It’s the vogue thing to do right now so I couldn’t help but sit down and take a retrospective look at this year’s Expanded Universe books and then rank them in my order of preference. (Because hey! All the cool kids are doing it!)
Overall, 2013 was a solidly enjoyable year for Expanded Universe releases. After all, what else could it be when we literally started 2013 with Scoundrels? I can promise you that I paid no attention to the ball dropping in Time’s Square and was instead impatiently waiting for Scoundrels to finish downloading to my Nook instead. As those who followed the Waru Express are probably well aware, I’ve had my fair share of problems with a number of the Expanded Universe releases in the past five years or so. 2013 has, for the most part, been a giant breath of fresh air.
We’ll start with my basic rankings and then I’ll go a bit more into detail because this list is going to look deceptive. My reviews for each of these books are linked.
That’s the simplified version of the rankings. If you really want a better sense of how I felt about these books, it’ll look something more like this.
- Razor’s Edge OR Scoundrels
- Into the Void.
9. The Last Jedi
Let’s start with the good. (And a few spoilers that will be said in passing.)
All four of my favorite books for this year had something in common: strong female leads or, as we prefer to call them around here, capable lady leads. Razor’s Edge and Into the Void were headlined by Leia Organa and Lanoree Brock respectively. While Kenobi might have been named for the Jedi Master, it was just as much Annileen Calwell’s book as it was Obi-Wan’s. Even Scoundrels, which at first look was a Han Solo book, prominently featured characters like Bink and Winter who served as the point of view on multiple occasions. In contrast, The Last Jedi was severely lacking in female characters with well written and noteworthy contributions to the story and Crucible made me angry with how it stomped all over characters like Mirta Gev and Vestara Khai. It made me wish they’d been left out of the book entirely instead. More well written female characters like those found in the first four books would be excellent inclusions in future Expanded Universe novels. In particular, I’d love to see Martha Wells writing Leia Organa again. Frequently even.
All four of the top books also told strong stories. They all kept me engaged. Of the last two, the plot line of one was decent enough while the characters were frustrating while the other made me toss it to the floor multiple times in frustration because it was so (to put it bluntly) batshit. The top four also managed to be engaging without getting bogged down in painful amounts of continuity. While The Last Jedi was marketed as a standalone, I found it impossible to really with without reading the Coruscant Nights books and Crucible was so far down the continuity rabbit hole that you’d have to journey to Wonderland and back before you’d get caught up on what was going on.
In other words, when the Expanded Universe this year was good, it was really good. When it was not so good… head collided with nearby desks and walls for a multitude of reasons.
Kenobi was the book that all of the blogosphere seemed to agree was incredibly well done. It’s a wonderful example of genre fiction within the larger universe and is one of the best arguments anyone could possibly make to have more of these sorts of books in the Expanded Universe. You wouldn’t expect a book that is told on such a small scale and that takes place over such a short period of time to have quite the impact that it did and yet it does. I loved how Kenobi showed the emotional crisis Obi-Wan was going through after Revenge of the Sith along with the crisis of figuring out who he now was as a person and how it did it without having you constantly in his head. That’s something that not every author can pull off and Miller did it beautifully.
I liked Razor’s Edge and Scoundrels for a lot of the same reasons and that makes it difficult to choose between them. While I am of the opinion that the years between A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back are starting to get a bit crowded, both books were excellent additions to the crowd. It’s nice getting to see more of characters like Han and Leia as they were when we all first fell in love with them before everything awful in the galaxy could happen to them. Scoundrels was a fun and engaging heist that had a neat and varied cast along with one of the coolest twist endings I’ve read in a few years. Razor’s Edge twisted an Alderaan knife in my heart and I loved every minute of it. Plus, it featured one of the most gender balanced casts I’ve ever seen.
The more I think about Into the Void, the more I like it. Was it a brilliant or perfect piece of writing? No but it had the same vibe as Shatterpoint and that’s something I’ll always love. Add that unsettling vibe to good character driven story about a Force user and I’m sold. It’s fast paced and never really gives the reader time to get bored. Je’daii Ranger Lanoree Brock is an excellent addition to the Star Wars universe and I’d love to see her star in more books. While the book is a standalone, I don’t think it functions well as a potential first venture into the Expanded Universe. Regardless though, the book is definitely an easy one for a Star Wars fan to pick up especially if they are interested in the Jedi’s early days or in a different view of the Force.
I’ll admit that I was probably a bit harsh in my original review of The Last Jedi. Upon reflection (and with some context) it wasn’t actually awful. I’d probably give it at 5 out of 10 if I were doing the review now and would still recommend it if you are a Jax Pavan fan. I still didn’t really like the book though which is why it lands so near the bottom of my list due in great part to its lack of women and poor treatment of one female character in particular.
Crucible, on the other hand, deserves every last ounce of dislike I expressed for it in all of my reviews and commentary. There’s nothing more that can be said that wasn’t already mentioned in those. That is all.
Of course, what’s a round up without a few awards? So without further ado…
Most Gut Wrenching Twisting of Raw RotS Emotions: Kenobi
Worst Torture Scene: Crucible
Best Use of Boba Fett: Scoundrels
Best New Character: Tie between Into the Void and Kenobi
Most WTF Scene in Years: Crucible
Best Characterization of Leia Organa: Razor’s Edge
Most Useless Character Death: The Last Jedi
Best Use of a Dragon: Kenobi
Creepiest Character: Into the Void
Strangest Case of Corran Horn Not Acting Arrogantly: Crucible
My snark aside, I am decidedly happy with how 2013 was for the Expanded Universe and look forward to seeing what 2014 brings!