Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Star Wars: Dawn to the Jedi: Into the Void Review

Acclaimed author Tim Lebbon makes his first foray into the Expanded Universe in Star Wars: Dawn of the Jedi: Into the Void. This hardcover novel features an interesting mix of world building juxtaposed with an intimate character study centered on Lanoree Brock and those who flow in and out of her life.

Publisher's Summary:

On the planet Tython, the ancient Je’daii order was founded. And at the feet of its wise Masters, Lanoree Brock learned the mysteries and methods of the Force—and found her calling as one of its most powerful disciples. But as strongly as the Force flowed within Lanoree and her parents, it remained absent in her brother, who grew to despise and shun the Je’daii, and whose training in its ancient ways ended in tragedy.

Now, from her solitary life as a Ranger keeping order across the galaxy, Lanoree has been summoned by the Je’daii Council on a matter of utmost urgency. The leader of a fanatical cult, obsessed with traveling beyond the reaches of known space, is bent on opening a cosmic gateway using dreaded dark matter as the key—risking a cataclysmic reaction that will consume the entire star system. But more shocking to Lanoree than even the prospect of total galactic annihilation, is the decision of her Je’daii Masters to task her with the mission of preventing it. Until a staggering revelation makes clear why she was chosen: The brilliant, dangerous madman she must track down and stop at any cost is the brother whose death she has long grieved—and whose life she must now fear. 
Includes a special, full-color excerpt from the Dark Horse comic Star Wars: Dawn of the Jedi and an original Dawn of the Jedi short story by John Ostrander!

Lebbon gets the privilege in playing in a relatively open field of storytelling. While there is the Dawn of the Jedi comic series produced by Dark Horse Comics, there is not a lot of continuity or established stories and characters to limit storytelling.

In terms of the physical book itself, this hardcover is not the first time that Del Rey had included a comic book excerpt within a novel, however the inclusion of the comic panels in a hardcover works much better and is much more enjoyable than in a paperback or trade sized novel.  Into the Void also contains the prequel short story Dawn of the Jedi: Eruption by John Ostrander and an excerpt from Troy Denning's forthcoming Star Wars: Crucible.

While the Je'daii focus on the Force and on balance, it is the ability to dabble in both the light and the dark that make the Je'daii distinct from the latter-day Jedi. The Je'daii society we meet in Into the Void in some ways seems very similar to the Jedi we are familiar with, on the other hand they seem poised on a knife edge, at anymoment you get the feeling that they could slip into a cold brutality that is very un-Jedi like. The Je'daii journey and Temple system is a very cool way to test and instruct potential Je'daii.

One major difference that Star Wars fans will notice is that there are no lightsabers.  The Je'daii used forged blades.  Lanoree does some serious damage with her sword.  At times Lebbon describes the action scenes in detail that may be a tad graphic for younger readers, but there isn't anything disturbing enough to be hesitant giving this book to kids.

The nature of Tython and who the population was assembled there leads to a diverse and interesting mix of species in the novel.  I can honestly say I really wasn't expecting Noghri to appear in this novel, particularly given it's setting in the ancient past of the Star Wars universe.

Into the Void also introduces some new and different uses of the Force, particularly Lanoree's particular talent of alchamey of the flesh, which feels very similar to what the later Sith would do.

This duality among the Je'daii is reflected in the novel's main character, Lanoree Brock. Lanoree is a fascinating character in that you become comfortable with her internal conflict and her emotions which for most of the novel are tied up in duty and family. Her focus is largely on her brother. But to Tre Sana and others it seems like the emotion that she has for her family is largely absent, the casualness with which she dispatches or contemplates dispatching others in the novel is jarring at times.

The plot of the novel is fairly simple, Lanoree is recalled to Tython to be given a special mission by the Je'daii  Masters.  She has been chosen to track down and stop a cult that is dabbling in dangerous ancient technology that could either lead to reconnecting with the larger galaxy outside the deep core or lead to the destruction of everyone on Tython and the surround system.  Lanoree is chosen because the leader of this group is none other than her brother who was assumed to be dead.  The sister hunting brother story may feel a little familiar to those who have read the Legacy of the Force series which featured towards the end Jaina training to then hunting down her brother Jacen.

The story leaves some interesting plot threads open for future storytelling whether it be in prose or in the comic series.  I am fascinated to learn more about the Je'daii who often seem amoral.  Lanoree is a character that even after reading the entire novel I am not sure if I fully understand her.  This uncomfortableness with the character is good in that it prevents predictability from setting in.

Lebbon uses the literary techniques of epigraphs and flashbacks liberally throughout the novel. The epigraphs focus on quotes from Je'daii which provide some background on the Je'daii philosophy.  The first time I really paid attention to this particular literary device was when reading Karen Traviss' novels.  I really like them because they allow the author to set up or frame the content that is to follow.  It allows you to give the reader information that it could be clumsy to include in the body of a chapter or in dialogue.  The other feature is that as a historian this allows you to introduce primary sources or documents in the Expanded Universe by referencing passages from these works. The creation of Expanded Universe primary sources is another level of geekiness that I particularly enjoy.

The flashbacks focus on Lanoree and Dalien in their youth as they begin and end their Je'daii journey, traveling across Tython to the various Je'daii temple. Dalien is a flawed character, but how much of his faults are evil and how much are the rebelliousness of youth?  Dalien's relationship to the Force is one of the more interesting questions throughout the novel.

When you are introducing new characters and a new setting such as with the Dawn of the Jedi it makes sense to use a limited cast of characters, this allows the reader to adjust to the setting without getting to confused with keeping track of who is who and how they relate. Tre Sana and Kara are probably the most memorable of the relatively small cast of supporting characters. Tre is interesting because of what was done to him and what little we learn of his past.  While Kara is interesting because of the imagery that the description of her character provides and her equally shrouded past.

In the end author Tim Lebbon delivered a novel that is all about the relationship between a brother and a sister, all good stories focus on relationships and this one is no different.  Oh and did I mention the beheadings?  It's got that too.

Editor's Note:  A review copy of the novel was provided by the publisher. 

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