Star Wars: Honour Among Thieves by James S. A. Corey – Book Review [Bellarius]
Bellarius takes a look at a more conventional tale from the Star Wars universe with Honour Among Thieves by James S. A. Corey.
“A fantastic tale which will appeal to both casual and experienced fans alike” – Bellarius. The Founding Fields
Set during the Rebellion era, Honour Among Thieves is very much a back to basics story. Taking place between films while the initial war against the Empire was in full swing and Coruscant had yet to even be retaken, it examines the place of Han Solo during this time. Ever so much the rogue, he is tasked with the sort of mission an expert smuggler knows only too well – Find someone in the middle of dangerous territory, ensure no one finds them, and bring them back alive. Things unfortunately go awry very quickly when the person, expert rebel spy Scarlet Hark, cannot return. What she has uncovered is far too dangerous and valuable to merely ignore…
As you might have guessed from the cover, Solo himself is firmly the focus of the novel. Much more like the smuggler we saw in A New Hope than the commander of later films, a large chunk of the book is spent exploring the character’s initial thoughts at that time. His pessimism, attitude towards others and even lack of faith in either side. Most notable among these is the fact that, while he understands the Empire needs to be toppled, he believes that any effort by the Rebellion to take power will ultimately corrupt it into something just as bad. As far as he is concerned, he is looking for something much less complicated in life and does not see it as being his fight. At the story’s beginning, all he really wants is to remove the price on his head.
While the book does not openly refer to previous novels exploring Solo’s history, Honour Among Thieves fits in surprisingly well with the stuff Timothy Zahn and many others have created. His personality and outlook at this stage aligns well with what we saw at the end of Rebel Dawn and as the book progresses you begin to see just why he stayed with the rebellion. While hardly a full blown character study, it follows a manner oddly similar to Angel Exterminatus’ treatment of Perturabo. The reader learns more about him and comes to understand how he shifted from the part of him which was a self serving smuggler to fully embodying his far more heroic elements.
This really is the book’s main draw and it’s extremely effective for two reasons: It’s easy for casual fans of the franchise to get used to, easing themselves into the idea of the Expanded Universe, and it provides a very solid arc for the story to work from. We get to see Solo’s both entertainingly smug arrogance, believe me the novel is worth buying for the bit where he masquerades as an Imperial officer alone, but also a deeper personality behind that.
Of course, the rest of the tale beyond this is very entertaining. It’s the exact kind of science fiction adventure the franchise is best known for and is bolstered by a good supporting cast. Along with Chewbacca, obviously, the presence of Hark proves to be a great foil for the smugglers. As a disciplined, devoted character hellbent on carrying out her cause, there are enough shades of her character to strike up similarities with Solo yet continually clash due to their opposing stances on the war. While unfortunately feeling far too much like Winter at times, her nature proves to be a great addition to the plot. The same goes for Baasen Ray, who emphasises the thieves part of the title and really shows more of amorality you’d expect to find in criminals of the galaxy.
Contrasting with this is the villain of the piece, Essio Galassian. He’s not only forgettable, but is barely even in the book. The characters near constantly speak of his ruthless nature, beefing him up and creating the idea of him being a major threat. This would have been perfect had he been introduced a few chapters in, but it just keeps going and by the time he turns up he’s not only frustratingly underwhelming but lacks any sense of being a truly significant threat.
The action scenes themselves are great, especially a number of the space segments which never fail to be an explosive ride to keep the book’s pace going. While hardly up to the scale usually found in the novels we cover, usually emphasising upon a few characters over whole armies, what is given is delivered in punchy, brief descriptions which keep the action scenes as fast flowing engagements.
This said, they do have the habit of going completely and utterly over the top. Some background details like having half a squadron of X-Wings bring down a Star Destroyer are high on this list, but more so are moments such as leaping between moving aircraft while trying to escape an exploding planet. No matter how good the action is, these bits push that immersion too far and make you shake your head in dismay. It’s unfortunate as with a few easy edits and a little more restraint, these failings could have been easily fixed in an early draft. Other elements are also extremely unnecessary, such as the creation of yet another ancient, advanced and very powerful race of now extinct aliens known as the k’kybak. Nothing here really required that another should be added to the lore and a previously established faction such as the Infinite Empire would have been more than adequate for the story’s needs.
Combined with a very sudden wrap-up which felt as if it was being compressed down for page space, and the final few chapters really serve as a let down to a much better story. It’s frustrating to see this as, again, many of the problems could have been so easily fixed with just a handful of minor changes or even a few more pages for content.
Despite these problems though, Honour Among Thieves is a great story and a very good entry point into the EU. If you cannot get your hands on the X-Wing series or Thrawn saga, then here’s the book you should be looking for. It’s entertaining, well paces, well written and despite its problems you’re definitely going to pick this up more than once for a decent read. It’s even one of the few novels where the often, tediously, overused plot element of a superweapon actually works for once. Definitely get this one if you’re at all interested in the galaxy far, far away. Then watch as it, along with everything else in the Expanded Universe, is retconned to oblivion and people pretend it never happened.
There’s really no justice sometimes.