January 2006

Star Wars: The Joiner KingóDark Nest 1
A novel by Troy Denning
Del Rey, 2005
ISBN: 0345463048
526 pages


Star Wars: The Joiner KingóDark Nest 1--SF novel by Troy Denning Five years after the events of The New Jedi Order series, and thirty-five years after Return of the Jedi, a new crisis absorbs the heroes of the Star Wars universe. Jania and Jacen Solo, along with several other young Jedi, answer a summons in the Force coming from the Unknown Regions near the Chiss Ascendancy. They abandon their responsibilities to a galaxy still recovering from the war with the Yuuhzan Vong, leaving Han, Leia, Luke, and Mara Skywalker, Lukeís wife, to investigate their strange behavior. The Chiss are embattled with a strange new enemy: an enormous colony of sentient insects called the Killiks, and the young Jedi have joined the Colonyís quest to survive. Initially, Han and Leia canít understand what power the insects have over their children, but then they discover who leads the Colonyóan old friend who went missing during the Yuuhzan Vong war.

Troy Denning, author of Star by Star, one of the more exhilarating books in the New Jedi Order, returns to the Star Wars universe with this intricate and timely novel. This is the first novel to take place after the Yuuzhan Vong war, and Denning deftly articulates the various problems needed resolution in the warís aftermath. I should stop here and say that if you havenít read the NJO, then some of this wonít make sense. While you do not need to read that series to appreciate The Joiner King, it certainly helps.

I know what youíre saying: ďBut, Shaun, arenít there, like, twenty-one books in the NJO?Ē Yeah, but one of those is a novella! True, there is quite a bit of reading involved to catch up to this point, but if you love Star Wars, it wonít be difficult. And as I said, Denning does the best he can to keep new readers in the fold. The NJO infused a stagnant Star Wars novel franchise with new life, and I suspect that many novels are still to come just to tie up all the loose threads. As you can imagine, a plot spanning the course of twenty-one books generates a multitude of storylines. The characters created for the Star Wars expanded universe have taken on a life nearly as rich as the original characters. I wouldnít want to read Star Wars books anymore without Mara Skywalker, or Jagged Fel, or Jacen Solo, or Corran Horn. The list goes on. And with the deaths of Chewbacca and Anakin Solo in the NJO (sorry if I spoiled it), nobody is safe. There is a true element of peril involved in these books.

That said, The Joiner King radically alters the lives of the Jedi. One is turned to the dark side, and Jaina nearly loses her individuality to the Colony. There will undoubtedly be more of this in the remaining books of The Dark Nest trilogy, so we donít know to what extent she has been changed. Luke himself comes dangerously close to actions resembling Palpatine (if only in action and not intent), and the effects are difficult for him to accept. Troy Denning set the stage in this book for some serious debate among the Jedi about the nature of the Force and the nature of good and evil. I expect to see some division among the Jedi in the second and third book. This should lead to drama and more than a little trouble.

The Joiner King also has timely commentary for our modern world. The Jedi continually debate whether or not they should become involved in the conflict between the Chiss and the Killiks. The conflict is occurring, after all, in the Unknown Regions, and it is of no apparent consequence to the rest of the galaxy. Should they care about people so far away? If their young Jedi hadnít been pulled into the situation, would they respond at all, even if million of lives were at risk? A metaphor for the Iraq war comes into focus. Did America and its allies have the right to invade Iraq? The metaphor is greatly simplified as Denning avoids politics and focuses instead on moral dilemmas. The Jedi, after all, serve life, not governments. Denning doesnít have any easy answers, but itís nice to see modern concerns impacting that galaxy far, far away.

The Joiner King isnít the best Star Wars book Iíve read (and Iíve read my share!), but it is a worthy successor to the NJO. Troy Denning can write a compelling Star Wars novel with the best of them, and I look forward to the remaining books of this new trilogy.

Check back next month for my review of Book Two of The Dark Next Trilogy: The Unseen Queen.

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Copyright © 2006 by Shaun Farrell. All Rights Reserved.