Saturday, 9 November 2019

Heirs of the Force (Star Wars Young Jedi Knights #1)

Author: Kevin J. Anderson & Rebecca Moesta
First Published: 1995
Pages: 217pp
Publisher: Boulevard/Berkley

This review is the first in a new category of occasional articles that will cover a paperback book that I think should be released as an eBook, or cannot understand why it isn't already an eBook. They will be tagged with the 'Paperback' label, and will be collected on the "Not Digital?" page. Our first entry continues my current interest in the early Star Wars fiction franchise.

I have a problem with Star Wars books. Most of the ones I've tried to read, I just couldn't get into. Try as I might, they just don't grab me in the same way that books from other science fiction franchises do, such as Star Trek or late 20th century Doctor Who. Over the years I've tried the odd book or two but far too many of them ended up abandoned and unfinished gathering dust somewhere in the back of the bookshelf and then eventually being taken to a charity shop or traded in at a used bookstore.

I think my issue is that I cannot sustain an interest in the main characters of Star Wars, Luke, Leia, Han, Chewie etc. I am fundamentally underwhelmed by their new exploits and the lack of engaging character development. I struggle with the new characters introduced in each book, including each new villain of the week (none on them seem as impressive as The Emperor or Darth Vader). I tried to read Timothy Zahn's The Thrawn Trilogy twice and never even reached halfway through the first part on each occasion. Then I attempted to read The Corellian Trilogy by Roger MacBride Allen and ended up falling asleep every time I sat down to read it.

It's only been with a couple of novels - such as the first book in the Coruscant Nights trilogy, Jedi Twilight, which is quite noirish and appealed to me - and my recent re-visit of the first piece of non-film fiction, Splinter of the Mind's Eye by Alan Dean Foster, that I felt interested enough to finish. So with Dean Foster's still fresh in my mind I had a surge of enthusiasm to launch straight into another one.

I have heard good things about the Young Jedi Knights young adult fiction series. Over the years I've read articles, websites and viewed video reviews where they have received generous feedback and comments. Young also introduced  new Jedi who go on to feature heavily in later series such as New Jedi Order, Dark Nest, and Legacy of the Force. I don't think I ever saw them in a bookstore whilst they were being published in the late nineties, presumably they were shelved in the children's section (I don't think Young Adult was a thing back then was it?). So, while I was browsing Amazon UK as I normally do, looking for some inspiration and following the rabbit hole of 'customers who bought this item also bought' - I landed upon this series. I thought "I wonder how much the eBook is?" Turns out, it's very! Because there is no eBook version of any them. Strange that a Star Wars product lacks a digital version, surely I'm wrong? Seems not - the only (legal) version I found was in German. But with my interest piqued I wanted to try them, and it set me thinking about other books I wanted to read and whether they had a digital presence. Hence the new section on Digital Bibliophilia called "Not Digital?"

So I'll stop it there and talk about the actual novel. But before I start, just note that although I love the films, I am NOT an expert in all things Star Wars so I may get some if this wrong and do not have the luxury of an encyclopedic memory of events that happened in previous books.

Heirs of the Force is the first in the series, co-authored by husband and wife team Kevin J. Anderson and Rebecca Moesta. Originally planned to last for only six books, the series eventually ran for a total of fourteen novels from 1995 to 1998. Kevin has since gone on to world-wide fame with his many science fiction novels, such as those in the Dune franchise and the Saga of the Seven Suns. Rebecca was running a science fiction club when they met, and as well as writing books with Kevin, also acts as his proof reader and copy editor. They run the Word Fire Press publishing company which has been publishing unknown works and hard-to-find works by Dune creator, Frank Herbert.

Young Jedi Knights starts about twenty years after the end of Star Wars (or as its known After the Battle of Yavin - ABY). It has as it's main protagonists, Jacen and Jaina Solo, the twin son and daughter of Han Solo and Leia Organna. They have enrolled into the Jedi Academy set up by Luke Skywalker on the moon Yavin 4. The actual academy building itself is the ziggurat featured at the end of Star Wars where all the X-wings take off from to launch their desperate attack on the Death Star.

Jacen and Jaina are force sensitive, so they have a modicum of powers like moving objects and sensing the presence of people nearby. Jacen is a budding zoologist with a penchant for collecting weird alien creatures, while his sister is an engineer who loves nothing more than taking apart and reassembling machinery. Also enrolled with the Solo children is Tenel Ka, a red-haired female warrior of Dathomir who is almost Vulcan in her emotionless persona, but athletic and proud of her physical abilities in climbing, running and other outdoor activities. Into this mix Anderson and Moesta introduce the Wookie, Lowbacca. He is the nephew of Han Solo's co-pilot Chewbacca. Because Lowbacca speaks the language of the wookies and the other young jedi cannot understand him, he also comes with a miniature protocol droid that Lowbacca wears on his hip. Em Teedee translates for Lowbacca, but becasue he was programmed by C-3PO, Em Teedee has a tendency to be long-winded. Em TeeDee adds a little comic releif, much in the same vein as C-3PO, thankfully it's not overdone by Anderson and Moesta.

This first book takes its time to tell the story and introduce us to the main players at the Jedi Academy. All of them are given scenes from their own perspective, either singularly or with each other, for us to get to know and like them. Even Em TeeDee gets a mini-adventure for himself - and surprisingly its not that bad. We also have cameo appearances from Luke, Han and Chewie who act and sound very much like their screen persona. Anderson and Moesta work good together and the style is clearly YA territory but has enough to keep adults entertained for its short length, 217 pages of rather large font.

The jeopardy element of the plot does not begin to get going until the second half of the book, and it's a bit cliched and not really very exciting from an adult point of view. However I still liked the book as a whole and am willing to let them get away with it this time if the promise of better things to come pans out. It works nice as an all-rounder introduction to the characters. There is no denying the authors skill in telling a story and the prose is faultless. By the end of the book I was invested in seeing how the children (sorry, young jedi) will develop.

I think that the fact that Heir of the Force does not focus on the main trio of Luke, Han and Leia, is one of the reasons I liked the book enough to read it. Add to that, the new characters of Jacen, Jaina, Tenel Ka and Lowbacca are neither annoying or super-powered because of their ancestry.They are still very new to using the Force. Finally (at least in this book) there is not much of a villain to face so my concerns for that were untested.

So. Why is this book not in eBook? Well I note that the publisher is Boulevard, which appears to have covered the young fiction range for Berkley in the nineties. Perhaps this is why? Maybe there is no strategy to convert the books, or the books are in legal limbo somewhere? I will need to read a few more of these to make up my mind about whether they should be in digital form on merit; but for the time being I do wonder why they aren't due to the fact that they are part of the popular Star Wars franchise and seemingly quite well-regarded by fans and have significant links to some of the adult media.

Recommended for Star Wars fans who are interested in Legends tales and the continuation of the Skywalker/Solo clan.