After a brief break for L. M. Montgomery, I’m back to focusing on the Sci Fi Experience. I enjoyed the break and was happy to go back to lasers and aliens…but I am sorry to say that I was sadly disappointed by the next installment of the Callista Trilogy, Star Wars: Darksaber by Kevin J. Anderson. There was an author switch here, and it showed–though I was quite surprised, as I know Anderson is a prominent name in Star Wars novels.
This one picks up shortly after Children of the Jedi (my review here), with continuing character threads but a new plotline. Callista and Luke are on a search for a way to restore her lost Jedi powers. Leia is in political negotiations with the Hutts (as in, Jabba the), who are secretly building a super-weapon using the plans of the Deathstar. Han has pretty much nothing to do but follow along with Leia. Meanwhile out on the fringes, Admiral Daala and Vice-Admiral Pellaeon are striving to unify the squabbling remnants of the Empire to attack the New Republic, and especially the Jedi Academy.
You might already be able to tell that this plot is rather fractured. The Hutts and the Empire pose two major threats that, as far as I can tell, have absolutely nothing to do with each other. I honestly don’t know why they’re both in one book.
I did actually quite like one minor plot thread, involving one of Luke’s Jedi trainees. Dorsk 81 is from a world of clones; he’s the first one to have Jedi powers and the first one in a very long time to do anything unexpected. He returns to his home planet hoping to serve with his new abilities, only to find his community expects him to go back to conforming. This was an intriguing culture that could have been explored more thoroughly, and it’s too bad it was in a book that was already over-stuffed with plot elements.
Possibly more problematic than a fractured plot is the fractured point of view. Star Wars books typically jump between different characters, and I don’t object on principle. This one, however, spends so much time in the POV of supporting characters or villains that I feel like I barely saw Han and Leia at all.
We spend far too much time in the POV of Admiral Daala, who is a decent enough villain but not that special for the amount of attention she gets here. We also spend a lot of time in the POV of Bevel Lemelisk, an engineer behind the Death Star who’s now working for the Hutts. Despite spending too much time with Lemelisk, I still have no idea why he’s working for the Hutts. He doesn’t seem to be trapped; he’s not bloodthirsty; he’s plainly not enjoying the experience; he’s not unaware of the destructive power of his creations, and yet he gives the consequences no thought at all. I’m guessing his motivation is sheer love of his craft, but I haven’t the faintest idea why he’s choosing this way to express it.
That leads into the third problem. The characters throughout feel…not quite shallow, but something like that. Perhaps the problem is that the writing is unsubtle. I don’t know exactly how to explain this, so let me invent an example. These aren’t actual quotes, but I think they’re representative. It’s the difference between writing “Leia was sad about Alderaan” and writing “Leia watched the purple sunset and thought wistfully of Alderaan’s blue skies.” They’re both expressing emotions, but Darksaber‘s only method seemed to be to use the first, and just announce what a character felt. Characters do feel things, even deep things, but there’s somehow no depth to the writing.
Perhaps I’m most disappointed by the portrayal of Callista. She felt more alive when she was a Jedi ghost in the first book. Even worse, I didn’t like how her personal journey was handled. The facts of the situation are: she’s a Jedi Knight from a previous generation who has been isolated for thirty years, now inhabiting a new body in a galaxy that is very different from her earlier experience, who finds herself unable to touch the Force.
You’d think a character with all that going on could hardly help but be deep and complex. But none of that is explored in the slightest way, except for her inability to reach the Force. That’s the primary focus, and even that becomes less about her crisis of self-identity than about her inability to Vulcan mindmeld with Luke (to thoroughly mix my galaxies!) The story of their relationship is not a bad direction to go and would certainly be a good element to a larger story…but as-is, it feels like so much less than what could have been done.
Now that I’ve completely torn this book apart, I really should say it’s not a terrible book. It’s not very good, but it’s okay. Perhaps a hazard of writing in a larger universe like Star Wars is that it’s so easy for the reader to see how much better a novel could have been–because there are better Star Wars books out there.
Children of the Jedi doesn’t seem to get much love from hardly anyone, but I greatly preferred it to its sequel. So all in all–I’m looking forward to jumping back into Barbara Hambly’s writing for the third book in the trilogy.
Buy it here: Darksaber by Kevin J. Anderson