Han Solo: The Hutt Gambit

August 18, 2017 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

gambitHan Solo: The Hutt Gambit by A.C. Crispin

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The Paradise Snare introduced the idea of Han Solo as an Imperial Navy pilot. It was an interesting idea, and one that helps explain why he’s such a good pilot in the movies (though it doesn’t explain why he never brings it up in the movies, but hey, this book was written 20 years after the movie, and I can live with such things), and one that I looked forward to reading about in The Hutt Gambit. Alas, this book picks up five years later, a month or so after Han has been kicked out of the Navy for striking an officer, so we don’t get to see that part of the story.

Instead, we see Han beginning his life as a smuggler proper. He’s being hunted by bounty hunters hired by the Ylesian Hutts he crossed in The Paradise Snare, while working for Jiliac and his nephew, Jabba. Chewbacca is now Han’s partner (Chewie is part of the reason Han got kicked out of the Navy), and the two of them start crossing the galaxy and getting into trouble.

The story flows pretty well, taking us through the characters’ lives, and giving us hints at what’s to come, and what’s come before. Bria makes an appearance here, though she’s a tertiary character, at best. We get a few fan-service moments throughout the story (Boba Fett, Cloud City, and Tatooine all make appearances, or are at least mentioned), and Crispin sets up the end of the novel to take us through to the third book in the series, which feels like it will be a culmination of the characters she’s introduced in the first two books.

Han feels more like Han in The Hutt Gambit, and Crispin avoids overusing “Honey” and “Sweetheart” in his speech like she did in The Paradise Snare (I don’t remember seeing a single instance of either, in fact). I felt more invested in Han and the characters around him, even though I didn’t have the kind of connection I’ve had with other characters in other books. The action is solid and well-paced, and the final battle in the book (which takes up about a quarter of the novel) is gripping and engaging.

The Hutt Gambit is a solid read, and is an improvement over the first book in this trilogy. I wouldn’t count it among my favorites, but it was worth the time, and is a stronger book than some of the newer Expanded Universe books. Despite some telly parts here and there, and taking a little too long to get to the heart of the story, the book satisfies.

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We Are Legion (We Are Bob)

August 17, 2017 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, )

bobWe Are Legion (We Are Bob) by Dennis E. Taylor

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I blame Andy Weir for We Are Legion (We Are Bob). I get the feeling Taylor read Weir’s book, thought, Hey, I’m a bit of a smartass too, and I know science! and then started work on this book. Somehow, Taylor doesn’t quite bring the level of charm to the story that Weir did, making the book a little less than it could have been.

Bob is our central character. The story begins with him in the early 21st century, shortly after selling his tech company for a ridiculous amount of money. His first stop after depositing the check is a cryogenics lab, which turns out to be a good decision, since that same day, he’s struck by a car and killed. One hundred years later, he wakes to find himself a disembodied computer program tasked with taking command of a spacecraft with self-replicating abilities so he can travel the galaxy looking for worlds to where the human race can emigrate. In true science fiction form, humans have destroyed the planet through greed, politics, and self-interest, so it’s time to move on.

It’s no secret that I think Weir’s book, as entertaining as it is, is poorly written. Still, he captures the reader’s attention with the premise, and keeps the reader engaged by creating a likeable character in Mark Watney. Bob? Not so much. His smartassery gets tiresome, because everything is the potential for a joke in his world. Plus, the irreverence of Watney in The Martian is easier to take, because Weir has us invested in Watney’s survival, while in We Are Legion, Taylor keeps the focus all over the place. At first it’s Bob we’re supposed to be concerned about, but then it’s the human race, and then later still, it’s … well, maybe I shouldn’t spoil it. Just know that he splits the reader’s concerns even more as the story progresses.

Bob is also extremely good at everything he needs to do. He doesn’t suffer many setbacks in his ordeals, and as he reminds us time and again, he’s essentially immortal, so the stakes never seem very high. Bob isn’t a relateable character, despite his Everyman status. At one point in the story, I thought maybe I was supposed to relate more to the human survivors, but this isn’t really their story. We Are Legion is all about Bob and what he can do, and all of his corny, stupid jokes.

