X-Wing Retrospective Part 3: The Krytos Trap

Quite honestly, I had forgotten how much I enjoyed The Krytos Trap.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve always known this book is quality. I just had it in my head for a long time that of this four-book arc, Wedge’s Gamble was my favorite of the bunch. That changed about two years ago when I went back and re-read through a bunch of my favorite Expanded Universe novels from the Bantam Spectra era. It had been a little while since I’d read through the X-Wing books* and my memory was a little fuzzy. Suffice to say, the third entry in the X-Wing series was significantly better than the already positive memory I had in my head.

*College. Instead I got to read fine literature like “Cybersecurity Ethics.”

(Head to the jump to continue reading)

When we last left off our favorite band of combat aces this side of Black Sheep Squadron*, Corran was presumed dead (but is actually sitting in the lovely prison and mindwashing facility known as Lusankya), Tycho took the blame and got arrested, and Erisi Dlarit bought the farm. As we pick up where we left off, we learn that the fledgling New Republic has indeed managed to successfully capture Coruscant, but the celebration is short-lived. The Krytos virus is laying waste to the alien population of the world and while it can be cured by bacta, there appears to be no way to get enough of it there to treat the ever increasing number of sick individuals. In other words, everything is falling to pieces and it’s up to the Rogues to fix it.

 *Ask your parents.

The Krytos plague was handled masterfully. It would have been easy to just play it off as a big, bad thing that needed to be solved (which it does), but Stackpole earns points for delving in and examining just how far the ramifications of this virus extend. With Bacta supplies short, panic quickly sets in and threatens to turn the non-human population against their new government. It’s a stunningly brilliant maneuver by Isard and Derricote. On the one hand, it puts a resource drain on the New Republic by tying up and instantly depleting any Bacta reserve available. On the other hand, it’s a political timebomb. Instead of being hailed as the conquering heroes, the New Republic suddenly finds itself caught in an ideological war between humans and non-humans.

While that disaster rages on, Corran Horn has found himself in a rather precarious spot. He’s trapped in Lusankya, the same brainwashing prison that Tycho Celchu had been held prior to Rogue Squadron’s reformation. To say it’s not an unpleasant stay place would be somewhat of an understatement. Isard tries, unsuccessfully, to turn him against his allies by means of drugs, physical torture, and every other cruel and unusual technique you can think of. While at this less-than-luxury resort, Stackpole takes some time to do one of the Expanded Universe’s most popular activities: crafting retcons! Various materials have had contradictory things to say about Jan Dodonna. One source said he died at Yavin, another said he was alive and well at a later point in the timeline. Stackpole fixes this by saying he was captured at Yavin and thrown into the Lusankya. See? Easy as that.

But I digress. Eventually Corran makes a break for it*and finds himself in, of all things, a museum. I won’t get into it too deeply (because this is a part you must read for yourself if you haven’t already), but here’s where we debunk the notion that the X-Wing novels are all military fights and precious little else. Buried within this museum were Jedi relics and holograms that had been lost to the years since the Clone Wars. In this stretch of the book, a critical event in the Expanded Universe occurs. Who said nothing important happens in these books?

*I like to imagine The Great Escape theme playing in the background while he’s moving through Lusankya and back towards freedom.

Meanwhile, Tycho’s on trial for the murder of Corran Horn, treason, and other crimes that would be liable to get someone spaced if convicted. This subplot succeeds on several different levels. First off, you get an antagonist of sorts in General Airen Cracken that you don’t quite know how to deal with as a reader. Part of you acknowledges that he’s a man doing his job and there’s a reason he’s one of the New Republic’s most well respected and decorated military officers. A larger part of you wants to throttle him for going after Tycho.

But, then again, why are you defending Tycho so vehemently? There’s an awful lot of lingering doubt over his innocence. And by an awful lot, I mean there’s a freighter’s worth of doubt. Despite that, you wind up on Tycho’s side because seeing this trial through Wedge’s eyes, and that’s where this bit of subplot really shines. Throughout you learn a lot about Wedge. He’s extraordinarily loyal and will go to the ends of the Galaxy and back for the people who have earned that from him. One of the most telling scenes was after Wedge testified on his friend’s behalf. It didn’t go well, and as soon as he was out of the courtroom, the usually unflappable Commander Antilles was absolutely livid with himself for getting raked over the coals by the prosecution.

Really, I could go on talking about the plot of this book for days, but I feel it’s more important to step back and talk about the characters. If you’ve listened to the podcast before, you know that characters and characterization is important to me. A story is going to live and die by the strength of its dramatis personae.

As just about everyone who reads this blog knows, I’ve got a love for minor characters. While Shane handled the books where this character was introduced and fleshed out, I’m going to talk about her anyways. Because I can. So there. Inyri Forge is the kind of character I always hope to see more of in the Expanded Universe. For years I’ve been hoping against hope that some intrepid author would go back and do more with her. Runaway, joined a gang, turned her back on it, and began a long struggle to set herself on the right path. Stackpole did a fair amount with her in this book, but I would have loved to have seen more of her in the EU*.

*Not a slight against Stackpole, I just really wish other authors would have taken notice and made use of her in other works.

Of course, it’s not just the minor side-characters that caught my attention. In the first two installments of this series, Stackpole seemed fairly comfortable sticking to a limited set of POV characters, alternating between Corran, Wedge, Loor, and occasionally Gavin. While that worked well (and was probably necessary to making those books works), I really appreciated how he branched out more and got into the head of some different characters. Nawara Ven was one such character whose eyes we saw the universe through. Gavin Darklighter went through a tremendous amount of character growth and took the step to becoming a key player in this series.

There’s one POV character, however, that truly elevated this book. That character is Iella Wessiri, former CorSec officer and now a member of the New Republic’s Intelligence taskforce. Again, I don’t want to spoil what happens here for those who haven’t read the book yet (and I’m hoping there’s at least a few of you we’ve convinced to pick them up). What I can say is that Iella is confronted with a choice that no one should ever have to confront. She does exactly what she has to do for the greater good, but that’s not the best part. It’s how Stackpole portrayed the consequence to her in the aftermath. This book did a great many things well, but this is something I can point to and say it was the most heart-breaking but real things in the entire story.

Then there’s the ending. Again, I refuse to give too much of this away for those who haven’t read it, but I can say you will run into surprise cameo by one of the major film characters as well as a twist cliff-hanger ending that’s simultaneously fistpump-worthy and shocking. Aren’t you glad you don’t have to wait a year for the next book like those who read the original run?

I set off to write about one thousand words on this book and wound up exceeding that by a fair amount. Again, a testament to the surprising quality of this novel. The Krytos Trap has all of the hallmarks of a good Expanded Universe novel. Solid balance between action and narrative, cunning political intrigue, adding to the mythos of the universe. A mix of fun adventure and gripping drama. This, quite simply, is a book that feels tonally and thematically like Star Wars and one that honors the source material it was built upon.

***

Shane will be back to review The Bacta War, the fourth book in the series and the conclusion of the Rogue Squadron arc. After that, Nanci and I will be diving into the Wraith Squadron arc by Aaron Allston.

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