Thursday, 29 October 2009
‘501st’ – Karen Traviss (Del Rey)
It’s always a little bit sad when a series that you love comes to an end. It’s not like there aren’t more great books out there to discover but even so... You’ve invested in a plotline along with characters that can end up being as important to you as people you know in real life... and then it all ends. There are no more books...
What’s worse though is when a series that you’re really getting into ends before its time. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Karen Traviss’ ‘Clone Commandos’ series. Now whether you think Traviss should have just got on with it or if you’re cursing Lucasfilm for playing silly games with the canon the bottom line is that perhaps the best ongoing Star Wars serial is coming to a premature end and that’s a real shame. I’ve heard that there’s one more book to come although I’m not sure if that’s true or not; the way in which ‘501st’ ends suggests that there will be. I hope so, if the series has to end then hopefully not too much will be left hanging in the air. In the meantime, fans of Traviss’ work are in for yet another treat.... (I’m a fan, in case you hadn’t noticed!)
The Republic has gone and the Empire stands in its place. Emperor Palpatine is consolidating his power and will not hesitate to crush anyone that gets in his way. For the clones of the former Grand Army of the Republic, the only thing that has changed is their uniform. The Jedi are to be purged from the galaxy by any means necessary but this creates conflict for clones fighting on either side of the divide. Kal Skirata and his family of clone deserters have no love for the Jedi but need all the help they can get to solve their own problems. In the meantime, certain clones left behind Imperial lines (after the events arising from ‘Order 66’) have their own issues to deal with in relation to the Jedi, issues which might just end up bringing them into direct conflict with their clone brothers on the other side.
A galaxy reeling from war and upheaval is always going to take a long time to settle down; especially with a newly formed Empire making its mark. ‘501st’ is the tale of those formative days with the trauma of a wounded galaxy personified in a group of men and women going through their own struggles.
‘501st’ is a novel that takes place in the shadows and fringes, secrecy is paramount for survival and everyone has some kind of scheme or plan that they need to see to fruition. A result of this is that ‘501st’ can be a very edgy read, everyone is on their toes and the tension crackles on the page. If you’re looking for all out warfare and explosions though then you are likely to be disappointed here as ‘501st’ is all about what happens behind the scenes. This is never anything less than engrossing, as plans are often changing at a second’s notice, but the pace of the book does suffer as plans are meticulous and have to be adhered to laboriously. Traviss does keep her readers on their toes but it can sometimes feel like a bit of a slog to get to that point where everything changes and the plot is sent hurtling down a new path...
‘501st’ is not a book that you can pick up if you haven’t read the rest of the series (or at least the preceding two books) first. There is a lot going on here that has been built up over a long time and established fans of the series are going to enjoy where Traviss takes her motley crew of renegades.
In a sense, it’s not so much about what happens to the clones but how they rise to each challenge. These men will not give up under any circumstances but they are not supermen and are surprisingly vulnerable to their emotions. It’s fascinating to watch how they face up to these challenges; from the clone battling his way back from a brain injury to the clone who’s trapped half a galaxy away from a son he has only just found out that he has. Traviss doesn’t take the easy way out with her characters either. They may be clones but they are not all the same, all of them have their own quirks and they combine to form an engaging family unit whose expressive character keeps the pages turning.
Events are building up to some pretty big conclusions and, regardless of whether we see these conclusions or not, it’s all credit to Traviss and her ability to keep all the wheels turning at the same time. The series has flowed very well in this regard and the same can also be said of ‘501st’, a book that manoeuvres things into place so smoothly you don’t even realise that it’s happening. You’re just left to enjoy the story in the meantime.
‘501st’ is a worthy addition to the ‘Clone Commandos’ series which I still think is the best Star Wars series out there right now. Does anyone know if there’s another book to come? I hope so...
Nine and a Quarter out of Ten