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Star Wars: Dark Nest III: The Swarm War (2005)
Written by: Troy Denning
Genre: Science Fiction
Pages: 384 (Mass Market Paperback)
Series: Star Wars

Why I Read It: I'm on a mission to catch up on all the Star Wars Expanded Universe novels that I missed since late 2005. The first step is to read all of the books I bought but never read, and then once I catch up with those, I'll go and buy the books I missed and then read those. Whatever happens with the movies now that Disney's in charge, Star Wars was my first SF-nal love, and I've missed these books and these characters.

The premise: ganked from In the explosive conclusion to the Dark Nest trilogy, Luke Skywalker summons the heroes of the New Jedi Order from near and far, as the Star Wars galaxy teeters on the edge of eternal war. Yet even the combined powers of the formidable Jedi may not be enough to vanquish the deadly perils confronting them.

The Chiss-Killik border war is threatening to engulf the entire galaxy and raising the awful specter of Killiks sweeping across space to absorb all living creatures into a single hive mind. The only hope for peace lies with the Jedi–and only if they can not only end the bloodshed between two fierce enemies but also combat the insidious evil spread by the elusive Dark Nest and its unseen queen.

Leia’s newly acquired Jedi skills will be put to the ultimate test in the coming life-and-death battle. As for Luke, he will have to prove, in a lightning display of Force strength and swordplay, that he is -- beyond a shadow of a doubt -- the greatest Jedi Master in the galaxy.

Spoilers, yay or nay?: Yay. And I also want to point out: there will be spoilers, at any given moment, for the entire run of Star Wars books up until the date the current book was published. So if the Star Wars are something you want to get into, stop now and read THIS instead. I don't recommend anyone reading this review unless they've read the book I'm reviewing now, due to aforementioned spoilers, so stop now or -- if you have read the book -- carry on!

And so the Dark Nest trilogy comes to a close. Honestly, I've not been a big fan: its focus on getting the Jedi back on the path they were on before the Vong attacked was interesting, but I'm not sure we needed three books to get there. It's not to say the trilogy didn't have some great moments: we've now got Solo/Skywalker grandchild in Allana, and that's a welcome development. Jacen's path to succumbing to the dark side, however, isn't. It's becoming increasingly clear, especially with this book, where Jacen's fate lies, especially with his ability to identify with Anakin Skywalker's POV. Then there's his betrayal of Han & Leia's mission, and despite what they think, I know it was Jacen who betrayed them to the Chiss. For what, I don't know. If I hadn't already suspected him and caught the smirk when he learned they were having trouble, I might've missed it entirely. But Jacen, while always seeming to have the right answers when pressed, is getting increasingly creepy.

Then there's Jaina and Zekk. What are we really doing with them? At one point while reading, I wondered if I was kidding myself by thinking they weren't lovers. After all, the Star Wars books aren't exactly explicit, so it's easy to miss some hanky-panky if you aren't looking for it (like Han's blink-and-you'll-miss-it request for the costume in a scene with Leia). Yet, Jaina says expressly in this book that Zekk isn't her boyfriend, so….

The real question is: what's going on with her love life? Not that she needs to have one, so much as why in the hell are the authors dragging it out? I wish I remembered why she cut her ties with Jag, especially since she still loves him. All this pseudo-triangle stuff has been grating on my nerves: if she's going to be with someone, put them together. If she's not going to be with someone, let's move on, you know? This whole Joiner bit has been more than icky, and I should address that:

Traditionally, I love the idea of mind-mates. Hell, I've used the trope in my own fiction. What I don't like about the use of it here, in this book, is that I never really sympathized with the Killiks. I hate how the concept of having Raynar drawing on their Force-potential (or whatever the explanation is) makes him stronger than even Luke, which means, in turn, that those he manipulates look really, really weak. And I rather resent that it's Jaina. Why couldn't it have been Jacen succumbing to that manipulation, with Jaina being hard-headed and resisting? She is the Sword of the Jedi, after all. I hate that she's been put into this position of weakness, fighting the wrong side of a war.

If that's not enough, she's losing her identity to Zekk, who clearly wants more from her than she wants to give, but due to the mind-melding, who's to say where his desires stop and hers begin? I'm not saying anything happened, mind you, but this would've been less creepy if they were already an item to begin with. Which meant I was super-excited any time that link was weakened, when Jaina had to think on her own. Granted, she was still at the mercy of the Killiks, most notably Raynar, which I didn't care for, but I was happiest when her mind was her own. And it's saying something that I was rather hoping Zekk might die in battle, if only to get rid of that damn link!

If only the whole Joiner thing got wrapped up in this book. It'll be interesting to see how it's handled in the next post-NJO installment (which I think is Legacy). Because right now, Jaina's characterization worries me: that she doesn't really identify as human(oid) any more, that she looks at the violence the Killiks are visiting upon the Chiss and can still have sympathy for the Killiks instead of the Chiss… yeah, that's worrisome. I do wonder if Jaina's ever going to be held accountable for her actions in this war?

