Star Wars – The Old Republic: Annihilation by Drew Karpyshyn – Advance Dual Review [Bane of Kings and Shadowhawk]

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Bane of Kings and Shadowhawk share their combined thoughts on Annihilation, the upcoming novel in the Star Wars: The Old Republic Video Game Tie-In series, written by Drew Karpyshyn and published in the US by Del Rey.

“Annihilation is pure Star Wars action-adventure entertainment as only Drew Karpyshyn can write it. ~Shadowhawk

“One of the best Star Wars novels that I’ve read, with a great cinematic feel to it.” ~ Bane of Kings 

Bane of Kings’ Thoughts 

So this is another NetGalley title, and I’m really starting to get used to this now. As long as I don’t resist the urge to request loads of titles, I think I’ll be okay. Anyway, NetGalley statement over, let’s cut to the chase. Drew Karpyshyn’s debut to the Old Republic Universe is not just the best novel that I’ve read in that setting, but one of the best Star Wars novels that I’ve read, anywhere.

Okay, maybe I haven’t read anything by Timothy Zahn yet, but my point still stands. Annihilation is epic, and would be great to watch on the big screen as it I felt that the novel was very cinematic. Although we’re unlikely to see a Star Wars film based on a tie-in novel, I think that Annihilation should be the one to look out for. It’s superb.

The Sith Empire is in flux. The Emperor is missing, presumed dead, and an ambitious Sith lord’s attempt to seize the throne has ended fatally. Still, Darth Karrid, commander of the fearsome Imperial battle cruiser Ascendant Spear, continues her relentless efforts to achieve total Sith domination of the galaxy.

But Karrid’s ruthless determination is more than matched in the steely resolve of Theron Shan, whose unfinished business with the Empire could change the course of the war for good. Though the son of a Jedi master, Theron does not wield the Force—but like his renowned mother, the spirit of rebellion is in his blood. As a top covert agent for the Republic, he struck a crucial blow against the Empire by exposing and destroying a Sith superweapon arsenal—which makes him the ideal operative for a daring and dangerous mission to end Ascendant Spear’s reign of terror.

Joined by hot-headed smuggler Teff’ith, with whom he has an inexplicable bond, and wise Jedi warrior Gnost-Dural, Darth Karrid’s former master, Theron must match wits and weapons with a battle-tested crew of the most cold-blooded dark side disciples. But time is brutally short. And if they don’t seize their one chance to succeed, they will surely have countless opportunities to die.

It’s always great to be reading a Star Wars title again. The last title set in this universe that I read was written by the same author, and was Path of Destruction. Whilst it was enjoyable, it sadly wasn’t a perfect read. Neither is Annihilation a perfect read either, but I still loved every second of it. The characters are well-thought out, the action scenes are epic, and we get a real sense that this is Star Wars, and not just any old sci-fi novel.

The characters are well visualised and even though the story may be too short to expand on them, Karpyshyn gives it his best shot at creating a relatively small dramatis personae with varying strengths and weaknesses. As this is a tie in to The Old Republic, Annihilation makes use of several characters from various factions. We get a Han Solo like character in Theron Shan, the alien smuggler Teff’ith, the Jedi warrior Gnost-Dural. Each provides their own element to the story and not once did I feel that any of the characters were there simply for humour or as a plot device. Maybe given a few longer pages, Annihilation could have developed the characters more, but I felt that that would probably disrupt the breakneck pace of the story.

It truly is an action packed read, with plenty of fights ranging from skirmishes to fully blown space battles. Karpyshyn shows that he can handle Star Wars well, and although there isn’t much to make it feel as though it’s set in The Old Republic Universe, it does a fine job of giving us a fun read.

