Category Archives: Book Reviews

Reviews of books.

Book Review – Star Wars: Revan by Drew Karpyshyn

Revan (Star Wars: The Old Republic, #1) by Drew Karpyshyn

If you are thinking that this blogger is on a bit of a Star Wars kick, readers, you would not be far wrong. The main reason for this is that I have had time to explore both SW timelines further recently. With all of this new information and entertainment in front of her, this blogger has had little else on her mind except for a galaxy far, far away.

And before you ask, no, I have not seen Rise of Skywalker. Nor do I intend to see it. The film was never on my radar, in no small part due to the fact that the sequel trilogy lost me with The Last Jedi. Rian Johnson insulted this writer and at least half the fan base for Star Wars with that film, leaving J.J. Abrams to make the best of a bad situation – one which, arguably, began with the poor treatment of the original characters in The Force Awakens.

There were plenty of good stories from the original EU that Disney could have adapted for film. Most will automatically think of the Thrawn trilogy, and while that would have been a great animated movie series, I personally think Disney should have done damage control on the Yuuzhan Vong story line and following arcs. As stated elsewhere here at Thoughts, doing this wouldn’t have been terribly difficult. Rather than take that tack, however, Disney chose to do what they have done. The results speak for themselves, so this author will say nothing more about them.

With that less-than-positive introduction, we turn to today’s subject. Revan is a book based on the sequel to Lucasfilm/Bioware’s runaway video game success, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. At least, I believe the novel is based on the script for Knights of the Old Republic II. It may have left some details out, but that is not necessarily a demerit. Both KOTOR games could be played for hours on end, even when the gamer knew the story so well they could skip certain sections with ease.

The book is set two years after Revan saved the Republic from his former friend and Dark Side apprentice, Darth Malak. Now married to Bastila Shan, he and she are living quietly in an apartment on Coruscant, well out of the public eye. On a city world of millions it is easy for two people – even two powerful Jedi – to disappear and stay out of sight.

But while he is enjoying his hard-won peace and happiness, Revan is troubled. For the last three nights he has awoken in a cold sweat after dreaming of a world covered in perpetual lightning storms. Getting out of bed, he rinses his face in the refresher sink before stepping out onto the balcony.

STAR WARS: The Old Republic - Let's show Bioware what kind ...

The Capture of Revan 

He is not out there long when Bastila joins him, having awoken despite his best efforts to let her sleep. The two discuss the past, with the young wife reminding her husband that he is no longer a Dark Lord of the Sith. She also laments her part in his mind wipe, realizing now that it was not a good thing to do. However, Revan is grateful for the mindwipe. If it hadn’t been for that, he reminds her, then they would never have met or married.

With the problem seemingly settled, the two go back to bed. But only one falls asleep. While Bastila gets some rest her husband remains awake, trying to figure out what the dreams mean. So far, all that is clear is that a storm is coming, one borne on the wings of his past actions. And even though it is still far off, it threatens to wipe out the Republic, the Jedi, and everyone for whom the Prodigal Knight cares.

Meanwhile, on the storm world of Dromuund Kaas, Lord Scourge steps out of his shuttle. Dromuund Kaas is the heart of the Sith Empire, and Scourge has not been to the planet since his academy days. He has only returned now because a member of the Dark Council, Darth Nyriss, has requested his help ferreting out assassins who have attempted to kill her several times.

He quickly learns that he was not, in fact, summoned by the Dark witch of her own volition. The Sith Emperor has implied that members of her retinue are responsible for the assassination attempts. In order to quell the trouble, he “suggested” she employ Scourge to investigate the people of her house. And any “suggestion” from the Emperor of the Sith practically counts as an order.

Should the young Sith Lord discover that the Councilor has engaged in treasonous behavior, he will of course make that report to the Emperor, at which time Nyriss’ life will be immediately forfeit. The only problem with that plan, naturally enough, is that Nyriss might catch him before he makes his report – or even after he does make it – and kill him. If he wants to live, let alone advance into the upper echelons of the Imperial court, Scourge must tread carefully.

Revan: A Star Wars Story - YouTube

Between the two of them, Revan and Scourge grope their way to a horrifying realization. As one searches for answers from his past and the other is drawn into a present conspiracy, they each discover the same terrifying solution to the puzzle. For the Emperor is not only powerful; he is stark, raving mad. And that madness will sweep away all life in the galaxy if he isn’t stopped.

As other reviewers have noted, the prose in this book is not the best. I suppose, though, that since the target audience for this novel is not the general Star Wars fan base. It is mainly meant for the people who played Knights of the Old Republic one and two.

Scourge receives more character development and “screen time” than Revan, which is a bit of a bummer. The writer may have also been told that he didn’t have to focus on the Prodigal Knight much. Still, the scenes we get with Revan are fun and give gamers who played KOTOR more time with the protagonist they pretended to be for the duration of the story.

