Agents of Chaos I: Hero's Trial (Star Wars: The New Jedi Order, Book 4) - James Luceno Welcome back, Han Solo! We missed you!

The Yuuzhan Vong have a new plan to kill the Jedi: send Elan, a priestess of the Deception sect, into their midst as a defector and poison them. Meanwhile, Han Solo finally comes around and starts to come to terms with his grief.

NOTE: Based on audiobook and novel.

I find myself at odds trying to rate this book. On one hand, when I first read this, I was bored stiff. The language was too heavy, the plot too invisible, the characters too mediocre. On the other hand, the abridgement outdid the actual book (rare praise indeed!) and trimmed away the fat of Luceno's writing and left a pretty darn decent book.

Let me stop you now and say this: this review does spoil who died in Vector Prime (which you probably already know by now). So if you haven't heard who died and don't want to know, skip to the last paragraph.

The book opens with Harrar, a priest Yuuzhan Vong, debating life, religion, and the Jedi with a Gotal priest. It was really well done scene and definitely made me interested in the rest of the novel. The Gotal struck a nice balance of being independent, yet hopeful of the Jedi.

The introduction of the new character, Harrar, also opens the galaxy to religion, something that really hadn't been very prominent before (unless it was them crazy whackos kidnapping Leia's kids or somesuch galactic mischief). The Yuuzhan Vong have a very violent religion, and this is our first peek at it.

Then we move to Kashyyyk and Chewie's wake. I loved the ceremony but...why did it take 6 months to get around to his wake? Most religions have the wake sometime within the WEEK of a death. Is this a Wookiee thing? Were they unsure of his death? Luceno, tell us! Not to mention, Mara's absence because of her illness was stupid. Mara is family; she should have been there to commemorate Chewbacca's death.

It's about this time that I pick up on the Luceno-isms. Strange words like "arboreal" and "polyglot". Info-dumping (though I did like the continuity nods in some respects). And none of the characters, from Han and Leia to Luke and Mara feel authentic.

Let me be frank: this book is about Han coming to terms with Chewie's death. I am not going to diss too much on how long it takes for him to grieve (though 6 months of doing NOTHING does seem a bit excessive), but I will say this book should not have come after the Dark Tide duology. It should have been concurrent. While Leia is doing her shame dance to get Jaina into Rogue Squadron (btw, if you are a Jaina or Jacen fan, skip this book, they are barely in it), Han should have been out there with Roa, trying to find Reck, not at home at Coruscant drinking himself to oblivion. FOR SIX MONTHS. Apparently.

Han and Chewie were close, but I can't imagine him drinking for 6 months, suddenly becoming sober and THEN deciding to leave to avenge his partner. Talk about delayed reaction!

While I liked how Han and Leia endured difficulties in their marriage, both characters felt like they had to be warped in order for the separation to occur. I kept wondering why Leia was so sedate and meek; why doesn't she snap out at Han for his behavior? Yes, he is grieving and she knows this, but have people act like people! Lovers say mean things to each other, sometimes at their lowest points. Don't ruin Leia's character just to split our couple apart.

The other "couple" in this book is Luke and Mara, who are really only present to provide "tension" to the whole infiltrator plot. Oh, nos, Elan has poison and wants to meet the weakened Mara! Whatever will we do?! Their character is nothing like what has been established and Mara appears even more of a wimp than Leia.

But, let me stop stalling. Let me just get to the character everyone wants me to talk about. Droma. Ah, a more thinly veiled excuse for a sidekick replacement I have never seen! Firstly, Droma's species is the least convincing and most disturbingly similar depiction of a real world ethnicity (the Roma, more often known by the more derrogatory "gypsies") I have ever seen. Colorful, odd dress? Check. Fortune telling? Check. Nomadic? Check. Dancing and singing? Check. We can now add it to the following list:

Neimoidians -> Asian
Toydarians -> Jews
Gungans-> Blacks
Ryn-> Roma

Many apologies to all of the above ethnicities. I am embarrassed for each and every one of you. If it makes you feel better, remember: whiny, bratty, immature Anakin is Caucasian.

As if that weren't bad enough, I don't like how hard Luceno tries to make Droma Chewbacca's replacement. Han is taking Chewbacca's death so hard, he is separated from his wife and kids. Why do we need a poor excuse for a sidekick? Why can't we honor Chewbacca's memory without the chirpy insanity of a poorly drawn character?

Harrar isn't a bad new character, Vergere is great to see (love her bit of deception!), but does Elan have to be YET ANOTHER sexy female? Why is Yuuzhan Vong beauty so similar to human acceptable beauty? Shouldn't she be hideously scarred? But, oh, no, can't have anything like that! Women are objects meant to be manhandled and oogled at. I still have yet to learn my lesson.

As the fourth entry in the NJO, Hero's Trial is a great example of "too little, too late". We should have seen Han grieving much earlier. We should have had fights between Leia and Han earlier. We should have seen the priests a little earlier so it didn't feel like, once again, new author = new enemy. But still, it's got a decent story, and it's not often I can say that an abridged audiobook improved my perception of the book. I should probably rate this higher, as it is one of Luceno's best books in Star Wars EU, but I will knock down for all the above stated reasons.