Book Review: Star Wars: Aftermath: Life Debt by Chuck Wendig
A review copy was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 stars
Genre: Science Fiction, Media Tie-In
Series: Book 2 of Star Wars: Aftermath
Publisher: Del Rey (July 19, 2016)
Length: 430 pages
To kick off this review, I just want to say that I actually didn’t think the first Aftermath was all that bad. As you’d recall all the hubbub, the criticism over that book was harsh, perhaps more so than I thought was warranted. That said, for a Star Wars novel I also thought this book’s predecessor was mediocre to okay at best—especially when compared to such gems in the new canon like Lost Stars by Claudia Gray or Dark Disciple by Christie Golden. While flavorful and entertaining, the story of Aftermath and its characters were completely forgettable. This was evidenced by my chagrin when, as I started reading the first few pages of Life Debt, I realized I could barely recall anything that happened in the first book, or remember any of the main characters’ names.
The good news though, is that Life Debt is a much better book. In my opinion, this sequel improves upon many of the problems that plagued the first novel, giving me a lot more reasons to care about the story and what happens to these characters.
Taking place in the “aftermath” of Aftermath, Life Debt follows the adventures of Norra Wexley and her band of mercenaries across the galaxy, as they continue to doggedly hunt down the remnants of Imperial leadership. The main prize is Grand Admiral Rae Sloane, with whom the team has had run-ins with before. Sloane, however, is trying to hatch up a plan of her own, keeping a low profile as she tries to rally the remaining Imperial forces who regard her as the new de facto leader of the Empire. But behind the scenes, there is another shadowy operator pulling the strings, manipulating both the Imperials and the fledgling New Republic, and his agenda is a lot less clear.
Meanwhile, Princess Leia receives a disturbing message from Han Solo before the transmission was cut off, making her fear the worst for her husband. She beseeches Norra and her crew to track him down, which leads them to a prison complex on Kashyyyk where the Wookiees are currently locked in conflict with the Empire over their home world.
I’ve long been a fan of Chuck Wendig’s urban fantasy, a genre which perfectly suits his raw, gritty writing style. But when it came to Star Wars, the fit did not seem quite right. This was made obvious in Aftermath with his use of short, bursty sentences and tendency to include many modern colloquialisms and awkward terms that jolted me right out of the immersion. Thankfully, he’s a lot more sparing with these in Life Debt, which was only the first of many other steps in the right direction. When Wendig isn’t trying so hard to force Star Wars to match his style, instead making it the other way around so that he adapts his writing to the Star Wars universe, the results are actually much, much better.
Another issue I had with the first book was how far removed it felt from the events of Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens, especially when the publisher was pushing it as the “bridge novel” between the two movies. To be fair, I don’t really fault the book for the hype created by marketing, but I was a little disappointed by the bare-bones structure of Aftermath, with its fluffy story and what felt like throwaway characters that had no impact on the universe whatsoever. Going into Life Debt, I didn’t have that many expectations, and I ended up being pleasantly surprised. We no longer have to sit through any more origin stories for the characters, so we’re diving straight into the action and getting more opportunities to learn about their personalities and relationships.
The inclusion of original trilogy characters, both major and minor, also helped. For example, Leia and Han were only bit players in this book, but their presence created a palpable connection between Norra Wexley, Temmin Wexley, Jas Emari, Sinjir Rath Velus, Jom Barell, and Mr. Bones with the rest of the Star Wars universe. Watching Wedge Antilles try to romance Norra was also hilarious. The point is, the Aftermath team has finally made their mark on the New Republic through their actions, and it’ll be harder to forget them now. The story on the Empire side was also a lot more interesting this time around, with Admiral Rae Sloane fighting her own secret war within the Imperial ranks. She is the sole beacon of competence amidst the remains of a weakened and crumbling Empire, but she probably has less authority than anyone, including herself, realizes. Her character has come a long way for me since she was first introduced in A New Dawn, and now she’s one of my favorites.
There were some lingering issues, of course. These pesky interludes continue to vex me, packing on a lot more bulk than was necessary without really adding much substance. Clearly, they’re meant to be a defining feature of this trilogy though, so I had suspected that they weren’t going to go away. Certain characters are also very derivative of other Star Wars personalities we’ve seen before. The villain revealed here feels like a new Thrawn, for instance, and reading parts of this book gave me flashbacks to certain episodes of Star Wars Rebels, with their team dynamics being somewhat similar, right down to the mother figure, bounty hunter, a boy and his crazy droid, etc. Not all of these parallels were necessarily bad though, especially when they actually helped me get into the story.
All told, I’m glad I gave this trilogy another chance, though in truth, I probably would have read it anyway, considering my ongoing quest to read and review all the adult novels in the new Star Wars canon. No surprise then that I would recommend this to other Star Wars completionists. But now, I would say even if you don’t consider yourself a hardcore Star Wars fan, but maybe you’re still interested in checking out some the tie-in fiction, then you might wish to take a look at this series. I don’t think I would have said the same after reading just Aftermath, but Life Debt has shown me there is going to be more to this trilogy, and I find myself looking forward to see how everything will play out in book three, Empire’s End.
More on The BiblioSanctum:
Review of Star Wars: Aftermath (Book 1)