The Old Republic: Annihilation (Drew Karpyshyn)
The fourth book in the Old Republic series of tie-in novels brings us yet another cast of characters unrelated to those we've seen so far. Unlike the other books, this isn't a totally new cast, and instead features a group of people and a storyline transplanted from the comic book tie-ins. This series has been notoriously hit-or-miss to this point, and Karpyshyn is fresh off the heels of by far the most disappointing entry: 2011's dreadful Revan. Unfortunately, although he doesn't manage to be nearly as offensive in this book, Annihilation is utterly bland and only an improvement because it is dealing with characters nobody cared about to begin with, instead of two well-regarded video game heroes.
Set after the events of The Lost Suns, the comic book series that introduced us to Teff'ith and Theron, Annihilation features this duo on yet another impossible mission to destroy an improbably powerful superweapon. Filling out the team this time around is Gnost-Dural, a Jedi Master who mostly ends up filling the shoes of Theron's mentor, killed on their last adventure.
As with The Lost Suns, this book suffers from a crippling originality problem. Superweapons are more than worn out in Star Wars, and it's going to take an angle far more interesting than "heroes team up to take down a superweapon that survived their last attempt to destroy it" to make it a viable plot point. Additionally, simply repeating the same gimmicks as the last book- two characters who haven't grown much, yet another simultaneously crazy and wise Jedi Master, and Theron's family issues at or near the forefront- makes this feels very much like an alternative write-up of The Lost Suns, and something far too bland to stand on its own.
Theron is a fairly interesting character as someone who doesn't have Force powers, and operates outside of the traditional realm of Star Wars protagonists, . Perhaps the most interesting thing he brings to the table is a very intriguing look at Jedi Grandmaster Satele Shan, painting her as a very conflicted character and someone with flaws and history far more interesting than that of most Jedi. Of course, all of this stuff was easily implied from the last book, and her mostly (and extremely rote) happy ending with former flame Jace Malcom aside, there isn't a new or interesting angle on her story here.
As for Theron's supporting cast, Teff'ith continues to be an amusing character due to her unique speech pattern and unconventional moral code. She is a relatively unique persona in an otherwise tired book, so her appearances are always a welcome one, giving the book an often needed breath of fresh air. Gnost-Dural, on the other hand, is little more than a walking cliché. He doesn't typically say anything useful, and is limited to exposition and the kind of generic wise old man behavior that is far too common among Jedi in the Star Wars setting. Rounding out our casts are the antagonists, a group of Sith that are interesting for about 80 pages, before succumbing to mediocrity and losing the element of intrigue and internal strife that made them compelling at the onset.
Like Karpyshyn's other entries into the Star Wars lore, Annihilation reads like an extremely simplistic take on classic Star Wars action. He tries to work in as many staples of the universe as possible: starship battles, duels, desperate covert missions, and while this is all well and good, something inevitably gets lost in the telling. The manner of delivery is quite lacking in this book, giving us sentences that are boring and passive, and rarely tapping into the kinetic fun that the pacing and tone of the book are clearly trying to capture. The dialogue is just as bad, with characters issuing dreadful clichés in scenes we've seen a million times or more (the family reunion is perhaps the worst example of this) and poorly disguised exposition making up the majority of one character's output. There are some high points- there is a bit of intrigue early on that is actually handled rather well, and the final space battle is enjoyable- but for the most part, Annihilation doesn't put any spin on its already tired source material.
If you've read The Lost Suns, the comic book story that introduced Theron and Teff'ith, you've pretty much read this book. It is the same basic plot line, written in as boring of a manner as you could imagine, and featuring only a little bit of Theron's family drama as a way of breaking the mold. Even if you have no exposure to this series, this book is so dull and repetitive that it is almost certainly not worth it, especially as a pricey hardcover. There are a few cool ideas introduced and at least one good action scene, but we've seen it done before, and we've seen it done better.