Zahn's return to the Star Wars genre was every bit as satisfying as his first foray.
This book is still much, much, much better than a lot of the Star Wars novels I've read, but it's not as good as I remember it being. You need to read both books of the duology to get a full story arc (and if I'm remembering correctly, which may very well not be the case, it turns out to be a doozy). Anyways, I'm going to go drink more sangria and maybe watch some Star Trek: Voyager.
Because Im not going to lie: when I decided several weeks ago to read all of the Star Wars Expanded Universe novels (post-Return of the Jedi), I did not expect that it would become so, well, tasking. Kristine Kathryn Ruschs The New Rebellion came damn close, and Roger MacBride Allens Corellian Trilogy had its moments, but I was beginning to feel the stirrings of something I never thought Id feel while reading a Star Wars book: boredom. I just finished reading (devouring is more appropriate) the first book in his Hand of Thrawn duology, Specter of the Past. (A duology, in case you didnt know, is a two-book series, the way a three-book series is a trilogy. I know you probably knew this, smartypants, but I didnt when I first picked the book up, and I love discovering new words.) This book carries on some of the narrative threads started in Zahns legendary Thrawn trilogy, published in 1991, an excellent series that had the distinction of jump-starting the entire Expanded Universe series. With the help of smuggler Talon Karrde and former Imperial assassin Mara Jade, the original Star Wars crew---Luke, Leia, Han, Lando, Chewie, C3-PO, and R2-D2---set out (in opposite directions, of course) to make things right. Zahn clearly knows Star Wars, and he also clearly knows the formulaic conventions of science fiction without his book seeming formulaic. Hands down, Specter of the Past is the best SWEU novel I have read thus far.
In this review, I'd like to give you the Three R's of Timothy Zahn's Star Wars: Refreshing, Reflective, and Erudite (in true Three R's fashion, one does not actually start with the letter "R"). Timothy Zahn's latest entry into Star Wars is REFRESHING. I've been reading/listening to the copious Bantam novels that come before this one chronologically in Star Wars EU and chronologically in publication date. Zahn captures the essence of Star Wars from the characters (Luke, Han, and Leia finally returning to a semblance of the characters from the movies who have naturally grown over the 15 some odd years) to the galaxy (creating new worlds that feel in place in our Star Wars setting and revisiting old ones) to the plot (imitating the then-unseen prequels in a haunting parallel). It looks back on the events of the past, acknowledging other canon in ways that hadn't or couldn't have been done (for example, the Corellian Trilogy didn't acknowledge Callista or Akanah because it was published before Children of the Jedi and the Black Fleet Crisis). Zahn mentions the destruction of Coruscant from Kueller's bombings (The New Rebellion), Lando's stupid search for the Qella artifact (Black Fleet Crisis), and Callista (Children of the Jedi). Here, Zahn whips Luke into shape, having Han and Mara (and even Callista, in a way) call Luke out on his decidedly un-Jedi behavior. This book truly is a political novel, taking time to think about what the New Republic is, how it is run, and how it isn't so clean cut "good" as every other book tended to paint it.
Previously, the villain of nearly every EU work had been the Empire, which was still fighting back against the New Republic. He doesn't have nearly as many repeated verbal tics in this book as he did in the earlier trilogy, but he does overuse quotations from the movies and references to other events in the Extended Universe, which can get a little annoying.
In this book, a decade has gone by since the defeat of Grand Admiral Thrawn, and the New Republic has been recovering since.
Probably at least one star of my enjoyment of this book came solely from his marvelous presentation. This book leaves Mara in the precarious situation, and that's honestly the thing that makes me want to read the next one the most. I'm assuming that this book plays off continuity established by other books in the Star Wars universe in the ten years between the Thrawn Trilogy and this, because there are loads of references to things characters have done. I need to find all the good Luke/Mara books.
Audio book read by Marc Thompson No one does Star Wars quite like Timothy Zahn. Specter of the Past is a great book if you like Star Wars or science fiction, although there is some back history from Zahn's previous trilogy that makes me recommend starting there first. Characters seemed to just randomly make references in their heads to things from that trilogy or think back to events from those books even though there are something like 10+ books that happen between that trilogy and this novel.
Timothy Zahn attended Michigan State University, earning a Bachelor of Science degree in physics in 1973.