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Wednesday, 20 August 2014

GUERILLA WAR! REMEMBERING 'DARK APPRENTICE' - BOOK TWO OF 'THE JEDI ACADEMY TRILOGY'


Book Two of Kevin J. Anderson's Jedi Academy Trilogy- Dark Apprentice - speeds along as AFICIONADO celebrates both its place in the Expanded Universe and as an ambitious action successor to Timothy Zahn's opening trilogy- quite big shoes to step into!

Whereas Han and Chewie had the most action in Book One, this time out the adventure feels much more of an ensemble piece, particularly continuing to show us more of the mentioned but previously unexplored realms of the STAR WARS film universe. Now removed from the Maw sector of Kessel, wannabe Imperial tyrant Admiral Daala, thirsting revenge on the New Republic for the defeat of Tarkin and the Empire as a whole, begins her series of hit and run guerilla assaults alongside her remaining Star Destroyer fleet- first on a Rebel transport, then on the newly seeded colony world of Dantooine (literally massacred by spacial bombardments and AT-AT's). Then comes the big attack: on the undersea realms of the Mon Calamari (realised by the author in 1994 in a subtly different, but no less effective way to how it would eventually appear in THE CLONE WARS animated series). This is easily one of Book Two's highlights, where Admiral Ackbar, disgraced after almost prior killing Leia in a B-wing shuttle crash (later discovered as sabotage), gets to show his mettle as leader and strategist, whilst also saying a new variation on his classic line from ROTJ: "It's a Trap!" Meanwhile, other Imperial fractions on the training world of Carida gather strength in their plans to wrestle control from the New Republic: firstly, secretly poisoning Mon Mothma with a unique wasting virus, then planning to use an elite Stormtrooper squad to capture Leia and Han's third child, Anakin, from the safety of his secret location on the planet Anoth. More on this to come in Book Three.

Things aren't getting any easier for Luke in his setting up of the new Jedi Academy, either. Firmly settled on the Fourth Moon of Yavin (where Anderson reveals more about the planets history and its abandoned Massassi temples),  he has gathered his first twelve students, plus an inquisitive Mara Jade (a bit more friendly now towards her once enemy), but one- Gantoris- is soon murdered in mysterious circumstances (before his demise, linked to a fateful prophecy, he wields an impressive, extendable lightsaber blade weapon to Luke in a show of Dark Side strength), whilst the Master's most powerful star pupil, 18 year old Kyp Durron, previously rescued from Kessel by soon friend Han Solo, equally turns (perhaps too quickly in novel time) to evil, caught in the temptations and machinations of the reappeared spirit of one of the early Sith Lords: the formidable Exar Kun- leader of The Brotherhood of the Sith. Luke, previously resisting Kun's temptations (having used the appearance of the Sebastian Shaw version of Anakin Skywalker), soon has no choice but to battle both Kun and Durron. But will he be powerful enough?

In between all these events, Han and Lando are sidelined, engaged in constant friction, and Sabaac match battles, over ownership of the Falcon, General Wedge Antilles, on numerous assignments for the New Republic, gets to fall in love with one of the alien designers of the Death Star, whilst Chewbacca wants to free some prior prison-held wookiees from slavery on the Kessel Maw Imperial installation. Finally, young Jedi offspring Jacen and Jaina Solo get to show their Force powers after getting separated from Threepio and Chewbacca, going off to explore the underbelly of Coruscant/Imperial Center, in what is ultimately one of the weakest parts of the book.

Keeping the EMPIRE tradition, Dark Apprentice ends on an intriguing cliffhanger note, as Dark Forces of evil build: Durron, bordering on final Dark Side capabilities, salvages the Sun Crusher weapon and uses it against Daala's fleet, with catastrophic results, whilst Luke Skywalker's previous attempts to stop Kyp, and the corrupting influence of the immensely powerful spectre-like Exar Kun,  prove dangerously ineffectual. Soundly defeated, his mind separated from his body in Force limbo, it seems that his Jedi colleagues are now seemingly powerless to help him!

AFICIONADO RATING: A solid enough mixture of old and new from Anderson. 3 out of 5


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