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Wednesday, 24 July 2013

AFICIONADO CLASSIC REVIEW: 'THE CLONE WARS - NO PRISONERS' NOVEL



STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS- NO PRISONERS

A novel by Karen Traviss

Published in the UK by CENTURY PUBLISHING


Reviewed by Scott Weller


Now released from the possible restraints of adapting that first CLONE WARS movie into successful novel form, Karen Traviss continues to bring her unique writing mark to the STAR WARS universe with an all new adventure set during the three year galaxy spanning conflict. From the books inside sleeve story blurb, you’d think that, with NO PRISONERS-book three in the hardback series, that you’d be reading a smaller scale, more intimate war story. WRONG. STAR WARS never does anything small, even in book form.

Oh, and did you know that Karen Traviss likes Clone Troopers?

Past the Clone War itself, however, the nature and issues of the effects of attachment are by far the main, highly important aspect of NO PRISONERS-how far does a commander or a soldier go before they become compromised in their duty. And what would happen when a Jedi Knight is affected? Might their love and the need to protect that love bring them nearer towards the Dark Side? All three vital types of player in this story of rescue, sacrifice, honour and violence are symbiotically affected, for good and for bad, by the nature of said attachment, none more so than the returning popular character of Captain Gilad Pellaeon.

A continued fan favourite from the Zahn Thrawn Trilogy books, Pallaeon’s return will be much welcomed by old league fans. I say returns…well, that should really be enters, the STAR WARS galaxy in this tale set shortly after the events of the first animated movie, with the galaxy still getting over the shock that, after a thousand years of relative peace, its now irrevocably on course towards a new breed of warfare-one far more damaging than they’ve ever faced the possibility of. Though in his mid-thirties, Gilad is still as loveable grumpy and pompous as ever-in this tale he’s very much an old man trapped in a then young man’s body- more than resembling to this author one of the honorable, experienced and veritable stick in the mud types you might find coming out of a Horatio Hornblower novel. He’s such a starched collar commander that he even has Ahsoka cover herself up when, alongside Captain “Let’s scrap some clankers!” Rex and his mostly new group of “shinie” replacement troops, they newly arrive on Pellaeon’s reworked but now top of the line weapon upgraded starship,the Leveler, whilst Anakin Skywalker takes yet another of his “secret breaks” from his Padawan and squad for some quality cuddles time with Padme Amidala-that’s Mrs. Skywalker to us.

Pallaeon believes in the service, believes in the discipline and is determined to make sure that the re-fitted Leveler, with its new weaponry, is up to specs, especially if they have to go into battle… and that’s exactly what happens when, at the same time, the commander’s worries for his intelligence agent girlfriend, Hallena Devis, suddenly come to fruition, when she is sent on a dangerous mission to the planet Janfathal in the Outer Rim, so as to infiltrate a possible Separatists uprising- which suddenly happens, with Devis caught in the middle!! Making matters worse, Pallaeon has the only ship in interception range to get her out of the mess, and its here that the unease of attachment begins- soon finding himself feeling compromised with his crew, Ahsoka and the Clone Troopers when he has to reveal that the spy is his secret lover. Is one person, even if it be the woman he loves, worth the lives of hundreds of shipmates, and innocent civilian workers (deep in the thick of it) unused to any kind of combat, in a battle to retrieve her? And it’s certainly a scenario that Pellaeon can’t afford to lose-the experimental Leveler is something that the Seps would love to get their hands on to dissect.

And apart from his loyal crew-mates, Pallaeon has reservations about working with the Jedi. Even with modesty intact, he is unnerved by the young Togruta Jedi teenager, as he is with the rest of her sect, but knows he will have to trust her incredible abilities and instincts in the tests to come. Fortunately, his previously established, comrades in arms friendship with Captain Rex-quite amazing considering that I’m assuming they’ve only known each other for a few months since the Clone Wars have started (that there have been other stories before this that have chronicled their adventures? (if I’m wrong, please correct me-I’m still a newbie with recent Expanded Universe books, especially the previous CLONE COMMANDER series by Traviss)) – remains intact, despite the mysterious way that the Clone Soldiers have so conveniently arrived to help the Republic in such dire times.

Adding further complexity to the adventure is the arrival of a breakaway fraction of Jedi, who have shunned Master Yoda and the Jedi Council’s leadership- not taking part in the war per se (yet having not abandoned the order as part of the “Lost Twenty”), but generally acting as intergalactic relief workers to those who have suffered dearly from the opening rounds of the escalating conflicts. Unlike any other Jedi Pellaeon has seen before- and led by a charismatic Qui-Gon Jinn substitute-like figure named Djinn Altis- they have been dubbed as heretics by Ahsoka and the rest of the main Jedi body- due to their opposite belief system in the need for emotional attachment as part of their being, not only in order to help the universe but to ultimately get closer to the Force around them-and doing this despite the fears that they may tread too dangerously close to the Dark Side in order to achieve their good natured intentions. Soon, these outcast Jedi offer their assistance to Pallaeon, who badly needs them if they are to complete their rescue mission against superior enemy odds. Will they overall help or hinder the Republic in this rescue mission? Traviss tries to give Altis and his followers more emotional weight as Jedi within the story as well as using them to stir up the drama and see how they clash idealistically with their Jedi brothers-for most parts of the book this aspect succeeds.

