If you don’t like spiders, then the words “combat arachnid” are probably not going to make you very happy. In which case… hooray, you’re not a Jedi-in-training? But these kids are, so they’re probably going to have to deal with that at some point. If you guessed that they’ll have to deal with it this week, then you are probably Force-sensitive (or just appropriately observant)! But aren’t arachnids supposed to have eight legs? Aren’t twelve legs more than eight legs? There are the insistent questions that creep up on us at night.
Also, if you thought those Solo kids were going to leave the retrieval of a kidnapped man up to their super-competent father… well, they’re not, so sit back and enjoy Diversity Alliance!
Raynar Thul is sent for by his mom because she’s worried about him handling the kidnapping of his dad so far from home. Our usual crew decide to come along with him so Raynar doesn’t feel so alone, and has some people to practice training exercises with. They arrive on the Thul trading flagship Tradewyn, and the whole fleet jumps. Only the flagship emerges on the other side—they’re caught in bounty hunter’s trap. Jacen, Tenel Ka, and Raynar capture the traitor in their midst, a guard named Kusk, and his ship is destroyed.
After that, the kids decide that it just might be time to take matters into their own hands. Jacen wants to go to Kuar, where Bornan was last seen, to look for leads. The world is empty, so the kids figure the most prominent landmark is where Bornan would have had his meeting. There they find his sash with a message on it, indicating that humanity would be in big trouble if he were captured.
Lowie runs into an old presumed-dead friend—remember Raaba, the wookiee friend of Lowie’s sister who disappeared when she went deep into Kashyyyk for her rite of passage? She’s alive! But she got injured during her trial and was so ashamed, she fled her home. She’s a little awkward around Lowie’s friends, and it’s turns out that she’s being employed by the Diversity Alliance, the same people who put out the bounty on Bornan Thul. She was looking for the last man to meet with Thul, a trader named Fonterrat.
Bornan’s brother Tyko suddenly shows up on the scene to help the kids search. He’s got some nasty things to say about Nolaa Tarkona, the Diversity Alliance leader, so Raaba leaves. That night they are attacked by the planet’s combat arachnids and a bunch of assassin droids led by IG-88A. Tyko is kidnapped by them, and the Rock Dragon is badly damaged enough that Solos and Friends have to head back to the Praxeum to regroup.
The plot of this book is super convoluted. I mean, there are about eighteen steps required for it to resolve, and they all seem mashed together because stuff has to happen—Tyko has to get taken, we need to know Raaba is working for the Diversity Alliance, we need to get a clue about Bornan. But none of these things are really related closely, they’re all part of the big picture. So here, they are made to relate, and we get a messy mishmash of relating stew. It is not an appetizing meal, as things go.
I cannot stand the resurrection of IG-88 here. Ailyn Vel is one thing, and I understand bounty hunters are on the case, so we’ll see a couple familiar faces. But despite what we see in Empire Strikes Back, THERE ARE OTHER BOUNTY HUNTERS IN THE GALAXY. Lots of them. Systems full of them. Also, I’m just really not a fan of IG-88. (Though I know Anderson is, as he wrote the droid’s story in Tales of the Bounty Hunters.) He’s boring. If you want an interesting robot who kills people, go for EV-9D9.
Raaba is pretty awesome, and this is where I start to have issues with the Diversity Alliance plotline—it seems such a shame to have this awesome lady wookiee and use her in a plot where she is utterly misled by some really bad people. I would rather just have an entire series of Raaba in her headband, taking names, telling the galaxy what’s up.
Combat arachnids are the worst. And not just because they sound terrifying. (They have spikes. All over their bodies. Everywhere spikes.) Also because they have twelve legs. Which makes them not arachnids. I mean, I know we’re not scientists here, but this seems a pretty simple mistake to not make.
I felt like I was somewhat immune to the horrors of the combat arachnids, mostly because I had already suffered nightmares from Jabba the Hutt’s brain spiders in the Galaxy of Fear books. It’s kind of funny that, in a vast universe filled with horrible things, more than one writer relies on the trope of terrifying, crawling spiders to skeeve out protagonists and readers alike.
Completely agree with Emily regarding Raaba’s status as a plot device rather than an actual character. In fact, there’s something unsettling about the fact that both of our Wookiee protagonists are the ones who get lured in to the Diversity Alliance. As if they’re just anger-fueled savages who will join up with any non-Humans simply to feel wanted, rather than questioning why their fellow aliens are trying so hard to separate them from their friends.
The EU is cool when it brings out the double-u-named clones—not so much when it makes new versions of characters like IG-88A. (Because IG-88-Electric-Boogaloo would’ve been too much of a mouthful.) Something I’m realizing, during this reread, is that there are good and bad ways to write a series about your favorite characters’ offspring. Tamora Pierce did it superbly with her Protector of the Small fantasy series, which brought back certain characters from her original Song of the Lioness quartet and uncovered new things about them. Sure, PotS came after YJK, but it did a far better job of introducing new characters who were just as memorable as the older ones, instead of creating carbon copies of everyone.
That said, at least we get to meet Nolaa Tarkona next week!
Natalie Zutter is the editor of all things geek over at Bookish. She is a playwright, foodie, and the co-creator of Leftovers, a webcomic about food trucks in the zombie apocalypse. Her writing has also appeared on Ology and Crushable. You can find her commenting on pop culture on Twitter.