Oct 27, 2008

[Books] Star Wars: Dark Tide II: Ruin (The New Jedi Order Book 3)

When a series, whether on TV or in print, gets very established, the writers behind it get worried and fear stagnation. If things no longer seem to be moving in a meaningful way that will attract new fans and keep the attention of old ones, it becomes necessary to shake things up somehow in order to keep the story fresh. This can have very positive or very negative results, depending on how things are handled, how drastic the changes to the universe in question are and ultimately how the fans receive it all.

The New Jedi Order, in my opinion, serves that purpose in terms of the Star Wars Expanded Universe. After so many writers have tried their had at fleshing out various aspects of the Star Wars Universe, we're left with a diverse collection of stories that are generally good on their own, but not necessarily part of a coherent whole. With the prequel films already making headway on their own (albeit to a somewhat more limited degree), looking to Star Wars past was no longer the best option for writers - the remaining challenge was to define its future.

The New Jedi Order works on this premise, but handles it all in a much darker manner when compared to the rest of the series. And there's nothing darker than death, I suppose.

In Dark Tide II: Ruin, Michael A. Stackpole continues his part of the overall story in terms of the true Yuuzhan Vong invasion getting underway in earnest with the Jedi scrambling around the universe to do their best to meet the enemy without compromising their principles. In one of those missions, Jedi Knights Corran Horn, Jacen Solo and Ganner Rhysode discover that the Yuuzhan Vong's Vonduun crab armor is highly allergic to the spores of a tree only found on Ithor. Thus the stage is set for possible confrontation between the Yuuzhan Vong and the New Republic since it was certain that the invaders would come for the forest world.

On a separate mission, Senator Elegos A'Kla attempted to be an ambassador to the Yuuzhan Vong on behalf of the New Republic and thus is used to learn more about the galaxy as much as he attempts to learn more about the invaders. Sadly, he eventually becomes just another pawn in the overall scheme of things as the plot lines all converge at Ithor.

As is the nature of all duologies, this chapter had a whole lot more action compared to part I in the classic style that Stackpole has become known for. There are massive starfighter battles and an overwhelming ground assault. There are cases when brute force wins through while other times cunning and strategy manages to help one side or another become successful. If Michael A. Stackpole just wrote battle sequences, I'd be a happy camper already. Fortunately, he's also pretty good at crafting an interesting enough story to go along with it, so not all is lost.

Many will argue about whether or not the wanton death and destruction that is most associated with the New Jedi Order series of novels is truly warranted. Both major and minor characters remain constantly at risk of death in this series and that does add an interesting element to things. To argue for the other side, however, I have to admit it does seem like an overdone gimmick to do this in order to generate enough of a fan reaction.

In this particular aspect, I think this particular chapter of the overall story was not needlessly dark. The death of Senator A'Kla was not some random act of violence but a way to better demonstrate just how different the beliefs and motivations of the Yuuzhan Vong are compared to our heroes. It does not make them evil but simply different in a radical way and thus the whole invasion is more a clash of ideologies than just a war between organic worldships and cold metal starships.

I felt this was an interesting part of the overall story, one that Stackpole manages to keep tied neatly enough together without distancing itself too much from the rest of the New Jedi Order storyline. It's a shame Stackpole didn't write more stories for the series, but then again I suppose his style was not the kind ideally meant for all this. Still, his contribution to the whole effort was a good one and one I'll always enjoy revisiting.
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