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Star Wars: Maul - Lockdown (Star Wars - Legends)
Star Wars: Maul - Lockdown (Star Wars - Legends)
by Joe Schreiber
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $17.22
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4.0 out of 5 stars Maul: Lockdown, June 30, 2015
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Joe Schreiber's had an interesting run in the Star Wars universe, writing some of the darker entries in the Star Wars (Legends) Expanded Universe, and giving us zombie stormtroopers and Sith in his first two entries. MAUL: LOCKDOWN presents the same brand of visceral action that we saw in his previous two entries, DEATH TROOPERS and RED HARVEST, but in a much more structured story. This is definitely the strongest of his three novels, and he characterizes Darth Maul with all the rage we've come to expect from him. I hope that Mr. Schreiber gets another chance at writing Star Wars in the future, because even the Legends Expanded Universe was in dire need of novels with a darker slant.

Shadowrun: Neat
Shadowrun: Neat
Price: $2.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Hardboiled Cyberpunk, July 20, 2014
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This review is from: Shadowrun: Neat (Kindle Edition)
I'm new to Shadowrun, only recently coming off the exceptional RPG SHADOWRUN RETURNS with a kind of excitement for a pen and paper setting I haven't felt in years. Take NEUROMANCER, BLADE RUNNER, THE LORD OF THE RINGS, and FORGOTTEN REALMS, mix vigorously, and you get Shadowrun, a kind of sci-fi/fantasy blend I never knew I wanted until now. Naturally, I went to see what kind of fiction was available, and was disappointed to see the series had hit a bit of a dry spell until recently, only releasing the newest stories in the form of short stories or ebook novellas. So, while I'm waiting for the old, out-of-print ROC novels to arrive, I downloaded NEAT, which seems to come just as recommended as Nigel Findley's novels these days -- and even for being a novella, I can see why.

Zimmerman has done a fantastic job of channeling the world of Shadowrun while creating a grittier, edgier tone for the series going forward. The story makes good use of its short page count, providing a hardboiled detective narrative, but never losing sight of the fact that it has to be a Shadowrun story first, a detective story second. Zimmerman is obviously someone who knows the setting very well, and I don't think a single page went by that didn't evoke the setting in some way.

But if I had some criticisms, I would have to agree with a few other reviewers who state that everything wraps up a little too nicely. It's a more-than-common occurrence in detective stories, and NEAT is not the exception. Additionally, none of the characters really speak with the vernacular that seems to be common throughout Shadowrun stories; whether this was intentional or not, the little colloquialisms were always a charming part of the setting for me, and they were sorely missed.

All in all, NEAT is a fun, albeit brief, Shadowrun story that's surely worthy of being counted among the best. Most of the stories I've read so far either get the setting right or make the plot interesting, but never really accomplish both. Shadowrun seems to be making a bit of a comeback in recent years, and I really hope Zimmerman sticks around to help bring the setting back to fighting strength.

Doc Of The Dead
Doc Of The Dead

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Retrospective on the Zombie Apocalypse, June 28, 2014
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As the film points out, zombies have been around for decades in some form, and not just in film and pop culture; their roots go back to the culture surrounding slavery in Caribbean and African communities, and have even been the subject of anthropological studies, such as in THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW. So, how did we get from *there* to where we are now, with zombies outright dominating almost every form of media we have available to us? (Now including documentaries!) What is the mass appeal of something that, by its very basic definition, is meant to be outright grotesque and horrifying?

DOC OF THE DEAD really approaches these questions from all angles, giving us some very interesting and in-depth interviews from the key creative minds in the genre. George Romero (NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD), Max Brooks (WORLD WAR Z), Robert Kirkman (THE WALKING DEAD), as well as the legendary Tom Savini, Bruce Campbell, and Simon Pegg among many others. What makes this documentary all the more refreshing is that although everyone in attendance are clearly fans of the genre, there's this underlying confusion surrounding just *how* this genre got so popular in the first place. Without giving too much away, there are many reasons though each one seems more perplexing than the next. Is it the survival element? Is it the gore? Is it the more unsettling elements, such as the thought of friends and family suddenly becoming your greatest enemy?

