Fatal Alliance by Sean Williams (Star Wars: The Old Republic)

Sean Williams' Fatal Alliance is a prelude to the forthcoming massively multiplayer online game The Old Republic which will be released in the last quarter of 2011. The last Star Wars MMO we saw was Galaxies which was met with general apathy. Lucas Books had previously experimented with tie in novels for that game as well (although only one was released to less than favourable reviews) but is building a much more expansive cross media world with this new game. There are the web comics (reprinted in graphic novel form by Dark Horse comics) from which one of the characters in this novel, Satele Shan, returns, and in 2011 a second hardback novel Deceived by Paul S. Kemp will be released.

Fatal Alliance is set thousands of years before the Original Trilogy and a couple of hundred years after the Tales of The Jedi comics and Knights of The Old Republic comics/games to which it is a continuation of. Without the usual cast of Luke, Leia, Han and Chewie et al (or even the established characters from the KOTOR series) the success of the book depends a new set of characters. Luckily Williams' does not disappoint. Each character is enjoyable and he constantly changes up which characters are paired with each other which allows for interesting and fluid dynamic shifts. The dialogue is handled well with some genuinely amusing banter between characters. Each character is also meant to represent different playable classes within the game; Jedi, Sith, Smuggler, Bounty Hunter, Spy, Soldier etc.

Williams' cleverly uses his large cast to tell events from multiple angles but never to the point where he's repeating himself too much. He wisely saves this technique for the large action sequences and boy is there a lot of action in this book (a lot more than its synopsis suggests). The action material is written well, it is compelling, exciting, and it is always clear what is going on.

Williams' does world building very well particularly in this previously untapped era of Star Wars history. There are passing references to other factions, characters, and planets all of which will no doubt appear in the game. This helps give the novel a sense of being grounded within the rich tapestry of the Star Wars expanded universe, but also teases what players can expect when the game finally sees release. Fortunately these references shouldn't alienate more casual readers but may inspire them to read some of the other material that's out there.

This is a swift moving action adventure with moments of light and surprising darkness. It also throws up some particularly interesting reflections of our own world as characters discuss the nature of war and Williams' cleverly uses the Sith and Jedi as a an allegory for when two religious orders with shared gods find themselves in a futile cycle of destruction.

My only real gripe is that the ending seems a little rushed, the last part of the book seemingly tying up loose ends but teasing narrative developments that will either appear in the second Old Republic novel or more likely in the game itself.

All told this is one of the most solidly entertaining Star Wars novels I've read since Deathtroopers and a great stop gap for those who can't wait to throw themselves into the world of The Old Republic.

9/10 One of the most solidly entertaining Star Wars novels I've read since Deathtroopers.

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