We also get a nice look at Mandalorian culture in this book, along with some quality time given to Canderous Ordo, everyone’s favorite barbarian warrior. Although he is given too much of the limelight in my opinion, Scourge makes up for it by being an interesting guy. He is ruthless and horrible, as the Sith usually are, but he also has a twisted sense of honor that can’t help but win a reader’s affection.

There are no explicit or extreme content Warnings for Younger Readers that I noticed. Nothing the married couples in the book do is dwelt on, while the evil perpetrated by the villains remains at acceptable levels. To be perfectly honest, this blogger believes that Revan probably qualifies more as a novel for younger Star Wars fans than it does for the adult members of the fandom.

For that reason, I have no reservations about recommending it to them and suggesting more mature fans avoid the book. It’s not bad if you know what you are getting into and don’t care, but if you pick it up believing it will match the more adult entries in the Expanded Universe, you will be disappointed. This was a book designed for youngsters and die-hard fans of a video game, not experienced readers looking to spend some quality time in a galaxy far, far away.

May the Force be with you, readers!

The Mithril Guardian

Star Wars: The Old Republic - Revan, di Drew Karpyshyn

Book Review: Octagon Magic by Andre Norton

Octagon Magic vintage kids book by Andre Norton magical

From the Wild West to the East Coast, the Mithril Guardian has your back, readers! Today’s novel is a children’s book written by Andre Norton, the Grande Dame of Science Fiction. Part of her “Magic” series, a set of books which focused on youngsters learning more about the world at the same time they begin to find their place in it.

Since each book in the series is only related by these criteria, there is no “proper” way to read them. Octagon Magic may be read first, last, or in-between. There is no need to worry about missing something important because, in this case, there is nothing important to miss.

Octagon Magic begins with Lorrie Mallard walking home from school. Having recently arrived from Canada, after her parents died in a plane crash, Lorrie lived with her grandmother. But when the matron of her family had to have an operation, she could no longer live on her own or care for Lorrie. So she has gone to England to stay with a friend while she recovers from her surgery. Thus Lorrie has been sent to live in America with her Aunt Margaret.

The adjustment has not been pleasant. Aunt Margaret has to work most of the week, so her niece is often left to her own devices during the day. Add to this the fact that Lorrie’s knowledge of Canadian history and lessons in courtesy at an all-girls’ school clash with the American curriculum and manners, and you have a recipe for trouble. Three boys – partners in crime and mischief – have taken to following Lorrie home singing, “Canuck, Canuck, walks like a duck!”

Ms. Yingling Reads: Old School Saturday--Octagon Magic

Unable to go to her busy aunt for comfort and unwilling to make friends with whom she could commiserate, Lorrie can only walk home while fighting the urge to cry. On her way she passes an old, old residence known to the local children as “the witch’s house.” It is, in fact, a colonial domicile designed on an octagonal floor plan, much like Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello.

Curious – and desperate to get away from the boys – Lorrie goes down the alley that leads to the Octagon House. While there she finds a statue of a stag overgrown by lichen. She has not spent more than a few minutes admiring both the statue and the house when she hears the boys in pursuit of new prey.

Drawn out of the alley by their cries, Lorrie discovers the three are tormenting a kitten with a stick. The desperate little creature escapes them and claws its way up the girl’s clothes, where it does its best to hide inside her windbreaker. The boys’ leader, Jimmy Purvis, demands she turn the animal over to him.

Frightened by his unpleasant smile, but unwilling to hand over the kitten, Lorrie does the only sensible thing she can do. She turns tail and runs straight toward the Octagon House. Although the building is surrounded by a wrought-iron fence Lorrie is able to scale it with relative ease, having climbed trees frequently in Canada.

514 books of Andre Norton "Operation Time Search ...

Once inside the grounds the kitten escapes from her windbreaker and runs away. Worried that the cat might double back to the boys and be trapped by again, the young rescuer follows swiftly. Instead of returning to the street, however, the kitten leads its new friend right up to the front door of the house.

An old, old black woman opens the door as soon as Lorrie arrives. This allows the kitten to enter the safety of the house, though it stays near the maid and meows as she greets the girl. The woman, who identifies herself as Hallie, thanks Lorrie for saving the kitten, which she identifies as Sabina.

Hallie kindly lets Lorrie out, but not before explaining that she isn’t “the old witch” the neighborhood children mean when they shout at the house and dare one another to knock on the door. That would be Miss Ashmeade, the owner of Octagon House. Later, while she waits for Aunt Margaret to return from work, Lorrie wonders about the strange old house and its occupants….

And that is as much as I am telling you, readers! If you want to know more, check out Octagon Magic at your earliest opportunity. The writing is good, the story fantastic, and the characters are well-drawn. This is a book anyone, no matter what their age, can enjoy.

          ‘Til next time!

The Mithril Guardian

Book Review – Forgotten Destiny: A Western Trio by Peter Dawson

Forgotten Destiny By Peter Dawson | Used - Very Good ...

