably exciting, they failed to grip my attention, and I had some trouble getting through this book, for lack of interest.
Okay, to the story. Han Solo, who had been almost entirely left out of the Dark Tide series (which focused on the Jedi), is still mourning the loss of Chewbacca at the hands of the Yuuzhan Vong at Sernpidal. Solo is highly depressed and takes his anger out on Leia and storms away on his own. While almost every one of the 'good guys' is left out, dont worry, the Yuuzhan Vong are present and give Han a hell of a hard time. Han allies himself with an old friend, and after a Yuuzhan Vong attack, a new one. By the end of the book, Han uncovers a Yuuzhan Vong plot to completely eliminate the Jedi, and does his usual hero thing to try and avert it.
Over all, the book is not terrible. Han Solo is true to his original character, an independent rogue, not the paternal Han Solo shown since the Thrawn Trilogy. For any Han Solo fan, this book would probably rank up with AC Crispen's trilogy, but as a New Jedi Order book, Hero's Trial is rather one-dimensonal, and any reader who is not a Han Solo fantatic will find themselves wishing that there was more mention of the Solo children, Luke Skywalker, Corran Horn, etc. This book is not vitally important to the series; nothing of any great import occurs, except perhaps the first real indication of the Yuuzhan Vong's hatred of the Jedi, which will play an important role later on in the New Jedi Order series.
A good effort for Luceno (his first Star Wars novel) but this book doesnt stand out and is probably my least favorite New Jedi Order book to date, perhaps even my least favorite Star Wars book to date (L. Neil Smith's Lando Calrissian saga may give Luceno a run for his money, though).
on May 15, 2003
Agents of Chaos I: Hero's Trial is the fourth book in the Star Wars: The New Jedi Order series. The series so far has been dazzling, but unfortunately there always has to be a bump in the road. This one's it. Michael Stackpole provided a lot of momentum with his two book series, but Luceno drops the ball a little bit. It's not that bad, by any means. It's just not that good.
I've been anxiously awaiting Han Solo's story ever since what happened to Chewie. In Stackpole's series, Han was sidelined as somebody who was wallowing in his sorrows and going off to get drunk. He was gaining weight and basically becoming a slob who didn't care about anything. But we knew he wouldn't be like this forever. When I heard that Hero's Trial was about him, I rejoiced.
Then I read it, and I wasn't quite so happy. I'm not sure if it just suffers in comparison to Stackpole's, or if it has its own problems. First of all, while there are the requisite space battles that any Star Wars book or movie has to have, the scenes just fall flat here. The dialogue's not bad, but the descriptions of the battles just lie there, moribund. They don't bring that sense of exhilaration that previous ones did. Sure, all the terminology's there: the jukes, the jinks, the firing of lasers and proton torpedoes. However, the sense of the ebb and flow just isn't there. I wouldn't say I was necessarily bored, but they definitely didn't hum.
The second problem with the book is the other characters. They are, almost to a man (or woman), dreadfully dull. Luceno creates a few Yuuzhan Vong characters, but they just lie there on the page. The scenes on the Vong ships are flat and just basically exposition. The Vong plan is to "allow" a defector to join up with the Alliance, but when she meets the Jedi Knights, a surprise will be awaiting them. This is not a spoiler as the plan is detailed by the Vong in the first few chapters. Thus, any sense of suspense is lost because we know what they are trying to do. The only suspense is whether it works or not. This isn't always a bad thing, but this causes the Vong characters to be nothing but mouthpieces as any scene with them devolves into "make it look like you're trying to rescue her, but make sure you don't."
None of the other characters inspire much in the reader either. The lone exception to that is Droma, the Ryn that Han meets up with on Ord Mantell. Droma has a lot of snappy dialogue and he makes the perfect foil for Han. He becomes a temporary partner to Han, and the interplay between the two is a wonder to behold. Droma is sarcastic, philosophical, slightly a coward but he's also willing to make the extra sacrifice when necessary, even with his tail (which we see in a truly memorable scene where it's instrumental in rescuing Han). He is a wonderful creation, and I hope we see more of him.
Another major problem with this book is the coincidences. The Star Wars universe is full of coincidences, and usually I can look past them. If two stories are going on, it's very likely that they'll both end up in the same place eventually. That's all well and good. But in this case, three stories all end up in the same place, and it just stretches my suspension of disbelief almost to the breaking point. On top of that is when Han ends up on the same passenger ship on which the defector is being transported. I'm willing to grant a little bit of leeway on this usually, but this book was just too much.
