Monday, 8 September 2008

‘Order 66’ – Karen Traviss (Del Rey/ Orbit Books)


Up until last year I’d pretty much stopped reading Star Wars ‘tie-in’ books for a number of reasons including finances (seriously, how many of these books are there?) and the fact that the vast majority of them weren’t anywhere near the standard set by Timothy Zahn’s ‘Heir to the Empire’ books. That all changed though when I picked up Karen Traviss’ ‘True Colours’, the third book in a series about clone commandos fighting against the Separatist forces. The bottom line is that if you’re a Star Wars fan (or a fan of military sci-fi) then you need to be reading these books.
I didn’t rush out and buy every single Star Wars book that I could find (if I didn’t like them back in the day then I’d probably dislike them for all the same reasons now) but I did promise myself that I’d pick up ‘Order 66’ when it was published. I did just that and I finished reading it yesterday morning. I think I could have a new favourite Star Wars author, it’s that good…

The Clone Wars rage on and Mandalorian Kal Skirata’s main priority in all of this is to make sure that his clone commando ‘sons’ have the opportunity to escape the war and live the rest of their lives as free men. They won’t have much of a life though if Skirata cannot find a way to halt the clone accelerated aging process so any scientist with knowledge of cloning is fair game as far as he’s concerned… While all of this is going on though, plans are being executed that will bring the war to an end in the way that we all know it goes. The infamous ‘Order 66’ is given and carried out by clone forces across the galaxy. How will the men of Omega and Delta squads react to ‘Order 66’ remains to be seen…

‘Order 66’ is a slow starter but when you see what’s involved in each of the various sub-plots you can make excuses for this. Fans of Traviss’ earlier books in the series will already know how much has gone into the build-up to this book and anyone else will appreciate that a good escape plan has a lot of detail but can always be relied upon to go awry at the most awkward moment. There is one hell of a lot going on here and the attention to detail can come across as a bit dry at times. ‘Order 66’ stands on it’s own fairly well but in order to get the most out of it you should read the other books (‘Hard Contact’, ‘Triple Zero’ and ‘True Colours’) first, especially in terms of getting your head around the relationships that have sprung up and developed over the course of earlier books.

Any ‘dryness’ in the tone of ‘Order 66’ is more than balanced out by the vivid accounts of warfare across the galaxy. It’s the Clone Wars and our Republic Commando teams are inserted into engagements from the films (Kashykk for example) in a seamless manner that maintains continuity and gives the reader a new perspective on established events that I would say is better than what you see in the films. The films are about spectacle but ‘Order 66’ gives you a better idea about why these battles actually took place which is just the kind of thing that I wanted to know about. The commandos are also dropped into combat situations not covered by the films, which gives the reader a fresh perspective on the Clone Wars as a whole. It’s not just about the space battles that you see on the screen, these men will wait in a crater for weeks at a time just to get a shot at one man or travel into the depths of Coruscant itself to carry out a mission the results of which people will never even know about. Having read Traviss’ battle scenes I’d say that either she was in the army or that she knows someone else who was. Traviss gets right into the action and gives you a view of warfare from men who are constantly on the receiving end. It’s heady stuff but strangely sobering at the same time.

For a cast that’s mostly made up of men who are clones, Traviss shows the reader that the similarity is only skin deep. Each man has his own aspirations and dreams and it’s interesting to see where each of them ends up by the end of the book in light of these. Don’t call them ‘clones’ either, seriously… just don’t! I also really enjoyed reading about the Mandalore society that Skirata holds up as a potential refuge for his clones. I’d love to read more about the culture that birthed Jango and Boba Fett, especially in light of Skirata and Vau’s realisation about the long-term nature of Jango’s revenge on the Jedi…

‘Order 66’ is a key moment in Star Wars history and this moment is what the book builds up to. Things are drawn out, almost to breaking point, and ‘Order 66’ is (for me) is a great example of leading the reader on and on, up to a point where they get smacked around the head with a powerful finale that left me gasping and wondering how things could turn out like that so quickly. It’s heavy stuff that has left me eager to find out what happens next.

Can a book be dry, and slow going, but full of action and life at the same time? ‘Order 66’ manages to walk the line between the two states with ease, only occasionally getting bogged down in the detail. It shifts gear so quickly though that you might not even notice. Roll on ‘Imperial Commando’ (which I’ve been told is out next year), I actually cannot wait to see what happens next.
Del Rey Books are publishing 'Order 66' in the US, Orbit will be releasing it in the UK.

Nine and a Quarter out of Ten

Click Here for my review of 'True Colours'.

5 comments:

Dave-Brendon de Burgh said...

Great stuff, Graeme, I'm glad you liked it. :-) I'll be doing an interview with Karen soon, but it'll be focused on her Wess'har war series, but I'll let you know when that comes through. :-) I absolutely cannot wait to read this book!

Joe Sherry said...

I haven't read this one yet, but along with Matthew Stover, Karen Traviss is easily one of my favorite two Star Wars authors. There's no contest.

I have high expectations for this one and I'm glad it lives up.

Her Wess'har Wars are equally good.

Graeme Flory said...

I'll have to give the 'Wess'har War' books a go if I can get my hands on them...

'Order 66' was brilliant and I'm already chewing a few finger nails waiting for 'Imperial Commando'!

Paul S said...

Karen Traviss is an amazing author; on the inside cover it says that she was a correspondent for the British Army. I should have my copy of Order 66 here in New York in a day or so. Check out her website if you haven't already. Cheers, Paul S

Pigpen said...

I read all of the books in the series twice now and really like them. It's been awesome to learn so much about the Clones, Mandalorians, what is going on "behind the scenes" of the prequels. I think Traviss does an excellent job of adding the Special Foreces mentality to her characters which shows in so many subtle ways between the Mandos and Republic Commandos. These are by far my favorites of all the Star Wars books.