Well, I said no more anthology reviews for a while. But a while has passed, and here we are again. I am just glad there are only three stories in this collection. The idea of writing about more than three tales is daunting!

Peter Dawson – real name Jonathan Glidden – was a pulp western writer in the 1930s and ‘40s. Though he was no Louis L’Amour, the three stories in this compilation prove the man could write. Each of the three novellas within this tome has a different cast of characters and a relatively unique plot. Yes, there are recognizable tropes or archetypes in these pieces, but that is part of what makes them appealing. Dawson did not fail to make his characters interesting or his plots intriguing. While I think L’Amour tends to do this better, the fact is that his stronger grasp of the Western might be due to his transcendental view of the Old West.

By this I mean that Louis L’Amour believed the Old West never died. No, we do not have gunslingers and greedy land-grabbers like those in the West of yesteryear. Yes, we cross the country in vehicles rather than by horse or horse and carriage. So what? The values that made the West such an exciting place still exist. In many places, the original settlers’ descendants continue to live and work on the land their ancestors’ paid for with cash, blood, sweat, and tears. How can such a legacy ever be truly erased?

Mr. Dawson’s writings lack this eternal view of the West. While not a detriment per se, they do make his stories feel…different. Speaking as a diehard Louis L’Amour fan, I know that I am always expecting that sense of the transcendental when I pick up Forgotten Destiny: A Western Trio. Not finding it is disappointing and tends to lower my enjoyment factor somewhat.

Nevertheless, A Western Trio is well worth reading. If ever this blogger stumbles upon some more works by Mr. Dawson, she will not be averse to picking them up. The man could write well and tell a darn good story. What more could a reader ask for?

All right, with those caveats out of the way it is time to get down to business. The first piece in this anthology is called “Brand of Luck.” Standing in front of his cabin, Hugh Conner glares down at the two men who have come to call. Having moved into the deserted building three months prior, Conner has worked hard to make the formerly desolate property his own.

The two men in front of him intend to change that fact. One of these two bullies is Wyatt Keyes, a man of ambition who has been buying up property in the area for reasons unknown. Just recently he bluffed the Chain Link outfit, the biggest in the area, into giving ten sections of good grazing ground over to him. Now he has come for Conner’s much smaller parcel of land, having already made offers on the land owned by the newcomer’s neighbors.

Image result for Forgotten Destiny: A Western Trio by Peter Dawson

With Keyes is his sheriff, Mace Dow. Formerly the ramrod of Keyes’ Key-Bar ranch, the man is a lean, mean hombre who has been enforcing his boss’ will throughout the territory. Although Dow has clearly been drinking, this does not mean he is not dangerous – perhaps as treacherous as Keyes.

Watching the two settle their hands on their gun belts, Conner realizes they have ridden in to shoot it out. As a newcomer and, essentially, a squatter on this property, they believe they can get rid of him without too much trouble. It will be their word against his dead body, and who can ask a corpse which man shot first?

Luckily for Conner, at that moment a wild dog races past the cabin in pursuit of a jack rabbit. Seizing the opportunity to make the men back off, Conner kills the creature before it can catch the rabbit. He is so quick that Dow is left gaping and Keyes’ cannot hide his surprise. But while the two men are convinced that leaving is in their best interests, Conner knows they will return. He also knows that they will bring reinforcements. Dodging trouble on his back trail, Hugh figures his best bet is to cut his losses and leave the territory – now.

But he doesn’t intend to let Keyes’ have the satisfaction of knowing he drove him off his property. After packing his belongings, Conner sets his own house on fire moments before he leaves. On his way out, he meets the daughter of George Baird, owner of the Chain Link outfit. Disappointed that he would leave without helping them, she admits that she came out to convince his neighbors to vote for a new sheriff to replace Dow. Seeing her so depressed and wanting to help the woman who has been such a good friend to him, Conner comes up with a plan…

“Brand of Luck” is probably my favorite piece in this book. It has just enough twists and turns to be interesting, while still feeling like a traditional Western that the style doesn’t jar the reader out of the story. Even if the other novellas were bad, I think I could recommend the collection based on this installment alone.

Fortunately, the next two tales are also good. “Death Brings in the Ophir” starts in court. Nick Treacher is ordered by Judge Byron Morgan to close down the Ophir Mine until he can make the property conform to regulation standards.

Nick Treacher’s response is for the regulations and their enforcers to go pound sand.

The “representative” for the minority stockholders in the Ophir Mine, Sam Poole, instantly jumps to his feet. He claims that Treacher is in contempt of court. Nick corrects him, saying he has no contempt for the law or the court. He has contempt for Poole, who bought the judge and has finagled the owner of the Ophir into this mess.

Although he doesn’t want to do it, Judge Morgan orders Nick’s arrest and the sheriff moves to do so. But since he is fat and out of shape, while Treacher is young and in shape, the owner of the mine is able to outmaneuver him easily. Jumping through the court’s window before he can be grasped, he fires a warning shot through the aperture when Poole jogs up to it and tries to fire after him.

