Friday, December 26, 2008

“Coruscant Nights II: Street of Shadows”, by Michael Reeves (Arrow)


Jax Pavan and his compatriots return for a second outing

In this second installment of the Coruscant Night series, Jedis Jax Pavan and Laranth Tarak, now members of the underground rebel movement based on Coruscant, are pursuing a career in private investigation, along with the help of Den Daur and his near-sentient protocol droid, I-5. They are hired by Dejah Duare, assistant and partner of artist Ves Volette, to help uncover the truth of Volette’s murder. So far so good a premise – the idea of a classic PI novel, set in the Star Wars universe was very appealing. But, for some reason, this novel fails to truly satisfy.

It’s not the characters, as they are fine. The premise is a good one, helping to flesh out the time between Episodes III and IV, with plenty of exposition about Coruscant and background to the times. The rival strand of the novel, following the bounty hunter Aurra Sing, as she is hired by and takes on a job from Darth Vader, is very good, and at times a lot more interesting than the main strand.

What lets the book down, however, are two things. First, it’s the middle book of a trilogy, and not a very long one at that. It has the feel of too much filler, to get us from book one (Jedi Twilight) to book three (Patterns of the Force, out January 27th, 2009). This, to be fair, is an ailment that afflicts almost every second book in a trilogy. The second reason this book failed to truly grab my attention (though, after the rather long set-up, the second half of the book was very good), was because it felt rather over-written. For such a short book, this is a surprising thing to say. But there were plenty of sentences and exposition that just felt redundant – such as explaining certain elements of the Force, where everyone reading this novel will know that a Jedi has affinity for the force, so why tell us that Jax has this affinity, then, immediately after, tell us that Laranth does, too?

Perhaps I’m being harsh, having now become used to reading trilogies in one sitting, rather than reading them as and when installments are published. As I mentioned, this is a good book, only not as great as I would have hoped. The interaction between Den and I-5 is still interesting, and the droid is always good for some lighter moments – either when putting down a Coruscant CSI for asking pointless questions, or generally being fussy and completely un-droid-like. Jax’s specific connection to the Force also remains interesting, and we do get to know more about the main protagonists as the story progresses. Street of Shadows has plenty to offer fans of Star Wars, but perhaps the important content could have been incorporated into the first and final installments, and I would say this isn’t the best place for a casual reader of Star Wars fiction to start. (For that, I would recommend the X-Wing series and, especially, The Thrawn Trilogy, by Timpthy Zahn.)

With luck, Patterns of the Force will finish the series off well, indicating that Michael Reaves was not as the top of his game for just the one book (I’ve enjoyed his other Star Wars novels a great deal, and without exception; so Street of Shadows was surprising as a slight disappointment).

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