Note: So as to avoid spoilers, I am not including the synopsis as I usually do.
There is, in the acknowledgements for this 4th book in the Fate Of The Jedi series, mentioned of the fact that author Aaron Allston suffered a heart attack and a subsequent quadruple bypass while on the promotional tour for the first in this series that he wrote OUTCAST. A terrible and nasty thing to have happen to anyone, I just wanted to start this review by saying that we are all glad he pulled through.
BACKLASH is, like I said, the 4th book in a 9 book series. It is at this point in the last series that the books started to follow a pattern and a rut that it didn’t get out of till the final volume. Thus there was a lackluster aspect to that series because of that. I won’t say the same here. All three authors have one book (of their three each) under their belt and the stage is pretty much set, so we can go onto the action and plunge the story forward right? Well, yes it does.
One of the nice things in this book is that a few of the old tropes from the first two books (starting the book out with another Jedi going insane, or having the Skywalkers going to yet another place that Jacen went to before going bad only to discover something else needed solved there) are thankfully left behind as book starters, as it is clear that they would have been trying for a fourth book to begin thusly. Allston MOSTLY avoids this altogether in the book. His first few chapters are quite evenly distributed between all his plot threads and characters, which was a great way to go about the opening. What else is good is that we basically pick up where we left off, Skywalkers hunting down young female lost tribe Sith Vestara Khai, Solo’s offworld keeping the insane Jedi’s in the transitory mists away from the reach of Daala and her GA cronies, a dangerous Moff and Republic Senator plotting to even send Daala down a dark path in the hopes to unseat her, and Imperial Remnant COS Jagged Fel continues to get undermined and doesn't know who is trying to kill him.
The Skywalkers and Solos come together in this one, on the Force-sensitive-heavy world of Dathomir and while trying to swindle Vestara away from female Dathomiri witches fall into a tribal war and end up fending off attacks from the enigmatic dark side Nightsisters (you’ll recall Clone Wars-era assassin Assaj Ventress was one of those). Allana who is alone in the Falcon with C3PO and R2D2 (although she is being watched unknowingly by old Jedi Knight Zekk and his wife) spends her time proving her Solo/Skywalker heritage which was a clever way to ease off the dark tension that builds everywhere else in the novel, while at the same time growing Allana as a character. On Coruscant, the embattled Jedi are finally starting to be viewed by the public with a bit of sympathy and Daala and her cohorts attempt every avenue to turn that tide of sympathy to themselves. I think that this is the book where Daala stops making good decisions. She actually sends a company of Madalorian Commandos against the Jedi Temple. Stu-pid lady.
Allston has all his traits present here and it fires on all cylinders, but I think goes far to trump even his normal efforts. The pace is clean and easy. The action is nicely spread out and there is even a nice sized battle to revel in. The addition of Dathomir and the Nightsisters is clearly a calculated one, as those characters have only recently shown up in the Clone Wars TV series, and this will show that watching that or reading this will give both TV and book fans more insight into them. A clever move on the authors (or Del Ray’s) part indeed.
The standouts in this book are clearly meant to be Ben Skywalker and Vestara Khai. He, a young Jedi reared by the grand master of the Jedi, and she a Sith apprentice reared by an altruistic sect of Sith who are untainted by the acidic “rule of two” relationship that the Sith were always assumed to have until the Lost Tribes’ appearance in the galaxy. This really does stand out and is one of the new threads that I was hoping would get explored. I think Vestara is bound to show that there is a grey area when using the force and Ben is bound to find it out. She is wonderfully fun and coy every time she is onscreen and is included in a nice twist that I certainly didn’t see coming. She is orders of magnitude better than any other recently introduced Post-RotJ villain because Christie Golden spent most of OMEN showing us her upbringing and the world she was raised in, and then Allston spends this book with her hiding everything in a great way.
One last thing I want to mention. There is a trials/contest portion with activities, running and other challenges in the book and what is nice is that it is done in passing. Those events happen, but serve as a backdrop for, in one case Ben having a discussion with Vestara. I was over the moon that I didn’t have to sit through Luke beating a Dahtomiri witch as the whole plot of the chapter. Well done indeed on Allston’s part.
What stands out most is that abandonment of the somewhat formulaic nature of the two first books, and it looks like Allston plans to follow Denning in that idea of "let’s do stuff we haven’t done before". I love that this series is still pleasing me on that level.
The books stands as a MUCH better volume than the first Allston wrote for this series OUTCAST, and is a real crowd-pleaser. From the minute the Solo’s join the Skywalkers on Dathomir and the story really gets going and the action ramps up, this book gives Troy Denning’s previous effort ABYSS a run for the best of the series so far. BACKLASH is not a perfect Star Wars book, but it and the book before it (the aforementioned ABYSS) are in the running for the best Star Wars EU books I have read in a long, long time. You won’t be disappointed.