One thing I did like, however, was the way the story showed two sides of the same faction (in this case, the Vong and their associates) not know what the other one is doing. Some Vong associates actually believe the defector is real, and they try to capture her, throwing a wrench into everything. It's the sort of incompetence that happens in real life, when the left hand doesn't know what the right is doing, and it was nice to see here. It adds a bit of chaos to everything and was a nice feature.
From a series point of view, I am a bit disheartened, though. Monumental events happened in the last book. While some of them are referred to (the planet Ithor, for example), one of the major events is never mentioned at all: the fall of Corran Horn. While this did happen a couple of months ago in the Star Wars timeline, it still should be fresh in everybody's minds. But he doesn't get a mention at all. It brings up something I was afraid would happen, and I hope it doesn't become a chronic problem. Are the authors only going to use their own characters in their own books? I seriously hope not. I don't want Horn sidelined for too long. He's too interesting of a character.
I think I liked this book more than it sounds because I was anxious for some Han Solo action. It's nice to see him again, and it was nice to see him be his old roguish self. I love the quirky grin, the "who, me?" attitude and his ability to get himself into the worst situations and then fly out of them unscathed. This is the Han Solo that I loved seeing in the old movies and I missed him. He's a man who isn't used to responsibilities, except to himself. He's been living a responsible life for 25 years now, and it's beginning to wear on him. It was good to see you in action, Han. Too bad the book around you couldn't have been better.
on January 12, 2003
Hero's Trial is a mixed bag. Some parts of the book are quite enjoyable and well-done; others fall flat. On the whole, this is a lackluster book coming from a rather strong series. It simply fails to live up to the standard of excellence that Michael Stackpole set with Books II and III, and it is not quite as interesting or well-written as Book I, which is itself a problematic read but does decently with characterization and plot.
I rather liked the first third of Hero's Trial--Chewbacca's memorial service is rather well done and there is some meaningful Han/Leia interaction--but the book pretty much falls apart after that. First of all, Luceno cannot write a space battle. He spends several pages on each of the few major battles that take place, but instead of relating details of strategy and the progress of the battle, he fills the space with meaningless, if florid, descriptions: "Asteroidlike coralskippers, varying in size, shape, and color, advanced in an unstoppable cloud, forging through the intense hail and swarming into the midst of the starfighter groups. Well-maintained formations broke apart as crafts peeled away to all sides, barrel- and snap-rolling into furious engagements with their quarries. In a bloodbath of swirling combat, coralskipper preyed on starfighter and starfighter on coralskipper" (180). This is all very pretty, though rather silly for the excess of adjectives, but it paints nothing more than a general tableau of "space battle." Part of the problem is that we don't know anyone in any of the battles, so Luceno has no obvious character(s) to follow--a problem that stems from his book having such a narrow focus (it deals more or less exclusively with Han). Luceno tries to fix the impersonal nature of the fighting in a later battle by tracking one X-wing, but the pilot is no one we've ever heard of before, and we never hear of him again--not to mention that Luceno renders rather little of the pilot's thought process and actions. In a book about a war, this failure to describe or engage with military combat is rather disappointing--especially because this book follows on the heels of Michael Stackpole's duology, and if ever there was a master of battle-description, it was Stackpole.
Aside from the trouble with writing combat, Luceno falls into a few other traps. Around the middle of the book, he makes a typical Star Wars novel mistake by constantly quoting the movies. Han Solo is a quarter of a century older than he was in the films. You'd think he'd have expanded his vocabulary a little in that time. Also, in the second half of the book Luceno's writing shows signs of influence from Kevin J. Anderson, author of the most abominable Star Wars books ever written, the Jedi Academy Trilogy. The events are melodramatic, the characters act stupidly, and the dialogue is like slap-stick comedy. Particularly annoying is a scene at the start of ch. 20 in which the Jedi hold a council that reeks of Kevin J: the characters act with uncharacteristic idiocy, deciding that something obviously suspicious is really okay and that the best way to deal with it anyway is to be insanely optimistic just because "we're all together!" What really gets me is that Wurth Skidder, undeniably the least wise and intelligent of the Jedi (i'm not kidding--check his stats in the NJO Sourcebook if you don't believe me), is the only one who says anything rational or intelligent at the meeting. Anyway, Luceno draws the scene to a close by refering to events directly out of the Jedi Academy Trilogy, confirming the source of his Jedi's behavior.
Finally, Luceno's language lacks clarity. At times this makes the plot rather confusing. There are things he just fails to explain adequately--fine points of the bo'tous toxin, details of one character's death, etc. At other times, he trips on his overly-developed vocabularly. He uses (and sometimes abuses) far too many SAT words, which create clutter and just make his writing sound silly.