Or perhaps more disturbingly, is it that zombies allow a certain disconnect that allows people to live out more violent fantasies without guilt? As George Romero asks during one interview: Just who are zombie fans exactly?

In addition to getting these very nice commentaries from all these people involved in the genre, the film also spends some time covering the anthropological origins of the zombie and their evolution throughout cinema, beginning with WHITE ZOMBIE and NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and going all the way to the present with the WORLD WAR Z film and THE WALKING DEAD TV series. This is clearly a documentary made by fans for fans, with some hilarious contributions by Red Letter Media, including some Plinkett skits.

If you're a fan of the zombie genre and don't mind it being poked and prodded, or seeing a side of it that might make you cringe in your seat (clips covering an actual Walking Dead porno come to mind), then I highly recommend giving this a try.

Saints Row IV PC
Saints Row IV PC
Price: $14.99
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4.0 out of 5 stars The More Things Change..., January 24, 2014
= Fun:4.0 out of 5 stars 
This review is from: Saints Row IV PC (Video Game)
So, here's the thing about SAINTS ROW IV: I had a blast playing through this game. The introduction of superpowers is a welcome addition to the genre this side of INFAMOUS and [PROTOTYPE], and makes the world of the Saints Row series that much more over-the-top. Basically, I haven't had this much fun since SAINTS ROW THE THIRD, so going forward with this review, know that I really liked this game and would most definitely recommend it to fans of the series and superhero games in general.

But! In a lot of ways, SRIV doesn't do a whole lot to push the series forward, which disappoints me to say. When people responded so positively to the sailing sections of ASSASSIN'S CREED III, Ubisoft built an entire game around that aspect. Conversely, when people responded so positively to the superpower aspects of SR THE THIRD's DLC pack, Volition didn't necessarily build an entire game around that aspect as much as they rebuilt SR THE THIRD. New story, new abilities, new customization, but we're still pretty much in the same old Steelport, which means a lot of the old criticisms still remain.

Firstly, Steelport itself. Looking back at SAINTS ROW 2, Stilwater was one of the finest open-world cities I've even had the pleasure of playing through. The city felt alive, with public transit systems, unique interior locations to explore, distinctive districts, gang territories. I loved Stilwater more than Liberty City, and would compare it favorably to San Andreas. Steelport, by contrast, feels very homogeneous. Every place looks like everywhere else, and a lot of the character Stilwater had is just missing. There are train tracks, but the trains don't run. There's an airport, but the planes don't move. There are rivers, but no water traffic. In SRIV, you don't even have your cribs anymore.

Being a holdover from the last game, Steelport wasn't originally built with superpowers in mind. There have been some alterations here and there, but by and large the city itself inhibits a lot of the freeflow movement the game is trying to encourage. I can't tell you how many times I tried wall-running, only to get blocked by an overhang, or a fire escape, or other little architectural values. Once you level up your super jump, things aren't as much of a problem, but Steelport still isn't on the same level as either of the worlds from the aforementioned INFAMOUS or [PROTOTYPE], where there's very little to get in your way.

Customization is still largely unchanged from the last game, which may once again disappoint fans of SAINTS ROW 2. In my mind, it's a shame we can't see the same level of detail from SR2, but the new system is still enjoyable. The unfortunate thing is that it seems like not enough effort went into creating new clothing/character customization options. With a few exceptions, everything that was available in SRTT is still here, but it seems as though only a percentage of new options were added. For me, the customization element of the series has always been a highlight. It's what set it apart from GTA and other sandbox games of that type. The lack of improvement or additions in that area is more than a little disappointing, as is the startling amount of items that were set aside to be sold as DLC add-ons.

The story. This is where I'm the most conflicted, because it's every bit as entertaining as what we experienced in SRTT, albeit with a noticeably shorter running time. The humor is still there, so are most of the old characters, and the series' new commitment to going as over-the-top as possible is still in full swing. My conflict with the story, besides its diminished length, is that not a whole lot happens. The first couple hours are an explosion of exciting set pieces, fun and unique missions, and character interactions. After that, everything tones down significantly, including the whole President of the United States angle, which peters out fairly early. There are fewer and fewer cutscenes, which are replaced in favor of voice-over videos that set up the mission and let you have at it.

It also doesn't help that the crew is separated for most of the game, so interaction is sparse.

