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Sunday, 14 July 2013

CLASSIC REVIEW: 'CLONE WARS GAMBIT - SIEGE' NOVEL


STAR WARS: CLONE WARS GAMBIT
BOOK 2: SIEGE
  
By Karen Miller

Published in hardback in the UK by CENTURY PUBLISHING
(Available in Paperback in the UK from ARROW from 26th May 2011)

Reviewed by Scott Weller

Note: this book review contains possible spoilers

Heroes come in all shapes and sizes, often born from circumstances that are not necessarily convenient or of happy expectancy- he/she/they emerge from tragedy, horror, desperation and necessity, sometimes springing from a well of expectancy or from a need to survive-not only as individuals but for the others around them that they care for and want to protect. In the new STAR WARS CLONE WARS GAMBIT book: SIEGE, author Karen Miller shows how, in a time of desperate crisis and struggle, a race of beaten down people must overcome their fears, prejudices and the lies of the past in order to work and form an alliance with two Jedi knights whom, in the end, are their only hope of survival against a cruel and tyrannical enemy swarming across the galaxy...
Only just escaping Lok Durd’s droid trap, and the captured and beaten scientist Bant’ena Fhernan betrayal’s of them to him in the city of Lanteeba, our Jedi heroes, on the run, injured, over exhausted and injured from their lengthy combat use of their Force abilities begin book two by crash-landing their damaged air car and seeking shelter amongst a town of Lanteeb villagers located near a local Damotite mine.
A run down but busy place of activity, Torbel has become one of the planets primary prodcers of Damotite- a key ore element being used for the new Separatist bio-weapon- whose people miraculously hold the key as to how they are able to survive terrible working condition effects, a lack of food and other vital resources, and, even worse, the deadly effects of poisoning in their unstable mine. In their guises as members of the Lanteeb populace, Obi and Anakin exchange shelter for mining work, though their acceptance in the town is at first cautiously guarded by its isolationist people, who are continually wary of strangers.
Meanwhile, the sly and deceitful Lok Durd continues to be both a bully and all round nasty piece of work, scaring, beating and humiliating Doctor Fhernan, pushing her onwards to develop a refined version of the new bio-weapon virus, and threatening to kill her closest friends if she doesn’t co-operate (unaware that, bar one deceased loved one, the rest of her friends and family have already been previously and swiftly rescued by the Jedi). Egged on by her promising results, with a new general to aide him, and a retreat to a more secure secondary facility for the weapon, it looks like the next, final stage in the completion of the bio-weapon will be the next stepping stone of victory for the ambitious Durd and the Separatists. The Jedi Council and Bail Organa, out of contact with their Jedi scouts, work hard with the resources available to them to try and find any kind of cure or resistance to the enemies bio-weapon, with Organa’s top Alderaanian medical research scientist, and old friend, Tryn Netzl, drafted in to help.
With no rescue vessels available to travel to Lanteeb, the Republics war efforts are also being hampered by the previous unleashing of Separatists communication and defense sabotage against their fleet, which is continuing to be a severe and disruptive nuisance to them as it affects, and cause operational havoc, at critical times, none more so in their attempts to try and rescue their Jedi comrades-in-arms, on a mission previously so secret only Bail Organa, Padme Amidala and the Jedi Council were aware of it.
Stretched thin across the galaxy with regards to man and firepower, Anakin and Obi know that the Republic forces are too pushed to help them and that, for the time being, they’re now totally isolated. It’s not long before the Jedi and the Lanteeb miners together become embroiled in a deadly siege. With time running out, and Lok Durd panicked by the Jedi’s continued presence on Lanteeb, how long will it be before the virus is fully unleashed into the Republic?
Will the two Jedi, the greatest of their kind, be able to overcome the threat from both the oncoming plague detonation and the converging Separatists forces? If ever the time was needed for faith in the Force, this must surely be it!
