*****Spoiler warning: events in the book are discussed*****
I came into Fate of the Jedi: Apocalypse with pretty much no real expectations. After being repeatedly disappointed by the series, I had reached a point where I no longer had hopes as to what would happen in this book and I didn’t even want to speculate anymore.
Troy Denning had a lot of plots and characters to tie up, and make sense of, so I mostly wanted to see how it all ended. It would have been easy to dump a bunch of the elements from this series or resolve some with status reports, but Denning is much craftier than that. He weaves nearly all the aspects together in a manner that makes this by far one of the best books of the series.
The only excitement I had going in was that Jaina and Jag were finally on a cover. Sure it’s the back cover, which occasionally has been a death slot, and they don’t look quite how I think of them. And apparently Jaina’s lightsaber is on some dim-mode where it isn’t a light source. But yay! Cover!
With an opening that gave me an Ocean’s 11 vibe, though, I was riveted from the start. Once all the Jedi players were in place, the story took off. The pacing in the first 200 pages or so is compelling, and the characters and plot are captivating. Add in a healthy dose of kick-ass action and for the first time since Outcast, I did not want to put a Fate of the Jedi book down. Finally it felt that the stakes in this series were high. The book cover blurbs kept saying they were, but the insides didn’t ring true with that until now. I even found myself worried that some of the well-known characters might not make it out alive. Denning pushes a few of them – Corran, Luke, Jaina, and Ben in particular – to the brink, and the fact that I cared speaks not only to my previously existing attachment to the characters, but also to how Denning added to their value in this story.
Unfortunately, it’s not practical to keep up a pace like that for 400+ pages, so I knew a slowdown would come. And when it did, my excitement definitely diffused. The second half of the book is still good, but for me it just couldn’t live up to the first half.
Denning does a nice job of showing instead of telling. Finally we aren’t reminded five dozen times that Sith are bad. We see it – in the way they fight, in the chaos they cause on Corsucant, in the self-serving decisions of Vestara. We can see right away where Jaina and Jag stand in their relationship without them getting into a blatant discussion about it, or even being in the same room. It’s in the way he schedules time to worry about her, or how she uses her brief downtime in battle to put a call out to him.
If there’s a big writing annoyance in Apocalypse, it’s the penchant for repetition that really shows its face in the second half. With pacing that is already slower than the preceding chapters, the near word-for-word copy/paste descriptions only serve to slow it down even more. And while I understand that, for example, Tekli needed to tell the Council what her group learned from Thuruht’s history of the universe – and due to surrounding circumstances that couldn’t have happened off-screen – I couldn’t find the value to the reader in her repeating almost exactly what was said pages earlier, instead of using a technique like “And then Tekli shared what they’d learned about the Ones and Abeloth’s role in their history.” Also I hope to never have to read that description of Abeloth’s “scary face” again; I feel like I read about her pinpoint eyes, wide mouth, coarse hair, and tentacles in nearly the same wording at least thirty times. In fact, if you were looking for a drinking game to play with this book, it’s Abeloth descriptions. Please, for your own safety, don’t try to play the whole book in one day.
And feelings aside about how poorly the whole opening epigraph from Outcast was used in the series, the book-end for it in Apocalypse is beautiful.
“The darkness was eternal, all-powerful, unchangeable.
She had stared into it for too many years, alone and unblinking, determined that it would
not take her.
Now she was no longer alone.
Now she was lighting a candle.”
You’d be hard-pressed to accuse Denning of not thinking out this story. The whole book is so thoughtfully designed – especially compared to the series as a whole – and yet it never reads like he’s trying too hard. Of course Apocalypse has the advantage of being the last book of the series, meaning it has to have some sort of end, but it manages to be a self-contained story. It’s kind of late to move away from the rolling tide feel the rest of the series suffered from, but it’s welcome nonetheless.
