Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Razor's Edge

Star Wars: Razor's Edge contains a diverse cast of characters that answer a lot of fans' requests for more female and minority representation. It's also a quality story about Leia, taking a look inside her head while the memory of Alderaan's destruction is still fresh and she, along with the rest of the galaxy, is still reacting. The prose is standard Star Wars fare, though, and the middle sags into unexciting action scenes. Razor's Edge was one of the most enjoyable Star Wars novels this year, despite some flaws.

 Entertainment Weekly has an excerpt from the novel read by Cat Taber, who played Leia in The Force Unleased (and was also interviewed here.)

My review is under the cut.

The first scene in Razor’s Edge features Princess Leia and Sian Terae, a black Rebel pilot, escaping an Imperial attack. The scene is exciting, with the two women jockeying starships and dragging doors open. It’s a good taste of what the rest of Razor’s Edge will be like. Martha Wells’ Leia is fierce and sharp, and I could hear Carrie Fisher’s voice in her dialogue sometimes. Along with the action, Leia muses on trust and guilt as she interacts with the Alderaan survivors who see her as royalty – but still want to live as pirates instead of Rebels.

Although it doesn’t all come together perfectly, Razor’s Edge is a heartfelt novel and good space adventure. It’s also pleasantly diverse.

Although the dramatis personae lists six women out of sixteen characters, the story really focuses on Leia, Sian, Kelvan (a black man), pirate women Metara and Terae, Ankara (a female Twi’lek), Itran (a male human) and Han Solo, skewing slightly female and fighting a humanoid female antagonist. True to the movies, both Rebels and Imperial side characters tend to be male, but the core group was wonderfully diverse.

Leia is in-character and gets to both negotiate and shoot, and Wells touches on her feelings of responsibility, loss, and regret about Alderaan. In a particularly good part, Leia feels “stuck in time,” a feeling that breaks at a pivotal moment later. I liked that we got to see her rumored negotiation skills at work, and that she was able to hide from multiple parties the fact that she was both a Rebel and a princess. She’s not infallible either – she gets hurt and makes mistakes. Throughout the book, I liked that people were driven not only by physical needs (escape, survival) but by emotional ones (acceptance, reconciliation.) Leia’s motivations become confused even to her as she helps the pirates out. She’s a good person, but she also has a bit of an obsession with keeping Alderaan nationality intact.  The sections where Leia was just wondering what she should do next were some of the most memorable, and some action scenes, such as the very first scene, were an absolute joy. The settings offer some memorable vistas of a pirate city or a Rebel refuge.

Han and Luke’s appearances were also enjoyable. The tension between Han and Leia fit nicely between movies, and heightened the emotional mood of the book. Han’s voice and dialogue were good, and we get to see the budding romance from both perspectives. It was also nice, especially after the lofty Crucible version, to go back to a young Luke who is earnest, naive, helpful, and prone to asking questions at the wrong times.

The prose was more workmanlike than the content. It’s about the standard fare for Star Wars novels, and can get repetitive. The characters’ diversity helped make them very physically distinct and easy to tell apart, but the sparse prose meant that sometimes the original characters (Metara, Sian, Terae) all talked alike. I would have liked more facial expressions and body language, something Wells did very well in the fantasy novel The Cloud Roads.

The middle of Razor’s Edge suffered from a lack of antagonists with personality – the pirate queen who serves as the villain for most of the book made for a good challenge, but some fight scenes between Our Heroes and small droids were unexciting to me. The ending was also abrupt, and left me wondering whether the ARC was missing the final pages. The abruptness of the ending revealed the good things about the book too, though – I cared about the characters enough that I wanted to know about their whole lives and about where they would go next.  Razor’s Edge is a novel that I can see sparking a lot of fan art and fan fiction, partially because Leia’s perspective gave emotional shades to the story.

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