Friday, 20 May 2016

'Star Wars: Bloodline', by Claudia Gray

Title: Star Wars: Bloodline
Author(s): Claudia Gray
Release Date: 5th May 2016
Publisher: Century
Genre: Science Fiction
Source: Publisher

Synopsis:
When the Rebellion defeated the Empire in the skies above Endor, Leia Organa believed it was the beginning to a lasting peace. But after decades of vicious infighting and partisan gridlock in the New Republic Senate, that hope seems like a distant memory.

Now a respected senator, Leia must grapple with the dangers that threaten to cripple the fledgling democracy—from both within and without. Underworld kingpins, treacherous politicians, and Imperial loyalists are sowing chaos in the galaxy. Desperate to take action, senators are calling for the election of a First Senator. It is their hope that this influential post will bring strong leadership to a divided galaxy.

As the daughter of Darth Vader, Leia faces with distrust the prospect of any one person holding such a powerful position—even when supporters suggest Leia herself for the job. But a new enemy may make this path Leia’s only option. For at the edges of the galaxy, a mysterious threat is growing. . . .

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{Note: This review contains spoilers of 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens'}

One of my most anticipated releases of 2016, 'Bloodline' promised to be one of the best Star Wars canon books in existence. Having previously read Claudia Gray's 'Lost Stars' I was more than confident that she would master the challenge of writing a book from the point of view of one of the most beloved but, at the same time, underused Star Wars characters: Leia Organa.

I definitely wasn't wrong, and this has easily topped my list of favorite Star Wars books!

'Star Wars: Bloodline' is set around six years before the events of 'The Force Awakens', and even just the placement of that specific timeline is quite revealing. For most viewers of Episode VII (and I'm definitely including myself in that group) it might seem that the First Order has been established and going head to head with the Resistance for quite some time by then, but as you begin reading this book, both those groups still do not exist. This is very much their origin story and realizing just how 'new' they were was quite surprising.

Claudia Gray did a tremendous job of perfectly capturing the voice of Leia Organa. Having seem her character in the films and briefly mentioned in other canon books, I felt like it was exactly the same Leia I knew from those mediums. The parallels with Padme Amidala are easy to draw from the very first page (along with Luke Skywalker), and this was when I had to start pulling in the tears, because this was an emotional roller-coaster of a book!

Han Solo is one of the most beloved characters of this franchise, and the world wept with his death in Episode VII. As this book is set before it, I was bracing myself to deal with any scenes where he would be appearing, but I definitely was not ready for how much they would hurt. While his relationship with Leia does not overpower the book, it is possible to glimpse a bit more into the reasons why they had drifted apart by the events of the movie. Han was still very much the love of Leia's life, and even if they led unusual lives, they still managed to make it work. It was reassuring to see that after a movie that wasn't the best for this couple's supporters.

The other major character from 'The Force Awakens' that is also mentioned is Ben. Also (later) known as Kylo Ren. While he is never an active participant in the story (it is implied that at this point he is still training with Luke), even his lack of participation offers the set up for his state of mind in 'The Force Awakens'. In fact, the big revelation that takes place in this book might have been the event that eventually 'snapped' his unsteady control in the force and pushed him to the Dark side.

This being said, there is an incredible balance between the set up for 'The Force Awakens' and still making this story all about Leia. Decades after the Battle of Endor, she has slowly become disillusioned with the effectiveness of the Galactic Senate. While Senators are more worried about being split between the Centrist and Populist parties and gaining personal power than maintaining peace in the galaxy, Leia wonders about leaving her political life all together and instead starting to life for herself and for her family. Her sense of duty, however, is impossible to erase, and she finds herself in a position from which she cannot escape, incurring the risk of enabling the birth of a new Empire.

For a book that is so heavily focused on politics, I never for one second became bored with its narrative. Of course, there are still plenty of action packed moments (this is Leia we are talking about, after all), but at the forefront of the plot is still their deficient system of government. This is helped along with a strong core of supporting characters, of which Ransolm Casterfo was my favorite. He is the complete opposite of Leia politically, but he represents what Leia once was: a young, hopeful and still trusting politician. His character development was fantastic and I hope that we get to see more of him in future books.

The story did not offer many huge revelations or plot twists (the synopsis and promotional material that has been released covers most of the plot, and the rest is easily deductible), but this is one of those rare cases where not being surprised is not a detriment to the reading experience. As people say, it is not about the destination, but the ride, and this one, with its ups and downs, was definitely worthwhile.

If you only venture into the Star Wars canon for one book, do make it this one. 'Star Wars: Bloodline' offers a vital insight into the decades gap between Episodes VI and VII through an incredibly realistic voice, solid new characters and powerful, emotional moments. A definite must read!

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