Star Wars - The Old Republic: Annihilation by Drew Karpyshyn

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Rating 7.5/10
A solid adventure set a very long time ago in that galaxy far, far away.

The Sith Empire is in flux. The Emperor is missing, presumed dead, and an ambitious Sith lord's attempt to seize the throne has ended fatally. Still, Darth Karrid, commander of the fearsome Imperial battle cruiser Ascendant Spear, continues her relentless efforts to achieve total Sith domination of the galaxy.

But Karrid's ruthless determination is more than matched in the steely resolve of Theron Shan, whose unfinished business with the Empire could change the course of the war for good. Though the son of a Jedi master, Theron does not wield the Force - but like his renowned mother, the spirit of rebellion is in his blood. As a top covert agent for the Republic, he struck a crucial blow against the Empire by exposing and destroying a Sith superweapon arsenal - which makes him the ideal operative for a daring and dangerous mission to end Ascendant Spear's reign of terror.

Joined by hot-headed smuggler Teff'ith, with whom he has an inexplicable bond, and wise Jedi warrior Gnost-Dural, Darth Karrid's former master, Theron must match wits and weapons with a battle-tested crew of the most cold-blooded dark-side disciples. But time is brutally short. And if they don't seize their one chance to succeed, they will surely have countless opportunities to die.

The fourth novel to tie in with The Old Republic MMORPG, and a direct sequel to the Dark Horse Comics mini-series The Lost Suns, Annihilation continues the adventures of Theron Shan as well as a number of other characters from the game. Off the bat, I should say that fans of The Lost Suns should definitely pick up this book, though no prior knowledge is necessary. Likewise, you should enjoy this if you enjoyed TOR: Fatal Alliance the novel which precedes this one chronologically.

This is the last of the announced The Old Republic spin offs, and it's nice to spend time with some engaging characters and to finish stories begun in other media. Karpyshyn knows this world well. However, it's not perfect.

With so many novels in the Star Wars EU and so many new stories to tell in The Old Republic timeframe, the idea of a spy thriller was very appealing, but, sadly, that isn't what we get.

This is a fast paced romp that, despite moments of grit, never becomes the hard edged espionage tale that I would have liked it to have been. As a spy story it has more in common with an Alistair Maclean style “men on a mission” World War 2 story - indeed, the middle section in which Theron is tasked with stealing a code device bought to mind stories of enigma machines and hunting U-Boats. But the story never becomes Hunt For Red October in space either and this failure to break the mould is at times a little disappointing. But if you can look beyond what this book could have been, and instead at the book you are getting it is a lot of fun.

It's an entertaining novel; there are moments of genuine humour and warmth amidst the many explosions and battles. The characters are more developed in prose than their comic book origins, and Karpyshyn has some well placed quips and gags that lend sparkle to even the heaviest of expositional scenes. Twi'lek rogue Teff'ith particularly stands out, her brash voice undermining the more earnest Jedi and military characters. Other highlights include Theron's relationship with his long suffering boss and a genuinely entertaining briefing scene that would otherwise have been stiff and dull exposition. It's also nice to have a story that focuses on a non-force talented lead, and having a Jedi in a supporting role for a change is a refreshing reversal.

It does take a while to get going, and while some chapters are full of plot progressing action, others seem to add little to moving the story forward. Some sub characters lack resolution and seem to disappear around the half way mark.

A subplot regarding Theron's parents is initially handled clumsily both by the characters and the writing, seeming to trip the story adding neither surprises nor moving us forward. But it slowly develops and resolves nicely whilst leaving the door open for any future instalments.

Finally, whilst the company of Theron Shan is fine, if you're looking for a real spy thriller in the Star Wars universe, full of truly unexpected twists or the James Bond of the Star Wars universe you should be reading the adventures of Jahan Cross in the Agent Of The Empire mini series by Dark Horse comics.

Essential to fans of the setting, this book, whilst at times seeming a wasted opportunity, is a solid adventure a very long time ago in that galaxy far, far away.

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