Star Wars: Rebel Rising

December is here! And at the time of this writing, the new Star Wars movie is only two weeks away! My current goal is to get all caught up on “pre-Last Jedi” novels in time for the new film. That leaves me with two books to review between now and then. One of those books is this one, Rebel Rising.

To date, there’s been three main novels that tie-in directly to Rogue One. Catalyst, which I’ve already reviewed on this site, serves as a prequel.  Guardians of the Whills. (A novel I will be discussing next week). And finally, this book, Rebel Rising. This novel tells the backstory of Jyn Erso, the lead character from Rogue One.

I found this book to be much more interesting than I initially anticipated. It follow’s Jyn’s life from the moment she is rescued by Saw Gerrara to the very instant she is joins the Rebel Alliance. The author does a fantastic job of letting us peek into Jyn’s mind and thereby helping us better understand her character. In the film, Jyn’s persona appears very conflicted and complicated. In some ways, her motives felt contradictory. I had always suspected this was simply the result of the rumored last-minute script change and reshoots in Rogue One, and perhaps it is. But even if that’s the case, this book does a marvelous job of reconciling that, and really brings a level of depth to her character that, in my opinion, was badly needed.

Despite being marketed as a young-adult novel, I found this book to feel more like a piece of adult fiction. It’s very well written, and even touches on some very complex themes. So, if you’re concerned about the maturity level of this novel, don’t let that inhibit you. Rebel Rising is a welcome addition to the Star Wars canon.

Story: Masterfully written, informative, and it helps improve upon one of the series newest characters. Very well done.

Recommended:  For all Star Wars fans, but especially those partial to Rogue One.

Carrie

Before moving on other things, I wanted to take a moment to post another book review. Having finished up Parasite Eve a few days before Halloween, I found myself wanting something else to read that was still in the spirit of the season. This time of year, I usually find myself curling up on the couch with my favorite novel of all time, Dracula. But this time, I decided I wanted to go in a different direction. When one thinks of horror novels, Stephen King is often the first author that comes to mind. I’ve always been a casual fan of King’s work. In my youth, I’ve read a number of King’s books. The Stand, It, Needful Things, The Shining, etc. I’ve also enjoyed his short stories quite a bit. But, there’s a ton of his novels that I’ve never taken the time to read.

So, I found myself browsing his library on Halloween morning looking for something to keep me in the spooky mood of the day. Then, the thought occurred to me to read through Stephen King’s works much like I do with the games I review on this site. So, beginning with this post, I’ll be reading and reviewing all of Stephen King’s works by order of publication. So, for that reason, I loaded up his debut novel “Carrie” on my Kindle Paperwhite and settled in under my blanket. This was not my first reading of the novel. I initially read “Carrie” maybe ten years ago. But to be honest, I only remembered the basic gist of it. Many of the finer details were lost over the years.

The story of “Carrie” is a classic. The novel focuses on the character of Carrie White. A chubby teen girl who is the epitome of social misfits. She’s awkward, riddled with acne, and she’s the daughter of an EXTREMELY religious single mother. The story begins with a scene of extreme bullying at the hands of her schoolmates. It is shortly after this event that Carrie realizes that she has telekinetic powers. As the story proceeds, the continued hazing and abuse by both her schoolmates and mother drive Carrie over the edge, resulting in a murderous rage.

The concept of the novel is quite original and riveting. This was true when the novel was published in 1974 and is still true today. The book itself is masterfully written. In fact, it’s difficult to believe that this was an author’s debut outing. With this in mind, no one can deny King’s claim to the throne as one of America’s modern literary geniuses.

The book itself is told through a mixture of both standard storytelling, mock newspaper clippings, scientific articles, and interviews of those who witnessed the events portrayed in the books. The ultimately conclusion of the story is laid bare early on, but the details leading up to the finale keep the reader glued to the pages. Again, it’s masterfully done.

If you’ve never read a Stephen King book, this is a fine place to start. It’s a relatively short read and it’s very approachable. Despite being his earliest novel, it’s still one of his best. Not to mention, it’s perfect for this time of year.

 

Story: Unique and well written. The perfect introduction to Stephen King.

Recommended:  For mature readers who enjoy chilling tales and paranormal phenomena.

 

Parasite Eve (Novel)

Happy Halloween! Since we’ve already discussed a few creepy games, I thought I’d end October this year with a couple of scary book reviews. I’ve often talked about my plans to include more non-Star Wars book reviews to the site so what better way to start than with a Halloween theme? Plus, this book actually dove-tails into the next game that I’m going to review. I’m talking about Parasite Eve, a very popular Playstation game from 1998. Many gamers will be familiar with the title. But did you know that the game is actually the sequel to a Japanese horror novel? Well, once I learned this I decided to pick up an english language version of the book so I would have the full backstory going into the game.