And speaking of resolutions, I found myself wishing it hadn't taken THREE BOOKS to deal with the Killik arc. I mean, let's face it: the same climaxes happened every time, only with slightly different results. Luke had to take Raynar out of the Colony… why wasn't this done in book one? The author tries to make a case that both the "Light" nest and Dark Nest must be taken out at once for the Killks to revert back to what they were, but it's flimsy at best, and didn't make for a satisfying ending whatsoever. We also never learn whether the Chiss were right to believe that they were being used for larva. Granted, we learned in book one that the Dark Nest was actually doing that, but I wish Jaina had confirmed it for herself, had realized that the very thing she was fighting for was equally capable for atrocity, and I wish she'd dealt with that.

The smaller arc of Luke discovering the truth of who his mother was and what happened to her wasn't as exciting as I'd always imagined it'd be. It's funny, because I actually used to look forward to the day that Luke would discover his parents' past, but once Revenge of the Sith came out and Padmé was reduced to an object rather than a character in her own right, I lost the excitement I'd originally felt for that future discovery. I think part of it's because I'd always kind of imagined and wanted Padmé to live beyond that prequel trilogy, and I'd hoped, up until that movie was over, that she'd become someone we already knew and loved. That Luke and Leia already knew and loved. Implausible, I know: once the Emperor is gone, why keep hiding? But I'm allowed to dream, aren't I? At any rate, this was resolved, and with it, we learn that what sounded like a blatant mistake in the previous book, The Unseen Queen was meant to be misinformation all along. Artoo as an Imperial Design, my foot… I'm glad that was cleared up. :)

Though, and this is just be musing here, I found myself wondering what the Star Wars universe would've been like had Padmé and Anakin actually teamed up against the Emperor? And won? What if she didn't die in childbirth? See, this is where fan-fiction is born! Not that I write it… I just understand the impulse.

Moving on.

Another, rather random theme in this novel was more of a joke than anything: the constant reference to Han getting OLD. Now, I rather liked Jacen's reflections on how it was time for his own generation to shoulder the burdens of the universe -- that was rather good -- but Han himself kept getting played like a punchline, and it got tiresome. Mind you, this may be a recurring punchline in the EU novels and I'm just forgetting the jokes from NJO, but I really hope future books don't make a habit out of it. It's not characterization, it's a quickie that adds nothing but a brief dash of humor that quickly goes stale with overuse.

So was the regular occurrence of Tarfang and Juun. They seem to be designated as comic relief for this trilogy, and I hope it stays that way.

The interrogation scene? WTF? I get that the whole thing was a charade at the end, but some of it still didn't make sense, like why Baltke kept insisting that Leia was lying, despite believing she was injected with the truth serum. Maybe the ruse was simply to make sure nothing was being held back, but oy, what an annoying scene. If it hadn't been a charade, my poor brain might've exploded.

But there were some good things: I really liked the development of Leia's training, as well as the climax of it, with Saba telling Leia that it's time to make a new lightsaber… a better one that befits her status. That was cool. I liked the interaction between those two, and I loved seeing Leia as a Jedi. I loved, too, that Han loved seeing Leia as a Jedi. While somewhat clunky in the text, showing Han's continuous love for her is welcome thing. Of all the things we should worry about in this series, seeing Han and Leia's marriage torn apart is not something I want to add to the list.

But let's talk about the blurb for a moment, about how this book has Luke proving he's the GREATEST JEDI MASTER EVER. Wha… ? I didn't interpret his story arc that way, so much as I interpreted it as because he's the one who resurrected the order, he's the only one who can hold it together. Great power as great responsibility, and he can't just pass that off and hope his Jedi do the right thing. That's what I personally got out of it. The blurb rather inflates it, don't you think?

My Rating: Worth Reading, with Reservations

Goal accomplished! I really wanted to finish this trilogy before the end of the year, so finish it I did! As a whole, it's not my favorite Star Wars arc: I think there was far too much filler and the arc could've been condensed to two books rather than three. I also never really took the Killiks seriously: I never sympathized, so I struggled with the characters who did, and the whole Joiner element bothered me greatly, in that it seemed too easy to overpower Jedi Knights who were powerful in their own right and make them, well, weak. With the exception of one major arc (because I've gotten spoilers for later), I'm curious to see how the events of this trilogy will reverberate through later books. But for now, I've got four non-Luke & Co novels to read before I get to the next installment featuring this cast, and right now, I'm glad for the break. There were definitely some frustrating moments in this trilogy, but as a whole, particularly for one specific character, it was detrimental to the overall EU. Stuff will be HAPPENING, and I'm really, really curious to see how it all plays out.

Cover Commentary: Teal! I love teal. Of the three in the Dark Nest trilogy, I like the coloring of this one the best. However, Luke's looking a bit Palpatine-ish, with the hood and the Force-lightning, so that's a bit disturbing, and not very representative of the book either. :-/

Next up: Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente

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