Thursday, April 19, 2012

Review: Star Wars: Scourge by Jeff Grubb

Star Wars: Scourge is the first Star Wars novel from writer Jeff Grubb, who has previously worked with the Star Wars franchise in the roleplaying game under licensee Wizards of the Coast. The novel Scourge is actually based on a story first crafted for the Star Wars Roleplaying game in the supplement book, Tempest Feud.

Set in the early years of the New Republic and the New Jedi Order, when Luke Skywalker's Jedi Academy is still based on Yavin IV.  Scourge follows the adventures of Jedi Archivist Mander Zuma as he investigates the violent death of his former Padawan.

Publisher's Summary:

In the heart of crime-ridden Hutt Space, a Jedi Scholar searches for justice.

While trying to obtain the coordinates of a secret, peril-packed, but potentially beneficial trade route, a novice Jedi is killed—and the motive for his murder remains shrouded in mystery. Now his former Master, Jedi archivist Mander Zuma, wants answers, even as he fights to erase doubts about his own abilities as a Jedi. What Mander gets is immersion into the perilous underworld of the Hutts as he struggles to stay one step ahead in a game of smugglers, killers, and crime lords bent on total control.
Much of the hype around the novel has involved the fact that it was a Hutt-centric novel, and it is true, Hutt culture really explodes in Scourge, as we get bits and pieces of the Hutts all over the novel.  We are introduced to four main Hutts in this story that are all different takes on the species in Popara, Zonnos, Mika, and Vagos. Though the Hutt that intrigued me the most only made a brief appearance, Parella the Hunter is a Hutt that likes to get his/her hands dirty.

The rest of the cast of characters is interesting as well, especially relevant after their inclusion in Star Wars: The Clone Wars are the Pantorans.  In this novel we have Toro Irana who is the Pantoran Jedi Knight and former student of Zuma.  We also get spacer, Reen Irana who is Toro's sister.  But the fun doesn't stop there as we get an species that may be the most regularly used of EU species in the Bothan Eddey Be'ray.  We also got the inclusion of a Klatooinian in the one-eyed female Koax, readers of the Fate of the Jedi series will be very familiar with the species after there repeated use in that series, however the views of Koax are diametrically opposed to those presented in FotJ and are a nice contrast in the greater continuity.

Scourge also features brief appearances by other species associated with service to the Hutts, the most prominent of which was the Rodians, but most interesting was the detailed description of the Nikto and the subspecies of Nikto.

By far my favorite inclusion in the novel however was Grubb's nod to Brian Daley with the inclusion of the Corporate Sector Authority.  Lt. Commander Angela Krin of the CSA is the officer in charge of the blockade of the plague world of Endregaad and features prominently in the events of Scourge.  If you haven't read about Han and Chewie's adventures in the Corporate Sector then check out Brian Daley's Han Solo Trilogy.

The events of the book focus on three main mysteries. What caused a Jedi Knight to essentially go mad and end up dead? What is the source of the plague being quarantined on Endregaad? What is the source of this new form of Spice known as Tempest?

Grubb does a very good job weaving these mysteries together and keeping all of the various story lines interesting.  I was a bit let down because I could guess the final reveal mid-way through the novel, but it still played out in an interesting and entertaining way.

Popara serves a Don Corleone like role in this novel in relation to the issue of Spice.  I really enjoyed the expansion on Spice.  We get lots of detail about Hard Spice, medicinal spice, and normal recreational level spice.  The concept that the Hutts would turn to Spice as medicine instead of the more commonly used Bacta is interesting and adds depth to their culture.
Nar Shaddaa
The novel also features the prominent return of one of my favorite moons in Nar Shaddaa.  The Smuggler's Moon has been criminally underutilized in the modern EU.  It is one of the seedier and more interesting locations.  We also get a lot of other interesting Hutt locations.  The exploration of addiction, servitude and corruption are ripe ground for more storytelling and serve as but a glimpse of what we could enjoy in the in development Star Wars: Underworld TV series.

At 282 pages Scourge is a lean novel even though it deals with rather corpulent characters and plot.  There is good and bad that comes with these tight stand-alone novels.  I don't think Grubb wasted much page space in this novel, on the other hand the characters of Reen and Eddey didn't get much in the way of back-story.  I do think Grubb did an excellent job in quickly defining characters in the readers mind without having to delve into tons of back story.  The main character Mander Zuma got tons of development and about midway through the book also made a rather strong transition into a more traditional Jedi Knight and less of the scholarly Archivist he was in the beginning of this novel.  The ages and timeline may not work, but in my own personal "canon" Mander Zuma is Jocasta Nu's son, not sure exactly why but the idea makes smile uncontrollably.  It is interesting that the death of his student and the subsequent adventure that followed really change Zuma as a Jedi.  While Zuma most likely went back to his duties in the Jedi Archives, I feel like he went back there a more confident and more fully self-actualized Jedi.

Stylistically there was a semi-annoying habit to repeat information, instead of simply referring to the Jedi as "Jedi" they were referred to as members of the "New Jedi Order" repeatedly, and lest we forget Koax's appearance she was constantly referred to as "the one-eyed Klatoonian."  These descriptions were useful but they didn't really need to be repeated as often as they were throughout the novel.

While the events of Scourge may not have a profound effect on the greater continuity, as a stand alone story it was a rip roaring good time.  If the transition from the massive multi-book series format to more short series and stand alone novels produces more novels like Scourge then we are in for a wild Bantam era like ride through the Expanded Universe.

Star Wars: Scourge by Jeff Grubb is available in paperback and ebook formats on April 24. 

1 comment:

  1. Yes!
    "Hutt culture really explodes in Scourge, as we get bits and pieces of the Hutts all over the novel."