Dark Journey - Elaine Cunningham A quick visit to the Dark Side and back in time for dinner!

The team of Young Jedi Knights return from Myrkyr, torn over their losses. Jaina quickly takes control of the situation and directs them to the Hapan Cluster to recoup. There, she meets up with her parents, fleeing Coruscant's destruction, and the ever duplicitous Ta'a Chume, who has a trick up her sleeve.

NOTE: Based on both audiobook and novel.

NOTE 2: I am not even going to try to avoid spoiling this book. So here's your warning. You don't want to know who died in Star by Star, skip to the end to hear my overall thoughts.

Elaine Cunningham isn't the first person I would think to write a sci-fi/fantasy/epic novel in the Star Wars New Jedi Order series. She's more known for her Forgotten Realms fantasy novels than for aliens and laser swords. But this series has been greatly missing female writers, and she was brought in to write Jaina's story. As this novel occurs after Star by Star, the death of Anakin, and the capture of Jacen, Cunningham has her work cut out for her with the mostly unexplored character of Jaina. How does Jaina react? What are her thoughts?

When dealing with Jaina herself, Cunningham was brilliant. I think one of the best scenes was when she recreated the fight between Jaina and Jacen at the Shadow Academy. Not only does this new-to-Star-Wars author make a continuity nod (EXCELLENT), she shows knowledge and adeptness when writing about the vision encounter. It was a particularly moving scene and had me on the edge of my seat.

As for the character, Jaina, she is well done. I thought perhaps there was a little too much "tom boy" and a little too "anti-princess" and a little too much "She cleans up well", but overall, I think Cunningham did a good job with the limited material she had. I also liked how Jaina and Jag interacted; lots of sparks there.

As for the other characters, I mostly feel indifferent. Han and Leia weren't bad (though the brawl that Han gets into is completely stupid--Han would never get that injured ;) ), Tenel Ka was great, Kyp was a mystery, Jag felt a little to feminine (or is that my feminine bias coming out?), and the Yuuzhan Vongs, once again, fail to do whatever they are supposed to do, while, of course, still somehow winning this war.

Now, let's talk about the part I really have a problem with: the plot. I feel there were three things wrong: not enough emphasis on Anakin's death, too much emphasis on silly Hapan politics, and short term story. Anakin's death could almost have been a sidenote; his funeral doesn't merit the attention it should, Jaina gets over her sibling remarkably well, and Leia and Han are far more emotionally stable than parents who lost a son should be. I understand this book wasn't titled "Anakin's Tragic Death", but still, come on, don't pretend it's impact is only a blip on the radar!

As for the Hapan plotline...oh. My. God. It's terrible. I could understand the power play Ta'a Chume would have, but the timing is inappropriate (shouldn't have been the emphasis of this book, maybe a later one) and poorly done. What got into Ta'a Chume's mind to even THINK Jaina would be a wimpy, easily-led queen? If Leia was as stubborn, why would her daughter be much different? At one point, Jaina agrees to consider Ta'a Chume's plan. Why does Jaina even CONSIDER this stupid arrangement? This is completely out of character and distracts from the mission of her coming to grips with her brother and getting revenge! UGH!

As for my last problem, for a quick time, Jaina basically turns to the Dark Side and is EEEEVIL to defeat the Yuuzhan Vong. But by the end, of course, Jaina has seen the error of her ways and is back on the "good side". While I appreciate that they even bothered to make one of the children flawed (at this time), why bother if you are going to hastily wrap up at the end? And speaking of hasty wrap-up, I wanted more of Jaina the Trickster annoying the hell out of the Yuuzhan Vong!!

But one thing I did like was the limited scope. We only have Jaina, Han/Leia, Jag, Ta'a Chume, and some Yuuzhan Vongs as viewpoint characters. It's nice to have a novel that scales back a bit.

This certainly wasn't the worst way I've ever spent my time, but I definitely feel it wasn't the strongest, most interesting of the NJO novels, nor was it the best novel of a Solo child. In fact, thinking back to when I first read these, I feel really bad as Jaina has the worst novel of the Solo kids (Conquest-Anakin, Dark Journey-Jaina, Traitor-Jacen). Decent but skippable.