These new Jedi’s attitudes of attachment send the later to arrive Anakin Skywalker into feelings of doubt and anxiety-can this boy never get a break!- shaking him to the core and forcing him to concentrate more on the battles at hand rather than face the problems that will continue to beguile him until he reaches the ultimate dark path. At the same time, the walls cementing his secret marriage to Amidala are just about keeping steady and the pressure is building. The boy’s friendship with the father figure-like Altis is interesting but, as a reader, we know it can obviously never develop beyond a certain point-it can’t, as continuity has to be maintained with what’s to come, and we know that Anakin can never sever his ties with the existing Jedi Order that he is a part of-a story situation/development that’s both a blessing and a curse to any writer trying to bring a strong tale to life within the Prequel Saga- and a trap that also hindered Timothy Zahn’s OUTBOUND FLIGHT adventure...

Traviss must know that the Jedi Knights as characters, with the exception of Anakin, are very hard to write for-that the on screen “Jedi Frown” that Ewan McGregor has talked about for years can easily come to mind when you read about them in the books, too!  There’s only so much they can do and say, so outside contact has to come to them in order to create interest/conflict for the readers – Traviss has to travel a very delicate line here. In addition, these new Jedi also possess some remarkable new abilities that we haven’t seen before-which will obviously have ramifications for future books written by said Author should they re-appear, and it’s at this point that the book fortunately starts to pick up momentum.

Overall, Traviss’s popular writing trademarks are in full swing, as seen in her previous CLONE WARS movie adaptation, like the nicely conceived quotes about personal loss, character, honour, stupidity, bravery, and sacrifices of all kinds in war. And her action sequences on land, on air and in space are equally highly rendered. Also to be commended, the story also tries to present a bit more of the Outer Rim and it’s people’s point of view against the Republic with the beginning of the conflict-how they despise the way their planets have been corrupted, and how they welcome the liberating change being outlined by the Confederacy of Independent Star Systems to get them out of their trap (more of this please future writers). Again there’s more reference to real life situations, of which Traviss uses her experience and knowledge to the full-military strategies and even things like the torture of prisoners are briefly touched upon, continuing her gritty realism within the STAR WARS universe in ways that so many fans adore about her work, in particular her descriptions of Athar, the major city of Janfathal, which combines the harsh desert environments of Iraq with a servitude and work ethic directed towards it’s people that greatly resembles the tyranny and hardship of 1950’s Stalinist Russia-a decidedly dangerous place and a breeding ground for trouble of all kinds-no innocent will ever be able to leave it unscarred. I commend her for the books epilogue- evocatively sad and particularly well written.

Of our main heroes, it’s nice to have Anakin out of the fold for some of the book so as to give some other CLONE WARS heroes the chance to shine, and Captain Rex, in particular, does just that- Traviss has taken him to her heart like a duck to water, making him a soldier capable of giving Clint Eastwood a run for his money with his kick ass bred for war instincts and his “it’s all about the mission” mentality. Yet, at the same time, Rex also shares great compassion for the men and women under his command (his Republic “Dogs of War”, if you want to call them that) and feels the pain whenever someone dies fighting in his leadership-the trio of Rex, Anakin and Ahsoka working together are starting to prove a unique combination in both the books and the TV series.

Three novels in, though, and, despite improvements in developing her character, I’m disappointed that so far no one really knows what to do with Ahsoka. Let’s hope she gets a better shot of the bow with the next book in the series. Additionally, the same bug bear I have, not only with Miss Traviss but other writers, comes to the fore once more-simply that most of the new characters introduced in this Expanded Universe story I simply don’t care much about-their place in the adventure is obviously vital and has to keep the story ticking along, but at the end of the day, someone new to me like Hallena Devis just isn’t compelling or interesting enough to stand out against the main heroics and thoughts of our Lucas established heroes-and when the heroes I’m used to disappear from the story, then I really miss them. Additionally, there’s the worry that these books could start to become formulaic-it’s difficult, but the writers will hopefully try to steer clear of repetition and not become a case of same old, same old...

AFICIONADO RATING: Though not a classic tale, NO PRISONERS blend of fantasy STAR WARS adventure and realistic military action should continue to appeal to Miss Traviss’s highly devoted fan base. 7 out of 10

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