Date Read: June 24th, 2021
Final Score: 8 / 10 !
This novel continues (and purportedly ends) the Hand of Judgement duology, the first one being Allegiance, as reviewed a few weeks ago.
I enjoyed this one MUCH more than the first on in the sub-series. I felt like the inclusion of Chewie, Han, Luke, & Leia made a lot more legitimate sense in this novel than it did the other one (where they were essentially just bandied about as prop pieces). Here, they actually have ROLES in the story's plot progression, and more than that they have genuine personalities. I DEEPLY enjoy the way in which Luke is basically universally disparaged by everyone on all sides of the conflict as well-meaning, but absolutely useless at 99% of the Things that Need Doing... It's adorable (and as rendered here, it's actually endearing). And as we're still in a setting that's only about 8 months out from the destruction of the Death Star at the Battle of Yavin IV in Episode IV, it makes perfect sense to include the mainline protagonists.
But, as with the first one, the real bit of excellence in this story is the Storm Trooper dynamics with all their complicated loyalties and dedications. The crew we've gotten to know in this sub-series is excellent and they show off their training and inter-personal coordination extremely well here. It's AWESOME. Even their interactions with Mara Jade, Luke Skywalker, and the crew's new Troukree associates are all delightfully character-exposing, for everyone involved!
Though I have to admit I am SUPER confused at the repercussions of Thrawn's declared stance at the end of this one... Honestly, without the little bit right at the very end, like seriously the last 5 pages at most, I think it could be considered fully canon still. While I'm not exactly yet a model of Canon expertise, nothing about this story (at least while reading it without that last little assertion of Thrawn's place as a particularly significant figure in the Outer Rim) contradicts anything I've read/seen that's still considered Canon.
I'm not really sure where Zahn was going to go with all that, but since it's now Legends it doesn't exactly matter any more, so I'm not counting that confusing-bit as a negative.
What I didn't like about this story was only that it felt like a little exposition and then a GINORMOUS battle sequence. While the battle was epic and interesting, I would have liked just a little more post-battle follow-up. Mara Jade totes deserves to know her Troopers are alive. How exactly Han and Chewie got out of the Golan Battle Station and away without anyone in the rest of the battle even commenting on their presence beyond a brief 'oh, right, they're still up there and stuff', is something I would've liked to see more detail on... Along with exactly what supplies and new toys were successfully acquired by the Rebels in the aftermath. And then most importantly: the whole Nuso Esva schtick needs a bit more explanation (or really, a LOT more explanation)...
This is why I mentioned earlier that this novel purportedly ends the Hand of Judgement duology... It doesn't END shit... Nuso Esva comes out of no where, proceeds to be awesomely interesting as he challenges Thrawn to a bout of War Games, and then vanishes into the Black as a problem to be Dealt With Later... Google says he dies 8 years after the Battle of Yavin IV, but then says not much else about him at all. I'm sure there's other media with him somewhere, but it really seems like a waste of a potentially interesting character (and potentially interesting character interactions) to just end.
I love Thrawn and I think having some weird, hyper-competent Unknown Regions warlord regularly challenge him would be cool, so I at least HOPE there's more media with the pair of them competing against each other in it. And honestly, having the Hand of Judgement Trooper Crew working sporadically with Thrawn and Mara Jade to train Outer Rim Aliens to fight Nuso Esva? THAT sounds like bestseller material to me...
Anywhoo~, the only other thing I disliked was the way Zahn did his chapters / PoV jumps, but as I think that's just a conversion error with the eBook version, I'm not holding that against him.
I liked it better than Allegiance and I think it can be read well enough without the first one, so it's definitely becoming a staple-recommendation of mine for the Star Wars EU!