First things first, if you’ve managed to stay mostly spoiler free for this book, I highly suggest you continue to do so because wow will it be worth it. This review will contain mild spoilers so read at your own risk.
Scoundrels is absolutely the book that so many of us been anxiously awaiting. At one of the Star Wars Expanded Universe panels at Dragon*Con, one convention goer asked if it was “safe to come home yet” to the Expanded Universe. After reading Scoundrels, not only can I say that it is safe to come home again but that there has never been a better time to get into the Expanded Universe. Not only does the book require no more context than A New Hope but the ebook edition even includes an approximately 125 page primer and introduction to other aspects of the EU. But let’s focus on the actual book for now.
The plot of Scoundrels is simple: Han Solo still has a price on his head courtesy of Jabba the Hutt when a job with a huge payoff falls into his lap. If he succeeds, his share of the credits will be more than enough to pay off Jabba with millions to spare. He has to put together a team and pull off the heist before the chance for more credits than he’s ever seen vanishes. Clearly it’s going to take a lot of luck and some people who are very good at their jobs to pull this one off.
The basic plot of the book follows the same structure of most heist films. Han assembles the team, they sneakily watch the target, a plan is made, they start the heist, and then things inevitably go wrong. On top of that, both Imperial Intelligence and Black Sun are involved, making for an even more tangled web. Even though the structure is the same, it doesn’t fall into any terribly predictable traps. In fact, it’s quite fun to watch how this newly assembled team approaches what looks to be an impossible task. By the time Zahn finishes the book, you’ll want to immediately start reading again to see how everything fits together. (It’s certainly what I’ll be doing as soon tonight.)
Even though it’s a big cast with eleven people as a part of the heist team, Zahn does a great job of balancing the narrative so readers get to know all of the crew. Even the personalities and motivations of some of the more minor members of the team like Dozer are readily apparently by the end. Some characters will be familiar faces to fans while others are completely new creations. Zahn does equally well with characters we’ve seen him write before such as Han and Lando as he does with these new characters. Two standout fantastic characters include Bink and Tavia Kitik who were previous introduced in the e-novella Winner Lose All. They both have their own distinct personalities and interests but when they pull off a scheme that depends on their identical features, it’s fantastic. I’d be thrilled to see the twins and almost any of the other new characters appear in more Expanded Universe novels. Getting to see a young Kell Tainer was also quite fun especially since Zahn recalled what was almost a throw away line about his background: he’s another Alderaanian survivor. It really made me tilt my head and look at the character in a whole new light. Additionally, if anyone was concerned about Lando showing up in this book messing with canon, your concerns were for nothing. I promise that Zahn makes it work.
I’ll freely admit to being biased but one of the strongest characters in the book was Winter. This book is by far one of my favourites to feature Winter mainly because of how readers finally get a chance to go into her head. Scoundrels takes place almost immediately after the Battle of Yavin and that means the open wound that is Alderaan is still raw. The pages where Zahn is inside Winter’s head as she reflects upon Alderaan are positively heartbreaking. Aside from that, Zahn also shows us just why Winter had a reputation for being one of the top agents for the Rebel Alliance because she is just that good at her job. I’d love it if Zahn wrote Winter more often especially in this era. (Maybe a short story with Winter and Leia that takes place after this book…)
At the end of the day, Scoundrels is a book that neglects neither the plot nor its characters and comes out all the stronger for it. It’s a wonderful fun read that will likely fans wanting more.
Overall, I give Scoundrels 5 stars and highly suggest you all go read it immediately.