Outside Nick meets up with his old friend, a cowpuncher named Ed Wright, who has been guarding his horse while waiting on his own steed. As the two head back to the mine Nick explains that he has put every penny he has into the Ophir. Many believed it to be played out, but he has discovered that there is still an active vein of silver ore in the rock. He is hoping to make back his money and more on by carefully mining this vein.

Poole knows all of this. And he wants the potential millions it could deliver for himself. With Judge Morgan on his side, he now has the means of getting it.

Nick then springs a surprise on his friend, offering Ed a share in the mine if he will stay and help him keep the property. Surprised, gratified, and excited, Ed is quick to agree. The two reach the mine and alert the men to what has happened. Having hired as many of the roughest, toughest, but honest miners he could find, Nick has a small army guarding the Ophir.

These men are also working the mine, however. And since they cannot increase their numbers, they have to be canny and careful. Poole has resources and can hire as many gunhands as he wants to get the Ophir. With his subversion of the law giving him cover, he can attack the mine at any time in any way he deems fit and – probably – get away with it.

So Treacher, Wright, and the miners settle in for the long haul. When the sheriff trundles up to the Ophir that evening to serve a warrant on Treacher, everyone is ready for him. Nick, Ed, and the men capture him (an easy thing to do) and they decide to holdthe sheriff for a ransom of five thousand dollars. Nick believes he can use that money to stall Poole’s legal beagles long enough to beat the other man at his own game.

Thus Treacher gives Ed the ransom note as the sheriff is hustled off to a cabin, where he can be held until the cash is delivered. In town, Ed posts the ransom note and stays to judge the reaction. While waiting for the townsfolk to notice the poster, however, he comes up with a corollary to Nick’s plan that should help put Poole on defense – if it works…

“Death Brings in the Ophir” is a good entry. It is more convoluted than “Brand of Luck,” but remains an enjoyable yarn nonetheless. The action ramps up quickly, keeping the tension without sacrificing the believability of the tale. For some reason, the ending never ceases to make me think of the film The Unsinkable Molly Brown. (If you have seen that film – shhh! No spoilers! 😉 )

Image result for Forgotten Destiny: A Western Trio by Peter Dawson

Finally, we have “Forgotten Destiny,” the story which gave this collection its title. Bill Duncan sets up camp in the desert a few miles from Halfway Springs. Four days ago he received a request for monetary aid from an old friend of his father. Though they have never met, Bill remembers his father speaking highly of one Tom Bostwick. And any friend of his father’s is a friend of Bill Duncan.

So he withdrew five thousand dollars from the bank and hightailed it for Halfway Springs. Now, less than a day away, he ponders what kind of trouble could force a man like Bostwick to ask for help. It would have to be big for him to request aid from his best friend and partner’s son. Worried, Bill stares into the fire, feeling the weight of the money belt around his waist.

Before he can turn in for the night, though, a shot rings out. Bill falls, apparently dead. A man walks up to him, taking the money belt and the horse. Then he leaves Bill for the vultures.

The next day, when Sheriff Ben Alcott is riding back into Halfway Springs, someone shoots at him. Diving for cover, Alcott finds himself face-to-face with a fevered, dehydrated stranger. The man passes out and collapses before he can fire again, giving the sheriff the opportunity to study him more closely. He has a head wound, one that isn’t deep but which has bled profusely.

Alcott brings the man in and sends for the doctor. Simultaneously, he tells someone to let his brother know he is back and wants to speak with him. During the brothers’ conversation, it is revealed that the two Alcotts are secretly trying to run Tom Bostwick off his property. They know Bill Duncan was bringing financial aid and, unbeknownst to his brother, Ben has seen to it that the money will not come through in time.

Or so he thinks. Not long after the doctor leaves, Ben’s deputy arrives with the cash. The younger man starts upon seeing the injured stranger in the jail. Frightened, he explains that the wounded man Sheriff Alcott brought in is the same one he wanted dead!

Things look bad for all concerned, until Bill wakes up with amnesia. Seeing an opportunity to get what he wants and keep Bill out of the way, Alcott decides to use him to capture Bostwick. Grateful for the help, Duncan is only too happy to oblige…

What follows is a rip-roaring good story that will leave a reader turning the pages. But you don’t need to take my word for it. Pick up Forgotten Destiny: A Western Trio, at your earliest convenience and see for yourself. Peter Dawson was not on L’Amour’s level, but he was a darn good writer. For that, he deserves to be remembered, readers.

‘Til next time, partners!

The Mithril Guardian

Image result for peter dawson western author

 

Book Review: Three Hands for Scorpio by Andre Norton

Andre Norton - Read Online Free. ReadOnlineNovel.com - Free Reading

On and off over the last few years this blogger has hoped to write a review of Andre Norton’s Three Hands for Scorpio. But despite her best efforts, until today this blogger did not manage to find the time. And on closer reflection that may have less to do with her schedule and more to do with the quality of the book itself.

