Friday, July 25, 2008

"Phantom Prey", by John Sandford (Simon & Schuster)

Volume 18 in the ever-excellent Lucas Davenport series

This latest novel from John Sandford finds Lucas a little older but no less active in his mission to discover the whereabouts of a wealthy friend's daughter.

Slower than some of the previous Davenport thrillers, the story nevertheless proceeds at a fair clip, with Sandford's impeccable prose and plotting pulling us willingly along with him.

Delving into Goth culture in the Twin Cities, Phantom Prey travels into new territory for Davenport, complete with close-shaves and a fiendish killer "Fairy" on the loose. Complete with Sandford's usual attention to grisly detail, and plenty of red-herrings and twists to keep you guessing until he reveals the baddies (sort of - you'll just have to read it to see what I mean), Phantom Prey fits perfectly into the series.

One question, though - why do cops always go for Porsches? (James Patterson's Alex Cross has one, too...)

Saturday, July 19, 2008

"Coruscant Nights I: Jedi Twilight", by Michael Reeves (Arrow)

A new trilogy begins, set between Episodes III and IV

And so begins another trilogy aimed at filling in some of the blanks between the middle two episodes. Set on Coruscant, Jedi Twilight introduces us not only to a host of new characters, but also a seedier, grimier side of the "gleaming capital" of the Star Wars universe.

Following the actions of Jax Pavan (a newly-minted Jedi Knight when Order 66 was given to wipe them out), an acerbic droid who's well on his way to becoming sentient thanks to a generous removal of software, and a Sullustan journalist. Unlike most other Star Wars novels, this one is a little slow, taking almost half the 343 pages to bring the main characters together. It dispenses with the fast-paced space action, set as it is on one planet. It's because of this that the novel is a little unfulfilling, though it does mean that we're learning about the Star Wars universe on a smaller, compressed scale, rather than the vast scale we're used to. Sure, as part 1 of 3 we know there isn't going to be any closure at the end, but it's usually better to have something a little more gripping to keep people excited about the next instalment (Streets of Shadows).

What makes Jedi Twilight stand out most for me was how Reaves focusses more on what the Force is to different users. The descriptions of how it appears to main protagonist Jax Pavan as dark or light tendrils of intent are particularly new. The "return" of established characters such as Prince Xizor of the Black Sun criminal organisation, as well as everyone's favourite wheezing menace Darth Vader, help the reader to remain connected with the over-arching Star Wars saga, as well as bringing some familiarity to an otherwise completely new story.

It's well worth reading, but don't expect something as fast as most other Star Wars novels. Exciting and interesting events do start to take off a little over halfway through (at which point the novel improves tenfold), which will be rewarding to Star Wars fiction fans, but might be a little too late for casual readers who picked up the novel on a whim.

While the end of the novel does leave you wanting more, it would still perhaps be best to wait for all three volumes to be out, so you don't have to wait too long to find out what happens next, able to treat the trilogy as one long book in one go.