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Friday, 12 July 2013

CLASSIC REVIEW: 'CLONE WARS GAMBIT - BOOK ONE: STEALTH'


STAR WARS: CLONE WARS GAMBIT

BOOK ONE: STEALTH

By Karen Miller

Published in the UK by CENTURY PUBLISHING (hardback) and ARROW BOOKS (out now in paperback- February 2010)


Reviewed by Scott Weller


This review contains mild spoilers...


In war, they used to say there were rules. In the STAR WARS galaxy, the evil Sith Lord Darth Tyranus, in his guise as Count Dooku of Serenno, knows no such thing as his Separatist forces prepare to unleash a terrifying new biological weapon against the Galactic Republic and its billions of innocent inhabitants, and only our ever reliable Jedi heroes Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi, the pair fresh from a successful though almost fatal mission/battle to liberate the Bothan world of Kothlis from the metallic clutches of General Grievous, have any hope of stopping them in the first of writer Karen Miller’s new adventure duology- CLONE WARS: GAMBIT.

Miller’s return to the CLONE WARS universe with her second book, Stealth, is going to be another success for the author, which sees our noble heroes thrust into a special undercover mission to the far off world of Lanteeb to investigate a hunch by Bail Organa that a deadly new weapon is being constructed on that far away Outer Rim world. The plot unfolds at a good pace, though hardly fast and furious, with Miller obviously using her skills as a writer to build up excitement for Book Two instead, using this first part to expand both character intrigues and character development- Miller doesn’t want to put all of her eggs in one basket and Stealth obviously has to act as the starter before the main course with book two (a subplot linked to the enemy’s interception, jamming and sabotage of top secret Republic communication starts as a side line of the books first quarter but will no doubt play an important part of story developments in the future, as will the Lanteeb race who, apart from their history discussed early on the book, don’t really appear that much in book one). Her enthusiasm and love for the saga continues to shine brightly in this second novel, after the success of last years premiere novel-WILD SPACE- and her confident writing style is easy to follow, though perhaps it could still do with some editing at times as parts of it do feel overwritten, but she captures all the heroic and boo-hiss Prequel characters that fans will enjoy reading, and bringing greater, deeper access to the minds and thoughts of the characters, especially Anakin and Obi-Wan.

Miller clearly loves Obi- this is never in doubt-but her almost obssessional need to physically injure or psychologically torture him and put him through the ringer with each of her adventures concerns me!! Surely he suffered enough in Wild Space! And now she’s got it in for Rex, too. Watch out, Captain!

Anakin is also on the top of the list of Miller’s best character work, coming across as a hybrid of the Han Solo attitude Anakin of the animated series and the concerned and emotional, but eager to action, Anakin played by Hayden Christensen in the movies, and the author pulls off the combination well. Sent on a deep undercover spy mission that they’re not totally prepared for, Anakin and Obi-Wan have to adapt, and quickly, if they are to succeed. Together, on and off the battle field, Anakin and Obi’s relationship is well captured- friends, brothers in arms against the Separatists: strong as ever and indomitable together but also a prickly pair and each showing their own stubborn attitudes and ideals outside of battle.

And, as far as Anakin is concerned, where would a STAR WARS tale set between EPISODEs II and III be without a little bit of Vader foreshadowing, eh? Stealth is no exception and has a couple of interesting pieces dotted amidst the life incidents that have haunted him since he was a child. In the build up to the Lanteeb mission a couple of interesting scenes also occur between Yoda and Anakin-which, again, there really wasn’t enough of in the movies, especially a thorny, heated conversation between the pair which briefly strikes the wrath of Obi against his ex-Padawan. Nice to see Padme and Anakin together again, too, albeit briefly, which shows some of the elements from their EPISODE III relationship moments. His jealousy around her is certainly amped up-again, another intriguing element deleted from the films but successfully resurfacing in book form.

For the first quarter, young Ahsoka Tano also teams up with Obi-Wan for a sequence- a pairing that hasn’t yet happened in the new animated series (at least so far), and it’s a nice idea harkening back to THE CLONE WARS imaginers Dave Filoni and Henry Gilroy concept of originally wanting them to be a duo, before Lucas asked for Anakin to be Ahsoka’s master instead. With very little of the young Togrutan’s presence in her previous novel (presumably due to limited information being available at the time whilst the first season of the animated series was still in the works), Miller has the chance to make amends here and, taking part in the well described battle of Kothlis that starts the books first quarter, has her fully integrated on and off into team Jedi through the tale, capturing her spirit and youthful exuberance well on the printed page.