Up front, I’m going to tell you that this review is going to be very spoiler-filled. There’s not really a way I can find to discuss this book without ruining the story. So, if you’d prefer to read the novel completely blind, this is your warning….

Parasite Eve is a strange book. In a nutshell, the whole concept of the novel is that the mitochondria in our cells are actually intelligent parasites that have been using humanity for a symbiotic relationship while they wait for mankind to become powerful enough to be worthy of a takeover. The book follows a scientist who loses his wife in a car accident. The mitochondria in his body influence him subconsciously to donate her kidneys for research. At the same time, the mitochondria in the body of a young girl who recently received another kidney transplant, influence her to stop taking her medication, causing her new donor kidney to be rejected.  The idea here is that she will ultimately receive the dead wife’s kidney… because you see, the body chemistry of the two women is perfect for breeding a new human/mitochondria hybrid that will take over humanity and rule the world. It’s actually quite a bit more complicated than that, but that’s close enough. Weird, huh?

The premise is actually pretty interesting and for the most part the book is very well done. However, it does tend to get very dry and technical at times. I feel like the author actually has a real background in the field and decided to share his knowledge in the form of a horror novel. In doing so, he tends to over-explain and use a tad too much technical jargon for my taste. In many places, it tends to drag the story down. Then again, being a translated a novel, a good portion of this might have a lot to do with localization. It’s always difficult to translate a novel from one language to another and keep the same flow and momentum as the original author. With that in mind, I find the pacing of the book to be easy to forgive.

Even so, the book has a weird feel to it. It starts off odd, but very believable. The theory of a self-aware mitochondria is certainly fantastic and science fiction, but it’s presented in a way that’s believable. Then, literally in the turn of a page, we drive right off the cliff into complete Japanese weirdness. The story goes from science-based fiction to a total acid trip of monstrous proportions. There are literally giant vaginas made of rebellious mitochondria trying to eat people – completely out of nowhere. It was not at all what I was expecting.  It is the sum of every weird alien anime you’ve ever seen put to paper.

That being said, it was quite an interesting read. I found it to be oddly appropriate for the season, albeit a bit more disgusting that actually frightening.  I’ve certainly never come across anything like it.

All in all, this is not a book that I can recommend for the general public. But perhaps fans of the video game series would be take interest in the novel. The games were tremendously popular, so I’m very curious now to see how the story presented in this book can continue in game form.

Story: Very unique and interesting concept. A bit laggy at times, but considering it is a translated novel, very well done. Certainly a refreshing concept, but ultimately a gross and horrific story. Not for everyone.

Recommended:  For fans of the Parasite Eve series and folks who like Japanese alien manga. But general readers might have a hard time digesting this one.

 

Star Wars: Aftermath – Empire’s End

February 2017 saw the release of the final novel in the Star Wars Aftermath trilogy; Empire’s End. This is the series that bridges the gap (somewhat) between Episode VI and Episode VII. Over course of the these three books, we’ve been introduced to new characters as well as been able to peek in on a few of our favorite personas from original trilogy.

In retrospect, I was a bit cold on the original Aftermath. I didn’t care much for many of the new characters introduced, and I didn’t like the way the story seemed to jump all over the place. With the release of “Life Debt”, I began to feel a little more at home in Wendig’s post-ROTJ era, but still had my reservations. Now, I’m happy to say that I’ve actually come to enjoy several of the new characters he’s introduced. To me, Empire’s End is easily the best of the three novels in the series.

Those curious about the secret identity of Supreme Leader Snoke in Episode VII, will still be disappointed. Despite what many readers suspected to be a major tease regarding that character’s origins – nothing about the character is actually revealed. What we DO get in this story is a lot of background info on the planet of Jakku, as well as the Emperor’s plans post-mortum. It seems like Lucasfilm will be unlikely to give us any major revelations outside of the actual films,  but we’re certainly getting plenty of hints and breadcrumbs.  But YES – in this novel, you will finally see the fall of the Imperial Remnant and the reigns of power being handed to the New Republic. This alone, makes this novel worthy of your attention.

I’ve been an open critic of Chuck Wendig’s writing style in the past, and I’m happy to say that he seems to have really toned it down in this novel. This books reads much more like a started fantasy novel in terms of verbiage and standardized punctuation. To me, this one actually feels like it was written by a professional author and not some amateur who’s looking to make his name by being different and daring.

If you’re a serious fan of Star Wars and you love to consume every morsel of new information out there. This book is a need-to-have.

