The Last Jedi

July 31, 2017 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

lastThe Last Jedi by Michael Reaves and Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff


It’s weird returning to an adult Star Wars book after having read so many juvenile books previously. It makes the differences between the two literature stand out, since the simplified storytelling of the juvenile books makes for such quick, easy reads. Plus, the shorter lengths of the juvenile books meant there weren’t many subplots; with The Last Jedi, they’re more prominent.

Reaves returns to his usual cast of characters with The Last Jedi, bringing back Jax Pavan, I-5YQ, and Den Dhur, all of whom featured in the Coruscant Nights series. In fact, it follows the events of Patterns of Force so much that I’m surprised it’s not a part of that series. In this book, Thi Xon Yimmon, Jedi Knight and leader of the Whiplash rebellion group, is kidnapped by Darth Vader, and Jax goes on a long journey to get him back. Jax also loses Laranth in the same confrontation where Yimmon is kidnapped, so he’s entertaining dark thoughts, and is tempted by the dark side, especially since he has a Sith holocron in his possession. Jax struggles to balance the Force within himself, and for most of the novel, he’s doing his own thing, without any input from I-5 or Den.

Part of what made Reaves’ other Expanded Universe novels interesting was his use of these central characters, building on and developing their characters from one story to the next. From I-5’s sardonic quips to Den’s pessimistic outlook, with Jax trying to manage the entire group despite all of that, the characters were engaging and served as the anchor for the stories. By dividing them in this book, Reaves removes the key to his story, and it’s a lot less interesting for it. Jax travels from place to place trying to locate and rescue Yimmon, and sometimes I-5 and Den are with him, and sometimes they aren’t. In fact, for as much as I-5 and Den actually serve a purpose in the book, they may as well not even have been featured at all.

For as lengthy as this book is (460 pages), not much happens. There’s a lot of traveling, a lot of backtracking, and a lot of angst-ridden introspection that carries the story, and frankly it’s pretty boring. Under different circumstances, it might not have bothered me much, but after reading the cleaner, more direct juvenile books, The Last Jedi wasn’t the right book to ease me back in to reading the adult books. I’ve been toying with shifting my attention to the new canon books and reading those to stay on top of the new movies, and this might be a good time to make that shift. I’ve made my way through and beyond the prequel trilogies, and the next book I have to read is from the older wave of EU novels. I believe my next read in this project will be Catalyst.

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The Marvels

July 28, 2017 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, )

maRVELSThe Marvels by Brian Selznick


Brian Selznick is a fantastic writer. The Invention of Hugo Cabret was so good, and Wonderstruck even better, that I bought a copy of The Marvels around when it was released. It took me a few years to get around to reading it, but I finally bumped it up my to-read list, and I’m pleased to say that it’s as moving a book as either of his first two books.

Selznick’s books are told equally in words and pictures, and The Marvels is no exception. What makes The Marvels different, though, is that the first half of the book is told 100% in pictures. Some of the illustrations have text, but for the most part, they’re wordless, and tell the story of a family who lives in the theater. The story goes back to a shipwreck in 1766 and takes us all the way through the early 1900s, showing the lives of a family who worked and were raised in the theater. Then, the story shifts to 1990, and is told 100% through narrative. Like any Selznick book, though, there’s a puzzle beneath the story, telling us more than we realized, and when the pieces all fall into place, the real story shines through.

Selznick creates his characters to be lively and engaging, even when they’re as unlikeable as Uncle Albert, and they’re what carry the story. Had the entire book been told with narrative and pictures interspersed, like he did with his previous two books, it could have become overly complicated — Selznick does tell the story of several generations of one family, after all — but the way he balances the two stories is perfect. In the end, the characters we’re meant to know the most about — Joseph, Albert, and Frankie — are the ones we grow to care about, and that they’re the ones whose lives are covered through the narrative isn’t a coincidence.

I don’t feel like The Marvels is quite as strong as Selznick’s other books (there seems to be a bit too much back-and-forth between Joseph and Albert that doesn’t go anywhere), but that’s not to say that I didn’t like it. It moved me as much as his other books did, enough so that I had to blink several times to be able to make out the words as I neared the end of the book. Anyone who read and enjoyed Selznick’s previous work should read The Marvels; it’s as brilliant as anything else he’s written.

