“Too bad it’s falling apart,” is the first thing Leia thinks in Claudia Gray’s newest Star Wars novel, Bloodline. Her shrewd observation seems cynical, especially as the book opens on a celebration, but it sets the tone for both the novel and Leia’s character. She’s not wrong, after all.
We’re introduced to a new New Republic, one just over two decades old, that is already being split apart by fractious political factions: the Populists, who believe sovereign power should be retained by individual planets, and the Centrists, who believe in the Senate becoming a strong central government.
Leia, having experienced the rise of the Rebellion and the fall of the Empire first-hand—and been a vital player in both occurrences—can see the glaring flaws of this New Republic and the undertones of brewing war. Unfortunately, she can also that the galaxy has been lulled into a false sense of security by peacetime, and her worries go unheard.
When Ryloth comes to the Senate asking for help, she jumps at the chance to take action. Forced into having an up-and-coming Centrist, Senator Ransolm Casterfo, accompany her, Leia is thrown into a mystery that goes far deeper than she could imagine, one that forces her to confront both her sense of duty, and her past.
Claudia Gray captures Leia’s voice perfectly, balancing Leia’s steel with her warmer side; she is not heartless, nor has she become overbearingly nurturing because of motherhood. She is simply Leia, albeit older and wiser, and is still just as prone to rushing headfirst into danger when she feels it’s the right thing to do.
Gray weaves together Leia’s strengths—her training with blasters, her political gravitas, her aura of confidence—with her deep love for and understanding of others, because the two are never mutually exclusive. Leia’s anger and coldness are not lost either; she is a multi-faceted character with complexities that have sometimes been lost by other writers.
Her conversations with Han are perfect examples of Gray’s ability to encapsulate characters’ voices. While Lost Stars has new, original characters taking up the lead roles, Bloodline demands cohesion with what we know of Leia (and other characters) from other stories—not just past, but future too. Though both Leia and Han have grown and changed considerably since Return of the Jedi, they are, at their cores, still the characters we have grown to love. She is still the determined princess, he is still the charming smuggler, and their love for each other is as natural and organic as it could ever be. If nothing else, Gray knows how to write love that is near palpable.
But of course, romance isn’t the only thing Gray is adept at expressing. Her prose is not exactly complex (it is a style that lends itself very well to Young Adult fiction after all, though Bloodline is not that), but still Gray conveys heavy themes and ideas with ease, building a sense of dread through a fast-paced narrative. She builds environments and characters with bare physical description, letting personality and atmosphere take the lead.
The reader will know the character Greer Sonnel has dark hair, but her trapped, underlying desire for flight and adventure creates a much stronger picture. Gray never focuses on the aesthetics, always the person that lies behind the physical traits. The characters’ personalities are strong and established, so the reader can understand their motivations for every action, and even potentially predict what they may do in future circumstances.
Because of this focus on the characters as three-dimensional, even if they have the smallest of roles, the relationships formed between characters—be they good or bad—have very real depth. Bloodline features strong friendships not just between women, but also women and men, two things that are often lacking in science fiction. As skillful as Gray is at showing romance grow naturally between characters, she is just as good at making it very clear when a friendship is just platonic in a way that the idea of romance between two characters might not even occur to the reader.
As for the characters themselves, Casterfo is particularly compelling. The trajectory of his character arc is often predictable, but that doesn’t take away from how fascinating it is to experience his growth. His dynamic brings out different sides of Leia and her companions, ones that might not be seen otherwise. Rinnrivan Di, on the other hand, is more of an uninteresting gangster, though he does bring a common fandom term into the canon.
One of the main issues to be taken with Bloodline is potentially the lack of time spent exploring Hosnian Prime’s culture. Though we know where the New Republic ends up during The Force Awakens, it would still be nice to learn more about the capital planet and the people who live there. Unlike Jelucan from Gray’s Lost Stars, Hosnian Prime feels oddly empty and bare. Perhaps that’s less Gray’s fault than the powers that be wanting to leave things very open, but I can’t help but feel as if I’m left lacking visually and emotionally when it comes to the Senate and Hosnian Prime.
A small bonus: Gray, along with Wending, normalizes the existence of LGBT characters within the Star Wars universe. There are two different mentions of characters that are clearly LGBT, though only one of these characters speaks, and none of them have significant roles. This normalization is awesome to see in a galaxy that once barely considered touching these characters, but there are far more important steps to take—and I’m sure they will be taken in the near future, Sinjir from Aftermath likely being the first of many LGBT leads.
All up, Bloodline is a great read, and a valuable addition to the new canon—and to the shelves of any Leia lovers. This is the book many of us have been waiting a long time for, and Gray is the perfect choice to write it. Armed with smooth prose and a deep understanding of Leia, Gray delivers a solid, fun, and emotional read.