Story: The bulk of this book follows the characters that we’ve come to know from the other Aftermath novels, as well as longtime fan favorites. This story, when combined with the other three books, puts a nice end-cap on the events that occurred in Return of the Jedi, and helps set the stage for what we eventually see in The Force Awakens. However, even thoug ha lot of answers can be found here, fans are still left asking plenty of questions.

Recommended:  FOR HARDCORE FANS.

Star Wars: Bloodline

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As you know, I’m a huge fan of anything Star Wars. I have been since I was a little boy. So far, since the streamlining of the Star Wars universe under the guidance of Disney I’ve been sure to share my thoughts on each new piece of Star Wars lore as it becomes available. Today, I give you my opinion on Bloodline by Claudia Gray.

Claudia Gray is probably best known to Star Wars fans for her novel Lost Stars, an interesting Romeo & Juliet type story that starts in early days of the Empire, and follows a forbidden romance between an Imperial officer and a rebel soldier all the way through the fall of Empire. Now Claudia is back with a new tale that place in years before Episode VII.

Bloodline is largely a political thriller. The story follows Princess Leia as she tries to juggle her duties in the New Republic, while uncovering a secret plot that threatens to bring down the new government that she has spent her life fighting to establish.

For many, this book might be a little hard to digest. There’s quite a bit of lengthy material here regarding the “inside politics” of the New Republic. So some may find a large bit of the book about as exciting as reading a social studies text book. But, personally, I’m a big follower of politics – so this didn’t bother me at all. There’s a lot of backstory to Episode VII here. So fans who are curious about the lead up to the film may want to take the time to give this book a read. – I’d like to say more, but to do so would risk spoiling a large part of the plot. So I’ll refrain. But trust me, fans of the Original Trilogy and of The Force Awakens – this is a book I think you may not want to skip. Mentions of Han Solo, Luke and even Ben Solo are littered throughout the novel. Giving fans a glimpse into the years before The Force Awakens.

Story: Very well written. Fast read, but a bit heavy on the inner-workings of Galactic politics.

Recommended:  FOR HARDCORE FANS.

Star Wars: Battlefront – Twilight Company

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I know I’ve been slacking in my Star Wars canon reviews lately. I’ve been reading, but not posting. That means this entry for Battlefront: Twilight Company is a little behind schedule. – Sorry.

What we have here is an interesting entry into the new Star Wars line-up. Battlefront: Twilight Company is a novel intended to tie-in with the Star Wars Battlefront video game. But in reality, has little to do with the game itself. Instead, we have what is essentially a war novel that goes behind the scenes of many of the battles we’ve seen in the Star Wars series. Now, that’s not a bad thing at all. But to me, the way the story is presented didn’t really have that “Star Wars” feel. I felt like the guts of the story could have easily been inserted into any war of the author’s choosing with little work.

The book follows a number of rebel grunt-soldiers during various battles in the war against the Empire. The action is fast paced, and the dark and gritty presentation is very well done. But there’s really nothing in the novel that makes it required reading for casual fan. In my opinion, this novel would be best enjoyed by fans of other war novels and the hardcore Star Wars fanbase.

Story: The book is well written, albeit a little confusing at times. The characters are interesting, but plentiful. Almost to the point of detracting from the plot.

Recommended:  FOR HARDCORE FANS. – Again, this is a sci-fi war novel first, a subplot to Star Wars second. If you’re on the fence, this is certainly a skip-able entry in the new canon, but don’t misunderstand – the story is certainly enjoyable.

Star Wars: Lost Stars

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Just the other day, I finally finished the next book on my Star Wars “to-read” list; Lost Stars.  This book was marketed as a young adult novel, but it is anything but. If you’ve been on the fence about this one for that reason, cast aside all doubt and dive in. Lost Stars is eloquently written and it’s actually one of the more “adult” Star Wars novels I’ve ever read.

The book starts between Episode III and IV, and follows the lives of two childhood friends who meet in the early days of the Empire. Throughout the story, you see as they grow and mature, eventually enlisting in Imperial service. Essentially, this ends up becoming a romance story that takes place during the time of the Original Trilogy. We get to see key events such as the Battle of Yavin, Hoth, Endor, and even the new famed Battle of Jakku – all through the eyes of these two characters. While this could easily end up feeling forced, the author does a wonderful job of making this work. The characters of Thane Kyrell and Ciena Ree are WONDERFUL additions to the Star Wars universe.

