Dec 28, 2009

YetiReview: Crosscurrent


30 Words or Less: In one of the better Star Wars novels in recent memory, Kemp portrays a more intimate adventure focusing on two Jedi and their dance with the dark side.

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Good: Feels like Star Wars (and Dark Forces Star Wars no less); Tight plot focusing on a small cast of characters allows for character development and intrigue; Action sequences that are well written and exciting; Jedi characters are represented as intelligent, fallible beings.

The Bad: Some plot elements might turn SW fans off; At points it feels like it might be channeling the OT just a little too much; I would have liked more integration with the Dark Forces backstory

Just before Christmas I was given an early present; the opportunity to review Paul Kemp’s debut Star Wars novel, Crosscurrent, almost a month before it hit shelves. Star Wars has always a guilty pleasure for me and Kemp’s teases of a Jaden Korr adventure had me eagerly anticipating the novel. However, just because Star Wars is a guilty pleasure doesn’t mean I go any easier on it. I might expect a different kind of experience then I do reading pure science fiction or epic fantasy (Star Wars is a little of both) but I still expect strong characters, interesting storylines, and professional quality writing. Any honest fan will tell you that recent Star Wars books haven’t always delivered. Lazy plotting, character arcs mutated by exposure to plot-onium, and other subpar writing techniques have diminished the luster of the galaxy I grew up reading. Much to my surprise, Crosscurrent exceeded my expectations and delivered a Star Wars novel that reminded me what I love about the galaxy far, far away.

The main strength of Crosscurrent is in its intimate scope and tight plotting. Rather than a galaxy spanning epic, Kemp focuses his storytelling on a cast of six and how their fates intertwine above an icy moon deep in the Unknown Regions of the galaxy. There are a few other surprise cameos here but the short dramatis personnae teased by Kemp is accurate. One half of the action follows Jaden Korr as he tries to re-evaluate his devotion to the Jedi order and interpret the will of the Force in light of recent events. The other portion takes place 5000 years in the past as a master and padawan attempt to stop a Sith ship whose cargo could have dire implications for the Jedi Order and the Old Republic. Anyone who has read the Amazon summary knows that the two plots do eventually “cross currents” but there is more going on than the blurb will lead you to believe. As a warning, the methods used to get everyone in the same place may turn off a few readers with conservative conceptions of what you can and can’t do in a Star Wars novel but Kemp provides enough detail to make it work.

Kemp weaves the storylines together wonderfully, hopping between PoVs to build suspense and balance the duality of predator and prey, two roles that are not always assigned as expected in the latest Star Wars paperback. There aren’t any scenes that jump out as superfluous, something that has been increasing problematic in SW novels as of late. Every PoV features a unique, enjoyable voice which their own concepts of fate and the Force and how the two should interact. Despite the scope of the novel being very tight and a page count of only 318, Crosscurrent still manages to do a lot between the covers. As Jaden begins to realize why the Force has called him to this backwater system in the Unknown Regions, the suspense ratchets up a notch, drawing you into the plot in a way few Star Wars novels manage to do. I honestly didn't know what to expect and can't wait for Kemp's follow up effort.

As I briefly mentioned, Kemp’s Force users aren’t your typical cookie cutter Jedi and Sith but fully realized three-dimensional characters who don’t see the universe purely in black and white. As the twin plotlines begin to intersect, they form a crossroads for the six main characters. The characters face decisions that could mean the difference between life and death, light and dark. They feel genuinely human (or alien, you know what I mean) but despite their flaws, you are genuinely interested in their fates. If anything, I’m reminded of the Jedi of the Dark Forces video game series (in which Jaden Korr makes his first appearance). You might aspire to be a bastion of light but sometimes you just want to fry a little Sithspawn with a healthy dose of Force Lightning. (If you’ve played those games, you know what I’m talking about. If you don’t, you should, those games are excellent)

While the Jedi are the focus of the novel, Kemp doesn't forget to channel his inner Han Solo, managing to weave some ancillary characters into the mix. Crosscurrent gives prominent roles to an assassin/bounty hunter used to operating in the shadows and a pair of down on their luck salvage traders who happen to be in the wrong cantina on the wrong day. The “Force muggle” role is one often forgotten amidst the lightsabers and the force lightning and it’s a pleasure to see that dynamic back in play. From page one on which we get a traditional SW opening, it's evident that Kemp really captured the feel of Star Wars; something which is surprisingly hard to do (I’m looking at you, Prequel Trilogy). Too often lately, Star Wars novels have been mostly mediocre, assuming that if you put Luke, Han, and Leia in a book and have them run around for 250 pages, the book will be worth reading. Crosscurrent on the other hand is a return to the high adventure of the Original Trilogy in the same vein as The Empire Strikes Back or Return of the Jedi (minus the Ewoks).

Not only is Crosscurrent an enjoyable Star Wars novel, it’s an enjoyable novel, period. The prose and the action are very well written and you can really get a visual sense of the action sequences with enough flavor to prevent it from reading like little more than a movie screenplay. There are going to be a lot of little things that the average sci-fi fan isn’t going to be clued into but Crosscurrent is one of the few Star Wars novels accessible enough to recommend to anyone looking for a good space adventure. If you are a Star Wars fan, Kemp's debut should be a must read for you. If you’ve just seen the movies, Crosscurrent is all of the fun Star Wars has to offer with none of the baggage typically attached to tie-in fiction.

3 comments:

  1. Any other Star Wars novels you highly recommend? I've tried quite a few, and the only ones I liked were the Timothy Zahn Thrawn books, and even those I didn't enjoy quite as much on a reread.

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  2. Have you read the Stackpole/Allston X-Wing books? Those are top-notch. Zahn's Visions of the Future/Spectres of the Past duology is strong and depending on what you like there are a lot of other great novels within the bigger series like NJO and LotF. They aren't all great but there are some diamonds in the rough. The trouble is that for most of them you need to read all of them to understand everything.

    I would also recommend the Knights of the Old Republic comics

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