In its mandate to parody the Mass Effect series, which goes over well most of the time, you're expected to go out on loyalty missions to bond with your crew. Some of these are well done, with extreme props to the side-scroller/beat-'em-up mission that had me absolutely cracking up. Outside of a few exceptions, SRIV spends a lot of its story trying to recapture the magic of SRTT. Pretty much everything from the last game comes around again, and even some of the standout set pieces from SRIV itself are reused every now and then to the point where you get the sense that you're doing the same few things over and over again. Even the characters themselves make a few jokes about how, "Hey, this looks familiar" or "How come all the quests start from the same bar?" It's odd when even the developers are acknowledging repetition.

Another one of my big criticisms from SRTT was how Volition folded many of the game's activities into the story as if they were main quests. I didn't like it then and I really don't like it now. Going forward, I hope Volition keeps the game's activities out of the story and, if anything, keeps them restricted to sidequests if they absolutely have to tie them in somehow. All they do is serve to water down the story.

And this last point might be digging a little deeper than it needs to, but part of my conflict with the story was how it sort of parodies its own storyline. I don't know about other fans, but the characters and stories these games have created are a big reason why I'll probably always come back to Saints Row. It was a little off-putting at times to see a lot of these old story moments get minimized or parodied in insane ways to the point where Volition is almost making fun of the player for caring in the first place. I might just be getting a little too sentimental, but some moments in SR2 absolutely shocked me, and the series from SRTT to SRIV seems to be actively working against its players getting too invested in its characters. (I could mention a few overly hasty off-screen deaths as evidence of this.)

I started out by saying I really enjoyed the game, and I'll end by reiterating that. If you enjoyed SAINTS ROW THE THIRD, then SAINTS ROW IV will very likely be just as enjoyable. If I had to make a few guesses, I'd say THQ going under really put a financial squeeze on Volition's budget, which would more than explain bringing Steelport back for one more run. It doesn't quite feel like an expansion pack for SAINTS ROW THE THIRD, since I have about 30 hours into the game and have had a ton of fun throughout... but it *almost* feels like an expansion pack.

That is to say, aside from some gameplay additions and the new story, there isn't a whole lot that has changed. It doesn't feel like the leap that we saw from SAINTS ROW to SR2, or even from SR2 to SRTT. It walks some kind of middle ground between innovation and stagnation that makes the experience a roller-coaster of fulfilled and dashed expectations. I'm really, *really* not sure what kind of shape SAINTS ROW 5 will take at this point, but I'm hoping that Volition actually gets back to basics in some ways. Keep the over-the-top style, but put the focus back where it belongs. There's a reason we wanted Gat back, and it's not because of his brief appearance in SAINTS ROW THE THIRD. Volition did something very right in SR2, and I hope they remember what that something was.

Star Wars: Dawn of the Jedi, Into the Void (Star Wars: Dawn of the Jedi - Legends)
Star Wars: Dawn of the Jedi, Into the Void (Star Wars: Dawn of the Jedi - Legends)
by Tim Lebbon
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $17.40
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4.0 out of 5 stars A Thousand Generations, January 18, 2014
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This is the Dawn of the Jedi: where many races have been forcibly brought to the Tython system for unknown reasons, unable to escape; where the use of a hyperdrive is uncommon; where a Sith can be a Jedi Master and your local police chief; where the Jedi walk a line between light and darkness that would make the Masters of Yoda's time cringe. The galaxy is a very different place.

I went into this book without any previous knowledge of the Dawn of the Jedi series of comics. INTO THE VOID takes place 25,000 years before the events of the films, which makes it the earliest book on the timeline by a very wide margin. We follow Jedi Ranger Lanoree Brock (written as Je'daii in the books), as she travels the Tython System looking for her long lost brother, Dal, whom the Jedi Order believes has joined a cult with aspirations for escaping the system and rejoining the galaxy at large. This cult's current plan: to reactivate an ancient hypergate with highly unstable dark matter, enough that the entire system could be destroyed if a problem were to occur. And given that this alleged hypergate is tens of thousands years old, a problem seems likely. As Lanoree follows in her brother's wake, we also get extended glimpses into her childhood, her path to becoming a Jedi Ranger, and just how things went so wrong for her brother.

