Shadow Games - Michael Reaves, Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff Dash Rendar, with Nautolan copilot, Eaden Vrill and droid, Leebo, is in a bit of a sticky situation: a recent Kessel Run and a run-in with Imperials have left his ship, the Outrider, a bit of a mess. Now he needs to scrape up some money to pay for the repairs, but where is a pilot without a ship going to find work? Javul Charn solves that problem—she says she has an obsessive fan on her tail and needs bodyguard work. Only, once Dash, Eaden, and Leebo join Javul’s crew, they quickly find out that nothing is as it seems.

I’ve been pumped about this book for quite some time. You see, Michael Reaves is one of my favorite Star Wars authors. He might have his hiccups (Death Star), but overall, he is a competent writer and an interesting storyteller. I had thought (based on REALLY early summaries) that this would be a follow-up to his Coruscant Nights trilogy, and I won’t deny that I was a bit disappointed when I found out that it was about Dash Rendar instead. Dash hasn’t been my favorite character; if you read my review of Shadows of the Empire, you’ll see I wrote that I felt he was too much like Han Solo. However, even that couldn’t dampen my excitement too much for this book, and on the most part, I was pleasantly surprised.

Michael Reaves and coauthor Maya Bohnhoff (newbie to Star Wars Expanded Universe) do a great job with characters. Dash Rendar is the most sympathetic I’ve ever read him. No longer was he a Han Solo carbon copy. I felt he was his own character, with his own motivations, with his own reckless behavior (such as during the beginning, when he is making the Kessel Run), with his own doubts and misgivings. Eaden Vrill was my personal favorite; he was the deadpan straight man to Dash Rendar, the Mr. Spock, if you will (which is odd, as Mr. Spock from Star Trek isn't my favorite character). I liked bringing in the teras kasi master to the novels (something I haven’t seen yet), and even his being related to Kit Fist, a fairly major canon character, isn’t unfathomable. Leebo was a riot. Sure, Reaves is not unaccustomed to smart-talking droids (I-Five, anyone?), but Leebo is not I-Five. I-Five was sentient, self-aware, capable of being snarky on his own, and Leebo most certainly is not (he is snarky because of a program from a previous master). Han Solo is in top form. I love how Dash finds him irritating and obnoxious, and yet, Han Solo is never out of character (though it is sacrilege to send Chewie away when this would be a perfect opportunity to showcase him!).

I wish I could say the other characters were as delightful and charming, but for me, they weren’t. Javul Charn was one shade of irritating after another. Here was this woman who consistently lies, runs away, putting herself in danger at the expense of others, and yet we are supposed to be charmed to death because she is “so sweet and innocent and beautiful”. BLECH! I’m sorry, but if I were Dash, there would have been several times I would have throttled the woman. Tell the frakkin’ truth already, hussy! And as a sidenote...where are the drugs, the booze, the boys, the dancers that should be dripping all over her? I'm not asking for raunchy, wild sex or opium dens, but having a popstar this squeaky clean feels really fake. Javul is the most sanitized popstar since Hannah Montana, a fictional popstar meant for TWEENS.

As for the rest of the cast, largely unmemorable. Dara, Javul’s stage manager, starts out like she would be interesting, but then disappears into the background. Her only character is that Dash calls her “Spike”. A ton of Javul’s crew (the captain, the first mate, the engineer, the cargo master, the costumer, all whose names I have forgotten) are introduced only to make the mystery more interesting in the beginning. They are introduced and abruptly sent away, making me wonder why bother introducing them in the first place (and no, “to be a red herring” is not a good excuse). Hitch Kris really bordered on stereotypical Black Sun baddie; all the comments about how he missed Javul only because her road show gave him an excuse to distribute contraband destroys any nuance his character could have. And why can’t “bad guys” have decent relationships? Just because they are “bad guys” does NOT mean they are evil in love as well. Edge introduces an interesting element--an assassin out for Javul--but other than his one note performance (that stretches VERY thin by the end), there is nothing really to him.

For the first half of the book, I really enjoyed the story. Sure, it was your standard mystery, but I liked it. Star Wars doesn’t typically do standard mysteries, and it was pretty well done. But once the story became yet another Rebel-Empire plot, I checked out. For once, I would like to read a story where the events didn’t have some grand impact into the epic battle between the Empire and the Rebel Alliance. Death Star and even the Coruscant Nights Trilogy were both decent novels, and neither relied on some silly Rebel plot to make the story work. Not to mention, when we finally find out "whodunnit", it was a conclusion that was confusing, badly explained (not a complaint you will see me give very often--I usually like authors to let me figure out how the culprit did the dirty), and basically ended up being exactly the person(s) you predicted halfway through (or earlier).

Also, the story felt like it went on too long. I won't go into too much detail, but the ending was drug out and a "surprise" was added that felt unnecessary and awkward, only inserted to make sure to squeeze in one more action scene. Granted, action scenes are well done in this book, but squeezing one more in to make an action scene quota is unnecessary.

The writing is pretty solid, but that is what I’ve come to expect from Reaves. I get the impression that Bohnhoff might have done quite a bit of the writing itself, as I didn’t see many of Reaves’ favorite words (frisson, for example). Sometimes, Dash becomes too emotional, too talky about his feelings (like a woman), and I am guessing that Bhonhoff wrote those sections. However, still kudos to her for doing such a good job.

And now, we return for another…Nerd Nitpicks!

WARNING: Nerd Nitpicks may have what some consider to be light spoilers. Proceed with warning.

1. TATOOINE?!?! REALLY!?!?! Our famous holostar was raised on Tatooine, the supposed buttcrack of the galaxy, the point farthest from the bright center. NOTE TO AUTHORS: STOP USING TATOOINE AS THE HUB OF YOUR ENTIRE STORY!
2. ALDERAAN!?!? ARE YOU SERIOUS?! Are the only two planets in this galaxy Tatooine and Alderaan?
3. Javul is Leia’s cousin?!?! Are you kidding me??? Is it not big enough that she is a holostar, but she also has to be connected to EVERY SINGLE MAJOR CHARACTER in the original trilogy (and if you don’t think so…related to Leia…flew on the Millennium Falcon with Han…lived on Tatooine like Luke…).
4. Can we PLEASE have an Imperial who takes his job seriously? D’Vox is just a joke. I know he’s supposed to be from some comic I haven’t read, so that’s why his characters is painted as it is, but still. All these slobby, power-hungry, money-grubbing Imperials makes me want to pull my hair out. I’ve said it once, I’ll say it a million times: I don’t doubt that the Empire has plenty of these kinds of guys, but you can’t tell me that the Empire would still be in existence if not for the average bail who legitimately believes in the cause.
5. Tatooine is 36 hrs away from Kessel at SUBLIGHT? Does not compute...does not compute...
6. Empire Murders Family Sob Story #376,567. Javul's mommy and daddy were harmless traveling musicians when the Empire goes, "They used to be in the Republic military...let's kill 'em!" Yeah, that's my first thought too. Let's murder the people who were in the military because they might rise up against you. How did the Empire last 20 years again??

Thank you for joining us for another Nerd Nitpicks!

I feel the first half of this book is more solid than the latter half, though fans of the more traditional Star Wars novel might think the opposite. I liked the mystery, I liked the investigation. Once the novel turned into a standard “Rebels vs. Imperials”, I just didn’t think it worked. I still enjoyed myself and was stunned to find myself liking Dash Rendar. A decent time waster and a perfect place for a Star Wars newbie to jump in. I hope both Reaves and Bohnhoff get to write a lot more Star Wars novels in the future.