01/08/2012. Contributed by Neale Monks
pub: Arrow/Random House. 338 page paperback. Price: £ 7.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-099-54283-4).
check out websites: www.rbooks.co.uk and www.starwars.com
'Shadow Games' is unusual among 'Star Wars' novels in not being about the Rebellion or the Empire or, at least, not directly. Instead it's the story of a smuggler without a spaceship called Dash Rendar, an expanded universe character who has appeared in a few other 'Star Wars' novels already. With his ship being repaired and finding himself short of credits, he takes a job as bodyguard to a high-profile celebrity, Javul Charn, who seems to have a problem with a stalker. Over the next few days it becomes increasingly clear that his client has been lying about the trouble she's in and he quickly finds himself having to deal not with a persistent fan but with an assassin, a bounty hunter and a crime lord!
Of course, the Galactic Civil War plays its part in the background and one of the most entertaining parts of the book involves the commander of an Imperial outpost doing his best to impress the lovely Charn. We also get a bit of early Empire history as told through the memories of Rendar's co-pilot, a Nautolan called Eaden Vrill. But the authors do a good job keeping these elements of the story in the background, ensuring that the new characters don't simply become wannabe-heroes or comic book villains. We get to see the 'Star Wars' universe from a different angle, albeit an angle that's no less dramatic or violent as the angles we're used to! With that said, the fact that one of the characters is a pop star adds a certain novelty to the story because we don't normally see much, if anything, of the civilian side of life in the galaxy far, far away. The rich, colourful descriptions of her musical acts in particular add some interesting details to our perception of the 'Star Wars' universe, which all too often tends towards the war-torn and battle-damaged.
Michael Reaves and Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff work hard to ensure Rendar and his crew-mates are not simply Han Solo and Chewbacca knock-offs and this is underlined by the way they fold Solo into the story without him undermining Rendar. As readers, we get to see these two smugglers as they were before they became part of the Rebellion and Solo, in particular, has the harder edge to him that made him so engaging in the first 'Star Wars' film. Rendar isn't as smart as Solo and doesn't fly such a good spaceship, but he's obviously well-meaning and determined and his essential likability is what keeps the reader rooting for him every step of the way, even if he does seem to be the last person to see what's going on. Co-pilot Vrill is another great character and because he's a non-human species, he gives the reader a whole other perspective on things.
The title, cover art and back cover blurb give the impression that the authors were going for a film noir kind of feel, where the protagonists are detectives figuring out the crosses and double-crosses as much as heroes doing their best to survive in the seedy, dangerous underbelly of Galactic society. To a degree, the authors succeed but they don't quite pull it off and the last half of the book especially quickly spins towards a starship chase finale and laser gun shoot-outs. But this shouldn't be seen as a major criticism of the book, because on the whole, 'Shadow Games' works really well. It's a well-paced, exciting slice of 'Star Wars' fiction with engaging new characters as well as solid, if restrained, links to the classic 'Star Wars' heroes and adventures we know so well.
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