This was a tough book to rate as far as stars, because when the book is good, it's really, *really* good, but it does drag significantly in places. As far as strengths, the worldbuilding of this book is absolutely fantastic. Lebbon is able to build settings that live and breathe and have their own quirks that set them all apart. This is a really important thing for me, that I can visualize the various exotic locations that Star Wars is capable of turning out, and this book sports some of the best that I've read so far. In addition, the Great Journey flashbacks are wonderfully realized, as Lanoree and Dal make their way through unforgiving lands to learn from the Jedi Temples scattered across Tython. Each temple has its own unique feel that corresponds with the lessons the "Journeyers" are being taught. These sections of the book were done very well. I'm not sure how much of the worldbuilding was Lebbon's and how much came from the comic writers, but what is here is exceptional.

Other little things that stood out: the Jedi in this book are most definitely *not* the ones we're all used to. These Jedi have a mean streak and aren't afraid to dabble with the dark to achieve their ends. Their overall purpose is to bring peace to the Tython System, and they are more likely to trend towards charity than maliciousness, but a few scenes had me wide-eyed and wondering if the Sith Lords of the galaxy's later years couldn't learn a thing or two from these Jedi. I also liked how INTO THE VOID dealt with a Jedi who had made up his mind to not use the Force, and his justification for doing so. It was interesting to see a Jedi argue *against* the use of the Force, and his reasoning was actually something I could buy into. Those moments made me realize Lebbon was attempting to go above and beyond to provide a unique Star Wars adventure.

There was a point in the book where I was absolutely ready to give this book five stars, but I did have a few hangups with INTO THE VOID. For one, a lot of this book is strictly third-person limited narration and dialogue is disappointingly sparse. I typically frown upon this in Star Wars books, when I'm just waiting and waiting for someone to just say anything. Character interactions enforce our image of the main characters, but when no one's talking, and all we have are Lanoree's thoughts to go on, things start to drag. It's a boon to the novel that Lebbon's writing is so vivid, but he still manages to fall into the trap of going off on tangents, providing exposition on things that, at times, have absolutely no bearing on what's happening in front of Lanoree.

I also feel like, despite the worldbuilding, there are a lot of things lore-wise that should've been covered. This book is supposed to serve as an introduction to the Dawn of the Jedi setting, but I don't believe enough was done to really establish the main premise for those of us who haven't read the comics. For instance, the cult that Lanoree's brother aligns himself with, the Stargazers, are seeking away to escape the Tython system by activating a hypergate. The entire time I was reading the book, I was saying to myself, "Wait, no one can leave the system? Why?" The lack of knowledge of the setting sort of undermines the story of the book at times. Is there hyperdrive at all? How does the HoloNet exist at this point in time? How are all of these worlds habitable in the Tython System? Why are all of these races trapped in this system in the first place? With all the effort Lebbon did in creating the backdrop and the lore for the immediate story, the setup and introduction to Dawn of the Jedi are virtually nonexistent. Which could definitely be a problem for some.

I also think the present tense sections could've been handled with a little more grace. I got used to it eventually, but at the onset, the constant switching back and forth between present/past tense was a little grating.

If you're able to make a few allowances, INTO THE VOID is a very strong novel; enjoyable, fun, and clipped along at a nice pace. There are moments that are every bit as memorable as those from other EU entries, and the visual descriptions and worlbuilding are some of the best in the series. But it falters in terms of properly introducing readers to this brand new era of the Star Wars timeline, which I think should've been its top priority.

Honor Among Thieves: Star Wars (Star Wars - Legends)
Honor Among Thieves: Star Wars (Star Wars - Legends)
by James S. A. Corey
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $20.99
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars No Time to Explain!, January 7, 2014
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I approached this book with some grander expectations than usual. Firstly, this is the second book in a series that started off strong with RAZOR'S EDGE by Martha Wells, which set up this trilogy of books in a way that seemed to be striving for the fun factor over anything else. Secondly, the author, James S.A. Corey, has not only been making a critical splash in the sci-fi genre with The Expanse Series (which begins with LEVIATHAN WAKES), but is also the pseudonym of Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, the former of whom is also critically acclaimed for his work in the fantasy genre (The Long Price Quartet / The Dagger and Coin Quintet). Basically, with those credentials, I was expecting this to be a fun, rollicking story in the Star Wars universe, but I was also expecting it to pack a punch.

