Title: Star Wars: Choices of One
Author: Timothy Zahn
Published: Out Now
Eight months after the Battle of Yavin, the Rebellion desperately needs a new base. So when Governor Ferrouz of Candoras Sector proposes an alliance, Luke, Leia, Han and Chewbacca are sent to evaluate the deal. But Mara Jade, The Emperor's Hand is also heading for Candoras, along with five renegade stormtroopers known as the Hand of Judgment. Their mission: to punish Ferrouz's treason and smash the Rebels.
But all is not as it seems, and forces are working behind the scenes to manipulate both the Empire and the Rebellion. Can they cooperate to defeat their common enemy?
I don't like being made to feel old. It's 21 years since Timothy Zahn's Heir to the Empire trilogy of novels reignited the passion for Star Wars in me and the rest of the Holy Trilogy generation. Twenty. One. Years.
In that trilogy, he created some of the most beloved characters in the Expanded Universe, including Mara Jade, Gilad Pellaeon and Thrawn. This novel reunites those characters, his more recent creation The Hand of Judgment (from Star Wars: Allegiance), along with Luke, Leia, Han and Chewie. What's more, it's set between Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back.
You can probably imagine the level of expectation I felt. It's pretty hard for anything to live up to that.
Oh, how it lived up to it. I'm going to attempt to rein in my fangirl glee, but it'll be hard.
We have a Mara Jade at the height of her powers as The Emperor's Hand. We see her devotion to the Emperor, but also her devotion to justice. This ties in perfectly with the Hand of Judgment's agenda: they believe the Empire has become too big to care about protecting and serving the little people, so they seek to do just that. Essentially, they're the A-Team in white armour. If you've read Allegiance, you already love these five men. If you haven't, you'll fall in love with them during this novel.
Han, Luke and Leia are the versions of themselves from the end of Star Wars. Han is still torn between his love of liberty and his loyalty to his friends. Luke is beginning to understand the Force, but is almost entirely untrained. This makes for a fantastic contrast between him and Mara, being so different from their positions in Heir to the Empire. Leia is brave and intelligent of course, but she's still slow to trust others or their ability to carry out tasks as well as she can. It's just adorable seeing her and Han desperately trying not to figure out their feelings for one another. Chewie is Chewie. That might sound like a dismissal, but it's not. Zahn gets Chewie right and that's a good thing.
Pellaeon is aboard the Chimaera, but not its Captain. His character arc in this novel is fascinating. We see him learning to have faith in himself, and to question the commands of those in authority. Thrawn is his terrifyingly brilliant, game-playing self, but he is merely a Senior Captain, disrespected in the Imperial court and engaged in power plays with Darth Vader. What I like most about this book, and this is a common factor in all Zahn's work, is that the Imperial characters are not straight-up, black-hatted villains. They're people, and most of them think that what they're doing is right. I love that at times I had no idea who to root for, and resigned myself to simply hoping that no one came out of each crisis too badly.
There are a bunch of new characters, as well as minor characters from the films, and some work better than others. Unfortunately, I can't see any of the new creations storming their way into fandom's hearts the way Mara, Thrawn and Pellaeon have. The exception might be new reptilian race the Troukree. I could stand to read more about them.
Zahn weaves multiple, parallel story threads into one gripping story of manipulation, treachery and espionage. The political themes range from the personal right up to the galactic, but neither extreme is less important to the plot.
There's an interesting theme of good intentions paving the road to hell. We see most of the characters being manipulated, often being aware of the manipulation, but choosing to acquiesce believing it's for the greater good. It's a psychological complexity that is all too rare in tie-in fiction.
At times, the efforts to keep Mara from bumping into Luke et al feel a little contrived, but it's necessary and for the most part skilfully achieved. We get to see Thrawn and Vader as masters of manipulation and tactics, rivals, but cooperating for the good of the Empire. It's fun that Vader's obsession with the Rebellion and Skywalker is treated with eye-rolls by other senior Imperial Officers.
I had some problems following the action in the tunnels and mines of Poln Minor, but the action on Poln Major was captivating and more than made up for it. My biggest problem is that I don't like Daryl Mandryk's cover art. Mara looks way too buxom fantasy dream girl. That's not my Mara.
However, these small problems did not in any way detract from my enjoyment of Choices of One. It's fantastic. Everything I'd hoped for and more. If you're a fan of Zahn's other Star Wars work, run to the shops (or open another tab on your browser) and buy this now. Just try not think how long it's been since Heir to the Empire.