Monday, March 3, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: Honor Among Thieves

 I've had the privilege of receiving advance reading copies of several upcoming Star Wars novels and permission to share my thoughts with readers. I will be posting exclusive reviews on Poli-Sci Jedi. Feel free to share, but if you do so please cite Poli-Sci Jedi as the source.

This review is about Star Wars: Honor Among Thieves (Empire and Rebellion), due to be released on March 4. The book has been marketed as an adventure starring Han Solo, our favorite Star Wars scoundrel. Enjoy!

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"Honor Among Thieves" is the second in DelRey's "Empire & Rebellion" Star Wars novels set in the Original Trilogy era, this time focusing on Han Solo. This is also the first Star Wars novel from S.A. Corey. Here are my thoughts:

The story is apparently set sometime after Choices of One but before Razor's Edge. The Rebels are still looking for a planet to house their new base. Meanwhile, Princess Leia asks Han and Chewbacca to take the Millennium Falcon to the planet Cioran in order to retrieve a Rebel spy, Scarlet Hark (the woman on the cover). Of course, along the way, Han encounters a bounty hunter on Jabba's payroll. To my knowledge, we haven't actually seen Han being used for extraction missions, but it actually makes perfect sense for the character given that as a smuggler he's learned how to sneak in and out of places easily.


At some point early in the story, Han learns that the Empire is on the brink of discovering an ancient superweapon that could decisively defeat the Rebels. The story shifts from extracting the spy to tracking down the superweapon. Unfortunately, this becomes problematic for a few reasons. First, anybody who has watched "The Empire Strikes Back" knows almost exactly how the book will end (I predicted almost everything correctly). Aside from the fates of a few of the new characters introduced in this book, there is zero chance that this superweapon actually plays any role in galactic events. More importantly, there isn't very much interesting or new about HOW the plot is resolved. At least with Timothy Zahn's recent books, although we know the characters all survive Zahn goes out of his way to spice up the journey with unexpected twists.

Second, this superweapon seems out of place in the Star Wars universe. DelRey seems to have told writers for the "Empire & Rebellion" series to avoid referencing any Star Wars continuity outside of the films. While I understand that the goal is to make the books accessible to new readers, in this case I think the lack of continuity hurts the verisimilitudeness of the story. There are ancient races in Star Wars that have built superweapons (the Celestials, Rakata), but instead "Honor Among Thieves" invents a new ancient race and provides almost no information about them or the weapon. In short, the world-building needed to support this part of the story is nonexistent.

The book is also somewhat odd because the villain plays at best a marginal role. The danger comes from the Empire writ large rather than a specific individual or group within the Empire. There is one Imperial lackey named, but after being mentioned briefly near the beginning of the book one could easily be forgiven for forgetting about him. Unfortunately, this does reduce the potential for dramatic conflict. There really isn't a Boba Fett - or even a Gallandro - against whom Han can match wits or skills. In some ways this works because the book is about Han Solo and how he treats his friends and allies, but I do think there was a missed opportunity.



As I said above, this is a book for people who want to see more of Han Solo. While there have been many books about Han, there have been subtle differences in how he's been portrayed. In "A New Hope" and the Brian Daley Han Solo Trilogy, Han is much cockier and lighthearted. By contrast, in A.C. Crispin's Han Solo Trilogy and "Empire Strikes Back," we get a much more introspective and emotionally vulnerable Han.

Han Solo in "Honor Among Thieves" falls closer to the latter end of this spectrum. This Han seems less sure of himself, sometimes off his game. While externally he's still cocky, we also get to see his inner thoughts and doubts. In many ways, I like the way S.A. Corey used the point of view to allow us to peek into Han's mind. We see some nice introspective moments and moments when Han has to make tough calls about the ends justifying the means. Han also expresses some clearly libertarian ideals (although nothing like L. Neil Smith's "Lando Calrissian Adventures"). In short, Han comes across as a more real character. I think it's potentially more interesting, but fans who fell in love with the idealized version of Han Solo might be disappointed.

That said, as much as I enjoyed seeing more of Han, I don't think I learned more about Han. Han's character development doesn't really advance in this book. It doesn't really connect the dots from "A New Hope" Han to "Empire Strikes Back" Han. S.A. Corey do a good job emphasizing what we know about Han, such as his loyalty to his friends, but I don't come away from this book feeling like I understand him better. Compare this to Timothy Zahn's "Choices of One," in which Han played a more peripheral role but clearly advances from being unsure of his place in the Rebellion to taking the initiative in a heated battle.
There was one interesting personality quirk we learn about Han in "Honor Among Thieves," namely his respect for wildlife. But, as much as I like that characterization of him, it also contradicts Han's attitude in the scene in "Empire Strikes Back" when he shoots a Mynock coldheartedly.


The other characters in "Honor Among Theives" are fairly well rounded. S.A. Corey can create believable characters who defy tropes and yet are somewhat memorable.

Rebel spy Scarlet Hark is not just a clone of Leia but has a unique brand of sass. She's less angry and more patronizing. I like the dynamic between her and Han. Unlike Leia, who tends to respond to Han's jabs with anger, Scarlet responds by one-upping him. I'd actually like to see Han and Scarlet on another adventure together, although of course the events of "Empire Strikes Back" preclude any romance.

There is a bounty hunter, an older Mirialan named Baasen Ray who had worked with Han in the past. Baasen walks a fine line between ruthlessness and regret at what he's become, and readers can almost believe him when he calls Han "my friend." I like that Baasen has a distinct voice and walks the fine line of morality. It was nice to have a character in the book whose actions weren't predictable. More importantly, Baasen serves a greater role as a representation of what Han himself theoretically could have become had he not met Luke Skywalker in "A New Hope." Other authors have tried to create similar not-quite-Han characters (e.g., Timothy Zahn's Talon Karrde), but they're never quite convincing (did anybody really believe Han would have become a smooth-talking information broker like Karrde?). By contrast, it's very easy to imagine an infinities universe in which Han, down on his luck and out of credits, stoops to the depths of Baasen Ray.

Finally, there's the eccentric hacker, Hunter Maas, who is of a sort of bizarreness not frequently found in Star Wars. The departure from stereotype was amusing and feels fresh.


Overall, "Honor Among Thieves" has its moments and some fun characters, but is hampered by a very weak story. I don't know if I'll remember Scarlet Hark in five years, but I'd certainly like to see more of these characters. That said, given that there are so many other books about Han Solo published, it's difficult to avoid making comparisons. "Honor Among Thieves" lacks the sheer fun and excitement of Brian Daley's books or the rich character development of A.C. Crispin's Han Solo Trilogy. This certainly isn't the best book about Han, but should satiate your fix (until Episode VII at least).

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