Razor’s Edge by Martha Wells – Advance Review [Shadowhawk]
Shadowhawk reviews the first in the Star Wars: Empire and Rebellion series.
“This was an amazing novel that had all the classical feel of the original movie and its immediate sequel.” ~Shadowhawk, The Founding Fields
When Del Rey announced earlier this year that they were releasing a series of novels set in the era of the original Star Wars movie trilogy, I got pretty excited. I find that era, the start of the Rebellion era, to be a very fascinating one, due in no small part for my appreciation and love for these movies. To top it all off, the first novel, written by one of my favourite authors Martha Wells, was set between the first two movies and featured Princess Leia Organa in a very key role and as the central protagonist. I could not have been more excited. At least not until I saw the cover, and then the excitement upsized.
The novel throws the reader into events set in the aftermath of the Battle of Yavin, where the Rebellion delivered a resounding blow to the Empire by destroying its premier weapon, the Death Star, and consequently killed Grand Moff Tarkin, the most powerful man in the Empire and second only to the Emperor and to Lord Vader. Now, the Rebels have abandoned Yavin, for obvious reasons, and the ragtag fleet they have put together is in search of a new permanent base. But things are not easy, especially with regards to resources, and this is where Princess Leia comes in, willing to broker a deal with some merchants and a few unsavory individuals in order to secure whatever the Rebellion needs. Naturally, this means that Han Solo gets a share of that pie since he is a smuggler extraordinaire and knows the ins and outs of dealing with the kind of people that Leia wants to meet with.
That’s the setup for the novel, and from the initial pages, which include a rather harrowing Imperial ambush and former Alderaanian navy personnel who have turned pirate, the novels is very much a classic Star Wars adventure in the same vein as Timothy Zahn’s seminal The Thrawn Trilogy.
Martha’s characterisation of all the premier characters, the trinity of Leia, Han and Luke, is always spot on. This is helped in no small part due to the fact that despite this being a very chronologically early novel, she captures their idiosyncracies and their attitudes down really well. It made for a great change of pace from the last Star Wars novel I read, Troy Denning’s Crucible which is another trinity novel and was released just before Razor’s Edge, last month (Razor’s Edge is out tomorrow). The galaxy at large doesn’t know the Millennium Falcon. It doesn’t yet know that the trinity is the Rebellion (or the New Republic’s for that matter) premier hero-trifecta. Quite simply, neither of these characters have yet built up the reputations that they will later as they get on with their lives and face down one challenge after another.
And that was one of the most heart-warming things about the novel. We get to see these heroes before they became the heroes as we know them by the time of Crucible. They are not heroic powerhouses, they are just a princess without a world, a smuggler without any ties, and a farm-boy turned Jedi. This is very much the beginning of their journey in as much as it is a sequel story to A New Hope. Ultimately, that is the charm of the novel.
In The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, we get to see how these heroes become leaders, but from a distant point of view since any such development is secondary in the movies. Not so in the novel format, especially not when we have such an “early” novel as Razor’s Edge. It proves to be a perfect platform for that kind of character development. And Leia being the primary protagonist is doubly fitting in that regard. Martha deals with Leia’s leadership skills, both as a leader among the Rebels (even if her position is officially that of nothing more than a public face) and as a Princess of now-dead Alderaan.
This is where the entire subplot involving the pirates comes in, specifically those pirates who used to be Alderaanian navy personnel before the Death Star obliterated the planet. There was so much to recommend in that subplot. I really enjoyed all the back-and-forth between Leia and Captain Metara, who commands the pirate ship Aegis. The two women are caught in events beyond their control but they are as much victims of circumstance as the other. Leia’s experience with the Rebels has given her a larger galactic-view than the one that Metara has gone through. She is naive and uncertain, whereas Leia is sure and confident. It makes all the difference. Martha plays them off against each other really well.
While the plot involves both Luke and Han, they are not as central to the story as Leia is. She is very much the heart and soul of the novel. And yet, their scenes are trademark scenes, which fit the characters like a glove. These are the characters that I’ve grown up reading, characters I’ve always admired, characters I love. And everything is to the writer’s credit here. She understands the characters in and out, despite the fact that she is writing them at the very earliest stages of their career.
Coming on the heels of Crucible, I enjoyed this novel all the more. It is a fast-paced ride through the Star Wars setting, populated by really fun characters, some really crazy impending death situations, and creative resolutions. This is what I love about the setting, and the Star Wars Expanded Universe. There is so much diversity of all kinds here, and Martha Wells engages that diversity to turn out what is a very fun novel to read. And given that pacing is so perfect, it also proves to be a really easy read, without any sections where the story gets bogged down in minutiae or where things just get completely uninteresting.
Given that we have more than 40 years of in-universe development of these characters, everything still feels fresh. More importantly, Martha is able to put the characters in life-and-death situations with a very real and immediate sense of jeopardy. The novel kept me on my toes and turning the pages, wanting to find out what was going to happen next. That is something that I can really appreciate. At no point did I feel like there wasn’t a point to the story just because I have all this advance knowledge of their development, their future.
Ultimately, and much as with Crucible, Razor’s Edge shows that the problems facing the characters can be very small-scale in the grand scheme of things. Not every Star Wars story need involve the Force, or Sith Lords, or Imperial Moffs or alien races bent on genocide or what have you. Martha Wells keeps things relatively simple and straightforward in that aspect.
This is her first novel in the Star Wars setting, and I’m certainly up for reading more from her. In fact, I’d love to see some kind of an Old Republic novel from her, where her creativity can run wild and she can expand on a little-developed chronological era of the setting. I think that would truly be fantastic. In the meantime, it is Razor’s Edge that is fantastic. Such a fun novel.