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Scourge: Star Wars Legends Mass Market Paperback – April 24, 2012
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About the Author
Jeff Grubb is an author and game designer. He is the co-creator (with Ed Greenwood) of the Forgotten Realms setting and one of the co-founders of the Dragonlance setting. He has written fifteen novels and thirty short stories set in such worlds as Forgotten Realms, Dragonlance, Starcraft, Warcraft, and Guild Wars. He has written and contributed to more than a hundred games and game support products, including the Star Wars RPG, the Star Wars miniatures game for Wizards of the Coast, and Star Wars Attacktix for Hasbro. He is also the creator of the Whappamanga VoxBox, a handy device that allows Wookiees and Gamorreans to be understood in Basic. He lives in Seattle with his wife and two cats, and currently builds worlds for ArenaNet, the makers of the Guild Wars game.
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This is a tale about little-known Jedi, Mander Zuma, who's career in The Order has never really taken him into the field. He is an archivist (a.k.a. "librarian") who found himself in the role of teacher to an apprentice out of necessity. His student, upon reaching knighthood, is killed on one of his first solo missions. This leaves Zuma emotionally distraught - wondering if his shortcomings as a teacher contributed to his former student's death. He is dispatched by The Order to investigate the death and complete the fallen knight's mission - a trade negotiation with a Hutt lord. In true Star Wars fashion, however, the death of a Jedi is never an isolated incident, and dealings with the Hutts are never what they appear on the surface. Zuma is quickly embroiled in a conspiracy involving not only the murder of a Jedi knight, but also the trafficking of a potent new hard spice that has recently hit the market. Joining forces with his former student's sister (an independent spacer also searching for answers about her brother's death) and her Bothan partner, Zuma's investigation takes the reader along on a journey to a number of worlds between the Corporate Sector and Hutt Space. Arrayed against him are Hutt crime syndicates, Rodian clans bent on vengeance, and the always by-the-book Corporate Sector Authority. It is truly a fish-out-of-water story about a Jedi struggling to overcome his own perceived insufficiencies while trying to solve a mystery he was never prepared to encounter.
The pacing of this novel is a bit jarring - never staying in one locale or plot development for long. My biggest complaint about the author's style is in what is left unsaid. Solutions to conflicts are often glossed over with critical details overlooked. For instance, a chase sequence will sound hopeless at one moment with little chance for survival and then suddenly they meet someone helpful and the next paragraph now finds them miles away in safety. How did they get there? How did they escape all the people chasing them? The reader is left to make their own assumptions. Character development and back-story is often overlooked as well. The reader is expected to take a character at face value and make judgements about his or her motivations and personality based solely on the actions portrayed in the story. There is very little dialog between characters to fill in the gaps. As for Mander himself, he was uninspiring in his uncertainty at the start, but suddenly manifested that famous Jedi wisdom mid-way through the book. There was no watershed moment, no plot twist that clarified his inner turmoils or personal doubts - he just was suddenly a more confident leader (another gap). In addition to this inconsistency, one notices a sudden change in Zuma's skills as a knight in the field. In the beginning he describes himself as being a less-than-capable warrior, feeling unattached to his saber and not comfortable with its use. His efforts in early fight sequences are barely sufficient to keep him alive where other more established Jedi would have handily dispatched his/her foes and walked away without a scratch. This led to an early inquisitiveness on my part - wondering how in the world this Jedi would manage to survive in a hostile galaxy to solve this mystery. I looked forward to seeing some unconventional Jedi tactics. After reading almost exclusively about the exploits of famous Jedi - particularly Skywalkers, Solos, Horns and the like - I was hoping to see what a Jedi without those skills could accomplish. However, like other details overlooked by the author, halfway through the novel Mander suddenly exhibits all those traits of a tried-and-true Jedi master - wielding his blade with mastery and becoming an unstoppable force on the battlefield. How did we get from point A to point B?
If you can overlook those points, the story is good enough to keep a readier interested and the plot certainly does move - never languishing. The climax was more or less predictable but not to the point that it became an uninteresting read. Overall, I give it three stars. It's a good weekend read that takes you to the comfortable surroundings of our galaxy far far away, even if the faces are unfamiliar ones.
The book is a fairly quick read. I got the kindle version and less than 2/3 was the novel. The remaining third was advertising for other books.
Unless you've read most of the other books and need your craving for more satisfied, I'd steer towards another book in the star wars collection.
The book starts off with a bang as we experience Mander's apprentice's final moments. Toro Irana is acting extremely strangely for a Jedi, filled with anger and lashing out at the locals on the planet of Makem Te. It's a gripping start to kick off the primary mystery of Scourge, which centers on a new substance named Tempest. The mystery is not particularly deep and it's not difficult to unravel where it's headed for the most part: the biggest question mark is around who is heading up the distribution of Tempest and what their motives were for interfering with a Jedi.
As Mander's investigation proceeds, he picks up several allies, including his apprentice's sister Reen and the entertaining Bothan Eddey Be'ray. Mander is not the Jedi they expect him to be and his penchant for talking rather than throwing down with a lightsaber provides more than a few fun moments. There is a sense of freedom around Mander taking on this mission with non-Jedi allies and not once reporting back to Luke or any other Jedi Masters on his progress or to solicit advice. Occasionally the various novels mention that there are a couple hundred or so Jedi running around under Luke's leadership, so it's quite refreshing to actually spend time with one who acts autonomously.
It's also welcome to explore the Hutt underworld further. Scourge introduces us to the Anjiliac clan, a relatively "clean" group of gangsters compared to their brethren (i.e. they don't sell the "hard stuff" when it comes to spice). The Hutts are each rendered with a distinctive personality, especially the pint-sized Mika, and their plotting throughout the story is appropriately murky. I've wanted to see more of these types of Hutt dynamics since the Clone Wars TV show featured a Hutt council on Nal Hutta, and their mixture of personas maps well with the varied group the cartoon introduced.
With Scourge, Mr. Grubb gives us a truly standalone story set in a time of giant series (this is just prior to the New Jedi Order) and highlights brand-new characters in a side story that has a true Star Wars vibe about it. I found his writing very straightforward, down to the extremely literal chapter titles, but certainly solid enough. Beyond Mika and Mander, I don't think these characters will stick with me for very long, but they are easy to differentiate and follow while reading the book (unlike a few Star Wars books where the garbled consonant-filled names for minor characters tend to blur together). I enjoyed reading an independently-minded book set in this part of the time line and hope for more one-offs like it in the future.