Aug 31, 2009

YetiReview: Abyss (FotJ Book 3)

20 words or less: Fate of the Jedi plotline begins to pick up in a typically uneven Denning novel that does more right than wrong.

My Rating: 3.5/5

Pros: Interesting Luke/Ben subplot finally delivers on potential; Spot-on characterizations; Series plotlines finally start to come together

Cons: Poorly written dream sequences; Denning continues to demonstrate a weakness for describing action sequences; Techspeak crutch used to arrange scenes

The Review: After reading Omen (review here), the Fate of the Jedi series left a bad taste in my mouth. Now, after Troy Denning’s Abyss, I’m happy to say the series appears to be back on track. In the first two books, it was clear that LucasBooks were trying to fix some of the issues that plagued their first attempts at large story-arcs (of the 9+ book variety); mostly regarding continuity errors, sloppy characterizations, and dropped plotlines. It was easy to see that each book had a specific start and end-point and the author was responsible for navigating between the two. This structured approach felt unwieldy in the first two books, possibly a result of the authors not being given enough plot to fill a 350 page book with or creative struggles on the author’s part. It might be the fact that the overarching plotlines are finally starting to intertwine, but Abyss felt like a fully developed story rather than 3 unrelated novellas that simply occupied the same chronological space in the Star Wars Universe. The characters all have something interesting to do, rather than visiting the galactic pet market or teaching sages the importance of living life to the fullest or whatever one-dimensional storyline was used to bridge the predefined end points for Han, Leia, and Luke.

The Luke/Ben plotline specifically was a huge improvement over previous entries and very interesting in its own right. Retracing Jacen’s journey to various Force-wielding cultures around the galaxy sounds like a very intriguing story on paper. However, the first two entries came and went with only minor amounts of “galaxy-building” development or Force philosophy leaving only a massive amount of wasted potential behind. With the Mind Walkers, a secretive sect hidden amidst the galaxy’s largest Black Hole cluster, Denning delivers on that original potential, fleshing out a strange and possibly ill-intentioned group of Force-users that inhabit an equally mysterious space station. In previous books, the Luke/Ben story was a glaring weakness. In Abyss, Denning has improved it into one of it’s strengths.

The second plotline concerning the “Jedi-sickness” plaguing young Jedi Knights continued as well. This was one of the most intriguing parts of the first two books and Denning managed to add some much needed momentum to the story after it started to crawl in Golden’s Omen (10% of the book involved two characters going to dinner). The multi-faceted Jedi/Republic/Empire/Press conflict continues to develop as loyalties change and additional incidents occur. The third plotline is Sith being Sithly. Which doesn’t disappoint, although they aren’t quite as evil as they possibly should be. Clearly, all three plotlines are related but this is the one that is really going to make things interesting in the books to come. Overall, the series made tremendous improvements plot-wise in this volume.

While I was much happier with the plot advancement of Abyss, it still had some stylistic problems, albeit not nearly as many as Omen. Where Golden was a Star Wars “noob” still finding her voice, Denning is a seasoned Star Wars author. He gets what Star Wars characters do and don’t say (at least pre-Phantom Menace characters anyways). The majority of the dialogue and galaxy-building is strong aside from Denning’s tendency for tech-dumping. Inventing “mirfields”, “wallscopes”, and other technologies for a single scene is more lazy writing than anything else. Rather than trying to come up with an internally consistent reason for the situation he wants to write, Denning resorts to “new technological advancements” to introduce a conflict. It doesn’t help that these buzzwords never really get explained and don’t make much sense from any of the context clues. This is further compounded by Denning’s apparent inability to write an action sequence. As soon as the action gets going, whether it’s the exploration of an ancient run-down space station, a lightsaber battle in zero gee, or a chase through the streets of Coruscant, the characters get lost in general spatial vagueness and an absolute vacuum of detail. Anyone who has scene Star Wars knows that the visual elements are tremendously important and Denning just can’t deliver up to expectations. I spend so much time trying to figure out what is actually happening that it’s almost impossible to get lost in the thrill of a fight. Normally, I would be a little lenient but Denning does this in every Star Wars book he has every written. I suggest he try a little Joe Abercrombie to see what how an action scene should be done.

Ignoring my distaste for a couple of Denning’s bad habits, Abyss is still a worthwhile entry in the Fate of the Jedi series and it really put the series back on track without straying from the more rigid serialized structure that is cleaning up the series continuity issues quite nicely. This was especially nice to see after Omen failed to advance the plot in any appreciable way and wasted a huge opportunity with the Luke/Ben subplot. Honestly though, if you aren’t a Star Wars junkie like me, there’s nothing really worth talking about. I would say you were missing much. As a fanboy, however, I’m very eager to see where the story goes in future volumes. Unfortunately for me, FotJ Book 4, Backlash, won’t be out until next March.

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