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The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel Power

July 27, 2017 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

squirrel1The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel Power by Ryan North, et al.


I’ve heard a lot about Squirrel Girl, all of it positive. I hear she’s a good role model for kids, especially young girls, and that she’s more inclined to solve problems with diplomacy than with punches. Plus, I hear there’s a loopy sense of humor to the books, so when I saw that these were on sale, I figured it was time for me to see what all the fuss was about.

The good news is I see all of the good I read about in other reviews; the bad news is I still couldn’t get that invested in it. I do think she serves as a strong role model, and it’s refreshing to see a female superhero who isn’t all about skimpy costumes and helping the male superheroes, but the tone of the book put me off. I grew up on Ambush Bug, so I was prepared for loopy and irreverent, but there was something about the characters that didn’t do it for me. Part of it, I think, is the feeling that these books are supposed to be part of official continuity. Continuity, to me, suggests a level of seriousness that doesn’t exist with this title. The fact that she couldn’t keep her secret identity secret (not that it’s broken in this book, but come on; it’s not going to last) opens up a vulnerability to all the characters who know her, and it all fell apart in my head.

There were parts of the story that made me laugh (the Twitter exchanges that started a couple of the issues cracked me up), but for the most part the humor grew tiresome. I gave up on trying to read all of the editorial comments that were at the bottom of each page, as they became distracting, slowed me down, took me away from the story, and in the end weren’t really worth the time. Plus, I was reading a digital copy of the book, and in order to read them all, I had to enlarge the page. It was too much effort for not a lot of gain.

My disappointment might lie with my expectations being too high, but I’m not feeling it so far. I still have a couple other collections to read (they were on sale, and I do still abide by my rule that I have to read at least two collections before drawing any conclusions on a title), but I’m not champing at the bit to get to them. I’ll get there when I get there. I can appreciate the title, and I would recommend it to readers looking for positive comics with a female lead, but so far it’s not going to be a go-to title for me.

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The Last of the Jedi: Reckoning

July 26, 2017 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

reckoningThe Last of the Jedi: Reckoning by Jude Watson


Ferus, one of the last of the Jedi, finally confronts Vader. At the same time, the truth regarding Flame, the mysterious benefactor of the rebellion, is revealed. Ferus also confronts Obi-Wan over his long-term mission, and gets to ask him all the questions we’ve been asking for the entire series. In short, the main plot points of the entire series come to the front here, and the main characters all get a chance to have their reckoning.

I’ve said in other reviews that this series feels more like one long novel instead of a series of novels featuring the same character, and now that I’ve finished the series, I feel that even more strongly. The characters have time to develop from book to book, and even when Watson borrows characters from her other books, or introduces a character we already know enough about without giving us much background (e.g., Bail Organa), they feel real and developed. The later novels are much better than the ones at the beginning of the series, but given how the plot develops, this is no surprise.

With Reckoning, Watson brings The Last of the Jedi — and her foray into the Expanded Universe — to a close, and she does it well. She gives real emotion to her characters, and gets the reader to feel for how things end. Over the ten books, the real connection has been Ferus and Trever’s relationship, and here she brings it to a bittersweet end. For me, that makes the book stronger, and the series one of the best of the juvenile books I’ve read thus far.

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The Last of the Jedi: Master of Deception

July 25, 2017 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

deceptionThe Last of the Jedi: Master of Deception by Jude Watson


Master of Deception takes us to Alderaan, and brings Bail Organa to the front of the story. Ferus, still working for the Empire, is sent to investigate reports of a Force-sensitive child. We already know the reports are accurate, since we know Leia is on Alderaan, but Ferus, still working as a double-agent, works against the reports, trying to downplay the findings.

I find Bail’s character to be one of the more interesting in the Expanded Universe. I feel like he received short shrift in the movies, but he’s been developed into a real character in the EU. His honor and nobility, and his working behind the scenes to try to undermine the Empire, strikes a chord with me. The story continues to show Ferus as he struggles with succumbing to the Dark Side of the Force, but the individual story here shines through the larger story for a change. It’s win-win for me, since I find the larger story to be more compelling, but I also found the main plot of this book to be as interesting.

