Title: Red Harvest
Author: Joe Schreiber
Published: Out Now
Unlike other young Jedi sidelined to the Agricultural Corps – those whose abilities have not proved up to snuff – Hestizo Trace possesses one extraordinary talent: a gift with plants. But suddenly her quiet existence among greenhouses and garden specimens is violently destroyed by the arrival of an emissary from Darth Scabrous, a Sith Lord with a fanatical dream poised to become a nightmarish reality. For the rare black orchid that Hestizo has nurtured and bonded with is the final ingredient in an ancient Sith formula, with consequences far worse than fatal.
Red Harvest is the second of Joe Schreiber's zombie novels set in the Star Wars universe. It's a bit of a cheeky, but canny move combining two of geekdom's favourite genres into one, and the result is quite fun. It's set well within the days of the Old Republic (around 3,600 BBY), so it doesn’t feature any of the characters you're familiar with from the films.
Hestizo is an engaging character, and her force speciality, communicating with plants, is unusual and intriguing. I also like the idea of a planet where the Jedi dump their... Hufflepuffs. Not all Jedi can be Luke Skywalker, after all. Unfortunately, we spend very little time there, and don't really get much of an idea of it beyond the greenhouse in which Hestizo works.
Darth Scabrous is a far less successful antagonist. The problem is, once he's brought the zombies into being, they're the main threat, or should be. Adding the usual dark side/light side struggles draws focus and makes the progression of the story messy. Too often there's a feeling of back-and-forthing between two different novels.
We spend most of the novel at the Sith academy on Odacer-Faustin, and it's a fascinating look at the pre-Rule of Two Sith. Of course, advancement through treachery and combat are prized, and while we see groups of students you might expect to be friends, you can't forget that by their dark side nature, these are temporary alliances as best. This adds an interesting dimension to the usual banding together we expect from a zombie tale. Of course, all the zombie tropes/cliches are in evidence here, but the force-based complications add a touch of freshness here and there. I do stress here and there: this isn't a radical take on the undead genre by any means.
There's a lot of gore, some inventive deaths and some gruesome body horror, so if you like that sort of thing, you'll be happy. There are also some really interesting characters, but the flipping between two novels feel means I didn't really get to know many of them as much as I'd have liked. Schrieber does a decent job of making you care about people before they become zombie fodder though, which I appreciate.
One aspect I particularly disliked though, which I assume is down to making them force-powered zombies, is inconsistency in methods of destruction. They're not straight-forward “bullet in the brainpan squish” zombies, but sometimes they're utterly indestructible, and at others they're fairly easily dispatched.
My absolute favourite moment in the book involves non-human zombies, and a delicious nod to a famous scene from Empire. Bravo. Made me laugh my head off.
Overall, it's a fun little story, and a cute novelty. It's not particularly gripping, but not annoying either. It's something you could happily read in the bath or on the commute.