I wouldn’t think to compare this book to Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Children of Time, but I read them back-to-back, and they’re both stories of human survival and space exploration. They’re not really the same class of book, but it’s hard to ignore the similarities, and it’s hard not to see Children of Time as the better book. It isn’t because it handles its theme better, though; it’s more that Tchaikovsky recognizes the need for good characters to drive his story, and that he pays attention to the human drama. We Are Legion focuses on one character, and doesn’t seem to care about the real people that exist outside of Bob.

Taylor touches on a theme when he explains what drove humans to the brink of extinction, but it’s just there to explain the need to escape the planet. It comes up a few times later in the narrative, but for the most part, it’s just there as a motivating factor, and doesn’t recur in the story. Imagine if The Handmaid’s Tale reduced its entire story down to one chapter, and made the focus of the book the afterword set hundreds of years in the future, and you’ll have an idea of how Taylor handles this point. It should have been the focus of an entire novel by itself, but it’s not really about Bob, so we just get a Cliff’s Notes version instead, and even then, it comes across as ham-fisted.

The book starts off strong, but then it peters out around the middle. By then, I had resolved that I wasn’t going to read anything else in the series, but I’ll be damned if Taylor didn’t pick up the story again as it neared the end. It wasn’t enough for me to raise my rating above three stars (I had anticipated giving it two up until then), but it was enough for me to pick up For We Are Many as soon as I finished it. We’ll see if it’s enough to keep me around for book three.

In the end, We Are Legion feels amateurish. The style is too colloquial and too irreverent, and Bob’s personality is too off-putting to take him too seriously. It feels off in some way I can’t describe, but it definitely affects how I feel about the book. I’m not sure I would recommend it (I have to see if the next book makes the fumblings of this one worthwhile), because by itself, it’s just not that great. Folks who like it seem to really like it, but they don’t seem to find Bob as grating as I do. For me, the book is just a solid “Eh”.

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Han Solo: The Paradise Snare

August 16, 2017 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

snareHan Solo: The Paradise Snare by A.C. Crispin

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Reading the Star Wars Legends books in chronological order has been an interesting approach. Since the original writers of the Expanded Universe were asked not to write anything preceding Episode IV, most of what I’ve read in the EU so far has been the books that were written near the end of the Legends project. It’s only now that I’m getting back to the books that were written in the ’90s, when the EU became a lucrative license again. The Paradise Snare was written in 1997, several years after the Thrawn trilogy, but still a couple of years before Episode I. Reading a book written before the events that preceded it presents its own challenges, reminding me that it’s usually better to read a series in written chronological order. At the very least, it’s strange to shift from a series of books about the Empire slowly taking over every planet in the galaxy to one planet that has no concern over the Empire.

The Paradise Snare takes us back to when Han Solo is about nineteen, making a break from being part of a thieves’ gang, and starting on his own adventures as a pilot. During the time this story occurs, Han entertains notions of being a pilot for the Imperial Navy, but he first has to learn more about piloting in general. He applies for a job on the planet Ylesia. It pays well, but it requires not asking too many questions about the jobs.

The story is more romance than adventure, as Han meets a young Corellian woman on Ylesia. It doesn’t take much for him to fall for her (or her for him), but Bria is involved with a religious cult that pervades the workers on Ylesia. In order for their relationship to progress, they have to get off of the planet, but that means (a) breaking Bria out of the cult, (b) stealing enough valuables to give them money for a new life together, (c) getting Han’s ever-present guard, Muuurgh, a giant cat, to agree to the plan, and (d) stealing a ship and getting past the guards around the planet. It’s a hefty plan, and one that’s set up rather well.