I have one more book to go in the series, and I’m certainly not going to stop, even if I weren’t already committed to reading all of the EU novels. I get the feeling the overarching plot will be the primary focus of the last novel, and I’m eager to see how Watson pulls it off. She’s been able to portray real emotion with her characters, and with all that could happen in the last novel, I expect it will be a strong conclusion.

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The Last of the Jedi: Against the Empire

July 24, 2017 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

againstThe Last of the Jedi: Against the Empire by Jude Watson


Against the Empire makes a shift in the focus of the series, as Trever becomes the main character for a bit. Once Lune has been enrolled in the Imperial Navy Academy, Trever infiltrates the Academy himself in the hopes to break him out. Of course, it’s not that easy (when is it ever?), and to make it even more difficult, Watson brings back one her most despicable characters — Jenna Zan Arbor.

At the same time, Ferus is struggling with the power of the Dark Side. He’s given over to hate after Vader kills Roan, and now that Palpatine has shown him the power of the Dark Side, he finds himself wanting to kill Vader. He knows what that means, but he struggles to find his balance between the rebellion, playing the Empire, and exacting revenge. It’s some good development, and makes for good storytelling.

I’ve seen a previous review noting that Ferus and Roan’s close relationship suggests they were more than friends, and while I can see where that reviewer is coming from, I find it troubling that two male friends can be that close without having readers think they’re gay. I don’t have a problem with a gay relationship in Star Wars (I feel the need to point that out, since several readers were offended by it in the Aftermath trilogy), but I also feel like it shouldn’t be assumed unless explicitly stated.

I’m still enjoying this series a lot more than I expected. It gets better as it goes, which reinforces my feeling that this series is really just one long novel, broken into parts. I think it works better that way, since the characters are given more space to develop, and I’m excited to see how this is going to end. It’s only been with the last five or six books where I’ve been that caught up in the story.

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The Last of the Jedi: Secret Weapon

July 21, 2017 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

secretThe Last of the Jedi: Secret Weapon by Jude Watson


The Last of the Jedi keeps playing with issues of trust. Watson’s other series have done this, too, since most of the books feature a traitor, but here she’s showing us how that trust affects an internal group. At issue is Ferus’ allegiance: Is it with the rebellion, or the Empire? Playing a double-agent, his conspirators in the rebellion aren’t sure what to think, especially as he becomes more and more the public enforcer for Palpatine’s rule.

The good news is this theme of trust and friendship and loyalty makes for an engaging read. I’ve bumped up my rating of the series with this book, as it starts to take on heavier meaning. I’ve mentioned already that the books feel more like chapters of a larger novel, making the entire series one long story instead of having it be several novels concerning the same characters. While each book has its own conflict, the real plot of the series is that of Ferus and his friends working to build the rebellion. I’m glad I’ve been able to read these books back-to-back, as the singular nature of the entire series is more apparent that way.

The “Secret Weapon” mentioned in the title is pretty obvious to everyone reading the book — it’s the Death Star. It’s odd how Watson (and, admittedly, other writers in the Expanded Universe) dances around this and other plot points that we already know about. Why not work with that knowledge and make it more obvious? There’s no sense in being coy, especially when we get a few chapters from Vader’s perspective.

I have a renewed interest in this series. When I first started reading it, I was looking at it as more books to finish before I could get back to the adult Expanded Universe books, but Watson has surprised me. I’m finding myself reading them because I’m engaged in the characters, and why else should someone read a novel?

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The Last of the Jedi: Return of the Dark Side

July 20, 2017 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

darkThe Last of the Jedi: Return of the Dark Side by Jude Watson


Return of the Dark Side continues with the story begun in A Tangled Web, where Ferus has become a double-agent for the Empire, serving the Emperor as he hopes to assist the rebellion. Palpatine continues to have Ferus work for him, but given his methods of coercion — threatening to execute his captrured friends — it’s hard for Ferus to say no. The difficulty is in Palpatine offering him training in how to command the Dark Side of the Force. At the same time, a new character joins the rebellion, promising funding for combining all of the small rebellion groups on different planets. The only problem is Ferus doesn’t know if he can trust her.