Scorpio was the last novel Andre Norton wrote before her death in March 2005. Already ill for some time before this, she lived long enough to see the cover art (pictured above) before passing through the last gate she referenced so often in her fiction. Though she did her best and turned out a good story, comparing it to her previous works shows that Norton was at the end of her time when she wrote Three Hands for Scorpio.

Set in a fictional version of England, the book blends sixteenth century and Medieval Britain, with mixed results. There are snaplocks (guns) and swords used alongside alien magic and ancient sorcery. A church under the head of a queen is the primary religion in the characters’ home country, while a strange religion that brutally mistreats women has taken hold in the northern land of Gurlyon. Amidst these two countries lies a third land hidden in a ravine. This country is filled with strange creatures and even weirder inhabitants. Known as the Dismals, it is a land where many go but from which none have ever returned.

Andre Norton Witch World series/Halfblood Chronicles series/Trillium series/stand alone novel ...

Andre Alice Norton

Normally, Ms. Norton could have sewn this tapestry together seamlessly. But due to her illness, she did not succeed as well as she could have. Although the story is entertaining there are scenes that do not seem to be related to one another, yet are said to tie together. Descriptions, one of Miss Norton’s strong points, wander off base from time to time or focus on matters that have no importance. Some could accuse her of always engaging in this practice, but previous Norton novels always used descriptions of weird temples, places, or beasts/plants to help enhance the sense of strangeness and wonder in her fictional worlds. Three Hands for Scorpio tries to do this but does not quite succeed.

I think, personally, that the reason for this failure rests entirely on the author’s deteriorating powers. Ms. Norton was not far from death’s door when she wrote Three Hands for Scorpio. After a point, I believe, she simply could not focus well enough or spend the energy to finish tying off the various threads of the story without using up what time remained to her.

In all honesty, despite its flaws, I appreciate this novel precisely because it is Ms. Norton’s last. She held on long enough to give her fans one final story, a book to cherish because she fought death to give readers an enjoyable parting gift. That took a great deal of strength, commitment, and courage on her part, and I believe it behooves readers to give her the respect she earned in her final months on this Earth.

31 best Tristan Elwell images on Pinterest | Fantasy art, Fantasy artwork and Cover art

Having said this, it is now time to take a look at the tale itself. Three Hands for Scorpio follows the adventures of the three daughters of Earl Scorpy of Verset. Verset is on the Alsonian border, right across from the northern country of Gurlyon. A great battle waged on the day of the sisters’ birth ended the ongoing war with the North, though border raids and kidnappings remain a part of life in and around Verset.

The three Scorpy girls – Tamara, Sabina, and Drucilla – are identical triplets. Tamara is the oldest, the one who enjoys horse riding and combat training the most. Sabina’s talent is herb lore and healing. Drucilla enjoys weaving tapestries, often basing her patterns on things she has seen in her dreams.

Each sister possesses the Talent, a measure of Power with which they were born. It seems to operate on the same basis as the Talent in the Witch World even though this country is in an alternate universe. All three girls can communicate telepathically, constantly talking among themselves mind-to-mind. They are also able to speak to their mother, who is a strong sorceress, and their father in this manner. While he has less Talent than the women in his family, that which the Lord of Verset does hold is quite formidable.

The story starts with the three sisters embroidering a tapestry Drucilla dreamed up. As they are working Sabina comments that there is something off about the design, prompting Tam and Cilla to take a closer look at it. Just as they realize the drawing is of Dark origin, their mother steps into the room and demands to know what is going on. Learning that Drucilla dreamt the design and did not of her own volition choose to begin weaving it, the Lady of Verset has her daughters repudiate the evil behind the picture. She then has the family’s wise woman, known as Duty, take the embroidery to be destroyed.

Once the offensive weaving has been removed from the room, the Lady of Verset tells her daughters that their father has at last secured a truce with the neighboring Gurly lord, who will bring a priest of the alien religion along in his retinue. Rumors about this creed’s view of women have reached the castle already and the girls are advised to be on their best behavior. Angering the priest may jeopardize the treaty and begin the war all over again.

Now one would think Cilla’s dream and near-disastrous embroidery would have served as a warning to the family that something nasty was coming. And the Verset family is certainly cautious. However, despite their best safety measures, trouble erupts. The priest traveling with the Gurly lord calls the Verset ladies openly insults the ladies of Verset, and the noble’s second son speaks to Tamara as though she were a prostitute at dinner. Infuriated by his lack of honor, all three sisters immediately stand up. Mincing no words, Tam explains why they are leaving the table, further humiliating the young lord. Then she marches off with her sisters to their tower room.