Don't get me wrong, though. The book isn't all bad. I really appreciate Luceno's insistance on re-using characters from past Star Wars novels--it lends credence to the fact that the books really tell one continuous, canonical story. Sometimes he overdoes it, writing entire chapters that talk about what happened in previous books, but it is good to see that not all characters in this universe show up once and then evaporate. Luceno also writes several passages of inspired characterization and inner monologue. In particular, I think he does rather well with Threepio, giving the reader an internal view of the droid that is rare in the books, and treating him with the appropriate mix of levity and seriousness. Luceno also does some interesting and appropriate things with Han's character and with Han's marriage to Leia, though I wonder if the credit for this belongs with the committee that designed the plot for the entire series. Similarly, he introduces Vergere, who will later become enormously important, and he builds her up as a convincingly ambiguous and mysterious character. Finally, I actually somewhat enjoyed Droma. His banter could be a little too much at times, but it was far more interesting than Luceno's excessively serious description. Also, Droma actually seemed to have a touch of depth to him--that is, he was a bit more interesting than a stereotype, which is more than I can say for some of the other Star Wars characters I've met.
on June 27, 2002
This book is ok. It is much better then Agents of Chaos II. The story however, revolves too much around Han Solo to the detriment of the other characters. Yes, Han Solo was ignored on the 2 Stackpole books, but to have 2 books with the main focus just on him was not really needed. The stories could have been told in one much more interesting book, than in two books that it is easy to skim through. While it was nice to see some of the characters from the Han Solo books brought back, they really did not do much to enhance the story. The addition of Droma, just made him into a Chewie clone. It was uninspired. I would much rather have seen Han working with Anakin than with Droma. The subplot involving the Ving priestess and Vergere was interesting, but really only served to reintroduce Vergere to the Star Wars universe after the few times she was mentioned in Bear's Rogue Planet. Thankfully, the disease that plagued Mara Jade is beginning to be wiped out, but Luceno ignores his more dynamic characters to settle in the stereotypical companions for Han. That said, Hero's Trial is better than its sequal, but the two Agents of Chaos books are the 2 worst books in the NJO series.
on September 23, 2001
While I was glad to at last see Han coming out of his grief and fighting again, at the same time I felt that other aspects of the story were somewhat neglected. However, writing and plot wise, I'd say this is probably one of the best installments to come along yet. I was also pleased to finally see a book that focused almost exclusively on the adult characters. The kids are great, but I'd hate to see them replace Luke, Leia, Mara and Han and the like too soon. Anyway, in this book the Vong decide that the fastest way to defeat the New Republic would be to destroy their greatest asset; the Jedi. They dispatch the Priestess Elan, equiped with a killing biological weapon living inside her, along with her 'familier' Vergere (Rogue Planet anyone?) to go and feign deffection to the New Republic in order to get close enough to the Jedi to destroy them. Elan claims to have information about a disease her people infected one of the Jedi with (Mara of course). Anyway, Mara continues to fight the disease the Vong infected her with, but she's losing at best, and is now practically on her deathbed. Meanwhile Han's grief over Chewie has turned into a lust for revenge, and he heads out with an old smuggler pal of his to hunt down Reck Desh, a leader of a bizarre group of people called the Peace Brigade, allied with the Vong, who believe the only way to stop the Vong is to give them what they want. Anyway, this book is quite a bit more intracite then some of the others. Though it focuses mainly on Han, there are many other subplots revolving around each other. It's pretty intense at times, so I can't say I'd recommend it to kids, though teenagers and adults will enjoy it.
on September 1, 2001
I didn't like the direction 'Vector Prime' started in, but the 'Dark Tide' duology helped remedy that to an extent. It is done once more here, and we finally get back to good ol' Han. It's a nice touch after the very depressing 'Ruin' to see one of the big heroes in action.
One flaw I've had with the previous books is how they skipped around every which way with their plotlines. The Civil War-era stories often had centralized plots that focused on a certain situation, not the whole galactic face. 'Hero's Trial' is more of a focused work, by far the most in the series. Han's quest is an interesting one, and the galactic situation is well done, too.
