Star Wars: The Old Republic: Fatal Alliance (Sean Williams)
Set three thousand years before A New Hope, the opening act of the book focuses on establishing the main characters and the mystery of the book. A ship has self destructed upon encountering a pirate vessel in deep space. The Republic and the Empire each find out about it indirectly through a Mandalorian warrior named Dao Stryver. Before long, a Hutt named Tassaa Bareesh comes forward with more information about this mysterious vessel and offers both sides an opportunity to buy recovered items from the wreckage. Both sides agree to the offer and go to the Hutt's palace on Hutta. After seeing the artifacts and guessing on the value of the salvage, both sides agree to think it over prior to the actual auction. In this time however, the vault where the prize is being kept in comes alive with commotion. Strange "living" droids come out of the vault and harass the security team at the palace, Stryver, a Jedi named Shigar and a Sith named Ax (As an aside, her mother is connected to the mysterious vessel) fight together against the droids and after much effort finally succeed in killing them. Each faction takes enough of the evidence home with them to plot their next course, a previously undiscovered world named Sebaddon. Once they arrive, each side's respective navies (minus Stryver, whom arrived alone) are decimated by a large droid force. Scans show that the amount of droids on the planet are increasing very quickly and that they must act quickly if they are to contain the threat. The two sides decide to work together to stop the droid threat. After landing on the planet and encountering heavy resistance, all seems lost until Ax and Jedi Grand Master Satele Shan find a crashed ship that leads to the main base of the droids. It is revealed that her mother was killed by the droids that she created, but not before she made a clone of Ax that was stored in a vat with her mother's blood. This blood is also the organic matter found in all of the droids. Ax discovers that, because her genes are the same as the clone (who has partial control of the droids), she can also control the droids. After killing her Sith master via the droids, she orders them to destroy themselves. An epilogue ties up lose ends among the characters and reveal that the planet Sebaddon was lost in a black hole shortly after the Imperial and Republic forces left.
The plot was good enough, I liked the new enemies presented in that they were strong enough to be taken seriously, but not so strong that they had to be defeated with an overabundance of luck and coincidence. The author did a good job of tying in the different characters and making the alliance seem more plausible by having the novel set during a "cold war" between the Republic and Empire. I also liked the various locales in the book and felt that the scope of the conflict was established very proficiently. I would have liked to have seen a bit more tension between the Alliance and Empire when they first met above Sebaddon but i can understand why this was not done.
The characterization in this book was nothing special. Almost everybody is a new character but all of them are pretty much dictated by their professions. The ex-soldier just wants to be able to fight, the jedi want to destroy the sith and vice versa. The characters mostly evolve throughout the novel but unfortunately they start off pretty generic and the transformations themselves somewhat bland. The character interaction can get somewhat exciting as there are so many different factions and viewpoints that are represented as "main" characters in the book. The characters of Ula Vii and Eldon Ax were probably the most interesting as they had the biggest dilemmas of all, Ula had to pick a side and Eldon had to come to terms with what her mother was. Another decent character was Jet Nebula, very much like Han Solo but without his inner good side and motivated solely on greed.
The action sequences in this book were written very well, the author does a very good job of making them interesting and he also does a very good job of describing the hex droids. The first encounter with the hex droids seemed to last a bit longer than it should have however-it lasted as long (speaking in terms of # of pages) as the final battle with only a handful of droids as opposed to a planetful. The author also faced a unique challenge in that he had to deal with completely new characters, vehicles, equipment, etc. due to the fact that this novel is set in an unexplored time period. However he doesn't really bother to explain much, especially concerning the type of armor worn and the vehicles. There are some allusions to previous events in the timeline and they are mostly self explanatory, but not getting a visual on even the type of armor most of the characters wore made imagining certain scenes very difficult. This is not entirely the author's fault as doing this would have hurt the overall flow of the book and possibly rendered it overlong and a chore to read. This is a difficult balance and I feel that he managed it better than most, but it still impacted my overall enjoyment.
A worthy tie in to the upcoming game, Fatal Alliance is a recommended buy for anyone looking forward to the The Old Republic, and a comfortably average EU novel for everyone else