The Clone Wars: No Prisoners (Karen Traviss)
No Prisoners is a mindless action story with deep philosophical overtures. The plot itself is nothing special, very simple but not exactly bad. Ahsoka, Rex, and later, Anakin travel to the world of JanFathal in order to rescue a compromised spy named Hallena. Much of the first half of the novel is actually told in Hallena's point of view, and this gives us an interesting look at spy craft in Star Wars, along with some tense scenes during the start of a planet wide revolution against the Republic. The plot doesn't have much in terms of layers or complexity, there are a few minor complications, but the main characters are never in any real danger, and, though there are some great action scenes as the strike team fights to save Hallena, overall the main plot is just too stripped down for me.
Another glaring omission is the lack of a true antagonist. Unlike nearly every other Star Wars work, this novel does not have a named villain of any sort to oppose the main characters. The enemy is simply the endless droid armies of the C.I.S., and since the battle droids are rarely (and never convincingly) presented as a menace, there is a disappointing lack of conflict and contrast.
The contrast is instead presented in the form of conflicting values between Ahsoka and Anakin's traditional Jedi Order, and the new approach taken by Altis's Order. This new breed of Jedi believes in attachment and love, and contrast sharply with the Order's stance of detachment. There isn't much actual conflict here though, as it is more an exchange of ideas than anything. The characters maintain respectful agreement/disagreement/neutrality as the other side rattles off their philosophy. It isn't a bad sub plot though, it does a great job of making our main characters think, and it introduces an interesting concept of different factions of light side force users in the universe.
Another sub plot concerns a young Pellaeon and his conflict of interest in deciding to rescue his girlfriend Hallena from the forces of the C.I.S. He questions whether her life is objectively worth risking the lives of his crew. Unfortunately, this conflict loses all interest immediately, as he decides to rescue her BEFORE he is aware of her identity, rendering his musings somewhat of a moot point.
Overall the plot here is somewhat thin. The main premise is paper thin, though bolstered by some good action sequences, where the sub plots are somewhat of a mixed bag. The lack of any kind of villain, even an "original" one, is greatly detrimental as well..
Characterization here is pretty good, if prone to cliches. Most of the characters acknowledge the clone's unfortunate position at some point in the novel, and briefly reflect on it. These points can only be covered so much, and it is certainly overkill by now, the only character that really has an interesting opinion on this is Rex, a clone captain. Rex is characterized perfectly to begin with, and tacking on this issue felt like an added flourish to his character. Ahsoka is also good here, she isn't annoying, and in fact is more of a passive player in the story, and her thoughts on the Altrisian Jedi are also developed nicely. Pellaeon is a standout, dumb moral quandary aside, he comes across as a likeable, yet occasionally stern commanding officer.
Callista and the other Altrisian Jedi are more effective as symbols and talking heads than they are actual characters. Callista gets a good scene where she melds with Pellaeon's ship, but mostly she just spouts her philosophy to anyone who will listen (usually Ahsoka.) Hallena is another cliche about the perils of spy life, both in terms of the attachment and conflict of interest, along with the more physical dangers of imprisonment and torture. However, it is done pretty effectively in her case, and I really liked the conclusion to her story. Anakin is a mostly good character here, though his inclusion in the story doesn't amount to much overall. Solid characterization does manage to prevent the novel from becoming tedious overall, with no real misfires or bad characterizations.
The prose is pretty good, in particular the early fight scenes and imagery from Hallena's travels on JanFathal. When Ahsoka and Rex get involved, things get even more fast paced and exciting, with a stellar escape sequence that doesn't amount to anything in terms of plot, but is nonetheless well written. The final third of the book suffers from two really confusing action scenes, however. Anakin's method of rescuing the clones was cloudy at best, and Anakin's method of getting the shuttle into Pellaeon's ship was impossible for me to picture. The dialogue here is really good, with the military types benefiting the most. Conversations between Pellaeon and his subordinates, and Rex and his men are very good, even when the subordinates have no emotional resonance with the reader. The dialogue all feels authentic, but perhaps some of the situations are overly "authentic", like basically everything that happens when Anakin is with Padme.
A really simple plot and lack of challenging or deep conflict hurts the novel, but good characterization and descriptions ensure that it still has its fair share of merits.