HONOR AMONG THIEVES is, confusingly enough, a sequel to RAZOR'S EDGE, a prequel as far as the timeline goes, and a standalone novel all in one. The Death Star has only recently been destroyed, and with the Empire's response to the Rebel Alliance turning more violent, the need for a hidden base to perform repairs, train troops, and coordinate efforts is becoming all the more greater. With everyone stretched so thin, people like Han Solo and Chewbacca are forced to pitch in and do their part, even if their motives lean more towards the monetary side of things. While the search for a suitable planet for the proposed "Echo Base" continues, Leia gives Han the task of exfiltrating an Alliance spy from a planet deep within Imperial space. But things quickly get out of control during the mission, forcing Han and the newly-rescued spy, Scarlet Hark, to dive even deeper into Imperial workings in order to recover a map that the Empire positively does *not* want to fall into Alliance hands. A map that, somehow, might mean the end of the war.

Right off the bat, one of the things I really liked about this book was that it keeps things moving. RAZOR'S EDGE was a fun time, but I had a distinct feeling of claustrophobia with nearly the entire story being set underground. HONOR AMONG THIEVES makes a lot of detours in its short page length, nicely juxtaposing a world that is so steeped in Imperial influence that it's almost sterile and another that feels closer to the hive of scum and villainy we see in the movies. It goes a long way to show how the Empire exerts such control over its citizens: force, paranoia, and maybe a dash of torture. This is where the writers' skills as worldbuilders really come out to shine.

Another strong point of the book is its characters. A large portion of HONOR AMONG THIEVES is pure dialogue, with characters old and new interacting with each other: fighting, joking, sparring, fighting again. Abraham and Franck (Corey?) are able to give everyone their own voice, make them unique, and their handling of the characters we all know so well are spot on. Han especially, which is a good thing since he is the absolute focus of the book. There are times when I felt like Han was perhaps becoming a little too idealistic for his own good, or strayed off into Captain Reynolds territory a little too much, neither of which are necessarily terrible, but they made me stop and do quick mental compare/contrasts to figure out if it was all within the realm of possibility.

Besides Han and Chewie, most of the other secondary characters we see are new to the EU, including the aforementioned Scarlet Hark, an Alliance spy who is nearly a fraternal twin of Han as far as personality is concerned. They're both sharp, cautious, and have a taste for wit to the point that they're nearly finishing each other's insults. But Scarlet is also a lot more idealistic, which is where Han is sort of in flux, since he still really can't figure out just why he's helping these people in the first place. Another character is Baasen Ray, a Mirialan smuggler-turned-bounty hunter who is after the price Jabba the Hutt has on Han's head. Han and Baasen have history in the smuggling business that once bordered on friendship, but fate or luck or the Force has ordained that one fell on hard times while the other got in good with the Alliance, forcing Han to wonder constantly what would've happened if the tables had turned.

The plot is where I have most of my problems, something it has in common with RAZOR'S EDGE. This is about as barebones as a Star Wars story can get without dipping into filler territory. Hovering at around 250 pages (making it one of the shortest EU novels to be published in recent memory), there is absolutely no wasted space here or, more to the problem, no time for diversions. The plot does not stop for anything, not even to make sense of itself at times. It hastens the reader from scene to scene, gunfight to gunfight, revelation to revelation - changing gears so quickly that at times not even the characters have time to think things out. This is a no-nonsense, fun/character trumping drama/complexity kind of book. Even the final revelation, which has all sorts of implications as far as the EU is concerned, ultimately goes unexplained. Because there's no time to explain!

A lot of this can be excused precisely because of the book's length. It doesn't stick around long enough for the plot to really be a problem in the grand scheme of things, and it doesn't do anything drastic with the Expanded Universe to justify being any longer. This is kind of a touchy time for Star Wars, since we have a new movie coming out within the next couple of years, and some authors have been forced to sit on their hands while we all wait and see how the EU landscape will be altered by Episode VII, and to what degree. The Empire and Rebellion series seems to have been created for the sole purpose of "playing it safe," by still delivering a good Star Wars adventure while at the same time keeping the impact on the established lore to an absolute minimum.