When I say this novel is “adult”, I mean that all aspects of the relationship between these characters is explored. Even the subject of sexual activity is covered here, but it very tastefully done. Regardless, this was not something I expected from a novel being marketed as “young adult”. For many, the subject matter and sheer size of the book itself may seem a little off-putting. Romance is not a subject one typically thinks of when picking up a Star Wars novel, but it works very well here. Don’t let this fool you. This is a fantastic read.  All that aside, a lot of this book features behind-the-scenes detail of already familiar events, from an Imperial perspective. This alone ends up being a very interesting part of the novel. I can’t recommend this one enough. In many ways, this book serves as a better set up to Episode VII than even “Aftermath”.

I can only hope that we will see more of the lead characters presented here in future works, maybe even Episode VII…

Story: Excellent plotline. The author does a great job of introducing two new characters and actually make you care about them. Not to mention, the storytelling is second-to-none.

Recommended:  FOR ALL FANS (Guys, if your wife/girlfriend typically only reads “girly-books” – this might make a good launching point into Star Wars fiction for her.)

Star Wars: Dark Disciple

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September is nearly upon us and with it comes a torrent of new Star Wars novels. In fact, in many ways, September will herald the beginning of the official Star Wars Episode VII hype. The new novels will bear the tagline: Journey to the Force Awakens, as will a slew of new comic books. So, in preparation for the upcoming flood I have finally caught up with the latest novel in the official Star Wars canon: Dark Disciple.

Here we have a Clone Wars-era novel. In fact, the story contained in this book was based on an arc written, but never aired for the final season of the Clone Wars television show. The book focuses on character Quinlan Vos, a Jedi Master who teams up with the unlikely ally of Asajj Ventress. For those unaware, Ventress was a former sith apprentice of Count Dooku who ended up turning on her master and going rogue. In this book, the Jedi order have decided to take the rather unorthodox step of assassinating Dooku in attempts to end the war. To do so, they send Vos undercover to seek out and befriend Ventress in attempt to take out her former master.

I must say, when it comes to Star Wars, I was never very passionate of the Clone Wars television series. It certainly had its moments, but overall I felt it never really stood up well against the films themselves. As a result, I was not expecting much when I started reading this book. I’m happy to report, that I was dead wrong. I loved this book. In fact, I daresay that Dark Disciple has been my favorite out of all the new Star Wars novels released thus far. The characters of Quinlan Vos and Asajj Ventress are so well represented in this book, that it makes me want to give Clone Wars another watch just to see if perhaps I was missing something the first time around. I would love elaborate on that more, but I fear by doing so I might give away some really great plot points of the book. It is truly an amazing read.

The book started off a bit slow at first, but by around 30% of the way in, I was hooked. If you’re a fan of the Clone Wars era, this book is a no-brainer. You must read it. Even if you’re not, there is some really enjoyable content here.

Story: The final season of Clone Wars was amazing, this book, like the Darth Maul comic continues that trend. Christie Golden is an amazing author. Very readable. Classic Star Wars.

Recommended:  FOR ALL FANS

Star Wars: Heir to the Jedi

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Today I share my thoughts on the newest Star Wars novel, Heir to the Jedi. This is another big release that I have been eagerly awaiting since the original announcement. This novel is set between Episode IV and V, and focuses on Luke Skywalker as he works for the rebellion and learns to develop his abilities with the force. This is a topic that has always fascinated me. When we last see Luke in Episode IV, he has only the most rudimentary understanding of the force as a whole. Yet by the time we catch up with him in Episode V, he has seemingly learned the secrets of telekinesis. Finally, we have an official account of just where he learned that ability! Sadly… the way this plays out in the novel is not exactly what I and many fans were hoping for.

Before diving into that topic, I should also mention that this book is written in the first-person, which is a bit of an oddity for a Star Wars novel. But it was actually a decision that excited me quite a bit. I enjoy first-person narratives and the idea of getting into the head of Luke Skywalker seems too good to pass up. All in all, this works well for the book. The author does seem to capture a “voice” for Luke that seems fitting.

WARNING: The rest of this post may reveal some minor spoilers about the contents of the book.

The novel mostly focuses on Luke as he runs various errands for the rebellion. During the course of his adventures, he visits a few planets and even manages to obtain an old lightsaber that belonged to a late Jedi. He takes this opportunity to disassemble it and learns a bit about the construction of the weapon. He notices that the construct of the saber requires precision far beyond what most people would naturally posses. It is during this time, that Luke realizes perhaps Jedi Knights used the force to help assemble these delicate weapons.

During the book, Luke encounters a young woman who becomes a brief but important love interest. It is through her encouragement that he attempts to expand his mastery of the force through meditation and self exploration instead of searching in vain for someone to teach him. At one point, while the two of them are sharing a meal together, she slaps a noodle down on the table and suggests that Luke attempts to move it—- using the force. That’s right. Luke’s first attempt at telekinesis is laughably wasted on… a noodle.

