Monday, May 21, 2012

Star Wars: Scourge


 At its best, Jeff Grubb's Scourge reminded me the New Jedi Order, or my beloved Kevin J. Anderson Star Wars books when I was in high school. The main character is a Jedi Archivist from Luke's Academy, a class of character that hasn't been explored before beyond the sedate Jocasa Nu. He is soft-spoken, used to people telling him he isn't what they expected out of a Jedi, and wears glowing red goggles into combat. It's a novel of wacky space adventures and Jedi running around a wild galaxy.

It also isn't particularly smart: protagonist Mander Zuma just skirts the edge of actually standing for something. As an archivist, he doesn't do a lot of researching. The body count in the first few scenes make it clear that compassion isn't his number one priority either. Admittedly, the very first scene is a lesson against the dangers of drugs and violence: Zuma's Padawan does all of his killing under the influence of the rage-inducing spice that drives most of the novel, but once he's provoked Zuma acts in roughly the same way to catch his Padawan's indirect killer.

Tempest Feud Front.jpg
The form  in which
Scourge's story first appeared.
However, Scourge never presents itself as a story about morals, or about ideas in general, and this can be refreshing. Musings on the nature of the Force (or, thankfully, the Force Family) are absent, as are Jedi Counselors of any sort. Although I kept expecting Zuma to contact Luke Skywalker, the Jedi Grand Master was completely absent. While that makes me wonder whether there are a lot of envoys of the Academy out there chopping people up unsupervised, it also means that Scourge doesn't have to wriggle its way into Luke's already crowded history. This is one of the aspects that would make Scourge a good introduction to the Star Wars Expanded Universe. The plot, a string of set pieces involving chasing alien drug dealers around, is unremarkable, and toward the end the point of view switches and dramatic reveals seem like excuses to stay out of the main characters' heads. (The fact that the book is pretty much the novelization of a a roleplay scenario might explain this.)

 Of the four characters, Zuma and Angela Krin stand out the most. Angela is a Lieutenant Commander in the Corporate Sector Authority and shows off the ideals of that less-evil Empire well: she's smart, stark and serious and brings in some of the firepower at the finale of the story. Old friends Reen Irana and Eddey Be'ray never seemed convincingly chummy; I would have liked some mention of adventures they went through in the past.

Angela Krin.jpg
Angela Krin
About halfway through the novel, Reen gets kidnapped and the other three heroes have to rescue her. This was around the time my reading slowed, not because the descriptions of a character "chained" and "on display" were wildly offensive, but because I was bored. It was the sort of thing I'd seen before, and the combined charisma of the other three heroes couldn't quite keep the plot device entertaining. I'm not a huge fan of tabletop game writers (or video game writers, or nonfiction writers) being given the task of penning novels, and it is in books like Scourge that show they aren't, usually, novelists.

Scourge displays a lot of fun fights for its characters to go through. It's no Dark Rendezvous, but it's close to Shadowhunter. And, as mentioned before, if you don't know what either of those books are then Scourge is still a good look at the post-movies Star Wars universe. With the exception of Pantorans existing it ignores the Clone Wars and hacks out its own crime-ridden corner of the universe. The prose was decent, and the mild twist - an explanation of where the rage-causing spice comes from - was perhaps the best concept in the book. Mander wasn't the ideal Archivist for my teenage self, but he carried a decent adventure story. That seems to be the usual with a lot of recent Star Wars books that aren't part of massive series. 

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