It’s been hard in recent years to find a characterization of Leia Organa that just feels right. It’s also been hard to find a story about our Original Trilogy heroes where the stakes are high (but not ludicrously so) and where the galaxy doesn’t have to be put completely back together again at the story’s end or, in other words, a fun adventure story. Martha Wells delivers on both of these counts in Empire and Rebellion: Razor’s Edge. It’s a book where the story is important enough to warrant several hundred pages but it’s also a book that will make you laugh one page, smile another, and then perhaps duck your head and hide a tear for Alderaan. (Or maybe that last one is just me.)
Set two years after A New Hope, Princess Leia Organa is leading a mission aboard the Gamble to negotiate a deal for vital supplies for the construction of Echo Base. Unfortunately, everything is turned on its head when first the Gamble is damaged in an ambush and then when they encounter pirates attacking a freighter near the meeting point. To make matters worse, Leia recognizes the pirate ship as the Alderaanian Aegis. It’s not long before she’s determined to not only help the captured freighter but to also learn exactly why these Alderaanians are working as pirates and to stop them from going any further down that path. Accompanied by several members of the Rebel Alliance crew, including Han Solo, she soon finds herself swept into a much larger piracy web than she’d ever anticipated and she’ll be lucky if everyone makes it out alive.
This book does so many things right that it’s difficult to pick a place to start but above all else, Martha Wells has Leia Organa’s characterization down pat. This is everything that Leia-during-the-Original-Trilogy should be. Here we get the Rebel Alliance leader who is incredibly capable both as a leader and as a combatant. She can hold her own in a fight (and does so spectacularly in a win-or-potentially-die moment in the middle of the book) but Wells never ignores that Leia’s ultimate strength is in diplomacy and negotiation. Leia’s Senatorial role was far more than ceremonial afterall. She knows how people work, she knows how to talk to people, and she knows how to be an incredibly skilled orator. Combine this with her intelligence and stubbornness and she is a force to be reckoned with even when she appears to be unarmed.
Also worthy of mention is Wells’s characterization of Han Solo as she also has him down pat. Although one of the best parts of the book with Han is definitely his antagonistic flirting with Leia, he has his own motivations and even his own sub-plotline within the book. It’s neat getting to see his point of view throughout the story and to also see how he and Leia have built up this trust and friendship over the past two years.
The rest of the cast in the book deserves an equal amount of praise. The gender distribution is fairly equal and there’s even a nice little bit of racial diversity amongst the crews. (Two dark skinned humans amongst the main characters and the galaxy didn’t end. Imagine that.) We even get a female Twi’lek who doesn’t fall into the tired trope of being a former dancer or slave or who’s just there to be sexy. It’s also a book that’s mainly populated by new characters. Aside from Han, familiar faces like Luke and Chewbacca have much more limited page time although they certainly contribute to the story. In particular, I loved Sian Tesar, a member of the Rebellion to accompanies Leia on to the Aegis, Captain Caline Metara and Dannan Kelvan of the Aegis’s crew, and Anakaret, the aforementioned Twi’lek smuggler. The book never gets bogged down in backstory so you don’t get to know these new characters quite as well with the exception perhaps of Captain Metara but they are excellent additions to the story nonetheless. If Sian doesn’t get used in other Expanded Universe works, I’ll be incredibly disappointed. Also worth mentioning is one of the book’s antagonists, Aral tukor Viest, who is not only an incredibly skilled Lorrdian reader but also incredibly insane. (It all works, I promise.)
It’s not just the characters that Wells gets right but rather the book as a whole. It has the right mixture of tension and high stakes while never forgetting to occasionally make readers smile and laugh. There’s a sense of humor to it that’s often dry and at other times sarcastic, as one would expect from a novel that stars Leia Organa and Han Solo. And yes, we certainly get some flirtation between the two that will making watching Empire Strikes Back after reading this book positively gleeful.
This is also a book that someone new to the Expanded Universe could easily pick up without any confusion. It has a plot that includes the familiar Imperial threat but the Alderaanian pirates plot adds something new to the story. Overall, the book might not be one of those with a crazy plot twist at the end but it does have enough turns to keep readers interested and engaged. It’s just one of those fun Star Wars reads.
Razor’s Edge is one of the first books where I feel like we really get a peek into Leia’s grief for Alderaan aside from the lip service it usually gets. When she first recognizes the Aegis as being Alderaanian, it’s like a kick to the gut for both her and the reader. Even though it’s been two years, it’s obvious that it’s still a sorrow she cares with her although moments like this one where it overwhelms her are rare. It’s honestly just the icing on top of a perfect Leia characterization cake.
I give Empire and Rebellion: Razor’s Edge a 4 out of 5 and definitely recommend that you pick up a copy.
Thank you to Random House and Net Galley for providing an advanced copy of the book for review purposes.