The eighth book in the series marks a rather dramatic departure from what we’ve seen to this point. Gone are the multi-book arcs. Instead, the final two novels in the original nine-book run are more standalone tales. The first of these books is Isard’s Revenge, Michael Stackpole’s return to the franchise after taking time away to write I, Jedi. Perhaps more importantly, it’s a return to the tales and adventures of Rogue Squadron, the new Republic’s premier military outfit.
When you’re a part of Rogue Squadron, danger and the impossible are all part of the job description. That’s no different in Isard’s Revenge, which means the Rogues and the readers had best strap in for another white-knuckle adventure.
Stackpole wastes no time in dropping the reader back into the action with the Rogues and Corran Horn dropped right into the midst of the Battle of Bilbringi. Sound familiar? This was the last stand of Grand Admiral Thrawn, meaning the X-Wing series has finally caught up with Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire trilogy. It’s a lovely nod to the series that helped to launch the modern Expanded Universe and a means to tie these seemingly disconnected books and characters together.
I could spend a lot of time diving in and discussing the plot of this book, but doing so would simply take away from the fun of a standalone book like this. Long story short? Thrawn is dead and it’s time to clean up after the resurgent Imperial Remnant. The Rogues are sent after Admiral Krennel in what looks like a straight-ahead assignment. Things get complicated when the Rogues are suddenly ambushed by an unidentified Imperial foe. Of course, it’s not the ambush itself that’s truly concerning. It’s the fact that they’re rescued by an old enemy that has seemingly risen from the dead: Ysanne Isard. Turns out that the former Director of Imperial Intelligence wants Krennel dead as well, and she’s willing to cut a deal that Wedge Antilles will have to grapple with.
Isard will help the Rogues defeat Admiral Krennel and, more importantly, will turn over Lusankya prisoners long thought lost or dead. The catch? She has to be given immunity for her prior crimes against. In a twist, the Rogues suddenly find themselves secretly serving alongside one of the most despicable figures in Galactic history.
One has to point out that while this is a fun and exciting plot that Stackpole has crafted, it doesn’t have the same kind of lasting impact on the reader and the Expanded Universe as a whole. Part of this is because we’re returning to a lot of familiar characters. In a setting like this, how much more can Corran, Wedge, and Tycho grow? Not much, but despite that, the book still feels fun. While it might not have the same kind of character growth and depth, you still get taken for a thoroughly enjoyable ride. The nods towards Zahn’s novels as well as Allston’s (Myn Donos of Wraith Squadron makes the transition to the Rogues) adds to that bit of fun.
Despite these familiar characters perhaps not growing as much as they had in previous books, Isard’s Revenge still excels at putting lesser known characters in positions to do great things. Before, we’ve seen a variety of dedicated but comparatively unremarkable military figures rise to prominence. This time around, Stackpole wins a lot of points by letting two even more unassuming characters spend time in the spotlight: Mirax Terrik and Iella Wessiri. You know that here at Tosche Station, we’re big on well written, well developed female characters getting a chance to shine. With Mirax and Iella, the reader gets just that.* Beyond that duo going out of their way to be awesome, there’s one minor subplot featuring Gavin Darklighter and Asyr Sei’lar that still sticks out in my mind. Without spoiling it, I will say that it still leaves me misty eyed when I think about it.
*By the way, I’d be all sorts of down for a Mirax, Iella, and Mara Jade book. The smuggler, the spy, and the Jedi. Doesn’t that sound like all sorts of fun?
Perhaps in years since this book hit bookshelves, the attempts to tie every character, plot point, and book has gone overboard. There’s an argument to be made that the countless continuity nods and canon ties have become clumsy and ineffective, watering down the quality of a book with over twenty years of post-Return of the Jedi Expanded Universe material. Isard’s Revenge feels different. Yes, there are nods to novels and characters that preceded it, but in this book it never feels forced or contrived. It acknowledges that it’s now in the same era as a foundational series of books that preceded it, but it never dwells on it for too long. It acknowledges it, offers a knowing nod to the reader, and moves on to tell its own story. For all the examples of over-awareness of continuity and canon gone awry, this book is an example of how to do it right.
Isard’s Revenge doesn’t carry the same kind of weight the Rogue or Wraith arcs did. It feels a bit more like a one-off episode of your favorite action show, the one that feels much more like a self-contained standalone adventure. The first time I read this book, I remember being disappointed that there wasn’t much of an impact on the Expanded Universe and that it didn’t feature the same kind of character development the previous X-Wing novels did. As the years went on and more and more novels were added to the mythos, this book began to grow on me. Isard’s Revenge is a grand adventure, plain and simple.
Frankly, we could use more books that fit that description.
Stay tuned next week when Emily wraps up the reviews with a look back at the final novel in the X-Wing series’ original run, Starfighters of Adumar by Aaron Allston