Choices of One: Star Wars - Timothy Zahn I haven't had this much fun in the Star Wars EU for far too long!

A new villain at the edges of Unknown Space is rising: Nuso Esva. He is gathering alien races together with the intent of toppling Thrawn and the Empire. Meanwhile, Han, Luke, and Leia have a mission: the world of Candoras, on the edge of Known Space, ruled by Governor Ferrouz, is extending an offer to join the Rebel Alliance. But can they seal the deal before the Emperor's Hand, Mara Jade, and the Hand of Judgement get to him first?

Timothy Zahn is my absolute favorite author, and this book just showcases all the reasons why I will buy pretty much anything he produces in hardcover.

In Zahn's hands, the characters flourish. This time around, I felt Mara Jade was better (not so "super-powered" as I found in "Allegiance"). Sure, she is still really powerful and highly competent, but she makes mistakes and is duped like anyone else. Thrawn also appears and is great. I only have two complaints about him: 1) he was not in the book enough and 2) it was slightly confusing WHERE he was (though that might have been done on purpose, and if that is the case, then it was well done). Luke Skywalker is so well-done in this book! He is just a dorky, naive kid! Zahn perfectly captures his awkward "not yet a Jedi" stage, his innocence, his idealism--basically, all the attributes we saw in "A New Hope". Han is back with a flourish and I loved how he chaffed at not being informed of all of Rieekan's plans. Leia is likewise great, nice and snappy, but never treading into b!tchy territory. And the sparks these two have...WOWSER! The stormtrooper deserters of Hand of Judgement are superb and are really beginning to become their own. I felt like Zahn is doing for the stormtroopers what Traviss did for the clonetroopers, and I am loving it. Each character is really blossoming--I adored how Brightwater had a lucky gold coin, how trigger happy Grave was, etc.

As for newcomers, Axlon and Ferrouz COMPLETELY stunned me. Both of these men refuse to be put into Star Wars EU stereotypes. I can't really say a whole lot more than that as it would completely blow the surprise and spoil the hell out of the novel, but when I got to the big revelation, I wanted to cry tears of joy. Just when I thought that new ideas, that unstereotypical characters were never going to appear in EU, Zahn comes in.

I happen to be a huge Empire Junkie, and I really loved how Zahn refused to make the Empire the Bad GuysTM. Sure, they oppose our heroes, but never once does Zahn make his Imperials goofy villains, chuckling about how powerful they are only to fail when faced against overpowered Luke, having Imperials undermine each other at every cost only for the power, and having the Imperials have little regard for human life. It's something I've said time and again: While I can 100% buy that SOME Imperials are trigger-happy, power-hungry mongrels, you can't have an Empire last for any length of time when all of its citizens are biting at each other to get on top. If there is NOTHING good about the Empire, how come it wasn't overthrown Day Two after "Revenge of the Sith"?

The plot this time was much more cohesive and interesting. I loved how Zahn pulled in all the characters on something seemingly unrelated, only to have it tie together in the end. Now, I will admit there were tons of times where I was wondering what was happening, and even at the end, I asked myself, "So...why did X happen?" Fortunately, Zahn had a little "Summary of What the Enemy Did", which normally I didn't like, but this time I appreciated.

One minor quibble I had was on the words, or should I say, the overusage of words. Zahn very much relies on "Point", "winced", "grimaced", and more in his writing, and I'd be lying if I said that it didn't bug me or at least jump out at me. All these diverse characters, and they all "wince" and "grimace" when something bad happens? Another somewhat closely related complaint I have is how pretty much everyone makes the "right", "intelligent" choice that leads to a perfect outcome in the end. For example, if Mara makes a plan, she hopes that Bad Guy A will move left, so she can do X, which will do Y. And whaddya know? Bad Guy A moves left. After a while, it was a bit crazy.

I came down a bit hard on "Allegiance" (maybe it didn't seem that way, but I am a Zahn fan girl, and I didn't give it a glowing review, as I have with his other works), and I wasn't sure if I would really want to read more of Mara Jade, the Hand of Judgement, and our Big Three (Han, Luke, Leia). But Zahn has restored my faith in him; this book is a joy to read, reminiscent of "A New Hope" and all the things I adore about Star Wars. Definitely recommended!