The main drawback to this is that we get to read books from talented authors like Wells and Corey (Abraham and Franck?), who would probably be better suited for a SW novel of a more in-depth variety. I hope that when LucasArts puts its guard down that these authors return for more, because the EU would be better for it. Regardless, HONOR AMONG THIEVES is an enjoyable read that is propped up by its fantastic dialogue, memorable characters (that I personally hope to run into again), and a plot that really, really doesn't want to waste your time. These guys seemed to have had as much fun writing it as I did reading it, and although it doesn't quite carry the hallmarks of the genre these authors are known for, it's probably one of the best SW debuts in recent memory.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 18, 2014 10:24 PM PST

The Republic of Thieves (Gentleman Bastards)
The Republic of Thieves (Gentleman Bastards)
by Scott Lynch
Edition: Hardcover
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4.0 out of 5 stars The Thorn of Emberlain, December 31, 2013
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The Gentlemen Bastards are back, and it's been a long time coming. The strengths of the series are still very much intact here, with Lynch's penchant for writing witty dialogue and lending good characterization in a minimal amount of space really propping up the story. It stumbles a bit with the framed narrative, but overall this is an excellent addition to the series. Let's hope we don't have to wait as long for book four!

Razor's Edge: Star Wars (Star Wars - Legends)
Razor's Edge: Star Wars (Star Wars - Legends)
by Martha Wells
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $17.40
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4.0 out of 5 stars After Alderaan, December 13, 2013
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We've only had a handful of books that take place in that three year gap between Episodes IV and V, but the EMPIRE AND REBELLION series seems geared towards shedding a little bit more light on the aftermath of Yavin and the build-up to Echo Base. With RAZOR'S EDGE, we're given something that's not exactly chock-full grand, sweeping events that have drastic consequences for the galaxy; this is more of a very long, very stressful day-in-the-life of Princess Leia Organa, as she attempts to use her political clout to further the Rebellion's goal of a more secure base of operations. As we've come to expect by now, nothing worth fighting for ever comes easy for the Big Three (Leia, Luke, Han), and a simple transaction of building material begins to spin out of control in a hurry.

Most notably, when Leia and her crew stumble upon a freighter being attacked by pirates. Specifically: pirates flying an Alderaanian gunship. Having just lost her homeworld to the Death Star, the spectacle sends Leia into an (understandable) moment of rage and forces herself into a conflict with the pirates. This decision is the flash-point of the book, as she quickly finds out that these surviving Alderaanians have turned to piracy out of desperation and have placed themselves and their ship in harm's way by doing so. By helping out this crew, Leia finds herself in a three way conflict between helping her fellow refugees, furthering the goals of the Alliance, and keeping the leader of the local pirates from killing them all wholesale.

What I really liked about this book--and what others have pointed out, as well--was how Wells managed to imbue Leia with a sense of survivor's guilt in this time after her world was destroyed. She is still deeply affected by this, but she is also a ranking member of the Rebel Alliance, and finding time for guilt becomes a challenging proposition when you always have to find a way to keep the morale of others at their peak. At least in the books I've read, we've never been able to get inside Leia's head in this way, to see that emotional conflict and how it informs nearly every decision she makes now. Not since Zahn's Thrawn Trilogy has someone done Leia justice, at least not in the books I've read. Han Solo is also perfectly captured, as we see the attraction between himself and Leia beginning to take root in some of the book's light-hearted scenes. (Including a scene that takes place in a restroom that had me downright cracking up.)

Wells also manages to introduced a large cast of characters in a relatively short novel, and make them easy to care about and relate to. It was also *exceedingly* refreshing to see that most of this cast were female, as I think the EU being outright dominated by male authors definitely tends to swing the character balance in a more masculine direction.

Despite all of this neat characterization, RAZOR'S EDGE is still an action novel at its core, and it deftly manages to strike a good balance between the two. The story clips along at a very good pace and seems rather adamant about not wearing out its welcome, which is both commendable and a tremendous shame, since all of the interactions between the cast just kept me wanting more!

