Aug 18, 2008

[Books] Star Wars: Specter of the Past (Hand of Thrawn - Book I)

Star Wars: Specter of the Past (Hand of Thrawn - Book I)When it comes to my reading priorities, I usually have two books active at any given time. I have the heavier, more intellectual book that normally is large paperback or hardbound format and thus is not so easy to bring around. The other is normally a simpler one in paperback format that is portable and doesn't require too much time and effort to read. For this period, I am currently working my way through all my Star Wars novels in order to finally read some of the newer ones I bought before. Of course in order to do that, I need to re-read some of the other titles in order to refresh me memory.

Can anyone say geeky reading project? =D

First on my list is Star Wars: Specter of the Past, the first of two books in the Hand of Thrawn duology by Timothy Zahn. Zahn is best know for really kick-starting the Star Wars Expanded Universe because of his landmark Heir to the Empire trilogy. This duology connects to that aspect of the universe and continues to explore many of the diverse characters Zahn first introduced.

Specter of the Past takes place in 19 ABY (with respect to the Star Wars universe), which is 10 years after the events of the Heir to the Empire trilogy. Admiral Pellaeon now leads the Imperial navy and is pretty much what's holding the Imperial Remnant together. He comes up with a bold plan to save the Empire - to surrender to the New Republic and end the war. Naturally the other Moffs aren't necessarily excited about things and decide to put their own plan into action - having someone pose as Grand Admiral Thrawn and to somehow reunite the Empire and return them to their former glory. With all this going on, evidence of a decades long conspiracy is unearthed that could destroy the fragile unity of the New Republic .

With so many books in the Star Wars Expanded Universe, it's hard to really make a mark anymore to stand out from the pack. There are stories that try to explore every facet of the universe from how Han and Leia eventually get married to what the story was of the band in Jabba the Hutt's palace. It certainly makes for a richer universe, but then it also makes it a bit cluttered. Thus books like this that don't try to explore the answers to perceived fan questions and instead create new situations for us to think about are always welcome, and for the most part Zahn has constantly attempted to do this.

One of Zahn's key strengths has always been the uniqueness of his characters and how well he develops them. In this case, I wasn't overly impressed with the new characters he introduced but was happy with how he handled the pre-existing ones. Given how many major characters he introduced in his original trilogy, it seems only fair to re-use them and further develop them as best as he can.

The book was largely "peaceful" from a major ship battle perspective, but it's only fair given a lot of this is about politics and espionage as opposed to all out battles on various planets and in space. I'm a big fan of well-executed starship battles in books so I have to admit I tend to look for that time and time again. That's not to say it was bad in that respect - the battles and action sequences presented were great and essential to plot development, Given the nature of the story, I expect more of the action will be found in the second book.

It's not going to be one of my all-time favorite books in terms of Timothy Zahn, but then in terms of its structure, it's limited by why it can do. I feel like this was a story that was meant to be just one volume but it got too long and too complicated, so it became necessary from a more practical (and monetary) standpoint to break it up. This half of the story is okay with its fair share of exploits, character challenges and plot twists but is clearly more of a setup novel for what comes after. As a standalone book, it ends on too much of a cliffhanger for you to enjoy it and thus the dependency on the second title.
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