One of the downsides of having originally read the NJO mostly out of order almost ten years ago is that I tend to forget what I've read and what I haven't. Balance Point, for instance, with its single setting, female bonding, and the introduction of Tsavong Lah, didn't feel familiar. Jacen's vision and Mara's child, also introduced here and continued later in the series, did.
Balance Point is where things really start to go downhill for the New Republic. The Yuuzhan Vong gain an access point into the Core, and the New Republic finds itself tripping over its own feet with treacherous Peace Brigade groups, selfish Hutts, and an excess of refugees.
Jaina, Mara, and Leia get involved in a lot of action in this book, and Jaina does it all half-blind. A scene where she and Mara are trapped in a cave-in was particularly gripping. The argument between Leia and Jaina seemed a bit unfounded, designed to set up a pleasant reunion at the end, but otherwise this novel showed a notable amount of memorable moments with female characters. I could really hear Leia's voice in many scenes, and Jaina's initial grounding doesn't stop her one bit from joining the adventure. She isn't a prodigy all the time, but she still gets the job done. (Leia also gets tortured, in what might be one of Star Wars' most brutal scenes, and rescued by her son.)
Jason's eternal conflict about whether to use the Force is brought to the breaking point, but his vivid vision of a galaxy tipping on its axis is still hanging over him. It was markedly different for me to read the book knowing what Jacen becomes rather than being completely uncertain, and maybe that's why his hemming and hawing seems like overkill. (Quit stalling and become a Sith already?)
It's hard to say whether having (maybe) missed this book the first time around affected the reading of the rest. Tsavong Lah's first appearance actually wasn't as frightening as I expected, while his retinue of bare-chested musicians playing living animals was disturbing and lingered. I found myself not engaging much with the loss of Duro, maybe because the planet was deadened to begin with, or because it began to feel inevitable that one small group of people couldn't defend entire planets by themselves.
From here on out, the New Jedi Order makes the galaxy look even more post-apocalyptic.