Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Review: Dark Force Rising, by Timothy Zahn

New York: Bantam, 1992, pp. 376.

Heir to the Empire concluded with the heroes repulsing Thrawn's attempt to grab a sizable portion of their fleet at the Sluis Van shipyard, but only at the price of damaging the ships Thrawn tried to steal, rendering them inoperable for some time to come. This makes it less than a triumph--and indeed, Bothan politician Borsk Fey'la seizes on the results to contrive treason charges against Admiral Ackbar, accusing him of having set the fleet up for attack by the Empire.

Naturally, our heroes set out to clear his name. Meanwhile, for his part Grand Admiral Thrawn pursues his effort to sharply expand his fleet, a game into which the titular "Dark Force"--a fleet of two hundred highly automated warships thought to have been lost in space a half century earlier--quickly looms large.

The result is that in this second book of the trilogy, the good guys and bad seem to be headed in different directions--and while their paths eventually converge, this takes rather a while. In the meantime a great deal of time is spent on matters that seem comparatively tangential--the mystery of Fey'la's connection with New Cov, Han's meeting with Senator Bel Iblis (an Old Republic politician who early on broke with the Rebellion to fight his own, separate war against the Empire), Leia's dealings with the Noghri. (Where the last in particular is concerned, the significance of the matter for the big picture is still not yet clear by book's end.) Luke's meeting with C'boath initially appears more consequential, but this time around, at least, does not amount to very much.

The book is the more diffuse because Thrawn, whose machinations helped tie the events of the last tale together, is less of a presence in this installment. And the looseness--and uneventfulness--seem the less forgivable for coming just when the tale should have been getting tighter and tenser on the way toward the climax. Unsurprisingly the conclusion in which it all culminates leaves something to be desired. In the main it is a replay of the preceding book's, with Luke and his friends up against Thrawn as he makes his play for a bigger force, while the power struggle between Thrawn and C'boath escalates abruptly (perhaps too abruptly, given that a proper build-up could have been the most engaging thing in the book). Still, the finale, which has Thrawn get the upper hand over the heroes, while C'boath just may be getting the upper hand over Thrawn, promises a more exciting tale in the next and final installment, The Last Command.

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