My main problems with the story were that I couldn’t understand what drove Han and Bria’s relationship, and that events coincided a little too easily for the plan to work out the way it did. I’ve mentioned before that there’s a lot of coincidence in the EU, which can usually be explained away by the Force, but here it didn’t quite work since the Force wasn’t a part of this novel at all. Anyone familiar with the EU knows about it, and may write off the coincidences as the Force at work, but by itself, the novel doesn’t give much to explain how everything comes together so neatly at the end of the main plot. I can accept it and move on with the story, but I have to acknowledge it as a sticking point.

Han and Bria make a nice couple, but beyond each of them finding the other attractive, there isn’t much there to explain why they get together. We get enough backstory on each of them to understand they feel a connection, but it’s not defined well enough to build their relationship. It feels superficial, and since the story is primarily about the two of them as a couple, it feels incomplete.

Crispin works hard to give us hints at the character Han will become — he’s jaded, works on his own, is fiercely loyal to his friends, and calls Bria “Honey” or “Sweetheart” almost exclusively — but I never felt like I was watching Han Solo. I get that he’s younger, and still growing into who he will become, but it was enough of a disconnect that I sometimes felt I was reading a novel set outside the world of Star Wars.

For all that being said, I was caught up in the story, and read the last half of the book over one sitting. Even if the events were too much of a coincidence, and even if the relationship felt shallow, Crispin still kept me engaged enough to feel the tension of the story. The main action ended about 100 pages from the end of the book, so there was more to tell outside of the planetbreak, but even then, I was hooked enough to want to see it through to the end.

The Paradise Snare reminds me more of Beverly Hills 90210 than Star Wars, but it’s still a decent enough read. Crispin’s style is natural and engrossing, and her action sequences are easy to follow, it just isn’t the kind of book I would expect for Star Wars. That point aside, though, this is a solid read and a nice segueway from the new EU to the classic EU.

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Dark Disciple

August 15, 2017 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

discipleDark Disciple by Christie Golden

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After The Last Jedi, I decided to jump ahead to the new canon novels and start on those. I figured it would be a good way to stay on top of the new movies as they come out, and also that, since there were fewer volumes, I could feel like I accomplished something with them this year. Dark Disciple was a bad place to start, namely because I haven’t finished watching all of The Clone Wars yet.

Dark Disciple, if you don’t know, is based on eight unproduced episodes of The Clone Wars, written by Katie Lucas, adapted by Golden. The premise of the book is the Jedi Council has decided the best thing to do regarding Count Dooku is to kill him. Obi-Wan suggests Quinlan Vos be the one to do the deed, and sends him in search of Asajj Ventress, a wanted criminal by the Jedi who has been cast out by Dooku and is likely to want revenge, to train Vos and help him get close to Dooku.

Since I wasn’t too fond of the book, it’s hard to know where to point my criticism. It makes sense to point it toward Lucas, since most of what I didn’t like have to do with the story, not with how it was written.

I had a lot of issues with the plot, but most of them stem from the fact that no one in the book acts like you would expect. We have the Jedi Council calling for assassinations, Yoda himself calling for executions, and Ventress showing her human side. None of these characters have been presented in other works as being anything like they are in this novel, and it was hard to accept the main premise of the story because of that. Vos and Ventress fall in love over the course of their story, which was at odds to both of their characters (a Jedi spurns attachment, and Ventress … well, she’s Ventress; she doesn’t trust anyone), but those are the two plots that drive the story forward. When it’s hard to accept the actions and motivations of the characters, how can we be invested in the story?

The narrative moves along at a pretty good clip, sometimes going too fast to get a sense of emotion. Early in the novel, there’s a scene where the Jedi suffer a tremendous loss, which is what spurns them to plan the assassination at all. It’s key, and it serves its purpose, but once it’s done that, Golden doesn’t come back to it at all. For as pivotal a moment as it is in the story, I expected more introspection and contemplation about it, especially from the Jedi.

I wasn’t paying close enough attention through the book to find any Easter eggs (and I still don’t know enough about the Clone Wars to catch anything from the show), but I did notice near the end of the book that one of the clones was named Threepwood. That was a nice surprise.