Beginning one month after Ascension – and what a boring month that must have been for the good guys, while Jag sat in space having a staring contest with Daala and the Jedi infiltration team practiced undetectable lying – this book literally separates itself from that one. And from beginning to end Denning firmly grounds the story in time. It’s noted by characters, and lends to the pace and comprehension. The transition from chapter 23 to 24 is especially slick thanks to it. We know who is where and when, and what occurs concurrently, before, or after what. Everything flows together really well.
All that said, there are still plot points that are vague. Is Tahiri really an official Imperial Hand? Or is she just given the ID of one? Who is presiding over the wedding? Is it Kyp? Thuruht’s history of the Ones also comes to mind. They tell history as they currently know it, but as the Jedi recognize, with a hive mind that story isn’t totally reliable. There’s an arc in The Clone Wars that deals with Mortis and the Ones, but I haven’t seen it and I don’t think it’s necessary to get the gist of what Thuruht is saying. Is it real? Has it turned into more of a myth? Will finding the Dagger of Mortis really bring a final end to Abeloth? In the end it doesn’t matter, because everyone gets the job done. And while it’s a little annoying at times, I believe Denning leaves vagueness for a purpose – whether it’s to lend an air of mystery, to let the reader decide for herself or himself, or just to start arguments between fans. He seems to like being devious like that.
Denning also uses POV very cleverly to make the characters more dimensional. In one instance, we get to clearly see Vestara is only out for herself while simultaneously seeing why Ben would think she wasn’t. In another, we get to see how helpless Han sometimes feels without him having to admit it to anyone and betray his “tough guy” exterior.
I really enjoyed the balance Denning struck in featuring so many characters. Of course some of them, like Tenel Ka, I’d like to see even more of, but there’s a limit when you have so many players. What I especially liked, though, was how many of the characters I could feel proud of or at least respect. The only one I distinctly remember wanting to shake some sense into was Raynar, but even then, he just couldn’t help himself trying to do the right thing.
And thank goodness the whole issue of where Vestara stands – Sith or Jedi? Love of Ben real or not real? – gets laid out early on – Sith, real – and is reliable the rest of the way through. We see that she can still be interesting without being a giant question mark.
Also, for the first time in the series, the bad guys actually made me nervous. The Sith were finally very imposing and wicked in the chaos they wrecked on Coruscant – whether by crazy Jedi Spice War stories BAMR pushed to the public, or the literal fires and destruction they wrought on the buildings. They completely upended life as everyone on the planet knew it. And while some of the Sith didn’t individually seem like too big of a threat as Jaina and Ben easily mowed through them, their sheer numbers did. After you’ve skewered your 47th combatant and 24 of them tried to fry you with Force lightning, it kind of wears you down.
As for Abeloth, I still think she was an interesting concept for a villain that fell apart in the execution. Her taking over bodies left and right in Apocalypse finally made her kind of scary. She could pop up anywhere without anyone realizing it right away, and that upped the danger for everyone. For a good chunk of the series Luke and Ben were searching for her, but it’s much creepier when they don’t realize she’s standing right behind them.
I’m still not sure what to make of Allana. Her portrayal has swayed wildly dependent on who is writing her. Even putting that aside, I kept having to remind myself how old she’s supposed to be. There are plenty of times when Jysella, Jaina, or Ben took action and I was right there cheering them on. But when a nine-year-old piggyback rides her friend into battle firing a giant blaster like she’s been doing it her whole life, kills another sentient being for the first time, then kills several more, and then insists on watching said friend get slain by several Sith and a laser cannon… I realize kids featured in the EU tend to have to start fighting pretty young, but I just couldn’t get behind this one. The poor child better be getting some sort of emotional support after all this. Not to mention, she also has had to keep several big secrets, feels it in the Force when 300 people blow up, thinks at two points that her grandmother and grandfather each might have been killed right near her, makes choices that lead to someone’s death, and ends the book carrying the weight that she will have to take on a role where “trillions of lives would depend on her decisions.” That’s a lot for anyone, regardless of age. (Also, I’d like to note that Zekk and Taryn are some of the worst bodyguards ever.)