Annihilation is one of the best, if not the best Old Republic Novel, and I’ve read all of them apart from Revan.  Karpyshyn is a great writer and with Annihilation and Path of Destruction he has established himself as a firm favourite in the Star Wars Universe. For those wanting plenty of Jedi vs. Sith action, then although there might not be as much as Path of Destruction, we get several encounters between the two factions and although we don’t get ranks of Jedi vs. Ranks of Sith, Annihilation allows the reader to experience the story on a more personal setting, and allows us to sympathise with Gnost-Dural, the Jedi Master.

The plot is great. It’s not overly complex and is simple enough to get your head around. Whilst at some times it may seem predictable, Karpyshyn does a great job at increasing the tension right the way through to the conclusion, where he allows the stakes to seem higher than ever before. My only complaint was that it was too short, and the ending just left me wanting more even though Karpyshyn delivers a conclusion that allows for a great standalone read.

If you’re a Star Wars fan, you won’t want to miss this. Although the Cover Art may not be very strong and the book is a little on the short side (not even 300 pages), it does allow for a quick, fun read.

Verdict: 5/5

Star Wars: The Old Republic: Fatal Alliance by Sean Williams, Deceived by Paul S. Kemp, Revan by Drew Karpyshyn, Annihilation by Drew Karpyshyn

Shadowhawk’s Thoughts

As Bane said, it definitely is a great feeling to be reading in the Star Wars Expanded Universe once more. My last SWEU read was Paul S. Kemp’s Deceived, another Old Republic novel (the only other Old Republic novel I’ve read), this one featuring Darth Malgus from the MMO in a very prominent role. Deceived was a decent enough read but it did leave me unsatisfied a fair bit too. Which is where Drew Karpyshyn’s Annihilation comes in and, as only he could, Drew delivers on the excellent promise of the novel by writing one of the best SWEU novels ever. Annihilation isn’t as awesome as Darth Bane: Path of Destruction was, but it does come quite a bit close to knocking it off its pedestal as far as I’m concerned.

Annihilation is set quite a bit of time after Deceived is, and it steps away from the direct focus on the Jedi v/s Sith encounters of that book to instead focus on a Republic intelligence agent, Theron Shan, who is part of the task force assigned to hunt down and destroy the ruthless Darth Karrid and her flagship, the Ascendant Spear, a battleship which is apparently theExecutor Super Star Destroyer of the era, given the dread and horror that most senior commanders of the Republic have for it. Or the military power that the battleship grants to Darth Karrid in her attempts to become a member of the Sith Council. Consequently, even though the author takes the time to explore several subplots, the main narrative is focused on this Republic objective and everything that happens in the novel revolves around that duty.

With this novel, Drew reinforces the point that you can have a deep and compelling novel without the eternal Jedi v/s Sith conflict as the main focus of the novel. You can very well argue that the novel is about that but the difference here is that while the antagonists are all Sith, the (good-guy) protagonist is not a Jedi. Son of one yes, but not one himself. The Jedi v/s Sith action scenes are in themselves quite secondary to the plot and to the protagonist Theron Shan himself. In direct comparison to Annihilation, while the actual scope of the novel is quite big and similar to the Rebels taking out the Imperial base on Endor so that the fleet can attack and destroy the second Death Star, it gets to that point in a very low-key manner with a “down-in-the-dumps” perspective, provided very ably by Theron himself.

As a tie-in to the MMO, which I’ve done only the trial for, reading throughAnnihilation was a fairly simple matter in and itself. The novel doesn’t need a lot of backstory and in my opinion, all you really need to know are the various opening cinematics to the game. They give you the general information about the Sith invasion and the Jedi-led Republic counter-attack, which is all the information you need for this novel really. Nothing more, nothing less. My understanding is that Satele Shan, the new leader of the Jedi, and Jace Malcolm, the overall Republic military commander, both feature in the game but my recollection of the fact is rather hazy. I’m fairly sure they feature in the cinematics though. Knowing just that, my enjoyment of the novel was never at any risk. Given all the different “eras” that these novels take place in, that’s a good approach, to not burden the reader with the heavy hint of too much already having happened that the reader has just plain flat-out missed.

