Sunday, March 24, 2013

Shepherd492 reviews: Star Wars: Coruscant Nights Book I: Jedi Twilight

Coruscant Nights Book I: Jedi Twilight (Michael Reaves)  

                Jedi Twilight, the first book in a series of novels dubbed the Coruscant Nights trilogy, seems to promise noir style adventures set in the seedy underbelly of Coruscant. Despite the marketing material supporting this assertion, there's literally nothing in this book supporting that assertion. Instead, it is pretty much just another Star Wars novel featuring an expansive cast of seldom used characters. False advertising aside, this novel has quite a few strong suits including a dynamic and enjoyable group of heroes.
                The book is fairly standard "Dark Times" fare. Our Jedi protagonist must work to keep his whereabouts hidden from the Imperials while aiding in an impending rebellion as best he can. Jax Pavan receives his mission from Nick Rostu, a Republic officer acting under the orders of the late Jedi Council member Even Piell. Along the way, he picks up all manner of allies, from the aloof Twi'lek Force-sensitive Laranth to the comic relief duo of Sullustan journalist Den Dhur and protocol droid I-5, a robot with remarkably human characteristics and expressions. During his quest, he must ward off all manner of adversaries, from common street thugs, to a young and ambitious Prince Xizor, to Darth Vader himself.
                As long as you check expectations, there's a lot of fun to be had here. Jax and company embark on a fast paced adventure with plenty of memorable locales and clever moments. They use some combination of guile, strength, and tremendous luck to evade Vader and the Imperials, and some more internal struggles for Jax give us a change of pace from the more conventional action in the rest of the book. This book is definitely enhanced by having read the Medstar books and Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter so you can better understand some of the plotlines and characters referenced here, but it isn't essential, and there's plenty to enjoy here on its own merits, even if it does lean a bit too conventional.
                Jax is probably the weakest character among all the heroes. He starts as your fairly generic exiled Jedi, struggling to come to terms with the complete reversal of all he has known. The introduction of I-5, a droid who worked with Jax's father, provides the opportunity for the character to move in a more unique direction, and he does this to some degree. First, however, he has to espouse an extremely bigoted view towards droid characters, deeming them to be nothing more than tools in spite of his seemingly worldly Jedi teachings. He develops quite a bit by the end, and in fact he is the only character that noticeably grows as a result of the events of this book, but he's at best a bland character to lead the interactions among the far more interesting supporting cast.
                The stars of the book in terms of characters are Den Dhur and I-5. These characters provide most of the comedic punch, and they are a duo that nearly rivals that of R2 and C-P0. Den has a very unique skillset as a former reporter, and it's enjoyable to watch him put it to use in logical ways that allow him to contribute to the group without being an amazing combatant. He also provides quite a bit of the narration in this novel, which is a great thing because his perspective is far more interesting than Jax's comparatively drab take. I-5 is more of the jack of all trades, with most of the enjoyment his character provides coming from the way others react to him. The idea of a sentient droid isn't a new one, and if you've read his adventures in Reaves' previous novels you will have already experienced all the angles this story takes here, but he is written so well that it really doesn't matter.
                Laranth, a Twi'lek Force sensitive, is an interesting take on force-wielders. Instead of using a lightsaber and relying on her powers, Laranth uses twin blasters and mostly uses the Force to simply guide her aim. This is a pretty neat twist on the typical Jedi, and it was interesting to note that there are other Force-using orders out there that the Jedi actually engage with, even if they don't agree with all their tenets. Laranth will need a bit more of a presence in the next book to grow as a character, she gets outshined by just about everyone in this book, but she filled her role quite well here.
                The major antagonists, Darth Vader and Prince Xizor, are mostly just there to lend some star power to a cast otherwise filled with original characters and obscure bit players, and they don't exhibit much in the way of personality or growth. There's an interesting subtext in Xizor's quest that could possibly lead to the creation of his Human Replica Droid Guri, but otherwise these two are barely moved by the events of this book. For some reason Vader really wants to track down Jax, but we aren't told why in this book, beyond the fact that Jax and Anakin used to know one another.
                Kaird, another returnee from the Medstar duology, rounds out our antagonists, he is a Black Sun thug with ambitions of power, and he does all the usual thuggish things in this book, but his motivations are an interesting twist. Instead of thirsting for the prestige and finances that come with a spot among the Black Sun inner circle, he simply wants to get himself to a position that will permit him to return to his homeland without the wide reaching criminal organization attempting to kill him for it. He's more interesting than he was in the Medstar books, but still not a great character.
                Much like in his previous novel, Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter, author Michael Reaves spends a ton of time characterizing Coruscant itself. He does a great job of conveying the scale of the planet-city, best illustrated in a scene in which there are hundreds of thousands of people with Jax Pavan's name in one small subsection of the planet. There are also plenty of allusions to the fact that one could live their entire life without seeing the sun in one of Coruscant's enormous monads, structures the size of cities that are entirely self contained. All of this does a great job of making Coruscant feel like a living, breathing, at times overwhelming world, but it does start to creep in to ruin the suspension of disbelief required for the plot to properly function. How everyone, from someone extraordinarily powerful like Darth Vader to a barely Force sensitive character like Nick Rostu, is able to find Jax is baffling, as all the previous facts seem to fall by the wayside whenever two characters need to meet up. Despite the fact that the city is so enormous that there are literally thousands of people with Pavan's name, all the characters looking for him seem to know someone who can direct them to him. Beyond this complaint where the world building cuts into the main ideas of a book, there is a lot to like. The dialogue is absolutely fantastic, providing several grin-worthy moments and livening up an otherwise depressing setting with all the charm and wit you can handle. There are plenty of entertaining action scenes that capture the frantic chaos of a desperate group of people on the run and in the heart of the enemy quite well. Finally, Reaves does a great job of giving everybody a distinctive voice, particularly in their point of view scenes.
                Jedi Twilight delivers a memorable and unique cast of characters, all of which have an important part to play in making this an amusing and readable story. The plot, on the other hand, is something we've seen before, and not all that exciting, marred mostly by the extraordinary number of coincidences that are shown to occur in order for most of the events to happen. Luckily the action itself is much more enjoyable, providing us with a number of enjoyable set pieces that utilize the cast quite well. Definitely worth a read to watch Reaves once again work magic with an eclectic group of returning characters and promising new comers, but not quite a great novel.
Final Score

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