The series is definitely improving as it moves forward. With Obi-Wan no longer being a central part of the story, and with Ferus working both sides of the war, the focus shifts, and the characters become more interesting. Like most of Watson’s other Expanded Universe books, one of the main themes is in knowing who to trust and anticipating who the traitor will be, but since it’s not a pervasive theme from book to book, it’s less formulaic than it was in her other novels. The way she develops her characters from book to book, though, is where she shines, specifically in the relationship between Trever and Ferus. Now that they’re separated more, and now that Ferus is working for the Empire, their relationship becomes more conflicted, creating more drama. It works well.

I’m beginning to enjoy this series more than Watson’s other EU series. They’re all good, and worthy of reading even if you’re not the intended audience’s age, but The Last of the Jedi feels more serious. She’s playing with heavier themes, and defining what it means to be a Jedi by showing the conflicts Ferus feels by being a double agent. It makes for a good story, and keeps me wanting to read the entire series at once.

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The Last of the Jedi: A Tangled Web

July 19, 2017 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

webThe Last of the Jedi: A Tangled Web


In A Tangled Web, Ferus Olin has been asked to visit the Emperor. He’s not so keen on it — he knows Palpatine has killed off the Jedi, and knows that he’s still searching for Force-sensitive people — but the guarantee of safety has him intrigued. It turns out the Emperor has a job for him. Ferus turns him down, but of course the Emperor has his own ways of getting people to do what he wants.

This is a good start to a turn in the series, where Ferus becomes a double-agent to the Empire. He’s still serving the rebellion, of course, but he recognizes that he can do some good from the inside. The problem is that he knows the Emperor knows he’s a double agent, so while he’s working toward assisting the rebellion, he’s also trying to figure out Palpatine’s angle. In the meantime, Vader hovers around Ferus, too, and of course Ferus begins to think that Vader is someone he knows. There are a lot of threads that begin here, which should take us to some interesting places.

The book is a solid read, but it’s beginning to feel like all ten of the books in this series are just chapters to the larger story. They’ve all ended on cliffhangers that propel you forward, with the story within each book being less important (though crucial) to that larger story. Mind you, I’m not complaining; it gives Watson more time to develop her characters. Since the books are simplified and brief, the more room she has to grow them, the more I enjoy it.

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The Last of the Jedi: Death on Naboo

July 18, 2017 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

nabooThe Last of the Jedi: Death on Naboo by Jude Watson


Death on Naboo picks up shortly after the events in Underworld, when Ferus gives himself up to the Empire in order to let the rest of his crew escape. Imprisoned and facing hard labor and death, he has to devise an escape from the prison before the Emperor executes him. His desire to escape is driven by his search for the remaining Jedi, and his fight against Malorum, who is also searching for the Jedi, but to execute them, not recruit them.

Watson did something clever with the title of this series, since “The Last of the Jedi” suggests that we’re going to be following Obi-Wan on Tatooine. Instead, we’re following Ferus as he searches for the last of the Jedi to recruit them for a rebellion against the Empire. Curse those words that have identical singular and plural forms!

(Note: I realize that Episode VIII has this same ambiguity.)

For all the prominence Naboo gets in the title of the book, the main characters don’t get there until about three-quarters of the way into the story. The first half is focused on Ferus’ jailbreak and the rest of his crew (Trever, Keets, Oryon, and Solace) escaping the underworld once it’s been infiltrated by the Empire. The trip to Naboo is in support of the overarching story for the entire series, and its conclusion is significant, even though it’s not the heart of the story for this particular book. The preceding events are important to resolve, but they don’t seem to serve much of a purpose to the larger plot of the series.

In Watson’s other books, she paid a lot of attention to characters who betrayed other characters, but in The Last of the Jedi, she’s less focused on that. Betrayal still happens, but it’s less of a focus than the rest of the story and their characters. I think this is a good change, since the other books started becoming formulaic as I found myself trying to identify the traitor as soon as the book started. Here, I can just enjoy the story for what it is.

Death on Naboo bridges the gap between Underworld and A Tangled Web, so it’s less a complete story than other books in the series. So far, all of the books in the series have been parts of the larger story, making me wonder if Watson’s attempt with this series is to have one story, broken down over ten volumes. With this book, it’s more evident that this is a chapter, not an individual book, but it’s hard to complain since I’ve already committed to reading all of them. Still, it’s definitely not a book a fan could pick up and read without having read the preceding books in the series.

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