The edition I read included a short story by Golden, “Kindred Spirits”, about Ventriss and Lassa Rhayme, a female pirate. Together, they retrieve some goods that were stolen from Rhayme, one of which is an item Ventriss needs to collect a bounty. It was about as decent as any other Star Wars story, but that’s not saying much. I have yet to read one that feels necessary.

I’m going to shift back to the Legends books after Dark Disciple. I think I could get away with skipping some of the books that might spoil the shows I have yet to see, but it looks like some of the books in the middle are based off of Rebels, too, so I figure I should play it safe and not run the risk of spoiling either show.

Star Wars Progress
Total Read: 110
Total Legends: 104
Total Canon: 6
Total Percentage: 36.4%

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The Collapsing Empire

August 11, 2017 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, )

rmpitrThe Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi

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In the future, we’ve conquered space travel not by exceeding the speed of light or by using suspended animation, or using wormholes or anything like that. No, instead we discovered The Flow, an odd, barely-understood quirk of physics that allows ships to travel from one solar system to another in a span of months. It’s been there for a thousand years, and save for a couple of minor quirks along the way, it’s held up well, and people expect it to hold up until the end of time.

The problem is that The Flow is failing. Few people have spent time studying it, but those who have predict The Flow will begin collapsing, one route at a time, until all the systems connected by it will be left to their own devices. Considering that none of these systems are self-sufficient and that,, for a thousand years, these systems have built up an interdependency with one another, it means that these systems will all begin dying once they’re stranded. And the people who have studied the Flow believe that the collapse will begin in a matter of months.

Thus begins The Collapsing Empire, the first book in The Interdependency, John Scalzi’s latest science fiction series. Unlike Old Man’s War, though, this is a book written with the intent of being a series, so the first book is an introduction to The Flow, the complex dependencies that exist among the systems, and the wide range of characters that create the drama to carry the story. That’s not to say the book is just exposition; there’s a central conflict, a mystery to be solved, and Scalzi, in true form, creates a good one. It’s important to note, though, that you’re not going to get all of your questions answered in this one book, because aside from building a world where the major conflict is just getting started, Scalzi also ends the book on a cliffhanger.

I’ve seen this book described as a “space opera”, which is … interesting. I’m not entirely sure if I could define space opera, but The Collapsing Empire isn’t it. Alastair Reynolds? James S.A. Corey? Sure (with the caveat being that I haven’t read anything by these authors; they’re just who come to mind when I hear “space opera”). But The Collapsing Empire? Well, it’s engaging and compelling, full of realistic characters, and has a complex, realized plot, but it’s just not a space opera.

Already-fans of Scalzi’s should love this book, as would any new reader with a fancy for a strong, well-told science fiction story. It’s not at the level of, say, The Broken Earth or Children of Time, but Scalzi doesn’t write stories like that, anyway, and I don’t think he’s ever pretended to. The Collapsing Empire is a solid piece of work, well worth the time for anyone to read it.

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A New Hope: The Life of Luke Skywalker

August 9, 2017 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

lukeA New Hope: The Life of Luke Skywalker by Ryder Windham

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When I set out on this Star Wars reading project, I decided against including all of the novelizations of other works, save for the adult novelizations of the movies. It cut out a lot of the juvenile books, since most of them were retellings of even the adult novels, but it appears that a few of them squeezed through the cracks. Ryder Windham’s biographies of the characters are a few of those.

For the most part, the books have been entertaining, and in some ways even enlightening (it’s nice to get Obi-Wan’s viewpoint when he first talks to Luke about Anakin and Darth Vader in The Life and Legend of Obi-Wan Kenobi), but they’ve been a collection of details from other works. The Life of Luke Skywalker collects dialogue and scenes from Star Wars, the radio plays, some comics, and even a novel from the Legends Expanded Universe, so very little of the content is original. Windham borrows from these sources to build a single story of Luke, but what he chooses to include and exclude seems odd. The largest details are left out (those from Episodes IVVI), and some scenes are hastened through, as if he were trying to cram as much as possible into the story. As a result, the story doesn’t feel cohesive, or even complete.

