Thursday, 4 February 2010

‘Star Wars: Crosscurrent’ – Paul S. Kemp (Del Rey)


Having really got into Paul Kemp’s work for ‘Wizards of the Coast’ I was gutted (to say the least) when I found out he was leaving the company and would no longer be writing for them. However, this feeling of ‘Dammit!’ was swiftly replaced by happy thoughts when I heard that he was going to be writing Star Wars fiction instead.
My experience of Star Wars fiction, so far, has been very ‘black and white’. Authors will either really go for it and come out with something outstanding (Timothy Zahn and Karen Traviss for example) or slack off a bit and produce something that just rehashes the ‘lets destroy an Imperial superweapon’ theme that made the first film so watchable. I’m looking at ‘Darksaber’ here in particular...
With this in mind, I’m always a little wary when I approach Star Wars fiction; I’ve loved the franchise since I was a kid but when a book could go either way... it does tend to put you off. ‘Crosscurrent’ isn’t without it’s issues but if it goes on to become a series in it’s own right (which it could, given the ending) then I think it could well be a series worth following...

Five thousand years ago... A covert Jedi mission to destroy a Sith dreadnought takes an unexpected twist when the damaged craft jumps into hyperspace.
The present day... Jedi Knight Jaden Korr flies out to the edge of the Unknown Regions on the strength of a vision that he has had through the Force. With the help of two salvage jocks, Jaden is about to discover a long hidden Imperial secret that could have repercussions not only on the rest of the galaxy but the Jedi Order itself. If that wasn’t bad enough, a five thousand year old Sith Dreadnought has just appeared in the system carrying ore that will make any Sith practically invincible in the Force...

Like I said earlier, I’m starting to get a little tired of reading Star Wars books that are all about yet another galaxy spanning threat that must be defeated by Luke and his friends. The blurb on the back of the book didn’t exactly get my confidence up but, having read the book, I’m in the position of being able to tell you all that it’s not as bad as you might think.

For a start, there’s no Luke, Han Leia etc. You will hear mention of names that sound familiar (and maybe meet a couple) but, on the whole, Kemp has taken a leap into the Star Wars universe with a cast of characters that are fresh and new. This can’t be anything other than a good thing as far as I’m concerned as it really opens things up rather than keeping it about the same characters all the time (which I personally find a little claustrophobic).
The ‘threat to the galaxy’ theme is also handled very well and opens up intriguing possibilities for future books. It may look like the same old theme but what you get is an interesting new twist on certain technology in the Star Wars universe. You will have seen it before, albeit briefly, but not explored in the detail that it is here. I’m looking forward to seeing how this plot is developed in the future.

The story itself starts off a little too slowly for my liking. A mixture of present day and ‘flashbacks’ are used to bring the two strands of the story together and this approach does well at giving the reader everything that they need to know before things can kick off properly. It’s a shame then that I felt this introductory approach dragged out a little longer than it perhaps needed to. Could it have been done in a prologue? I did wonder if a set up that was a little snappier would have benefitted the story by kicking things off with a bang instead of a slow fuse...
I also found that this approach resulted in a story that didn’t flow particularly smoothly, at least to begin with. The switching between past and present felt jerky and maybe that was to be expected given that there’s five thousand years of history between the two narratives. That’s as maybe but I was still left feeling a little sea sick trying to adjust to a pace that didn’t really have a chance to bed itself in...

When the two plot lines converge though... that’s when things settle down and Kemp’s story really has a chance to shine. The pace picks up and the reader is presented with a story that keeps to all the best traditions of Star Wars; high octane adventure where unlikely heroes are pitted against a pitiless foe. You can expect plenty of thrilling ship to ship heroics and light saber combat here! Jedi Knight Jaden Korr’s self doubt is examined in great detail and his subsequent actions tell us a lot, not only about what it is to be a Jedi but also a person living in hard times. The same kind of thing goes for salvager Khedryn Faal whose childhood traumas save him from becoming a ‘Han Solo clone’. At the other end of the scale we have Jedi Master Relin Druur whose battle against the Dark Side of the Force contrasts nicely with that of Jaden Korr; leaving the reader in no doubt as to the line that every Jedi must walk...

While most books are happy with just one finale, Kemp decides to up the ante and give his readers two! Both are worth the price of entry with preceding events speeding up until they reach the point where they can do nothing else but explode. One of the finales offers the reader a potential ongoing storyline that I really want to see published.

Despite issues with the structure of the book (which in turn affects the pacing), ‘Crosscurrent’ overcomes it’s initial problems to become a fine Star Wars debut for Paul Kemp. Hopefully there’ll be more to come.

Eight and a Half out of Ten

4 comments:

Adam Whitehead said...

It's worth nothing that Jaden Korr isn't a new character, but the character you played in JEDI KNIGHT: JEDI ACADEMY, the fourth and final game (and possibly the weakest, but featuring the finest lightsabre combat yet seen in a game) in the DARK FORCES/JEDI KNIGHT saga.

Dave-Brendon de Burgh said...

I agree, Adam, the lightsaber combat in Academy was truly awesome, I actually cheered myself on while wielding my double-bladed lightsaber. :-)

For once, Graeme, I reviewed a Star Wars novel before you did, quite chuffed with myself. ;-)

Graeme Flory said...

D'oh! Back to the Jedi Academy I go... :o(
It's still good to see a chance being taken on a (slightly) lesser known character though instead of the usual suspects ;o)

David - When we last read Star Wars books you were but the learner, now you are the master!

Or something like that...

Dave-Brendon de Burgh said...

It'll probably be an isolated incident, anyway - at least until Paul's next SWs EU offering. :-)