‘Star Wars: The Old Republic: Fatal Alliance’ is based on a video game ‘Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic’ which lets its players create their own adventures. I suppose familiarity with the game will enhance your reading pleasure but lack of it didn’t hurt me.
The setting is 3,500 years before the rise of Darth Vader, so it all happens in a galaxy far, far away, a long, long time ago. It comes early in the ‘Star Wars Novel Timeline’ which usefully decorates a couple of the first pages. There is also a list of the Dramatis Personae for us old people with bad memories for unusual names. If someone wrote a Science Fiction novel in which people were called Bert, Larry, Edith and Jane it would make life a lot easier for both my grey matter and my spellchecker. To be fair, the characters are memorable enough that you don’t need the cast list after the first fifty pages.
The adventure opens with a prologue in which pirate Jet Nebula hijacks a light cruiser named Cinzia in wild space. The Cinzia self-destructs rather than surrender. Highly unusual. What cargo was valuable enough to justify such extreme action? I thought that might be it for Jet but happily he reappears later and plays a key part in the story.
We then have the usual routine of a chapter introducing each of the main characters. Shigar Konshi, Padawan is on Coruscant and has been found unready for Jedi trials by the High Council because he lacks self-control. He must improve they tell him and cut communication. On investigating gunfire nearby. he meets Larin Moxla, a Kiffar like himself by her tattoos and a former republic trooper. Together they engage and are defeated by Dao Stryver, a large Mandalorian warrior. Before escaping, he wanted information about Cinzia and a woman called Lema Xandret. Cut to the Empire world of Dromund Kaas where Eldon Ax, Sith Padawan, has to report to her master that she was defeated by Dao Stryver. She tells Darth Chratis what information the Mandalorian sought and he goes off to check the files. Connections emerge.
I give nothing away, because it’s on the jacket of the book, by informing you that a naughty Hutt Matriarch named Tasaa Bareesh is holding an auction for something mighty valuable and is drawing attention from across the galaxy, including our characters. Since those pirates in the prologue dealt with the Hutts, we can assume the auction has some connection with the cargo of the Cinzia. Everyone ends up on Hutta and then the action really starts.
It took me a while to get into the story but, after a hundred pages or so, it was hard to put down for wanting to know what happened next. There are some neat plots twists and surprises along the way. The difficulty at the start was possibly due to an in-built expectation of a familiar cast – it is ‘Star Wars’, after all – which wasn’t met. These are all new characters based on the game. Once you get to know them, they are an enjoyable bunch. The sincere young Jedi Padawan, his mentor, their Sith equivalents and, most important of all, the loveable rogue with a battered old ship of surprising capabilities. Jet Nebula also has a battered old droid named Clunker as his indispensable buddy.
Author Sean Williams is from Australia, a continent far, far away and has won awards for his fiction. I’m not surprised. He’s a competent writer of action adventure with a good vocabulary and that most underestimated of virtues, absolute clarity. You always know exactly what’s going on. The prose is smooth and virtually unnoticeable – a good thing – apart from a sudden and pleasing outbreak of alliteration on page 267. Here he refers to a ‘solitary satellite’ with a ‘cornucopia of craters and fathomless fissures marring its ugly face’. Very nice.
Some may disdain franchise fiction as hackwork but that’s just snobbery. If you want a window made you hire an able carpenter. If you want an entertaining novel made, you hire an able writer. Somewhere between hackwork and artwork there is craftwork, of which this is a model and it’s looking good.
(pub: Del Rey/Ballantine Books/Lucas Books. 416 page hardback. Price: $27.00 (US), $32.00 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-345-51132-4)