This is the last of the biographies written by Windham, the others being about Obi-Wan, Darth Vader, and Darth Maul (no love for Leia there, I guess), but none of them have felt necessary. With the earlier books, I thought they would serve a purpose as an introduction into the larger works, but now that I’ve read one where I don’t know some of the details Windham covers, I can see that it only causes confusion. I’d skip over these if I were to do this project over again.

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Children of Time

August 1, 2017 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

timeChildren of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky

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There are the classic epic science fiction novels — DuneStranger in a Strange Land, and Foundation among them — that everyone should read. They’re powerful works of fiction that force the reader to rethink everything they’ve known before so they walk away with a new perspective on the world and about themselves. Children of Time is another book to add to that list.

The story is twofold. It tells the story of humans, having abandoned Earth after destroying it and traveling through space to find a new world they can call home. It also tells the story of a species on a terraformed planet, uplifted with the help of humans, and how their civilization builds as they gain sentience. The two stories are intertwined and told in parallel, and it’s fascinating to read about the rise of one species while another speeds headlong into its own destruction.

Children of Time spans eons, but never feels tired. As a result, it’s a slow-burn of a story, but it never feels slow. The development of the two timelines is so compelling and realistic that it’s hard not to stay engaged. I found myself wanting to know more about the uplift species than the human drama, mostly because the human drama was something I’ve seen before. Still, the story involving the humans was engaging, too, thanks to Tchaikovsky capturing the characters so well.

Because the story spans such a long time, it would have been easy to get lost among generations and names, but Tchaikovsky overcomes this in two ways. For the human characters, he employs suspended animation so we see the same characters over centuries and millennia. For the uplift species, he creates archetypes of characters that he reuses from one generation to the next that he brings into the story, which works because the species has a genetic memory. The way Tchaikovsky writes his story, it’s suggested that the species don’t have names; instead, when he introduces a new archetype, he instead writes, “call her Viola”, or whatever name he chooses for that archetype.  It’s a brilliant device, and it helps to keep us connected to a species that, in our own minds, are still animals. Instead, we cheer with their victories and feel sorrow for their loss.

Tchaikovsky’s dialogue feels natural, and his characterization skills are strong. He does rely on lots of telling, but the book is a hard science fiction novel, and that’s to be expected for delivering so much technical information. That being said, the author has good turns of phrase, and he has moments where he shows us human nature in all its good and ill. The novel is a strong commentary on humanity and its endeavors, and where it can go. The ending feels a little forced in some ways, but it’s mostly in the science, not in the plot or the characters. Tchaikovsky doesn’t cheat on his story, and there’s so much good in this novel, I can overlook some clumsily-applied science.

Children of Time is moving, compelling, and thought-provoking. The story is as much commentary as it is fiction, and it shows us the best and worst in ourselves. In short, it’s everything a good science fiction novel should be. Fans of epic, generations-spanning science fiction should read this, as should anyone who enjoys a strong, well-told story.

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The Last Jedi

July 31, 2017 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

lastThe Last Jedi by Michael Reaves and Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff

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It’s weird returning to an adult Star Wars book after having read so many juvenile books previously. It makes the differences between the two literature stand out, since the simplified storytelling of the juvenile books makes for such quick, easy reads. Plus, the shorter lengths of the juvenile books meant there weren’t many subplots; with The Last Jedi, they’re more prominent.

Reaves returns to his usual cast of characters with The Last Jedi, bringing back Jax Pavan, I-5YQ, and Den Dhur, all of whom featured in the Coruscant Nights series. In fact, it follows the events of Patterns of Force so much that I’m surprised it’s not a part of that series. In this book, Thi Xon Yimmon, Jedi Knight and leader of the Whiplash rebellion group, is kidnapped by Darth Vader, and Jax goes on a long journey to get him back. Jax also loses Laranth in the same confrontation where Yimmon is kidnapped, so he’s entertaining dark thoughts, and is tempted by the dark side, especially since he has a Sith holocron in his possession. Jax struggles to balance the Force within himself, and for most of the novel, he’s doing his own thing, without any input from I-5 or Den.

