This is a blog with spoiler free reviews. Most will be Fantasy, Science Fiction, and Horror, but there will be some books in other genres, including the occasional Non-Fiction review. There is an ongoing series of Cover Reveal Round-Ups, and sometimes I'll write an article on something that interests me.

04 September, 2013

REVIEW: STAR WARS: KENOBI

Cover art by Chris McGrath
Cover design by Scott Biel

STAR WARS:
KENOBI
BY
JOHN JACKSON MILLER

ISBN: 978-0-345-54683-8
Pages: 400
Publisher: LucasBooks/Random House Del Rey
Published: 27 August 2013

On the cover:
(Taken from the publisher's website.)


The Republic has fallen.
Sith Lords rule the galaxy.
Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi has lost everything . . .
Everything but hope.

Tatooine—a harsh desert world where farmers toil in the heat of two suns while trying to protect themselves and their loved ones from the marauding Tusken Raiders. A backwater planet on the edge of civilized space. And an unlikely place to find a Jedi Master in hiding, or an orphaned infant boy on whose tiny shoulders rests the future of a galaxy.

Known to locals only as “Ben,” the bearded and robed offworlder is an enigmatic stranger who keeps to himself, shares nothing of his past, and goes to great pains to remain an outsider. But as tensions escalate between the farmers and a tribe of Sand People led by a ruthless war chief, Ben finds himself drawn into the fight, endangering the very mission that brought him to Tatooine.

Ben—Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi, hero of the Clone Wars, traitor to the Empire, and protector of the galaxy’s last hope—can no more turn his back on evil than he can reject his Jedi training. And when blood is unjustly spilled, innocent lives threatened, and a ruthless opponent unmasked, Ben has no choice but to call on the wisdom of the Jedi—and the formidable power of the Force—in his never-ending fight for justice. 


    This book is set more or less straight after the events of Episode III, and is from what I can see the first Star Wars book to focus on Obi-Wan Kenobi. Something that in itself should make for interesting reading to any fan of Star Wars.

   I should perhaps begin with introducing my own relationship to Star Wars. It doesn't begin at the cinema, but when the first movie aired on Norwegian TV in 1984. (This will be common in Norway.) And after that I started reading the comics, and I read all of the Marvel Star Wars comics that were published in Norwegian in 1983-1987. Except for a brief reading of some of the 1990s comics and watching the Clone Wars movie (is that EU or not?, I haven't gotten into the Extended Universe (EU) stuff. Before reading this, the only EU book I'd read was The Splinter in the Mind's Eye.
   I have however kept an eye on the Star Wars EU, and assumed that this would be quite different from what I experienced in the late 1980s. 
   I review this here on completely its own merits, I simply don't have anything to compare it to, It could be that something I react to is par for the course in the EU, but that is something I know nothing about. This is a review made by someone who has made their first dip into the EU for 25 years, and will probably be most helpful for those who have not wandered out of Star Wars' movie universe.

   The first thing I must mentioned is the main character, going by the title you'd think that would be Obi-Wan, but it isn't. Not that he doesn't feature in the book, he does. To be fair he's pretty central, but he is a supporting character. And because the presumption is that he should be the main character, that was something of a problem.
   Not that it is really fair to the real main character to complain that she is not Obi-Wan Kenobi. Annileen Calwell is a good main character. She's strong and independent, at least up to a certain point. She does suffer somewhat from having to be blind to the faults of another character so that Obi-Wan can save her... And as I write that, I realise that actually sounds pretty bad. In a way it is, but not because Annileen is a woman, but because it shows off how stereotypical many of the characters are.

   There's not much new about Annileen's situation, she's a widow with two teenage kids, making a living in a tough environment. Nothing really wrong with starting there, but it doesn't really go any further. And that is true for the other characters as well, there's no real development of characters. What you are presented with at their introduction is pretty much what you are left with when the book is over.
   The only real exception to that is one character who has a "hidden side"...I say "hidden" on purpose, because it really is obvious. Later revelations are only only revelations in the way that you get the specific level his character is on in regards to that character trait. And there's a second characters that we see develop somewhat, but being that the character is of a "race" that is extremely stereotypically portrayed, that doesn't really help. It just highlights how cardboard cut-out the rest of its members are.
   I can't really write this without actually mentioning the character who has is name on the cover. Obi-Wan does to some degree show some personality here, but it comes pretty late. Kenobi spends most of the book being a one-dimensional presence, and he's actually really annoying for the first two thirds of the novel. And I got a feeling he's kept in check because he's such an important part of the Star Wars universe. There's directions this novel could have taken that would have given Obi-Wan more layers, but they are never acted upon. It felt like a bit of a missed opportunity, and I can almost feel how the author has been hamstrung by the demands of the franchise at times.

   On to the story, it's an interesting one once you get past the stereotypical characters and situations. But that takes time.
   The first two thirds of the book are very slow. It feels like walking through the desert with all the repetitions of situations and characters. Which is really a shame, because once the story really gets going, it turns out it is a very good one. The action is well written, there are some interesting turns, and although Obi-Wan's faith is never in doubt, there is some question as to what will happen to the other characters. And some of what does happen is very well done, and has a nice twist to it.
   It is however a case of "too little, too late". Although it absolutely becomes clear that there is a good story in there, it's not one that really deserves this much attention. This would be an excellent novella if most of the first two thirds were cut. But as it stands, there's just too much waiting for the story to get going for what comes late in the book to redeem it.

   This may look like I had a very negative view of the book, but I really didn't. Despite the problems I had with large pars of it, I enjoyed the ending, the action there was great, and the twists satisfying. I think much of my disappointment stems from me having higer expectations about learning something, if not new at least interesting, about Obi-Wan Kenobi. I don't really feel the novel tried to do that, so I can't really fault it for not happening.
   There are problems here, but they are not insurmountable. And this has by no means put me off reading more EU novels, or from grabbing a book by the same author at a later date. Perhaps this is not the best introduction to the EU, but it is one that makes it interesting to take a further look at what is going on there.
   
NOTE: I got an e-ARC of this book from the publisher/NetGalley.

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