And the Republic actually wins a battle! Throghout the seires they had tried to hard to mkae it seem dark that all the battles were incredibly bloody for both sides. For once the Republic kicks some Yuuzhan Vong butt. I also like the connections with the largely ignored 'Black Fleet Crisis' books. Kudos to Luceno for finally tieing in elemnts from there and thus helping to validify the whole series. The Vong defector and the Vergere elements are interesting and produce a tie-in with 'Rogue Planet' as well. Overall its a good book, and highly reccomended for Han Solo fans.
on June 10, 2001
This is a well written book. There's been a lot of griping that Luceno left out many major characters entirely or gave them cursory roles, but I think that was absolutely necessary for what he was trying to accomplish. This book is FAR and away more character driven than anything Stackpole is capable of writing. Luceno made the characters of Han and Leia in particular far more believable than many of the other SW have lately. Far more real. Human. It was a nice break from a rather stale mold, but there is nothing about their characters you won't recognize. They are just much more alive than they have been in awhile.
In fairness, this is not much of an action book, and I expect that is why a number of people have been giving it low marks. Oh well. If DelRey can keep authors with as much talent as Bear, Salvatore, and Luceno on the project, the books will be worth reading. I'm not interested in knowing exactly how an X-wing is flown, really. I'm far more interested in the characters themselves. This is their story, afterall.
Heh. This has kind of turned into a Stackpole gripe. I'm just tired of hearing him touted as one of the "best Star Wars authors" in the same sentence as people like Zahn who paid as much attention to militaristic detail without sacrificing good character weaving. Luceno isn't the best there is, but he's good to be sure.
on December 14, 2000
Brilliant! While the first three NJO books have concerned themselves with the Jedi forces, in particular the Solo children, Luceno has revived the stale Han Solo character.
In previous books, Han has been left out of the story, but here he is thrust into the spotlight, as he slowly comes to grips with the loss of Chewbacca. During the course of the story, Han takes small steps to move on with life and to allow his healing to begin.
I feel that Luceno truly captures the Han Solo that we all remember him from episodes 4-6--a wise cracking, dashing, risk-taking scoundrel. In addition, Luceno also introduces us to an alien, Droma, who I have a sneaking suspician will replace Chewie as Han's first mate (In later installments, that is). The sarcastic banter between the two spacers made me pause during the reading to chuckle at the friendship being forged.
Luceno is a splendid author who truly captures the Star Wars spirit. I recommend this book to anyone who loved the original trilogy. You'll feel yourself fall back in love with the setting just like I did.
on November 30, 2000
For quite some time now, there have been three SW authors that I couldn't decide between as far as who was best: Stackpole, Allston and Zahn. Luceno has joined them. Why?
he plot moves along at a nice pace. I was kept on the edge of my seat for several chapters.
The action sequences are very well written. Pulse pounding blaster battles and dogfight. No lightsabres, however. This book does fine without them though.
It's in te department of characters that Luceno really shines. Han is the obvious star of this book and Luceno does a great job exploring him and his grief. Luceno does a great job bringing back the Han of old and helping him grow. Han's new friend is also well done. I found myself laughing outloud at some of their exchanges, such as when they are flying in battle together. Luke, Mara, Leia and Anakin are also close to the mark. In what amounts to a cameo, Borsk is dead on as well.
And speaking of cameos, Luceno knows his EU. If you liked, Kapp Dendo showing up in Ruin, you will love this book. Cameo after cameo. One of my favorites is back, Showalter from the Corellian Trio. I really enjoyed his plot. Some of the best scenes involve 3PO. It's amazing how Luceno gets inside his head.
I also learned a lot of new words from the book. I liked that aspect of it. Anybody know what gibbous means? You will after you read this. And read it you should.
on November 22, 2000
The Agents of Chaos series kicks off with a rousing Han Solo adventure that brings some much needed levity to the New Jedi Order proceedings. Han may be dour and grumpy, but he's far more entertaining that the brooding Jedi we spent the last two books with. Luceno puts the focus back on the core characters (Han and Threepio especially), and as such, the book just feels more...Star Wars-y.
If you're an Expanded Universe junkie, though, fret not! There are more references to the Pre-Jedi Order books than you can shake a gimer stick at. It's almost as though Luceno's editors asked him to throw these tidbits in to assuage fan worries that those books were being ignored. Believe me, those worries are no longer justified.
Hero's Trial also resolves some long-standing issues from Vector Prime (think Mara Jade) and ends on a pseudo-cliffhanger. I'm not sure I like Han's questionable familial ethics here, but I'm sure he'll redeem himself in the next book...or not. That's really the beauty of these NJO books: long character arcs where anything can, and usually does, happen.
All in all, if you dig the New Jedi Order, you'll dig Hero's Trial. It's good, swashbuckling fun for geeks of all ages.