Part of what made Reaves’ other Expanded Universe novels interesting was his use of these central characters, building on and developing their characters from one story to the next. From I-5’s sardonic quips to Den’s pessimistic outlook, with Jax trying to manage the entire group despite all of that, the characters were engaging and served as the anchor for the stories. By dividing them in this book, Reaves removes the key to his story, and it’s a lot less interesting for it. Jax travels from place to place trying to locate and rescue Yimmon, and sometimes I-5 and Den are with him, and sometimes they aren’t. In fact, for as much as I-5 and Den actually serve a purpose in the book, they may as well not even have been featured at all.

For as lengthy as this book is (460 pages), not much happens. There’s a lot of traveling, a lot of backtracking, and a lot of angst-ridden introspection that carries the story, and frankly it’s pretty boring. Under different circumstances, it might not have bothered me much, but after reading the cleaner, more direct juvenile books, The Last Jedi wasn’t the right book to ease me back in to reading the adult books. I’ve been toying with shifting my attention to the new canon books and reading those to stay on top of the new movies, and this might be a good time to make that shift. I’ve made my way through and beyond the prequel trilogies, and the next book I have to read is from the older wave of EU novels. I believe my next read in this project will be Catalyst.

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The Last of the Jedi: Reckoning

July 26, 2017 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

reckoningThe Last of the Jedi: Reckoning by Jude Watson

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Ferus, one of the last of the Jedi, finally confronts Vader. At the same time, the truth regarding Flame, the mysterious benefactor of the rebellion, is revealed. Ferus also confronts Obi-Wan over his long-term mission, and gets to ask him all the questions we’ve been asking for the entire series. In short, the main plot points of the entire series come to the front here, and the main characters all get a chance to have their reckoning.

I’ve said in other reviews that this series feels more like one long novel instead of a series of novels featuring the same character, and now that I’ve finished the series, I feel that even more strongly. The characters have time to develop from book to book, and even when Watson borrows characters from her other books, or introduces a character we already know enough about without giving us much background (e.g., Bail Organa), they feel real and developed. The later novels are much better than the ones at the beginning of the series, but given how the plot develops, this is no surprise.

With Reckoning, Watson brings The Last of the Jedi — and her foray into the Expanded Universe — to a close, and she does it well. She gives real emotion to her characters, and gets the reader to feel for how things end. Over the ten books, the real connection has been Ferus and Trever’s relationship, and here she brings it to a bittersweet end. For me, that makes the book stronger, and the series one of the best of the juvenile books I’ve read thus far.

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The Last of the Jedi: Master of Deception

July 25, 2017 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

deceptionThe Last of the Jedi: Master of Deception by Jude Watson

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Master of Deception takes us to Alderaan, and brings Bail Organa to the front of the story. Ferus, still working for the Empire, is sent to investigate reports of a Force-sensitive child. We already know the reports are accurate, since we know Leia is on Alderaan, but Ferus, still working as a double-agent, works against the reports, trying to downplay the findings.

I find Bail’s character to be one of the more interesting in the Expanded Universe. I feel like he received short shrift in the movies, but he’s been developed into a real character in the EU. His honor and nobility, and his working behind the scenes to try to undermine the Empire, strikes a chord with me. The story continues to show Ferus as he struggles with succumbing to the Dark Side of the Force, but the individual story here shines through the larger story for a change. It’s win-win for me, since I find the larger story to be more compelling, but I also found the main plot of this book to be as interesting.

I have one more book to go in the series, and I’m certainly not going to stop, even if I weren’t already committed to reading all of the EU novels. I get the feeling the overarching plot will be the primary focus of the last novel, and I’m eager to see how Watson pulls it off. She’s been able to portray real emotion with her characters, and with all that could happen in the last novel, I expect it will be a strong conclusion.

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