Quick SF/F review on here for Star Wars: Aftermath: Life Debt https://t.co/NjlbheC8uY by Chuck Wendig. Short Review 6/10. (1/x)— garik16 (@garik16) July 30, 2016
As a former big fan of the original Star Wars Expanded Universe, now known as "Star Wars Legends", and having written about Star Wars for this blog, I can't help but discuss spoilers for the book after the jump.
I hated Star Wars Aftermath (this book's predecessor). The book had a main plot involving pretty much all new characters (except for tiny parts for Wedge Antilles and Admiral Ackbar), none of whom were particularly interesting, and several of whom (Particularly Nora and Temmin) were pretty whinny and annoying. It also featured a plot where it was pretty clear it wasn't going anywhere by about the early middle part of the book - and indeed the entire plot of the secret imperial meeting was in fact pointless, revealed at the end to be a deliberate failure to kill off some useless and annoying head Imperials by the mysterious new big bad.
You can survive a book with a lousy plot - particularly an intro to a trilogy - if your characters are good. They weren't - Nora is whiny and is supposed to be a heroic mother who repeatedly makes dumb decisions and drugs her own son at one point, Temmin is a selfish 15 year old, etc etc. And the book added repeated interruptions with "Interludes" to show what was happening throughout the Galaxy at the same time, which were interesting at first but soon came to be repetitive as all hell and just pace-killers.
Life Debt again features the interludes, although the frequency of them is toned down I think (I don't have a copy of Aftermath, having "read" it as an audiobook from the library, so I can't compare exactly). They're still pointless, with only one having a minor connection to the plot, but at least they're less interrupting of the plot.
And the Plot IS Better - but that's sadly because the same characters are now interacting with classic Star Wars characters (Han, Leia, Mon Mothma) in a plot that actually seems to matter.
Mind you, one element of that plot continues a storyline introduced in The Force Awakens - that the New Republic in this continuity pretty much sucks at being a force for good, and is letting things like Kashyyyk's continuing enslavement go on because it's not important strategically and because to help them would set a precedent they don't want. The old continuity kind of had a similar thing involving Thyferra, except it was immediately treated as wrong and dealt with. But in this continuity, the New Republic has to be a jerky organization that would later turn its back on doing whats right and opposing the First Order and would cause Leia to abandon it. It kind of cheapens the success of the original movies to have the success of ROTJ be so obviously a failure, but who knows, maybe the final two movies will justify it.
Still, it's easy to care about Kashyyyk, Leia and Han, so the plotline on this one is at least interesting. Which is good because the characters are still meh. Oddly, the team is joined by Jom Barell this time, the special forces soldier who basically had a pointless couple of chapters in Aftermath before finally doing one small thing to affect the plot at a perfectly placed time completely by luck. Barell.....isn't really a great addition - basically he's a loyal Republic trooper who falls in love with Jas and is having aggressive sex with her, which is implied. The sex thing is odd for a Star Wars book (although I think later Del Rey books had it as well, but it's very not-Star Wars) but more on that later.
The other big character addition is the mysterious new head of the Empire, Gallius Rax. As an old EU reader, the Thrawn comparisons were going to be inevitable (especially as his first appearance involves him talking about opera, for gods sakes), but the book does a good job making him interesting and mysterious and Admiral Sloane's attempts to find out about him are definitely better than her fretting about her conference in the last book. I actually want to know more about him after the book! That's a success.
But again, continuing with the sex thing, he seems to have literally seduced Sloane's underling Adea in between books after getting her back from the Republic. It's.....kind of weird for a Star Wars villain. Nothing obvious happens other than a kiss, but it's still....weird.
The other weird thing is how much they seemingly copied from the old EU, even if it may have been accidental. In the old EU, Wedge falls in love with a Republic agent whose husband disappeared after an encounter with the Empire. The husband later comes back only to turn out to be an Imperial Sleeper Agent. In this book, Wedge falls in love with a Republic agent (Nora) whose husband was kidnapped by the Empire and, after being rescued, turns out to be a sleeper agent. It's.....weird and not helped by how much better developed Wedge and the love interest (Iella in the old EU) were back in the prior continuity than to here.
Similarly, Rax can't help but feel like Thrawn, in that he's a shadowy commander who seems to have spent most of his time during the main trilogy in the outer rim, out of the action, who has a mysterious cunning strategy. The book's better at telling him apart from Thrawn than the Wedge plotline, but it's still awkward for an old EU reader.
The book is better than Aftermath - but it just features a lot of weird choices that make it feel really strange for a Star Wars book.