The good news is that Han and Leia at least try to make stronger parenting choices in this book, and there’s a fair share of Han slinging his dry humor around. As for Luke, we watch him slide between eerily serene Grand Master and human father, a switch-up that’s nice to see. The grounding talk Jaina has with him towards the end brings welcome heft to both characters. Jaina herself is in fantastic form throughout Apocalypse; more on her later. Over in the Empire there’s Jag, who also plays a fairly large role while serving up Fel badassery in an intriguing glimpse of how strong a leader and tactician he is. That’s right, the back cover wasn’t for nothing!
“No – I’m saying you should do what you know is right… And you do know what is right. It’s simple – it’s always simple.” Jaina to Luke, page 379
Overall this book was much more descriptively violent than I typically expect for Star Wars. Denning seems to favor putting holes in someone’s head only slightly more than the diagonal slash through the torso as the optimal way of slaying your enemy. I get that when you’re in battle against Force-wielders willing to fight to the death, as well as a ruthless ancient Force-demon, there’s going to be violence. But sometimes it would be enough to say that Jaina threw a frag grenade into the transport tube the Sith were following them through and then those Sith weren’t a problem anymore; the bloody fountain of Sith chunks that came after really wasn’t necessary. I guess you could argue when Anakin came out of the duel in Revenge of the Sith he was more than a bit of a mess, but for the most part in Star Wars the violence is pretty clean. Darth Maul is in two pieces, but we don’t see him running around with his intestines hanging out; several beings fell into the Sarlaac pit, but no one saw any of their bloody arms or legs being spat out. The graphic descriptions do give some gravitas to the situations, but I just think there were more than enough times it went too far.
Beyond the gore, the rest of Star Wars – the action (more so on the ground than in space, although there was some deft piloting), the bad guys against good guys, the bits of romance, the fight to save the galaxy, the relationships, the hope, and the humor – was all there. There are even several tribute quotes from the movies if you keep an eye out for them, including “I killed them. All of them.” and “Charming to the last.” Denning’s humor tends to be on the dry side, but I laughed out loud after Han’s mumblings about the “three-fingered shenbit wrangler.” It pops up perfectly when things are getting really tense.
Some Fangirl Perspective
Yay for distinct female characters grappling with their own issues and finding a way through to the end!
Jysella Horn and Saba Sebatyne – Keeping the number of female Jedi in play up, Jysella and Saba bring two totally different perspectives and styles to the action united by the Jedi cause. Both, of course, are welcome.
Tenel Ka – Hey, remember her? She’s back and she has a bit of personality! We get to see her as a leader as well as a mother, giving Allana guidance while empowering her. She’s still relegated to more of a character defined by her function than a solid whole-story character. Her contribution is quite touching, though, and it reveals more of who she is and what her internal conflict is than what we’ve seen in quite a long time.
“All you need to do is listen to your heart. Your heart tells you what is right and just. If you do that, the future will take care of itself.” Tenel Ka to Allana, page 49
Tahiri Veila – Within this book, I’m kind of excited to see Tahiri again. In the last series she made some pretty terrible life choices. In this series they told us she made those choices passively, as a victim, and then extended her victim-hood to the way the justice system treated her. But in Apocalypse she’s re-established as a hero who has stepped out of the dark. She doesn’t know if she’s a Jedi and she’s pretty rough around the edges, but Tahiri is committed to being a good guy going forward. We get to see characters like Jag and Jaina believing that Tahiri will do the right thing, but we also get to see those like Reige who only previously knew her for her misdeeds. For me, that shadow cast by the previous twelve books will always be right behind her, but this portrayal gave me hope that maybe she could stick around with the good guys. Jag and Jaina could use more friends, anyway.
