I usually say that a Star Wars novel, even a mediocre one is better then just about any other book out there. The reason I feel this way in large part is because of the Expanded Universe that has been created by Lucasfilm and it's licensees. Even a story that I dislike adds to the tapestry of the Star Wars universe lending additional depth, new characters, and shifting the reader's point of view on events previously established.
That being said, I recently read Star Wars: Shadow Games by Michael Reaves and Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff. With all due respect to the authors, this is a novel that I haven't really been looking forward to. The idea to resurrect the Dash Rendar character for a standalone novel, and to set the premise around a galactic celebrity in the person of Holostar Javul Charn, left me wondering what the heck the editors at Lucasbooks and Del Rey were thinking in approving this book. I kept picturing The Bodyguard with Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston, except with aliens and droids.
There was some trepidation on my part based on continuity issues from Mr. Reaves last series, Coruscant Nights. Though I will say, I am a fan of some of Mr. Reaves Star Wars works. The penultimate scene in Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter, in which the lead character Lorn Pavan escapes the clutches of Darth Maul long enough to "safely" entrust a Sith Holocron to Senator Palpatine, is one of my favorite scenes in the Expanded Universe. I will also say that Reaves' Medstar Duology starring Barriss Offee is a very underrated and off-beat (MASH in Space) set of Star Wars books.
Enough of my ramblings, you want to hear about Shadow Games. I was pleasantly surprised by this book. I am a fan of the mystery genre, as child I grew up watching a lot of television and movies. Some of my favorite re-runs included Scooby-Doo and Murder She Wrote. I also enjoyed a heavy dose of the Hardy Boys series of children's mystery novels. In Shadow Games there are multiple hidden agendas and multiple mysteries at work, there is a strong who done it element combined with a slow reveal to the reader and the main character about what is truly going on.
The main character of the story and the primary point of view character is Dash Rendar. We basically follow Dash through the story except for a few minor detours. We also get a heavy dose of Leebo (Dash's Droid), Javul Charn (the holostar), Han Solo, Eaden Vrill (Dash's partner and Teras Kasi practioner), and Yanus Melikan (Charn's tour cargo master).
In addition to these characters we also have a number of Imperial and Black Sun characters, and even an assasin, that come in and out of the story and act the foils to our heroes.
I enjoyed the portrayals of both Dash Rendar and Javul Charn in the story, Javul in particular was a much better developed character then I was expecting going in. It is also interesting in the way that they portrayed Rendar and used Han Solo to contrast and compare the two characters. Long time fans will be familiar with criticism of Shadows of the Empire, that Rendar was created to be a basic carbon copy of Han because Han was unavailable for use in the story because of that unfortunate business on Cloud City. Well the portrayal of Han that we get in this book is like Han in the beginning of Episode IV except even more militant in terms of his independence and staying away from causes and women. I liked the winks in this book to the Han Solo Trilogy by A.C. Crispin and the way that Han's Bria Tharen causes him to look at women and at the Rebellion.
The key to the Dash Rendar in this story is his attachments. He is a character motivated by bonds of friendship and love, be that to his smuggling partner, his droid, or his would be paramour. In many ways it's this soft heart combined with the gruff exterior that makes Han Solo such an endearing character and why Dash grew on me in this book. There a few funny scenes that show the rivalry between these two characters that are so similar. If they weren't so busy one uping each other, then they might just get along pretty well.
There are some minor quibbles that I have with the book, the biggest thing that stuck out to me was a continuity issue that arises from a throw away line. One of Javul Charn's hangers on is a fashion designer, who according to the book previously worked for Lando Calrissian, the Baron-Administrator of Cloud City. When I read this, I couldn't tell why, but something struck me as off about this so I raced to the Wookieepedia to confirm my hunch. According to the Wook:
A year after the Battle of Yavin, Cloud City was run by Baron Administrator Lando Calrissian, who had won administration of the city from Baron Administrator Dominic Raynor in a Sabacc tournament. Not much later Raynor hired the bounty hunter Bossk to get revenge on Calrissian. Bossk and his group of mercenaries ambushed the new administrator in one Maintenance Level, but were unsuccessful.
It is a very minor line that doesn't factor into the outcome of the novel, but it is this kind of little continuity hiccup that drives the more continuity obsessed fans bonkers.
There was also the labeling of an Imperial Interdictor ship as an "Interceptor Class," vessel. You understood what they were getting at, but I don't recall ever reading those vessels referred to in that way.
We do get an addition to the ever growing list of in-universe profanity, with the phrase; "womp rat's ass."
There are two pretty big hanging threads that the authors leave open to interpretation or future clarification. I don't want to give too much away, but lets just stay Reaves an Bohnhoff give us another potential version of events leading up to A New Hope with a nifty potential retcon to solve some preexisting continuity issues.
They also leave this reader wondering about the identity of a certain character, who I think we saw heavily in the Bantam era EU under a different identity.
I enjoyed the say the end of the book dovetailed nicely into A New Hope, but it did so in such a way that there is wiggle room in the timeline. It is almost like Reaves and Bohnhoff purposefully set certain portions of this story in the sand instead of in stone to avoid continuity issues.
All in all, Shadow Games is an interesting change of genre for a Star Wars novel, a bit more mystery then we are used to seeing and an engaging enough tale to keep my attention all the way through.
It is a solidly average book in terms of the Star Wars publishing line. Worth a read, but I am not sure how many re-reads it will end up getting on my bookshelf.
To learn more about Star Wars: Shadow Games, you can visit Random House.com.
To learn more about the process behind this book visit, Ms. Bohnhoff's blog.