Image result for three hands for scorpio by andre norton

Thinking over their behavior after they have calmed down, the three are none too sure they acted rightly. When their mother arrives they expect a scolding. However, while she admits their abrupt exit caused a scene, she holds them blameless for the dilemma. Their father likewise absolves them when he joins their mother in holding court in the girls’ bedroom.

Explaining that the three will remain home when their parents go with the Gurly lord to sign the treaty elsewhere, the sisters’ parents tell them that while they are technically “grounded,” they essentially have to hold the fort while the Lord and Lady of Verset are gone. This night’s trouble has been a baptism of fire, meaning the sisters have now unofficially entered the world plotting and scheming the adults have dealt with for so long. Therefore they must be prepared to ride to war – metaphorically speaking. They are officially “grounded” and confined to the tower for the foreseeable future, after all.

So for the next few days the Scorpy girls maintain their training regimen at the same time they monitor the castle. As they wrap up fencing practice two of the maids run in to tell them about a peddler, one who says he has no news of the North. Since every peddler usually has news from Gurlyon, the three are immediately suspicious. They send the women to buy some of the trader’s finery and learn more about what he has or hasn’t seen. They also have the castle bailiff try to get information out of him via games and drink.

What information the sisters’ receive isn’t unreasonable but it is still odd enough to set them wondering. With dusk becoming night the three head up to bed, suddenly quite tired. Before hitting the sack, though, one of them draws a symbol for warding over the door to their chamber. When asked why, she admits she did it on instinct.

Too tired to think about this very hard, the three fall into bed. In the middle of the night, Sabina awakes to find she cannot move. Nor can she speak, telepathically or with her voice. Helpless, she witnesses strangers pull her and her sisters out of bed, tie them up in rugs, and take them out of the castle into the wilds.

After a time of hard riding Tam, Bina, and Cilla find they have been captured by a Breaksword, one who survived a hanging. Though he has been hired by the Gurly noble’s son to bring the Scorpy girls to him, he also wants revenge on the Lord of Verset. Since Lord Scorpy had him hung, this Breaksword is happy to take the job of kidnapping his daughters just to make him suffer. When the castle rouses from the spell laid on it and the residents come looking for the sisters, he has them thrown into the Dismals – where the adventure really begins.

Image result for three hands for scorpio by andre norton

As I said above, the novel is not very well tied together. The description of the sisters’ abduction does not flow the way previous kidnappings Norton orchestrated did. Scenes like it also fall apart as one tries to read them. The active transitions from place to place or scene to scene literally become a near-incoherent mess for two or three paragraphs (in this reader’s mind) before straightening out into intelligible writing. It makes the story hard to read and can give even the most committed reader a headache.

Now, this does not change the fact that the story is good, or that it was a strong effort on the part of a dying author. It does, however, mean that readers will have a difficult time making their way throughout the narrative. Norton did her best – she really did. But it was not enough to make Three Hands for Scorpio the equal of her earlier works.

Clearly, this book is not for the casual reader. It may not even appeal to die-hard Andre Norton fans. I really cannot recommend this book to anyone in either category who looks at my opinion and says, “Nope, not going to wade through that to find the gem!”

I understand that. I really do. And I respect readers who feel Scorpio isn’t worth their time. However, I do suggest giving it at least one read through. Norton was not at her best when she wrote Three Hands, but she was determined to go out with flags flying. That is an effort that is worth a glance, isn’t it?

‘Til next time,

The Mithril Guardian

Heretic, Rebel, a Thing to Flout: Before There Was a J. K. Rowling There Was Andre Norton

Book Review: House of Many Ways by Diana Wynne Jones

Diana Wynne Jones obituary | Books | The Guardian

Diana Wynne Jones

Previously, the first two books in this Diana Wynne Jones’ series – Howl’s Moving Castle and Castle in the Air – were reviewed here and here at Thoughts on the Edge of Forever. It is hard to recall for sure, but this blogger may or may not have stated in the latter post that she wished Mrs. Jones would write a fourth book in the series in the future.

Unfortunately, what I did not know at the time that post was published was that Mrs. Jones had passed away several years prior. If she has completed any more novels, then they have not been and never will be published this side of eternity. In her honor, therefore, this blogger decided to review the third and final book in her Howl’s Moving Castle trilogy. This would be none other than House of Many Ways.

The book begins with Mrs. Baker having a discussion with her great aunt by marriage. Aunt Sempronia has decided that Mr. and Mrs. Baker’s only daughter, Charmain, must take care of her Great-Uncle William’s house. Known to the rest of High Norland as Wizard Norland, Great-Uncle William is going in for surgery to take care of “…a growth.” No one else in the family can find the time to manage the property, so Aunt Sempronia has come in search of someone to mind the manor.

Truth be told, though, Aunt Sempronia has already selected the lucky young person who will manage the house while her Great-Uncle is away. This fortunate youth is the Bakers’ daughter, Charmain. Aunt Sempronia thinks the responsibility would be good for grand-niece-by-marriage, since the child does nothing but read and eat while her Aunt is present. Despite eating so much Charmain is quite skinny. She also hasn’t had to lift a finger to work around the house, with her mother treating her like a caged tigress and her father forbidding her to do anything that isn’t “nice.”