Which brings us to Theron Shan. He is one of the Republic’s best covert agents and when we meet him in the very first pages of the novel, he is out and about in Hutt territory on a somewhat personal matter, rather than a mission for the Republic. Those first few pages do a good job of introducing us to Theron and revealing his driving motivations. It made me connect with him right off the bat and added to the underlying urgency of the novel. Quite frankly, although they are thousands of years apart, Theron reminds me very much of Wedge Antilles and his cadre of Rogue Squadron friends, particularly Tycho, Hobbie and Wes. Like the future commander of the Republic’s emergent elite starfighter squadron, Theron has an unshakeable core of loyalty to those around him, come what may and he sticks to his principles even though they may not be popular with the top brass. Drew does a great job of teasing out his characters over the course of the short-ish novels (my eARC is only 266 pages long!), and among the legion of my favourite Star Wars characters, Theron Shan stands out very prominently.

Our perspectives aren’t limited to just Theron however, and that’s something that I’m really quite thankful to. We are introduced to Theron’s mother (Satele Shan herself), Jedi Master Gnost-Dural, Jace, and a bunch of different Sith, Darth Karrid most noticeably. Each of the characters, whether big or small, has realistic motivations driving them and its fun to see Drew’s rich cast come alive on the pages . Gnost-Dural turned out to be quite a sympathetic and likeable character, much more than I had anticpated, a downright pleasant surprise. Given that the novel is one the short side of things, we never spend too much time with him, in what little we do, he is someone who brings both the Jedi mystique, and a more refined and grounded attitude and personality that is lacking in many Jedi that you typically read about in various Star Wars novels. Somewhat of a major and minor character both, Drew’s characterisation of him is excellent and he is definitely one of the best characters in the novel.

There is plenty of action in the novel, even the lightsaber kind as Gnost-Dural goes up against Darth Karrid and her apprentices, among other things. Karpyshyn writes well-choreographed action scenes that are easy to visualise and are thrilling at the same time. Not for him the same old moves and countermoves, since he writes with a certain endearing flair that is usually lacking in Star Wars novels. Path of Destruction is another great example of this. None of his action scenes are boring or drawn yet, they are short and fast-paced, just like the novel itself.

In its entirety, there are only two points on which I would fault the novel: it is way too short, and it is a bit too lore-independent than I’d like. The first of these points is fairly self-explanatory: Annihilation is a very tightly focused novel that stays on track throughout, so we don’t quite get to explore many of the more exotic of the locations of the setting and we learn little of things happening in the galaxy outside of the purview of the novel, even though Darth Karrid, Satele Shan and Jace Malcolm are such major characters overall. A meatier novel would have been quite welcome, as it would have allowed Karpyshyn to really get into Theron’s psyche, more than he does, and also delve into the Sith Empire much more, of which we actually see quite little.  The second point stems from the fact that the novel, although a tie-in to the MMO as I’ve said, is just too much of a standalone overall. There aren’t grand battles in the novel and any links to events that have already happened are slim at best. It doesn’t take away from the enjoyment of the novel any, but it is still significant. The beauty of most SWEU novels is their interconnectivity and that is a bit lacking here.

Taken as a whole though, Annihilation is a highly impressive novel that cements Drew Karpyshyn alongside such SWEU greats as James Luceno, Timothy Zahn, Michael Stackpole and Aaron Allston in my opinion. He is very much the fresh voice in the extended IP that it needs so much! Annihilation is a novel that I would recommend to all fans of the setting, irrespective of whether or not you have played the MMO.

Rating: 9.5/10

Milo, aka Bane of Kings, is a SFF/Comic reader, and watches a lot of TV. His favourite authors are Neil Gaiman, China Mieville, Jim Butcher, Brandon Sanderson & Iain M. Banks, whilst his favourite TV shows are Battlestar Galactica (2003), Person Of Interest, Firefly, Game of Thrones, & Buffy the Vampire Slayer

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