"Size matters not. Inertia, however, is a pain in the butt."
At the death of his apprentice, Toro Irana, Mander Zuma arrives on Makem Te to investigate why his apprentice died under such unusual circumstances and to finish up the mission. It becomes clear that Toro was addicted to a new, dangerous drug called Tempest. As he investigates, he teams up with Toro's sister, Reen, a Bothan named Eddey, and a CSA agent named Angela Krin. Where is the spice coming from--and can Mander, the unconventional Jedi archivist from Yavin 4, stop it?
These days, Star Wars books have been mostly set in the "Fate of the Jedi" era or the long, long ago "The Old Republic" era. This little book, written by Jeff Grubb, Star Wars novelist newbie (though not unfamiliar with the franchise), bucks the trend. It stars all new characters and none of the Big Three. It is set in the "quiet" era between Timothy Zahn's Hand of Thrawn duology and the New Jedi Order series. And it's story is a basic mystery, not a Superweapon of the week. And I think those all make this book as great as it is.
Star Wars is an expansive universe, and while I love stories about Luke, Leia, and Han, I also love it when an author can move away from the Big Three and make his or her own creations. Grubb has done this with his main characters, Mander, Reen, Eddey, and Angela. Firstly, THANK YOU GRUBB for the diversity. Taking a quick peek at the Character List shows that few of the characters are human--out of the 11 listed, only 2 are human (Angela and Mander). This carries true for lesser characters not mentioned in the List. I've complained endlessly about the humancentric stories, and it is SO nice to see such a variety of species.
The characters that Grubb has developed are unique and interesting. Mander Zuma is a Jedi archivist, more at home with "scrolls and books" than with swashbuckling and adventuring. I do feel that his bookishness wasn't as pronounced as it could have been, and we don't get a really good description of what he looks like (apparently, he wears "magna lenses" aka glasses--shame on the cover artist for missing this!!). However, it's nice to have a Jedi that isn't all lightsaber swingin', star-pilotin' rip-roarin' adventure seeker. Reen Irana was Toro's sister and looking to find out why he died. She was competent and capable, not requiring some male to rescue her every two seconds or swooning over whether Mander liked her. Eddey was super amusing; he was the brains of the operation, and while that did get a bit stereotypical, he was a lot of fun, and I felt he bucked the Bothan stereotype. Angela was another competent, capable female; the Hutts really pushed the envelope of what we expect (but I have some complaints...).
There was a bit of racial stereotyping: Rodians being incompetent and unable to succeed, the "gangster, untrustworthy" Hutt image, but overall, this is much tamer than most Star Wars novels.
I liked the concept of the story; I felt the execution was a bit all over the place. I was kinda hoping that the main character Jedi (Mander) would be the one addicted to the spice; however, that wasn't the case. But, honestly the story idea was interesting; sure, it's a common plot to have book nerdy guy go to solve a really action/adventure case, but Star Wars hasn't done that very much. And I really do like this idea of having mystery stories set in Star Wars (if only we didn't have a 10 page "And this is how I, the Bad Guy, did all this" exposition at the end...).
The thing I found challenging was figuring out where the story was going at any time. It seemed at times the characters were just floating from scene to scene, that they didn't have so much of a focus, that things were happening because A) it was exciting or B) that needed to happen to move the story. Some of the investigating was weak; a lot just falls into Mander's lap. The last half is probably stronger and has more of a focus, but I did find my attention wandering at times or asking myself, "And...why are they here?"
Writing wise, Grubb is very adept. Good pleasing prose, some funny scenes (I love me some humor), a really good understanding of the Star Wars universe. And for a newbie to the Star Wars novels, that is a big plus in my book.
So while this wasn't blow me out of the water amazing, I definitely enjoyed myself and will be looking forward to more of Grubb's Star Wars novels in the future. I wouldn't even be opposed to him writing more stories about Mander and gang.
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