Vestara Khai – At long last we all get to be on the same page about who Vestara is. We haven’t seen much of her operating without the shrouding mists of dubiousness since the beginnings of the series, and it’s really refreshing when she steps into the light – or dark, as it is. She can’t shake what she fundamentally believes, but she wants to try so she can be with Ben. Then, breaking out of Ben’s orbit, Vestara realizes she has to do what is right for her – and that may mean she won’t be able to make those two worlds coexist. She eventually comes to accept that to a certain degree. At one point while reading I noted Vestara’s priorities: 1) survive at all costs, 2) rejoin her people if possible, 3) anything with Ben = added bonus. Her emotions in the moment sometimes make her hesitate, or she may fleetingly wish the situation wasn’t the case, but I liked that, for the reader, she was pretty reliable. I’m not a fan of hers. I don’t like what she put Allana through, or Ben, for that matter. But I respect what was done with her character in this book and found her interesting.
Jaina Solo – Finally, Jaina is back to being a character I am not embarrassed by. Her actions in some other parts of the series made her look like she was back-sliding into immaturity and wishy-washy-ness. But here she’s solid. She’s not invincible (pun half-intended) and that’s okay. She loves deeply, is still in touch with her emotions, and fights like a warrior. She’s reached a balance between Yuuzhan-Vong-War-Give-It-All-I’ve-Got Jaina and Mature-With-a-Dash-of-Zen Jaina. For the first time in a long time, I felt like Jaina was actually part of the Jedi Order. No more going off on her own; no more being used or left out. They recognize and respect her abilities and include her. In turn, she works well with whomever she’s assigned. And the Sword of the Jedi title is used as a honor instead of a prophecy of doom. All this makes the overdue promotion to Master seem natural, even if I did think, sure, give it to her now that you think she’s going to die. Jaina no longer flips out over the Sith, but she doesn’t trust them either. She just prefers to keep them unarmed and at a distance if she’s going to have to deal with them. She’s looking out for others and she goes with the flow, easily switching objectives when the situation calls for it. And she knows how to speak to guide the other person instead of ordering someone around, which is especially apparent in her interactions with Ben. All in all she’s a strong person beyond using the Force.
“But he had fallen in love with a courageous, dedicated, stubborn woman, and he had accepted long ago that there would be time like this in their relationship–and soon, their marriage. He wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.” Jag, thinking about Jaina, page 361
The Jaina and Jag Relationship – Finally (to the ninth power), the Jaina and Jag roller coaster of annoying drama has come to a complete stop. We may disembark, take small children by the hand, and rejoice. Jaina and Jag clearly have a strong relationship throughout this book and it is way more interesting to read than the floundering debacle that took place earlier in the series. And the brilliant thing is, this is all expressed without them even being in the same place at the same time on the page until the very end of the book at their wedding. Now they’re finally at a point that they probably should have been at a long time ago, but you know what? I’ll take it.
Although the whole wedding didn’t happen on-page, it was a classic Star Wars ending of hope endures. While brief, it managed to highlight the closeness of the Solos and get many of the good guys in one room. I even appreciated the detail of Kyp waiting at the end of the aisle to start the saber honor guard; he was there at the beginning of their relationship and now he’s there when they cement their partnership. Definitely fitting.
After a series fraught with repetition and not much forward momentum, a lot happens in this book. We stick a solid return to exploring the idea of doing what’s right or what’s expected of us, determining the two, and deciding which path to take when those things do not coincide or we’re just unsure. The stakes finally seem high. It’s tough on everyone. There are some thrilling characterizations. And the good guys win for the time being – at least from a certain point of view. It’s a spectacular ending to what came across as a poorly planned series, illustrating how much stronger the series could have been if it had fewer books in it. As I’ve said nine times already: finally!
Kay grew up wanting to be an astronaut. After seeing Star Wars, she wanted to be Princess Leia, Han Solo, and an astronaut. Life’s taken her on a bit of a different path for now, but she’s still a Star Wars fangirl at heart who enjoys surprising people with how geeky she really is. Currently a photographer who also specializes in communications and marketing, Kay spends her free time reading, cooking, writing, learning and, of course, making pew pew noises.
The publisher provided FANgirl Blog a review copy of this book.