There are plenty of thrillers set during important periods in history, and it can make the genre right tedious if you read enough of them. You already know what sort of stakes might exist when the yarn takes place during the Cold War or the World War II; your options are limited. So Star Wars: Shadow Games, by Michael Reeves and Maya Kaathryn Bonhoff, is set to give something you haven’t seen before — a thriller set in the days before the Rebel Alliance won its first victories against the Galactic Empire.
Did I mention it has Dash Rendar and Han Solo in it? Yeah, say no more.
For those who want the basic pitch, Dash Rendar gets into some trouble and needs a lot of credits fast. He gets lucky when a new job falls into his lap, though not his usual fare; he’s asked to be a bodyguard for Javul Charn, one of the galaxy’s most famous holostars (think Lady Gaga with silver hair and multi-planet popularity). Of course, he gets a bit of a crush almost immediately, but that’s not going to stop him from doing his job damn well.
With his droid, Leebo, and his partner, a Nautolan named Eaden, he does his best to keep Charn safe. This gets a little more complicated when it becomes clear that there is likely a mole in Charn’s entourage, and that she has some bad history with the Black Sun, Prince Xizor’s crime syndicate. And of course, it’s never so simple as that either, considering Dash’s personal issues where the Black Sun is concerned.
Han Solo shows up for a good portion of the book, and that’s perhaps the biggest treat. Dash Rendar may be called a Han Solo stand-in by some, but when it comes right down to it, a lot of their similarities boil down to their being Corellians. So naturally, they spend most of their time arguing who is the better pilot and who’s ship is the prettiest. Some things must stay the same.
But for all the running to and fro and getting shot at, the crux of the book is really about politics.
It’s easy to forget (or alternatively hard to believe) that Palpatine’s Empire lasted only about 22 years. With so short a reign, one would have to assume that life under the Empire was unbearable, or the uprising would have taken longer to get underway. But the Star Wars galaxy is a big place, and it’s hard to understand how the Empire’s reach might have affected those living on the fringes, away from Coruscant’s capitol glow. This book shows you, in no uncertain terms, just how Palpatine’s rule affected everyone from pop stars to smugglers living as far away from government jurisdictions as possible.
It reminds you that the Jedi Purge really wasn’t that long ago, that many species and worlds paid for the Emperor’s reign more dearly than the galaxy at large ever suspected. It reminds you of the lengths to which Palpatine went to ensure that everyone stayed under his thumb. It reminds you that there have been periods in our own history when we had to be mindful of who we were seen with and what we said.
All of that makes Shadow Games an intriguing snapshot of the Star Wars galaxy before the Rebel Alliance gained the ground it needed to make a difference. With one surprise cameo in there that you won’t want to miss, this makes a great read for anyone who likes a little bit of gravity with their thrillers.
Emily Asher-Perrin is the Tor.com Editorial Assistant. She has an inexplicable love of Nautolans.