Sunday, 11 December 2011



A novel by Michael Reaves and Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff

Published in the UK by ARROW BOOKS

Reviewed by Scott Weller

It's STAR WARS meets THE BODYGUARD in this new literary confection from popular Expanded Universe authors Michael Reaves and Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff, as that popular and cocky Corellian smuggler from the early nineties SHADOWS OF THE EMPIRE multi-platform storytelling arc, Dash Rendar, returns for a spirited new adventure: SHADOW GAMES, published in paperback in the UK from ARROW BOOKS.

And this time, Rendar really has got his hands full in a shortly before A NEW HOPE set storyline that sees him and the crew of his Outrider smuggling ship- the wisecracking smart arse droid with a touch of FRASIER's Niles Crane about him: Leebo, and the mysterious and talented Nautolan co-pilot Eaden Vrill- having hit bad fortune from the prior blasts of an Imperial Star Destroyer chase, soon find themselves in the unlikely commission of a galaxy popular music star, Javul Charn, whom they quickly have to protect from the clutches of a deadly, and so far untraceable, stalker. The only problem being that said menace has a motus operandi so sophisticated and clever that he/she/they could be working either inside or out of the colourful and persuasive singers universe: and a killer whom could be lurking/operating from within her key staff and entourage located inside her expansive universe travelling private yacht, or being safely embedded within the millions of fans-human and alien- who flock to her ambitious concerts and relentlessly adore and pursue both her and her music career. Even the Galactic Empire itself, alongside the seedy underworld of the Black Sun criminal organisation, the latter of whom she seemingly has unseverable and life-threatened links, may have ties to this unrecognised foe. Dash may have the skills to unravel and remove the complex strands of lies, deceit and attempts on Javul's life- a woman of whom he is now well and truly under the beguiling spell of- but can even he ultimately guarantee her safety?

Authors of recent STAR WARS books have hit or miss incorporated elements from our own modern times into their series (I'm assuming so as to try and capture new younger readerships who have previously stayed away from the saga in its printed form). There has previously been a look/focus at the way news has been reported and manipulated in the FATE OF THE JEDI series, and here we have under the spotlight the life, times and world of a singer whose presence and popularity is Beyonce-like: Javul Charn is sassy, beautiful and consistently under the spotlight. Throughout the book, her position as a popular music star is certainly well explored amidst the drama and action of George Lucas's universe, where she comes across as a mostly well-developed character: feisty and possessing brains and absolute beauty, soon proving a fine, if secretive, sometimes elusive, foil for the big-headed, but ultimately big-hearted Dash Rendar in their journey of life, death and the entertainment industry. As for Rendar himself, with the prior SHADOWS OF THE EMPIRE set between the important events of THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK and RETURN OF THE JEDI, his appearance at that then point in the saga saw him as an almost replacement for Han Solo, what with Harrison Ford's popular smugger now taken away to Jabba's palace on Tatooine, life-binded in Carbon Freeze. Now SHADOW GAMES presents us with a fun situation where both Rendar, having escaped Solo's limelight, has no choice, and despite some intense bitterness, but to call upon his old smuggling rival, pre-EMPIRE, for help, resulting in the character fireworks soon flying as they work to save Javul's life. Ultimately, theirs a fun pairing- an intriguing combination of Lucas and Expanded Universe creations, and the writers obviously have a lot of enjoyment creating their traded insults and oneupmanship as they take on all manner of weird and wonderful creatures, a recurring nuisance bounty hunter and the wrath of Black Sun's evil Falleen leader, Prince Xizor. The lovable Chewbacca the Wookiee, co-pilot of Solo's trusted Millennium Falcon, may not be in the tale, but his absence explanation is well thought out, especially if you like The Holiday Special! The authors interpretation of Solo, not always easy to bring to life on the written page (or Kindle), also works for the most part, and there's fun referencing/ linkages to future events and very familiar characters, as well as the usual mixing of worlds from across the three separate strands of STAR WARS universes: films, expanded and animation.

So, like all of Reaves prior tales in a galaxy far, far away, the ingredients are there for an interesting side road STAR WARS yarn. It may not be in the ambitious mega-league of Timothy Zahn-like books, but its strongly structured, full of wit and well described action (some of which feels a little James Bond-like, too), making it a perfect holiday read.


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