Of the rest of the support characters, Bail Organa also shines out easily. Again, Miller obviously uses a lot of Jimmy Smits personality and acting style as a barometer in bringing the character to life alongside what we’ve seen in EPISODEs II and III. She pretty much captures my ideas as to what I‘d always wanted to see in the movies, that was sadly lacking and under-developed, in regards to a friendship banter between him and Obi-Wan. Organa is a pretty clever guy-an intelligent, adaptable and savvy politician and a gifted Republic Intelligence Commander, but he’s also a bit of a loose cannon within the rules and a bit of a hustler, who, with Padme, and unlike most Senators, is prepared to fight with the best of them and act on hunches to protect the Republic.

Additionally, other players also get a look in and contribute in small but important ways. Palpatine continues to effectively emotionally manipulate a totally unawares Anakin to his own advantage in some good dialogue scenes. There’s also a welcome chance to beef up and add little bits of depth to some of the support cast like Admiral Yularen who’s not so much of an ass this time as he has often been in the animated series. And even Queen Breha of Alderaan gets a little scene which is nice to see.

On the villains side of the scale, last seen trying to destroy the Lurmen population in the animated episode Defenders of Peace, the repulsive egotist and bully Lok Durd makes his first appearance in book form, and continues to relish any opportunity to rise above the ranks in the Separatists army. How Lok Durd actually managed to escape his previous Republic capture has not yet been revealed (I’m sure we’ll find out by book two) but he is the perfect choice for Miller to adapt to the book universe of STAR WARS, making him even more vain, arrogant and bullying to the point of almost committing murder at one point in order to achieve his aims, unleashing a series of psychological and physical violence against one character that I found actually quite a rare development-interesting and surprisingly adult- to read in a STAR WARS book, with Miller showing a certain ruthless touch in her writing there- I doubt that this almost too realistic violence, with its shades of the horror of real-life domestic violence, would ever have been seen, allowed or justified in a Lucas created STAR WARS film, and the author just about gets away with it in this EXPANDED UNIVERSE novel.

STEALTH also opens up the opportunities for more newsupporting characters, especially of the female variety to help move the story along (and obviously in a bid by Miss Miller to even the scales up a bit after years when the Classic films had predominantly male characters), including a tough female security expert aiding Bail Organa who is distrustful of the Jedi, the return of spiritual Jedi Master Taria Damsin (previously in Wild Space, and an attempt by the author to create a more accessible Jedi, who, in her friendship with Obi-Wan, we’re bound to see more of in book two, I’m sure), and a coerced scientist, Bant’ena Fhernan, devising the new enemy weapon. The tragic dilemma and consequences of the scientist, working under duress and mental/ physical intimidation is an interesting one-there’s also her moral and ethical scientific dilemma to add to her instability-proud of her creation but ultimately aware and devastated by the fact that so many lives will be lost if its released.

As well as some references to certain WILD SPACE incidents and characters, there are some more pluses with further scripted but unseen plot elements of EPISODE III being re-awakened, such as Coruscant’s over zealous security measures and political machinations in the senate being briefly explored, though I fear there are also a few little continuity contradictions here and there character-wise between the Lucas animated series and what was established by Genndy Tartakovsky in the excellent 2-D animated series from 2003 an 2005, of which Miller may have been caught up in in trying to address. I may be wrong-I haven’t seen Genndy’s version in a while- but I don’t recall, as Miller’s book states, Obi-Wan thinking that Anakin was rushed in too early to become a Jedi Knight during the Clone Wars-in the GT version I thought Obi and other Council members pushed for his promotion, what with the dwindling amounts of experienced Knights leading/ partaking in the wars? Surely, Genndy is cannon still, isn’t he?


AFICIONADO RATING: By no means an exciting thrill-a-minute page turner, Miller’s second book is instead a case of characterization incident over plot incident, as the author carefully splits the adventure into two-this first part being investigation. STEALTH has a steadily building pace, with all the plot elements being set up here before the (hopefully) action packed and satisfying finale to come in the summer of 2010.

Prequel fans will enjoy Millers continuing love affair with those STAR WARS characters, and in that aspect STEALTH delivers. 7 out of 10

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