Look. I enjoyed the first Aftermath book well enough and it held up favorably during a second reading but Life Debt blows it out of the water. Maybe it’s the broader scope of the story, maybe it’s the inclusion of more familiar characters, maybe it’s the story itself. I don’t know. Point is: Life Debt is one hell of a fun read.
It’s tricky to really go in depth about what makes Life Debt work without spoilers because boy are a lot of things to cover there. Top of the list is undoubtedly Grand Admiral Rae Sloane who has to deal with far more crap than a person of her caliber deserves. The Fleet Admiral, isn’t a character from Legends like many had hoped but Chuck Wendig weaves his tale throughout the book like a good murder mystery. As Sloane learns more about him, so do we. (Sloane continues, by the way, to be better than all of you.) Above all though, what really makes this book are the character motivations. Life Debt tells a broader story with our team from Aftermath and more familiar characters that we know and love like Leia, Han, and Chewie. Everyone feels so completely genuine and realized as plotlines weave in and out and finally back together. They feel so real that even when I’m yelling at them not to do a thing, I can understand why they’re doing it. (Okay with one exception but I shall focus my “I’m very disappointed in you” gaze on them another day.)
So many of the things that really worked in Aftermath get amplified here in Life Debt. The Interludes are deftly deployed, Wedge gets more of a role, diversity is at the forefront, and the new team has definitely stepped up their game. Somehow, Mr. Bones has become even crazier, more ridiculous, and more delightful. (Ask him about hugs.) Sinjir has a depth to him that I can’t help but find intriguing. There are no cookie cutter characters here but the main themes of Star Wars are certainly present. One of those, family and found family, is strong as hell here. Norra’s team has become its own little dysfunctional family even if everyone doesn’t like each other all of the time and her relationship with her son Temmin continues to struggle in the wake of her leaving him for years while she fought with the Rebellion. None of these relationships are static though. We can see the growth not just between the books but throughout this one as well.
One thing I really enjoyed although I doubt it was intentional was how a story line paralleled that of a Legends plot line… which I can’t identify because then you’d be spoiled for the book. It was well executed and made me smile and think fondly of both versions. That in itself really is one of the fun parts about this book though: it fits in so well with the sort of story that so many of us loved in Legends. In a way, the Aftermath trilogy feels like it’s condensed the 15 years of post-RotJ Legends stories and war into a single year. Different yet the same.
Wendig continues to use present tense and I continue to have no problem with that. Occasionally, I would’ve appreciated a more frequent reminder of which characters were talking when but it’s a minor quibble. While the style may not be for everyone, I’m personally more than happy to read a book that resulted in me almost falling off the couch from laughing so hard twice.
If you’re debating whether to pick up Life Debt, stop. Go to the store and buy it right now. You can thank me later.