Most of my criticisms are more centered on the setup and where most of the book takes place. An Alderaanian princess stumbling upon an Alderaanian ship almost completely by chance was a little too difficult to buy into. As Star Wars fans, we know this happens a lot, and it can be easily written off as "The Will of the Force," but that doesn't stop such coincidences from getting a little old. In addition, most of the story takes place on a pirate hideout built into an asteroid mine. This sounds amazing in concept, but there's only so much you can do with a network of tunnels before things start to either get a little boring or just plain confusing. Near the end of their stay, I had practically given up on visualizing the layout in my head. It was just a little too much of the same.

Regardless, Star Wars needs more authors like Wells, and I will be really disappointed if we don't see another entry from her down the road. Leia hasn't felt this much like a force to be reckoned with since she was fighting off Imperial forces *while* going into labor with twins. She is intelligent and savvy enough that she can mend political bridges that were thought to have been burned years ago, but she can also bring down an Empire with destructive force given enough time, and RAZOR'S EDGE more than exemplifies this part of Leia Organa that we remember from the films.

Art That Changed the World
Art That Changed the World
by Caroline Bugler
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $23.45
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5.0 out of 5 stars A fantastic introductory survey, November 13, 2013
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For anyone interested in art history - the different periods, artists, and the major paintings from each - this book is a great place to start. It doesn't get completely in-depth, but that's perfectly okay. (That's what JANSON'S HISTORY OF ART is for.) For each art period, you get very nice prints of the major paintings arranged in a timeline, descriptions of what made that period/painting important, as well as the historical context for it all.

I absolutely love this book, and I highly recommend that anyone with a budding interest in art history give this book a try. As an introduction, it more than gets the job done.

Kenobi (Star Wars - Legends)
Kenobi (Star Wars - Legends)
by John Jackson Miller
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $17.22
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4.0 out of 5 stars Kenobi's Vigil, August 1, 2013
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Star Wars was always meant to be a western at heart. Taking cues from John Ford and Sergio Leone, George Lucas infused their styles into the heart of a pulp science fictional landscape, where gunslingers took to the stars with blaster pistols at their hips. In a lot of ways, what Mr. Miller is really doing with KENOBI is taking the franchise back to its roots. We find ourselves in the place where the saga began and ended: on the unforgiving frontier world of Tatooine, where twin suns chase each other across harsh desert skies. With this book, we fill in some of that blank canvas between REVENGE OF THE SITH and A NEW HOPE, a section of the timeline very few authors have been able to even so much a reference - especially when it comes to Obi-Wan Kenobi. We get a small taste of what Obi-Wan must have had to endure during the nineteen years he spent looking over Luke Skywalker from afar, and if this story is any indication, things most definitely didn't get easier with time.

As a quick disclaimer, while this story most definitely revolves around Obi-Wan Kenobi, his actions, his struggles, the novel doesn't explicitly focus on him and him alone. This is a much broader story that affects many different characters to the extent that it might have been a little disingenuous to title this novel KENOBI. This seems to be an emerging trend from Del Rey, unfortunately. Just as DARK LORD: THE RISE OF DARTH VADER focused on a Jedi who survived Order 66, REVAN focused on Lord Scourge, and DARTH PLAGUEIS focused on Palpatine, KENOBI's story likewise finds itself divided. Rest assured, it is still a *very* good story (like DARTH PLAGUEIS, unlike REVAN), but those looking for a story that looks at Kenobi's tribulations explicitly might be a bit put off.

The outset of the story introduces us to a location called The Oasis, where the Caldwell family runs a general store that supplies and feeds all of the nearby residents - ranchers and moisture farmers among them. Annileen Caldwell is the proprietor of the store and, with the help of her two children, has carved out a relatively stable existence for herself. That is until Tusken raiders begin to encroach on nearby lands, effectively throwing the tight-knit farming community into a frenzy. All of this punctuated by the appearance of a mysterious man named Ben Kenobi, who insists on keeping a low profile, despite his ability to seemingly handle any problem the desert throws his way. As tensions with the attacking raiders reaches a fever pitch, "Crazy Ben" has to make a decision to either keep his hermit lifestyle intact, or act on righteous impulses calling to him from a dark past that not even Annileen can fully understand.