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So while she is not pleased to have been volunteered, Charmain is more than happy to have the opportunity to leave home. It is, as she herself admits, the opportunity she has been waiting for. The day before she leaves, Charmain takes out paper and pen to write a letter to the King of High Norland. The King and his daughter, Princess Hilda (whom we met in Castle in the Air), are busy cataloging the royal library.

Charmain loves books, and so working at the library with the King and the Princess has been her dream job for most of her young life. Free of her parents’ supervision for the next couple of weeks, she decides to take the plunge and applies to become their aid in the royal library. Although she is certain the King will dispose of her letter after reading it, Charmain feels better for trying.

The next day Aunt Sempronia arrives and picks her up. During the ride she grills the girl about her skills, asking in the process if she knows any magic. Since Mrs. Baker believes that magic is “not nice,” Charmain has never learned to use it. The idea of being denied her opportunity makes her blanch.

Luckily, Aunt Sempronia doesn’t seem to notice. She rattles off a few more notes about what is expected of her grand-niece-by-marriage until they arrive at the house. They get there just before the Elves come to pick up Great-Uncle William and take him in for surgery. Charmain barely has time to meet him, let alone ask him for instructions, before he is whisked away.

Left to her own devices, Charmain looks around. What she finds is an absolute mess. The taps in the kitchen sink are gone, the laundry has piled up, and dirty dishes abound. Exclaiming at the disaster, the heroine is quite surprised when Great-Uncle William’s voice echoes from the house itself. He has left instructions for her via a briefcase full of papers and a spell that lets him give her directions around the house.

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He also asks her to take care of his little dog, a white terrier type animal he calls Waif. Overcome by the sudden onslaught of responsibility, Charmain resorts to her first, best source of comfort. She grabs a book and starts reading….

….Only to find that her mother packed plenty of clothes and her father enough food to last a week. But neither of them packed one book for her to read while she is away from home.

Things pick up from here, readers, but I won’t spoil the rest of the story. Suffice it to say that this book in the trilogy is the one I have reread most. It is the funniest of the three novels, and I do not say that lightly. Everything entertaining in the earlier books is here, plus some. The characters are fantastic, the magic is good, and the hilarity is just pitch perfect.

If you can pick up House of Many Ways, I highly recommend doing so. You cannot go wrong with this book. Some may not like it as much as the previous ones, but this seems rather unlikely to me. How could anyone not find this story as funny as it is heartwarming?

Of course, there is only one way to find out. 😉

‘Til next time, readers!

The Mithril Guardian

Book Review: House of Many Ways | Anime and Book Messiah

Book Review – Imperial Stars Vol. 2: Republic and Empire

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Today’s book is an anthology created by Jerry Pournelle with John F. Carr. Published through Baen Books, the collection contains quite a few short stories, several poems, and numerous essays. Each of the above are directed at a single point: what is the difference between a republic and an empire? Which is the best form of government – that is, which provides the most room for freedom and mankind’s success? Most importantly, is tyranny confined only to an Empire, or is it a state of corruption that can ruin either type of government?

It is not hard to guess that this volume is densely packed. These are weighty questions, none of which can be defined easily or answered lightly. Although a Republic offers more freedom than an Empire, it is no less susceptible to the cancer of tyranny. And so the writers’ created stories and essays to explore what it means to be free and what it means to be a Republic…or an Empire. In keeping with the ideal of liberty, they leave the audience to make up their own minds on which of the two is ultimately better than the other.

Due to the solidity of this volume’s philosophical points, I will not be discussing the essays within the anthology. Suffice it to say they are thought-provoking, if a little pedantic and/or academic. If one wishes to skip past them to read the stories, doing so will certainly make the reading go faster. On the whole, though, I would recommend reading them – either before or after the stories they proceed/introduce.

Some of the stories do contain adult content, though. It did not bother me too much, but Younger Readers ought to keep it in mind if they decide to pick up this collection. This blogger will make a note of which stories have explicit scenes that conscientious youths may wish to avoid.

As a final notice, I did not read the last story in the compilation. This is a tale called “Shipwright,” which was written by Donald Kingsbury. Since the person who gave me the book wrote “Not a Good Story” next the title, this blogger accordingly avoided it. I also skimmed “These Shall Not Be Lost” because…well, the story just didn’t appeal to me. It felt out of place and boring, so I am afraid that this blogger cannot comment on it, either. If you want to know how these tales go, readers, you will have to find out yourselves. I cannot help you here.

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Okay, with all of that out of the way, we can get down to business. The first story in the book is “Outward Bound,” by Norman Spinrad. This is a very good piece, with no sex scenes, gore, or foul language. In this tale space travel takes years, Earth-time. A man aboard ship can be eighty years old physically, but by Earth standards he will have lived eight hundred years.

