The good news is, of all the Sean Williams books I've read (The Force Unleashed, and the NJO Force Heretic trilogy), this one is the best.
The bad news is that isn't saying much.
A Sith, a Jedi, and a Mandalorian walk into a bar...oh, right, I'm supposed to give a summary not a joke!
Through some crazy circumstances, an "eclectic" bunch of people all want the same thing. We have a Jedi Padawan, a Sith Apprentice, an Imperial spy (no, this isn't a spoiler), a drummed-out soldier, a smuggler, and a Mandalorian. This crazy bunch all find out about the ship, Cinzia, and its cargo, and they decide (eventually...) to (sort of) team up and seek it out.
Okay, mildly snarky summary aside (it does sound like the setup to a joke, doesn't it?), this actually wasn't the worst I've read from Sean Williams. I actually found myself liking a bit of it. There are some decently rendered action scenes, a romantic subplot that stays a subplot and does not take over the story nor sound too weird, and a few interesting characters. I particularly liked Jet Nebula. He was a lively guy, kinda interesting.
I've done my duty and complimented this book. Now time for the complaints:
First off, the book is WAY too long. I love me long, meaty books, but this book could easily have had 100+ pages chopped out of it and been a lot better for the editing. The first 100 or so pages were boring as mud. If I didn't have a friend pushing me, telling me it got better, I would have given up, obsessive Star Wars fan or no. In the beginning, a section rarely lasts longer than a page (a page!), and then is followed by another that is like 5 minutes in the future (this is better in the latter portions of the book, where this is toned down or it makes sense with the action to have so many section breaks). And the first could easily have been removed/altered so that there were no section breaks. Add to that the 6 page chapters (and I actually LIKE short chapters), and I felt like I was watching a cartoon on fast forward. Only, nothing was happening, other than setting up all the pointless characters.
Fight scenes, while okay, went on FAR too long; the first fight scene on Hutta, while a great change from the boring, sluggishness of the first 100 pages, went on so long, I got bored and started skimming. There were numerous scenes that seemed to be there only to flesh this out to the ungodly 480 pages mass market paperback. It would be like watching Shia LeBuff scream for three hours, and no director would EVER be crazy enough to make a movie...oh, wait...
The characters were pretty terrible. Other than Jet Nebula (and even HE has his problems), I didn't care about any of them. They were so generic and/or stereotyped, it wasn't funny.
Shigar: goody-two-shoes Jedi Padawan who doesn't pass the trials the first time for some reason the author never bothered to tell us.
Larin: the soldier who did something bad (and lemme tell you, the "bad thing" she did was so lame and overdone I wanted to smack myself with a brick), but teams up with the Jedi after knowing him all of 15 minutes
Ula: the Republic aide who is actually an Imperial spy. YAWN! Sees Larin and he declares her the "Most Beautiful Woman in the Galaxy". Ugh. (This is the part where the romance failed for me.)
Eldon Ax: the Sith Apprentice who is angry and out for REVENGE!!!
Darth Chratis: Sith Lord who is so totally EVULZ
Satele Shan: Wise old Jedi Master who actually doesn't say many wise things
Jet Nebula: Han Solo. Dash Rendar. Need I say more?
Dao Stryver: Mandalorian, which means A) he is super secret, and B) he is independent. The big reveal that Stryver is a female alien was TOTALLY UNNECESSARY AND STUPID!!
You see? These characters have been done over and over and over in fiction, and there is NOTHING that Williams does to try to make them special; instead, they play their one note, the one character trait Williams gives them, over and over and over, ad nauseum. I honestly didn't care who lived or who died. Though if Williams actually had the chutzpah to kill at least one of these jokers, I would have greatly appreciated it and been impressed. A lot of people have said, "I want to know what happens to these characters afterwards", but I don't share that feeling--partially because I didn't care about the characters and partially because Williams really ties up the loose ends and doesn't leave much to go on for a possible sequel.
The story is absurd. Why are all these people interested in this "thing"?! The Hutts don't know what it is; they are just auctioning it off to all these people and somehow, BOTH the Sith and the Jedi/Republic figure it must be worth buying. Suppose it was just space junk? Someone's old Singing Bass they got as a Life Day gift? A waste of time much?
This was SO completely worth teaming up with my mortal enemy!
But even that is only the tip of the iceberg. In order to tell more, I'll have to give some possible spoilers, so if you don't want to be spoiled, look away now!
What is even weirder is these super-powered robots. Somehow, thousands of years before Luke and Leia, a woman came up with robots that can adapt and change and are somewhat biological (sounds like stealing the Borg concept from Star Trek, now that I think of it!). WTF?! If these things have been invented, why don't they ever crop up later? Sure, all knowledge of their creation is conveniently destroyed (funny how easy it is to do that in movies--nobody apparently ever files their paperwork!), but I still don't buy it. Someone in the thousands of years would have tried to make these suckers and then who needs Emperor Palpatine or the Yuuzhan Vong?
**END OF SPOILERS**
On that thread, for a story supposedly set thousands of years before "A New Hope", there wasn't much of anything that set the surroundings out as being in the past. As an example: 3000 years ago, the US was still inhabited by the Native Americans, the culture was mostly agrarian, and the Greek Empire was the biggest power in the world (give or take a few years). You mean to tell me that people 3000 years before the Death Star had the same hyperdrive capabilities, the same comm power, the same stupid political squabbles (oh, sure, the Sith here are out in the open, but really...), the same structure? I just don't think so!
And I could totally get into nitpick territory if I started to analyze Williams' black hole physics. Since I A) doubt people would care for that and B) don't really want to get that physics nerdy right now, let's just say that physics and quantum mechanics were probably not Williams' strongest classes in college.
The verdict? Personally, I would skip it. I don't think Williams is that great of an author (though for a video game spin off book, he did a much better job making it feel like a book, instead of a video game walkthrough, unlike how he wrote "The Force Unleashed"), Williams didn't make the era feel very different from what we already know (or did he do that because Lucasfilm/Del Rey constraints??), the characters are boring and generic, and the story, while trying to be interesting and show off all the types of characters in The Old Republic role playing game, ultimately is stupid and boring.
HOWEVER! If you are one of those that will be playing The Old Republic MMORPG, you like Williams, or you just want to read some action in the Star Wars galaxy (and don't mind that it feels like Anakin or Luke could pop in at any moment), this may be your book.