Now, I’m not an author. But I’m sure I could have come up with at least 500 better options than scooting noodles across the table. Hell, a loose patch of rocks on the side of road seems like a better option than some slimy noodle out of a takeout box.

To add insult to injury, after Luke manages to twitch the noodle a bit using his mind, his dinner-date has the audacity to exclaim; “Oh, look at you! You little noodle-scooter!”   I shit you not.

Despite this grave offense, the book is overall well done. Which may actually make this situation even worse. I mean, I have looked at this from multiple angles and I’ve tried to be objective. I understand that one might naturally practice an ability like this using a mundane object. But for some reason using noodles just seems silly and comedic. I mean, even using trying to move his fork would have been better. I don’t know. I’ll drop it here. Maybe it’s not that big of a deal. It just struck me as stupid.

Content-wise, the book is average. There are few very interesting passages to be sure, but overall it didn’t seem to reach the level of either A New Dawn or Tarkin. This is disappointing due to the high hopes I had for the book.

Side note: before the announcement of the new canon, this book was scheduled to be the third part of a loose-trilogy called Empire and Rebellion. This series of books are all three set between Episode IV and V and each one focuses on a particular character. Razor’s Edge was the first entry in the series and is essentially a Leia novel. (I didn’t care much for this one). Honor Among Thieves is the second entry and features Han Solo and Chewbacca as the main characters. (This was a fantastic book!). Of course now, both of these are part of the “Legends” branch and are not considered part of the official Star Wars timeline. (Although its highly unlikely anything in these novels could or would ever be trumped by the new movies).

All in all. Heir to the Jedi is a decent, but flawed book. If you’re a fan, it is certainly worth your time to read despite having a few cringe-worthy moments.

Story: Interesting concept and narrative. Contains new and familiar locations and races. A bit silly at times, unnecessarily so.

Recommended:  FOR FANS

Star Wars: Tarkin

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There’s a lot to talk about on the Star Wars front, but before getting into that, I wanted to take a moment to make a brief post on the most recent Star Wars novel: Tarkin.

Like the title implies, this is a book all about one character in particular; Grand Moff Tarkin.  Tarkin was introduced in the original Star Wars movie (Episode IV) and was played by veteran actor Peter Cushing. In the movie, Tarkin is a high-ranking Imperial officer. Arguably an equal to even Darth Vader. As most Star Wars fans know, Tarkin meets his end when the rebels succeed in destroying the Death Star.

The next time we see Tarkin in any official capacity is a brief on-screen cameo at the end of Episode III. We again see a younger “Commander Tarkin” in a few episodes of Star Wars: The Clone Wars. In these episodes, he works alongside Anakin Skywalker and handful of other characters.

I’ve always been very intrigued by the character, and when I learned there was going to be a novel dedicated to him I was thrilled. I was little let down to learn that the novel was being authored by James Luceno. I’ve had some touch and go experiences with Luceno’s writing in the past. I really enjoyed his novel Darth Plagueis, but I was less impressed with his novel Dark Lord: The Rise of Darth Vader. His dialogue is usually pretty spot-on for the characters he’s writing about, but he tends to be a bit wordy and overly descriptive for my tastes.

Regardless, in this book we get to Tarkin at a very young age. We learn a bit about his upbringing and family. A portion of the book is spent on explaining how he became the cold and calculating character we see in the movie. A large portion of the novel involves him working alongside Darth Vader as they undertake a task given to them by the Emperor.

For me, the best part of the book was seeing Tarkin, Vader and Palpatine interact with each other. I love anything that sheds light on the mysterious relationship between Darth Vader and the Emperor and there was a lot of that in the novel.

Several important aspects are also made clear for the first time in this book. Keep in mind, all these novels are now 100% official when it comes to fitting in with the existing Star Wars universe. So we finally get clarification here that the fact of Anakin Skywalker becoming Darth Vader is not common knowledge. Also, this book also cements the fact that “Darth Plagueis” was indeed the mentor of Palpatine. This is something explained in the previous novel Darth Plagueis (also written by James Luceno is no longer considered to be canon.) So now, we have once again established that connection.

As these new books continue to roll out, I think we’ll see more of these “wink and nod” links between the old EU and the new canon. Many authors are not the type to abandon concepts from previous novels that they’ve labored over. This is why I tend to feel that the contents of both “Kenobi” by John Jackson Miller and “Darth Plagueis” are likely stay pretty safe.

Story: Somewhat slow to start but picks up about halfway in. Very technical in parts. Great character interaction.

Recommended:  FOR HARDCORE FANS