Any excitement generated by the exciting closing chapters of the previous book, GAMBIT, is well and truly brought down in flames by a too subdued and ultimately lacking first half of book two-Miller’s STAR WARS literary work still suffers from the same problems as her previous two books in the series in that it does need more editing from time to time, whilst the seemingly relaxed pace for the story in its first half means that nothing really tremendous happens until 170 odd pages in, which is too long a wait for this reader, generating little excitement or verve, and not what I wanted to see in the second part. I don’t think there was enough story material strong enough to hold as a two part adventure to begin with, feeling over long, sometimes not intricately layered enough and often bogged down with the aforementioned overwritten material. Despite her excellent abilities in capturing our STAR WARS heroes, there are no great twists and turns, or major surprises, in this adventure finale and nothing to give it any real zest…
The mining plot line and its characters, and the predicament the Jedi find themselves in, is all pretty bog-standard stuff and could easily be something out of a humdrum episode of a modern STAR TREK series rather than STAR WARS. Un-involving at times, the characters on Lanteeb come over as very dour and uninteresting. It’s like STAR WARS meets THE MOLLY MAGUIRES at certain points when our Jedi heroes meet up and mingle with them.
On a plus note, Anakin and Obi-Wan shine in their characterizations and in their unique difficulties in working both together and with the miners, and despite a routine plot which results in their eventually having to break their cover in order to save the mine and its people from a catastrophe, resulting in the Lanteebs then helping in warding off enemy retaliation whilst the Jedi hold out for possible rescue. The Jedi duo’s relationship in this part of the tale becomes sorely tested and their friendship becomes both very spikey and highly delicate, ready to fracture with events that soon take place in the mining village, as their differing opinions clash as to what to do next in order to protect them. Then, Anakin’s temper only increases when Obi-Wan’s past love, the Shadow walker, Jedi Taria Damsin, becomes involved in the action. Despite the good character moments, overall, this would not make a very good STAR WARS film (of which all modern novels should strive to be as good as in my opinion), and would barely cover an episode or two’s worth of interesting plot for the animated series.
Of the new characters introduced in book two, Doctor Tryn Netzl, an old friend of Bail Organa, has some good material, though his relationship with his old friend reminds me a little bit of the crusty but good natured Doctor Leonard McCoy from STAR TREK, and his friendship that character had with Captain Kirk during times of extreme crisis. Netzl also wears a flamboyantly colourful and eclectic wardrobe that, from Miller’s descriptions, wouldn’t look out of place worn on Colin Baker’s portrayal of the sixth incarnation of DOCTOR WHO! On the villains side, Lok Durd and his new general also unleash an intriguing new villain that sadly appears all too briefly in the book-the Drivok Psychic seeker, an inhabitant of Lanteeb- and that brief sequence with it is very interesting if sadly under-developed.
With our other heroes and villains, Yoda and Palpatine get some nice scenes together and some sharp words are exchanged. There’s a great moment when Sidious gets to let rip into Yoda for a little while when the green one has not informed him of a particular plan that’s been set in motion. It’s a very good scene and one of those kind of moments that I wish had been in the Prequel Trilogy, so well done there, Miss Miller!
Ultimately, despite having set up and initiated events in the story’s first book, Bail Organa and Padme prove pretty unnecessary to the plot in part two, the same with Ahsoka, who, despite getting a little bit more to do than in GAMBIT, is not fully involved in the final battle to help the Lanteeb people or the plot linked to the chemical weapons plant-instead, Obi-Wan’s “friend”, Taria Damsin, provides the end of the book with the required action, if quickly written, at that critical point, as well as bringing a sense of reasonably satisfying closure and upcoming tragedy to her relationship with Obi-Wan in the books solid if unspectacular finale.
So, if you’re expecting an action packed finale to the two part CLONE WARS GAMBIT adventure SIEGE delivers little STAR WARS bang for your bucks. However, if your interest veers more towards wanting an ending heavy on intimate character drama you’ll be pleased. I personally, would have preferred a stronger mixture of the two for better reading fulfillment.
AFICIONADO RATING: Very little originality has been added to the STAR WARS universe with SIEGE, though, as ever, Miller writes well for the main heroes and villains. Overall, this two-parter, which was a nice idea on paper and in planning, should have worked better, and could easily have been a very tightly written singular book tale. Instead, in its ultimate final form, it feels very padded out. It’s frustrating that the CLONE WARS books aren’t able to match the imagination and action of the stories currently being seen in the animated series. 6.5 out of 10

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