It's here that we find the main conflict of the story: Obi-Wan Kenobi's fierce dedication to the Skywalker family and his duty as a Jedi Master, a servant of the Force. To act on one means that he can't effectively act on the other. To play the hero means drawing more attention to himself, to his cause, which could eventually bring the Empire bearing down on him and the child he has sworn to protect. To remain a hermit means ignoring his lifetime of Jedi training and allowing innocents to suffer needlessly. It's a thin line he is forced to walk on Tatooine, and he's not always able to walk it to his satisfaction.

This was my first experience with John Jackson Miller's Star Wars novels (though I was recently able to read the first issue of his impressive KNIGHTS OF THE OLD REPUBLIC series), and I have to say that it was an extremely positive one. His dedication to expanding on what we know about Tatooine and its people was admirable. We get a greater sense of how Humans and Zeltrons and Rodians and Mon Calamari and what-have-you can eke out a living in the middle of nowhere, where water has to be processed from the sky or not at all. The Oasis has a great sense of community and friendship, with people from all walks of life leaning on each other, and a great cast of characters to populate it all.

Characterization is a strong point in this novel. The people Kenobi has to help bring back from the brink are people that I genuinely wanted to be saved. The Caldwell family especially, in all their dysfunction, are probably the more endearing characters, with their rough and rowdy lifestyle, and their sudden preoccupation with the new guy in town, Ben Kenobi, and his aversion to attention of any kind.

Obi-Wan Kenobi, though, is most definitely the highlight of the book - as well he should be. His initial struggles in setting up a home for himself while dealing with the problems at The Oasis as well as figuring out just how to effectively keep overwatch of the Lars family are initially amusing. The Jedi is very much a fish out of water in a place like Tatooine, and his efforts to stay out of the way often fail to a spectacular extent. But through his actions and the meditations the reader is able to glean, we see that Kenobi is still suffering very much in the wake of losing absolutely *everything* he once held dear. His fellow Jedi, the way of life to which he had dedicated himself, as well as the one person in the galaxy he considered family: Anakin Skywalker. We see him bearing the guilt of much of this, as he blames himself for Anakin's actions, his fall, and the drastic change in the galaxy Darth Vader helped to usher in. Miller brings out the best in Kenobi, but we also clearly see a man haunted by his own actions and inactions. More than any author I've read so far, Miller really gets Kenobi, and really capitalizes on the struggle that only a Jedi in exile could experience.

Another plus for me was the story itself. It's not often that we get a story that seeks to keep its scale to a minimum, eschewing many of the tropes that far too many EU authors seem to embrace. Unlike a novel like ANNIHILATION, there's no clear-cut good/evil conflict, there's no superweapon or deranged Force user. There's only Kenobi and the troubles of a small town in the middle of a barren wasteland. If only more EU authors could see this: a Star Wars story can be this small and still be exciting.

That's not to say everything in KENOBI goes off without a hitch. Some of the novel - a marginal section, thankfully - focuses on a Tusken warrior and their plight as they're gradually hunted to extinction by the farmers and their posses, losing their way of life and culture in the process. I can appreciate Miller wanting to put a more "human" angle on the Tuskens, but when push comes to shove, they're still the purveyors of endless atrocities against people who never had it coming. Basically, it was tough for me to care. Yes, I get that they're people, too, and they have a right to life just like anyone else - but they're a people raised to embrace pillaging as a way of life. It also didn't help that the Tusken sections of the novel, like the Tuskens themselves, appear when they're not wanted. They're slow in pace, in action, development, and often pop up when something interesting with Kenobi or the Caldwells is happening. They're little speed bumps in the grand scheme of things, but I felt every single one.

The climax, likewise, was a little rocky, adopting the "kitchen sink" philosophy and throwing everything at our heroes at once. And even one foe that seemed to come completely out of left field. Thankfully, the book still has a great conclusion.

But even taking that into account, this is still one of the strongest additions to the EU in recent memory, up there with DARTH PLAGUEIS and SCOUNDRELS in terms of enjoyment and character. John Jackson Miller is, in my mind, the best new novelist in the EU. He has a mind for Star Wars, a fantastic respect for the stories put down on either side of him, and very consistent writing ability. KENOBI gives us a glimpse into the struggles Obi-Wan Kenobi, one of the last Jedi, had to endure to protect that which mattered most to the galaxy - and to himself.

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