The Joiner King - Troy Denning "Who else can we trust to wield our power? We must follow our own consciences."

Five years have passed since the war with the Yuuzhan Vong, and some of the younger generation of Jedi Knights, including Jaina and Jacen, have left for the Unknown Regions. They have been summoned by a strange new alien race--one that has the Chiss carefully protecting their borders. When Han, Luke, Leia, Mara, and Saba head out to find the young Jedi Knights, they learn that not everything is as it seems...and secrets are everywhere.

I Liked:
One of my biggest complaints against Bantam era novels is how they often had some galaxy spanning crisis of the moment. I love my epic stories, but a single novel or a trilogy can't really give you the room to really make a conflict epic. Here, Denning doesn't try to make this conflict affect the galaxy in such an intimate way. Sure, the Jedi don't want to tick off the Chiss because the Chiss do help in border patrol, but again, this isn't "Life or Death" of the galaxy. It's just politics.
Also, it's a whole lot of fun to see our favorite characters post-NJO. Han, Luke, Leia, and Mara are all well done, with appropriate growth from NJO and the five years. I thought Denning did a good job with all of them, to make them consistent and yet grow. Newer characters, like Jaina, Tesar, Alema, and Jacen, are equally well-done. I particularly wanted to read more about Jacen, as it seemed he had a lot of interesting insight. And kudos to Denning for the Tenel Ka/Jacen romance, brief as it is. Saba, who hadn't been my favorite character in the past, was extremely well-done. I love the effort Denning put into making her distinctly non-human. Her thoughts, actions, and words were most definitely Barabel and a much appreciated departure from "humans with rubber foreheads" you tend to see in scifi. And I thought Denning did a fairly good job revealing Luke and Leia's parentage (though read below).
The new aliens were pretty cool as well. I liked seeing the connection between the aliens and the Killik Twilight, an Alderaanian moss painting first seen in Tatooine Ghost. I love authors who drop things like this in books and then get a chance to return to them. I also like how it made the galaxy seem bigger and with a greater history.
The best things in the novel, however, are the Killik Hive Mind and the government vs Jedi. The Killik Hive Mind is an interesting concept, one that hasn't yet appeared in Star Wars. It's always interesting to look at "independence" and the Jedi Battle Meditation and see what new things can be learned. Similarly, I was very intrigued with the relationship between the government and the Jedi. Half the Jedi believe in supporting the government; the others believe in following the Force. Yet both still take money from the government coffers. Luke comments on the new "Grey" Jedi beliefs: that there is no Light and Dark side, only a Light and Dark side of a person (individual choice). I love new discussions, and it's cool to see Jacen's findings from NJO in this new arena.

I Didn't Like:
Tons of characters. Take a brief look above at the names I mentioned then tack on about a half dozen to a dozen more. I do love how Denning avoided making all the parties human, but did Han and Leia and Luke and Mara and Saba and Jaina and Jacen and...and...ALL have to be involved? Kinda hard to get invested in characters when they hardly appear.
Speaking of hardly appearing, let's talk about R2-D2 and his revelation. As I said above, generally I love it. However, it completely, and I mean completely, drops off the face of the book about 200 pages from the ending. I understand throwing in a scene where Luke learns more about his mom in the middle of a battle wouldn't work, but I still felt somewhat confused when there wasn't even a hint of it in the epilogue.
The pacing also is all over the place. The story tends to get bogged down in this sudden "Let's explain exactly how the Millennium Falcon goes into hyperdrive" (huh? When did we start doing this?), scenes where everyone and his/her mother (sometimes literally!) join up to go somewhere, or odd battles. I had a particularly hard time near the beginning when Jaina and Jacen and the others are fighting with the Taat against a Chiss force. I kept wondering where they were going, what they were doing, and what the whole point of the scene was. Speaking of "what the whole point was", there's also this strange, out of left field scene where Saba goes hunting. The scene is important to show that a baddie is still alive and to establish Saba's alienness, but overall, I couldn't help reading this and wondering, "Why is this here? Isn't there a different way to show this baddie???"
While the story is interesting, it's easy to start questioning how quickly the Jedi become Joiners. Isn't Jaina the Sword of the Jedi? Why is she so easy to sway? I didn't think she was THAT close to SPOILER...
Lastly, gore. Denning loves to gross us out with body functions, vomit, and body parts. It's not the worst I've seen, but I did get tired of hearing about so-and-so avoiding his vomit on the floor.

Dialogue/Sexual Situations/Violence:
Star Wars slang at worst.
Tenel Ka and Jacen consummate their relationship. The Killiks have a mating dance, which several of the Jedi Knights participate in. Yet another ex-girlfriend of Han's is revealed.
Kinda gory at places. Decapitations, arm removals, explosions, goring, and more may be found.

After the epic NJO, it's nice to have something more low key. And I love how this book explores the Killik's Hive Mind, the changes in the Jedi Order and the rising bickerings between the government and the Jedi. But the book was a challenge to finish. The pacing is funky, there are a ton of characters, and it isn't always easy to see what the point of a scene is. Good, but not great.