Balance Point  - Kathy Tyers "If one pivotal person fell to the dark side...then this time, everything they knew might slide into stifling darkness"

Balance Point takes us about 10 months after Vector Prime. Han is on Duro, acting as an emissary of sorts for the Ryn. His son, Jacen, is with him, attempting to figure out his place in the Force. Jaina is injured and is sent to be with Han and Jacen; Leia eventually makes her way to Duro and reunites with Han. Mara makes a stunning discovery and slowly, a new plot of the Yuuzhan Vong unravels before their very eyes.

NOTE: Based off audiobook (hence some of the future misspellings) and novel.

Kathy Tyers is not unfamiliar to the world of Star Wars. She wrote The Truce at Bakura, a novel taking place right after "Return of the Jedi". Now, that book I had mixed feelings about. It had some decent characterizations, an interesting story, but felt a bit ho-hum, and the aliens were definitely weird.

So how is Tyers return to Star Wars? About the same as the last book.

Tyers has done a great job summarizing the last book for those who don't want to put up with that frenetic mess and tying up some loose ends. It's hard, in a series, to balance writing to old and new readers, but I think Tyers did a great job. She included a nice little summary of the events of Agents of Chaos II that was a good reminder for old readers (such as me, even though I had just listened to AoCII) and good for new readers with all the high points (sparing them the preceeding book's numerous low points). Tyers wraps up threads introduced in earlier books as well, thus keeping the series' continuity. Han and Leia get back together (excellent quote from Han to Leia: "You probably won't forget some things, but I was hoping you would forgive them), and, honestly, I don't have a clue why Luceno didn't bother to tie that loose end up (it wouldn't have taken that much time, and plus, it's wrapped up here really quickly). She also picks up the "Jacen doesn't have a clue what to do with his life" thread with a very interesting vision/dream sequence and brings closure to that in a fairly bad @ss way that involves facing off with the Yuuzhan Vong (no spoilers from me, no siree!).

The characters under Tyers' pen are also well done. Han and Leia are good (Leia is really well-done); I also found myself more interested in Jaina (I loved it when she expresses her disgust at her absentee parents, though I could've shot Mara's deprecating "But your mom is doing so much good" bull-poodoo--how about you sympathize with your niece when she's opening her heart to you instead of preaching, Macho-Girl?) and Jacen, particularly Jacen with his interesting quest. Luke, however, didn't really strike me as anything extraordinary, Anakin made really almost no major impact (though he had a particularly squicky scene...more in a bit) while Mara was a mixed bag. I liked seeing her go undercover again, but I almost wonder if the whole "Anakin sees Mara in a hot, Kuati outfit and goes ga-ga" was a bit much. MILF much? Also, I loved the exchange between Jacen and Ronga the Hutt over Kyp: "He killed millions" "Oh, that was when he was young". LOL

Even the story is pretty decent. The Yuuzhan Vong are rising in prominence, they are making a more solid stance against the Jedi, which is promising to polarize the galaxy, and they actually get to succeed (this is a big deal, as they are supposed to be conquering our Galaxy Far, Far Away). One of my complaints, if you've read my reviews for the earlier novels of this series, has been how the Yuuzhan Vong are "winning" but all the books seem to show the New Republic "winning". So if the Yuuzhan Vong are supposedly winning, how is it each book ends with the Good GuysTM succeeding in their crazy capers? The war should technically be over...right?

So much praise, so why such a low score? With all the good that is here, there is just so much blah, so much mediocre. Sure, there are good plot threads, but we have more unknown Jedi dying for the sake of dying (I hate characters that die before they are introduced or introduced well--one of the complaints I had about the Bantam novels, in fact). Characters that were prominent earlier (Danni Quee, for one) are completely absent. Annoying characters (Droma...) return. Some of the action/story gets bogged down, possibly because of the audiobook format (such as why Mara is going undercover as a Kuati). We have our major characters, such as Luke and Leia, being biased against species because, as always, ALL Rodians are "aggressive and single-minded" and ALL Hutts would sell their mothers' for a decicred. Ronga's actions, which go somewhat against Hutt "norm" were one of a few attempts to defy this "logic". And then, don't forget the animosity towards Jedi who are actually trying to fight back this threat and not just lying down and letting the Yuuzhan Vong take over every planet in their path.

As an entry in the New Jedi Order, "Balance Point" is a solid, if somewhat flawed, entry. It doesn't overly rely on previous NJO novels, so if you skip (as I highly suggest) the Agents of Chaos books, you won't be missing anything. It keeps the story moving. And we definitely start to see why the Yuuzhan Vong may be winning this war. Just don't expect brilliance on par with Stover, Zahn, and Stackpole, and you should be great.