Wednesday, 9 February 2011
‘Star Wars: Knight Errant’ – John Jackson Miller (Del Rey)
I wasn’t too bad at keeping up with all of these books until the New Jedi Order series came along and showed me that my wallet really wasn’t up to the task of keeping up with a mammoth series that I probably wouldn’t read more than once anyway. I fell out of the loop and never really got back into it; there must be dozens of Star Wars books now that I haven’t read. I still like to keep my hand in though and occasionally pick one up for a go, preferring ‘stand alones’ rather than something that requires me to dive into a series. ‘Knight Errant’ looked like it would deliver the goods on this score (it continues the story began in the Dark Horse comic book but I haven’t read that and it still worked for me...) so I decided to check it out. While I liked the approach it took in terms of avoiding some of the pitfalls prevalent in this sub-genre it failed badly at avoiding others. Or maybe it didn’t. To horribly misquote a certain famous Jedi, it all depends on your point of view...
A thousand years before the events of ‘A New Hope’ the galaxy is in a very different shape with Sith Lords running rampant (fighting Jedi when they’re not too busy fighting each other) and the Jedi more or less confined to a tiny area of Republic space where they remain on guard duty. Kerra Holt is a newly promoted Jedi knight whose participation in a covert mission into Sith space has left her stranded behind enemy lines with no real idea of how to get home. While she’s in Sith space, Kerra may as well see what she can do about the Sith Lords in the meantime...
One Jedi against several planets worth of Sith and their underlings. The odds aren’t good but the web of intrigue that Kerra Holt is about to walk through could well end up working for her as it does against. There is a pattern behind these warring Sith
I briefly mentioned the cover for ‘Knight Errant’ a week or so ago when I said that a franchise as well established as Star Wars can easily afford to go generic on the cover art. I mean, look at it... If it wasn’t for the title then this could be any Star Wars books. Unfortunately, the same goes for what’s inside that cover.
At a first glance things don’t look that bad and the book does actually go a long way towards avoiding some of the more obvious problems associated with fiction in the Star Wars universe. Setting the story one thousand years in the past removes the problem of coming up with an interesting story for characters that are ‘untouchable’; instead you have characters that (in theory) could have anything happen to them.
Well, that’s the theory.
What you get instead is pretty much what you get in every Star Wars novel that you pick up; a hero who is going to win through simply because she is the hero and that’s what heroes do. There isn’t even a brief moment of ‘oh dear, I could be brushing with the Dark Side here...’ as Kerra Holt is just too damn good, even though she has only been a fully fledged Jedi for such a short time.
Miller does capture the scheming of the Sith very well with layers of intrigue folded neatly on top of each other, gradually unfolding to form the whole picture. When the rest of the story is so black and white though you’re left wondering just what the point of all the intrigue is. It just doesn’t sit well when you know that the hero will cut through it all with one sweep of her lighsaber because... she’s the hero.
But isn’t that the whole point of Star Wars though? Good honest pulp fun that leaves you on the edge of your seat at the display but also leaves you safe in the knowledge that the right people are going to come out victorious at the end? Of course it is and, in that respect, Miller has come up with a Star Wars book that will sit comfortably with the rest of them even if it might not stand out from the rest of the pack. The heroes are heroic, the villains are evil and when the two meet the end result is the kind of pyrotechnics that you would expect to see on the big screen. (That’s not counting the obligatory well meaning guy on the wrong side of the tracks who learns a lesson about doing the right thing...) In keeping with all good Star Wars books, ‘Knight Errant’ moves along at a ferocious pace and it’s very easy to get caught up in the rush.
Was that enough for me though? Not really. ‘Knight Errant’ may well be very good at what it does (and it is) but it doesn’t do enough to stand out from the rest of the pack as a book in its own right. It could be any Star Wars book that I’m reading here and if that’s the kind of choice that I’m faced with then you’ll always see me going for the Star Wars reads that I know will do the job for me. Timothy Zahn’s books are the deal here.
I guess you can’t blame Miller really as the success of the line is based on a well established formula that looks like it must be adhered to (although like I said, there are loads of Star Wars books that I haven’t read now so I could be wrong here). ‘Knight Errant’ is just a little too formulaic for me though...
Six out of Ten