Scoundrels

February 6, 2018 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

scoundrelsScoundrels by Timothy Zahn

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With Timothy Zahn’s Star Wars books, you can usually expect two things: a good understanding of the Expanded Universe characters; and a good story. Scoundrels isn’t quite up to his usual fare, mostly because he doesn’t seem to hit the characters the way he’s done in his other EU works.

The story is about a heist, and as it progresses, it begins to feel like Ocean’s Eleven set in the EU. This isn’t a bad thing, but for readers who like the universe for its epic scale and grand plots, be aware that this isn’t one of those. The story is decent, but it’s not without its foibles.

The narrative is a strange combination of a glacial pace and a compelling story. As a result, it makes it hard to want to return to the book because so little happens during the chapters, but once you get into it, you’re pleased that you did. It took me longer to finish the book than expected, simply because I was finding other things I wanted to do with my time than return to the story.

Since it’s a heist story, there’s a lot of setup that leads up to a payoff near the end of the book. Some of the schemes the characters set up are ridiculously convoluted, and require a level of precision that’s hard to believe. In one particular scene, it requires not just a timing of equipment (both mechanical and digital), but also the perfect timing of three characters working together at just the right moment. Given that the characters are conning someone (and who they know is on to them), it was a situation that had too much unpredictability to be executed as smoothly and unobtrusively as it did in the story.

The story involves Han, Lando, and Chewbacca (as seen on the cover), and also a handful of other characters who are introduced in a novella — Winners Lose All — that’s included at the end of the book. (I’d recommend reading it first, since it was written and set previous to the events in the novel.) I never quite felt like Zahn was channeling the characters, since their voice and choices didn’t always jibe with what I would expect the characters to be or do. Plus, at one point Zahn puts Han running away from a rolling permacrete sphere, cracking a whip as he runs. It’s like he forgot for a moment which Harrison Ford character he was writing.

Another odd thing was how this was the third book in the last few weeks that’s had a character with an eidetic memory. First there was Mike Erikson in The Fold, and then Stephen Greaves in The Boy on the Bridge, and now there’s Winter. Granted, she was established in previous EU novels (also by Zahn, I believe), but it was an odd thing to notice.

As far as EU novels go, Scoundrels isn’t bad, but it’s far from the best ones you could read. Fans of Zahn and his EU characters would likely be the best audience, but for people just dipping their toes into the EU, I’d recommend starting elsewhere.

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