A BREAKOUT SQUAD adventure by Ryder Windham
Published in the UK by SUNBIRD books
Reviewed by Scott Weller
Its double duplicity from the evil Dark Lords of the Sith-Darth Sidious and his apprentice, Darth Tyranus-when they hatch and unleash a bold and destructive dose of death and deceit against their turmoil stricken Republic opponents in the evocatively titled DUEL AT SHATTERED ROCK, the next book in author Ryder Windham’s series of THE CLONE WARS: BREAKOUT SQUAD spin-off adventures for SUNBIRD books in the UK .
And it seems the only Jedi who might be able to quash these dark plans is that young Padawan with a mysterious past yet to be revealed: the blue skinned, fiery red eyed alien Nuru Kungurama (a hero who more than makes up for the fact that Grand Admiral Thrawn, another one of his Chiss born species, will later become an absolute monster in the HEIR TO THE EMPIRE saga…), whose motley and diverse crew of Breakout Squad continue to help him on his missions for the Republic far, far out into the galaxy-including his loyal four man commando squad of Clone Troopers, trusty lady space pilot Lalo Gunn (and her ship, the Hasty Harpy) and the adapted Separatist commando droid, Cleaver.
On the planet Vaced for a rendezvous with the important representative of the Kynachi peoples- Langu Sommiar- about to signify his planets vital association with the Republic, Nuru is unaware that Dooku has dispatched a top assassin from the Mandalorian Death Watch, Hudo Shiv, to stop it at all costs. And if he succeeds in his attempt, it will send the Republic into further shock waves of distress and chaos, especially within the already fractured Galactic Senate…
As the enjoyable plot strands continue to brew further across the series, our heroes still have a spy and saboteur within Breakout Squad to be revealed and dealt with, plus the return of the green skinned, armoured Separatist baddie, Overseer Umbrag, who escaped their grasp at the end of the previous novel. And the danger continues on a more personal level for Nuru, as his prior captured Jedi Master, Ring-Sol Ambase, is being manipulated by Dooku into a carefully controlled situation in the hopes that he we will turn against his Padawan.
The adventures of Nuru, the young Padawan, out in the most hostile and treacherous quarters of the galaxy, away from the protection of his Jedi comrades, works well as a book series and author Windham works hard in capturing the early to mid-age readerships with his teen lead creation, born in the best traditions of the early heroism of Anakin Skywalker and his son, Luke, with whom we can identify and share in their epic and often dangerous journeys. Also in the best STAR WARS tradition, the bold fantasy spirit will surely become tragically darker with ongoing books, what with Nuru’s origins/Chiss birthright yet to be revealed, and obviously its ultimate revelations being something that the Sith plan to use for their own purposes against the Republic and his Jedi masters (tapping his Dark Side potential, a la Anakin Skywalker?).
As has been the case with Lucas opus, and its subsequent spin-offs, where would the adventures be without many new interesting and diverse creatures and peoples to both help and hinder our heroes, as Windham introduces a new, giant sized alien named Grizz- a bulky criminal and talented swoop rider with an always hungry stomach- to help Nuru and his team out. I look forward to seeing how this character develops in the ongoing story.
There’s also further strong use of iconic STAR WARS Prequel universe characters (look out for some fun cameos from lethal assassin with the hair aversion, Asajj Ventress, and the duplicitous Durosian, old red eyes himself, Cad Bane, who kicks the book off with a an action packed start by confronting the latest slimy member of the Hutt clan: Drixo), and it’s all highly readable fun, zipping along at an enthusiastic pace perfect for young STAR WARS fans/readers. There’s also some much welcome unexpected twists and surprises in the last section of the book which should keep readers guessing about what will happen with the next adventure.
Above all, though, the climactic duel of the title, between Mandalorian and Nuru, is certainly the books highlight section and credit to the artist Wayne Lo for his great cover painting depicting this key sequence. One little glitch: a continuity problem arises from the return of Death Watch- it states that EPISODE II’s Jango Fett was a Mandalorian Warrior, but this is something that has been contradicted and shot down by THE CLONE WARS animated series, which, in the episode THE MANDALORE PLOT (regarded as official story cannon by Lucas himself), states that Jango was not from Mandalore and that his armour was acquired through unknown means. With the Expanded Universe and THE CLONE WARS at occasional friendly odds over the origins of certain characters, this is surely an accidental slip-up that managed to get through the publishing cracks.
Overall, DUEL AT SHATTERED ROCK is a book that’s highly accessible and a good immersion into the Prequel universe at the same time. With his fine ability to write enjoyable, well-plotted and fast paced adventure stories for the younger audiences, I’m surprised Mister Windham hasn’t been asked yet to contribute ideas for THE CLONE WARS series. Perhaps they will…
AFICIONADO RATING: 3.5 out of 5