01/09/2009. Contributed by Neale Monks
pub: Del Rey/Ballantine Books. 324 page hardback. Price: $25.95 (US), $32.00 (CAN). ISBN: 0-345-47738-5.
check out website: www.delreybooks.com
Timothy Zahn is a Hugo Award-winning Science Fiction writer and among 'Star Wars' fans he's well known for kicking off the whole Expanded Universe series of books and novels. As you'd expect, his latest 'Star Wars' novel is competently written, exciting, and filled with the sort of background detail that makes reading these movie spin-off books so entertaining. It's set in the time between the first and second of the original movies though, inexplicably, the dust cover indicates that it belongs to the prequel era. Be that as it may, Zahn has produced an interesting book that fans of the original series will find an easy and worthwhile read.
There are essentially three separate plots, initially starting off in different places, but as the book progresses, they become steadily more intertwined. The A-story concerns a group of Stormtroopers who have become disillusioned with the Empire they serve and when one of them kills a security officer in self defence, they decide to go on the run.
The B-plot involves Mara Jade, a young woman trained by the Emperor to carry out important or sensitive missions. She's a Jedi in all but name and while she's working for the Empire, it's seems that the Emperor has convinced her that her missions are just and honourable. In this case, she's chasing up a corrupt planetary governor who's been stealing money, commandeering Imperial property and organising pirate raids on civilian shipping.
Last and very definitely least, there's the C-plot centred around Han, Luke and Leia. While the A- and B-plots are engaging and entertaining, the C-plot is pretty lame. For the most part, they're simply running around from one place to another, avoiding capture or arguing with each other.
Their presence in the book is almost entirely superfluous and in at least one episode, rather forced. This is the scene where Leia happens to spot a burglary, saves a child and thereby earns the respect of the initially hostile community around her. It's such an obvious and lazy cliché that spoils an otherwise original and well-paced adventure story. Similarly, the over-reliance on Ben Kenobi telling Luke what to do in a given situation gets a bit silly after a while and risks turning Luke into a puppet that simply does what the Force tells him to do.
But if you can overlook the weakness of the C-plot, the rest of the book hangs together rather well. The Stormtroopers are particularly interesting characters that reveal something of the Empire from the inside rather than the Rebel Alliance perspective we're used to seeing. To be fair, the five of them are pretty much indistinguishable as personalities, but as a group, they demonstrate that even if the Empire was evil, the men and women working within weren't necessarily so.
Mara Jade works in the same sort of way, implying that some people had an idealistic view of the Empire that set it above the chaos of the Clone War period or the corruption of the Old Republic. Whatever bad things individual officers and bureaucrats might do, the aims of the Empire was good and fair. Of course, we know differently, but for the people within the Empire that would certainly have been a justifiable perspective.
Bottom line: 'Star Wars: Allegiance' is one of the better 'Star Wars' books and very definitely a fun read. Yes, the use of corrupt officials and their pirate hirelings as foes isn't the most original threat in the galaxy, but it works well enough in bringing all the characters together in the same place, albeit for different reasons.
Continuity is respected and indeed reinforced a little here and there as we get to see something of the power politics within the Empire and the Fleet. Our Rebel heroes don't really do much, but the characters on the Imperial side are engaging and should keep you turning the pages right to very end. Recommended.
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