The geopolitical meteor shower resulting from the Rebel victory at Endor continues in Star Wars: Aftermath: Life Debt by Chuck Wendig.
The prologue to the novel begins with the line, “The Empire is in chaos.” This is what you consider an understatement boys and girls. The Rebels may had defeated Palpatine and scattered the remnants of his Empire across the galaxy like Osiris’ body parts, but the Empire is not dead. The mysterious Fleet Admiral with the help of Grand Admiral Rae Sloane are attempting to collect select fragments of the Empire and refashion them into a new and better Empire.
Set between the events of Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens, the never-before-told story that began with Star Wars: Aftermath continues in this thrilling novel, the second book of Chuck Wendig’s New York Times bestselling trilogy.
It is a dark time for the Empire. . . .
The Emperor is dead, and the remnants of his former Empire are in retreat. As the New Republic fights to restore a lasting peace to the galaxy, some dare to imagine new beginnings and new destinies. For Han Solo, that means settling his last outstanding debt, by helping Chewbacca liberate the Wookiee’s homeworld of Kashyyyk.
Meanwhile, Norra Wexley and her band of Imperial hunters pursue Grand Admiral Rae Sloane and the Empire’s remaining leadership across the galaxy. Even as more and more officers are brought to justice, Sloane continues to elude the New Republic, and Norra fears Sloane may be searching for a means to save the crumbling Empire from oblivion. But the hunt for Sloane is cut short when Norra receives an urgent request from Princess Leia Organa. The attempt to liberate Kashyyyk has carried Han Solo, Chewbacca, and a band of smugglers into an ambush—resulting in Chewie’s capture and Han’s disappearance.
Breaking away from their official mission and racing toward the Millennium Falcon’s last known location, Norra and her crew prepare for any challenge that stands between them and their missing comrades. But they can’t anticipate the true depth of the danger that awaits them—or the ruthlessness of the enemy drawing them into his crosshairs.
While I enjoyed the first Aftermath novel a good deal, I am happy to report that Life Debt is an improvement in every area. One of my issues with Aftermath was that the Interludes were often more interesting and teased potential stories that had were more compelling to me than the main plot. There are fewer interludes in Life Debt, 9 vs. 15 and I think the flow of the novel benefits from this. The strength of the prologue as well as epilogue also allow the story to start on a high and end on a high as well which leaves the reader in a rather good mood following this adventure. Life Debt is also significantly longer (430 pages) than Aftermath (366 pages) and I think this pays off and allows the story to breath a little more given the large cast of characters involved.
Wendig also has a somewhat unique writing style, not only in the tense he uses but also in the way he wields words. Some authors wield words as swords, they swing, they parry, they slash, all the while sticking to traditional forms and movements. What Wendig does with words is the equivalent of combo move of stabbing you in the foot and then caving your nose in with the pommel. As such his prose can take some getting used to, but once you do there is a dynamism there that is really satisfying.
The strength of Life Debt is that the main plots feel much stronger than Aftermath, the search for Solo and Chewie on the side of the heroes and the machinations of Sloane and the Fleet Admiral against each other for the villains are both enjoyable and compelling stories.
We get to see most of the cast of the first novel return in this one, Norra, Snap (Temmin), Mister Bones, Sinjir, Jas, Jom, Wedge, Rae, Yupe, and the Fleet Admiral all return. We see larger roles for Wedge, Han, Leia, Mon Mothma as well as the Fleet Admiral. These expanded roles add a lot to the story, Wedge echoes the Legends version of the character, Mon Mothma gives us a slightly different spin, and Leia significantly re-enforces her new canon characterization.
The relationships in this novel are a real strength. I love the interactions betwen Norra, Snap and Wedge, between Snap and Mister Bones, between Sinjir, Jas and Jom, between Rae, the Fleet Admiral and Adea, and between Leia, Mon Mothma, Ackbar, Wedge and Norra are all very compelling and well done. I could have read another 100 pages solely of these characters bouncing off each other.
I suspect Mister Bones is programed fairly close to Wendig’s personality with just a tinge more homicidal glee. He is an absolute scene stealer throughout the novel.
The most interesting new character introduced in the novel is Grand Admiral Sloane’s assistant Adea Rite. We do get to finally see what Grand Vizier Mas Amedda is up to on Coruscant. I will admit I was disappointed a bit on Amedda’s behavior given how much I like the character. Without spoiling anything we get a significant exploration of who the Fleet Admiral is, his past and his plans. We don’t know everything yet but some of the fog is lifting on this series’ mystery.
One of the things that struck me while I was reading Life Debt was how predictable parts of the novel were. There are a few big twists, but none of them were really surprising to me. If you have read Mike Stackpole’s X-Wing books in general and The Krytos Trap in particular a plot line in this novel echoes that one very closely. It speaks to the quality of the novel that seeing these twists coming didn’t lessen my enjoyment of the story or the characters.
Also while the novel flows much, much better for me and some of the interludes are simply awesome, particularly the one set on Corellia. Others like the Tatooine interlude seem superfluous if Boba Fett or Cobb Vanth does not tie back into the series in a major way.
Wendig’s Aftermath did birth some controversy over the criticism the book received. There were lots of one-star reviews on-line by folks that did’t even read the book based on some misguided notions of bringing back Legends or animus towards the inclusion of homosexual characters. This is frustrating on a number of levels because it takes away from legitimate discussion of the quality of the novel. It also causes a circling of wagons which can mean that if you did criticize the book you could be lumped in with a bunch of on-line bullies and bigots. Opinions will differ but I tend to think that Wendig fed the controversy by his reaction to it, which is his right, but isn’t something I think was beneficial to himself or the Star Wars brand.
In Life Debt, Wendig explores Sinjir’s character and as such his romantic relationship and friendships in more depth. I think that Wendig handled Sinjir very well in this novel, but I did begin to wonder how far he was going to take one scene. Which leads me to something I think we should discuss in Star Wars books in general, that being the inclusion of sexually suggestive content.
From my perspective we have seen an increase in such content, from Tahiri and Ben (ewwww, Tahiri no!!!!!) in Fate of the Jedi, to Leia and Han in Razor’s Edge, to Thane and Ciena in Lost Stars (a Disney Young Adult novel), to Jas and Jom, Sinjir and Kyl in Life Debt. Del Rey publishes adult reading level novels for Star Wars and while I am hardly a prude, but I think we should seriously discuss how far we want these romantic scenes to go whether they are straight or gay, because we have some pretty young kids reading these stories. I don’t think any of these books have crossed the line yet, but I tend to think they are getting darn pretty close.
While the author is certainly polarizing, Life Debt is not. Life Debt is a wonderfully crafted space adventure that takes a thoroughly enjoyable assemblage of misfits through a multitude of emotional turmoil and mortal peril. More of this please.
Star Wars: Aftermath: Life Debt by Chuck Wendig is on sale now. A review copy was provided for the purpose of this review.