Crucible by Troy Denning – Book Review [Shadowhawk]
Shadowhawk reviews the latest Star Wars novel, from long-time Star Wars scribe Troy Denning.
“One of the most exciting and fun novels about the Star Wars ‘Trinity’ of Han Solo, Luke Skywalker and Leia Organa that I’ve read in a long time. An absolute must read.” ~Shadowhawk, The Founding Fields
Having read widely in the Star Wars Expanded Universe (SWEU) over the years, I’m fairly conversant with a lot of the characters and events that have shaped the galaxy far, far away. The rise and fall of the Emperor Reborn, the rise and fall of various Imperial overlords, the marriage of Han Solo to Princess Leia, the birth of the Solo kids, the marriage of Luke and Mara Jade, the Yuuzhan Vong war, the fall of the Republic during Palpatine’s reign, the Darth Maul era, the rise of Sith lords such as Naga Sadow and Darth Bane, etc, etc. I’ve seen it all, read it all, loved it all.
However, somewhere along the way, I lost track with all the books that came out after the Yuuzhan Vong war, in terms of the timeline, and so I haven’t read the Killik War novels, the rise of Darth Caedus, and most recently, the Lost Tribe of the Sith novels. So I’m quite behind in my reading. Which is one of the reasons why I enjoyed Crucible so much, even though it is set after some of these events and contains a fair amount of… spoilers in that regard. But no matter. It is a hell of a novel on its own and it really, really made me want to go back to read all these other novels I’ve missed. Now, if only these previous novels weren’t so lengthy series in their own!
The meta-plot for Crucible is fairly simple at a first glance: Lando is in a bit of business trouble with pirates and he’s called on Han and Leia to check things out. Of course, Luke is also involved and where Luke goes, the Jedi Order goes. The novel brings together the original “cast” of characters in a thrilling, death-defying story that I haven’t really seen since Timothy Zhan’s Thrawn novels or since the absolute bleak times of the Yuuzhan Vong war, especially in the middle when some pretty big named characters were killed off. The formula for the novel is pretty old on a basic novel but Troy Denning, one of the top authors writing in the SWEU, adds so many neat twists to it, that it all comes across as fresh and original.
And that’s saying something since the SWEU is absolutely chock-full of the adventures of the Trinity. Still, I loved to see the three of them together again for new adventures after the end of the Yuuzhan Vong war, a conflict that came really close to destroying the Solo and Skywalker families. The time between The Unifying Force and Crucible is a gap of several years and both the Solos and the Skywalkers have had their share of continued miseries and tragedies. And yet, where Crucible succeeds so well is showing how the families are still together, how they’ve managed to survive and prosper despite everything.
Crucible for me was a novel about hope and living for the future. It is apparent in the attitudes of the Trinity, and their allies. All the threats they have faced, all the loved ones they have lost, and they still keep going on. The title for the original Star Wars movie, when the prequel trilogy was announced, was A New Hope. In no other book, except in the latter books of the New Jedi Order series, the ones that are about the closing stages of the Yuuzhan Vong war, has that subtitle ever been truer. And I loved that entire angle. The way that Denning explores this concept proves that he was the best man for the job here, drawing on his long experience writing these novels and his familiarity with the setting and the characters.
Another thing that put Crucible into my “favourite books of the year” category was how old the Trinity is by now. The cover makes that plain enough, but it is the narrative that hammers it home. Denning sneaks in some passing commentary here and there that shows that these characters are not as young as they once were, not as skilled, not as quick, and so on. Age, the great leveler, has gotten to them and left its mark. That was the most refreshing thing about the novel. They have all matured and truly become an older generation of characters, mentors to an entire new generation which is following in their steps and is maturing into their own wisdom and experiences.
On that note, I just wanted to make a commentary about Jaina, Han and Leia’s surviving child. Declared the Sword of the Jedi during the New Jedi Order series, she has finally become a Master and has become a teacher of Padawans. I wanted to see a lot more of this Jaina. She has always been my favourite Solo kid. Crucible gives us some rather brief scenes with her, and they left me wanting more. She has a most unique perspective among all the other Jedi (although that in itself is not such a unique thing), and I wanted to see her take a bigger role in this book.
Still, all things considered, Denning’s approach was probably for the best. The novel focuses on the Trinity and other old characters such as Lando Calrissian, so I did get a whole bucket-load of my other favourite characters, so I won’t complain.
One of the other things that make Crucible so great, aside from its plot and characterisation and everything else I’ve mentioned so far, is that this is not a novel about the end of the galaxy or the Sith or extragalactic aliens or a returning alien race or what have you. The villains of the setting are crime lords who simply want more and more control over everything, and they are pretty vicious and bloodthirsty in how they go about making their plans come to fruition. They remind me of the days of Prince Xizor, the infamous Black Sun leader of the Palpatine era. That in itself is an automatic win. I loved how he portrayed these villains, making them come across a credible threat in a galaxy that has seen the boot heel of the Sith and alien hordes of unimaginable power.
And finally, there is the fact that Crucible contains all the other-worldly feeling of the setting. If you’ve read Crystal Star then you may recall that the… creature who was the main event in that novel was a fairly weird concept. And the same goes for novels like Rogue Planet which continued that tradition, putting forward a setting which is not always by the numbers and is about the exotic and unseen-before things. The final act of Crucible takes what Crystal Star and Rogue Planet have done before it and then it dials up the awesomeness factor several times to deliver an ending that is just… amazing. In a galaxy with the Force, the alienness of it should always be front and center, which is about Denning does here.
That’s really all I can say about that without spoiling any of it.
Up until now, my favourite Troy Denning novel had been Tatooine Ghost, one of the most moving Star Wars novels that have been written to date. It marked a significant change in Leia and Han’s characters and dealt with her legacy as the daughter of Darth Vader. Absolutely superb stuff. But, I have to say that Crucible just about beats Tatooine Ghost now. Both novels have significant emotional moments that really hammer home what the characters are all about, and the writing is just so much fun and engaging.
For me, Crucible is most assuredly one of the best Star Wars novels I’ve read, one that I would love to come back to again, and again, and again. Its just that kind of a book. If there are any criticisms of the novel, they deal only with the somewhat awkward transitions between some of the chapters, with the time gaps that are implied between them. That’s really it.