This means that good ol’ Terra has her sixty colony worlds under her heel. Because of the time lag between them, Earth is the undisputed ruler of this tiny corner of the galaxy. No matter what they do, the colonies will always be sixty, eighty, or a hundred years behind the homeworld.

For man the only freedom to be found is aboard trading ships, such as the titular Outward Bound. They can go where they wish and have no worries that Earth will yank their chain, bringing them to ground. Dealing in knowledge of scientific techniques rather than money, the Outward Bound arrives on the planet of Maxwell to trade the plans for a force field. Maxwell doesn’t have much to trade; all they have of near equal value is a fugitive scientist from Earth. And since Terra never pursues a criminal this far into space the captain of the Outward Bound, Peter Reed, knows this scientist has something they want badly. And that means whatever knowledge he has is valuable – perhaps incalculably so. Thus, after a bit of haggling, he trades the force field for Dr. Ching pen Yee.

But Dr. Yee’s knowledge isn’t just valuable, it is a game changer. It could not only alter the future of space travel and Man; it could bring down Terra’s tyrannic control of her colonies. Reed has to decide if profits will rule the day or if Man will at last own the stars.

This is an enjoyable story, and one this blogger highly recommends. I do not know what else Norman Spinrad wrote (yet), but I intend to look up his other works and take a crack at them. “Outward Bound” was that good.

After this comes a less appealing tale written by Wayne Wightman. Titled “In the Realm of the Heart, In the World of the Knife,” it shows readers a world where tyranny and corruption have won. Revolution has brought down the previous order and established a new, “perfect” administration – complete with death camps, gulags, and state-sanctioned murder of those who offend their overlords in even the slightest manner.

This is not one of my favorite stories in the anthology. I recommend reading it because it is important, but it is not a likable or inspiring tale. While there are no explicit scenes, there are reminiscences of romantic interludes. The story also describes various forms of death and dismemberment that will probably startle Younger Readers.

None of this should make them avoid the story forever, since it shows the face of evil so and makes it more easily recognizable in the real world. But they should be aware there will be some disgusting things described in brief during the course of “In the Realm of the Heart, In the World of the Knife.” It will be unpleasant, of course, but evil always is. If we want to have good, then we have to know the face of wickedness in order to fight against it and preserve what is true. “In the Realm of the Heart, In the World of the Knife” makes this point quite memorably by showing readers what is lost when tyranny wins.

“Doing Well While Doing Good” follows “In the Realm of the Heart, In the World of the Knife.” Now “Doing” is actually a fun piece. It is a bit convoluted at first, but the finale clears up most of the confusion. Hayford Pierce, the author of this tale, certainly came up with one of the most ingenious answers to the pollution question that this blogger has ever heard! 😀

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Following this is a story titled “Minor Ingredient,” by Eric Frank Russell. Now this is a good story; no gore, no romantic interludes, and no language. Warner McShane arrives at the Space Training College for officers. A pilot-navigator on track for leadership training, he is taken through the college to his dormitory.

Once there, McShane is presented with a most unwelcome accessory. This would be Billings, his batman or personal servant. Scorning the idea that he would need someone to nanny him, McShane sends Billings away. But when the officer in charge of his dorm arrives and discovers this, he demonstrates why Billings’ presence is needed: the batman knows all the etiquette for the school, down to the proper arrangement of McShane’s clothes in his dresser drawers. Without him, the young man cannot hope to succeed in following the house rules, which will undoubtedly get him tossed out of the academy.

Unhappily, McShane agrees to take Billings back. Testing the older man to see just what he can and cannot get away with, the prospective officer finds himself frustrated at every turn. Over time, however, he comes to value his batman as a great friend and mentor, realizing how much the serving man and his fellows are doing for him and the other students.

This is a really, really sweet story. I cannot recommend it enough. More than worth the purchase price, “Minor Ingredient” is the piece de resistance of this collection. If you find it in a volume of a different kind, readers, snatch it up at once. This is a tale that should be on every book shelf in the country.

Next in line is Philip K. Dick’s “The Turning Wheel.” This is an odd piece which I still do not know what to make of, since it is rather bizarre. Set in a post-apocalyptic Earth, it shows a rigid caste system that has developed since man blasted himself almost back to the Stone Age. I say almost because the Bard Caste – the highest level in the caste system – uses rusting ships, viewscreens, and robots. The technology diminishes the further down the castes one goes.

At the bottom of the caste system are the Technos – the Caucasians or “Caucs” for short. Considered stupid, boorish animals, Technos are treated as pariahs by civilized society. But some of them have begun to challenge the ruling castes’ beliefs (which are a weird mixture of Buddhism, Christianity, and science). Known as the Tinkerers, this heresy is a threat to the ruling Bards.

The Bard Sung-wu has been sent to the Detroit area to check on reports of Tinkerer activity. He is not eager for this assignment. Due to die in the near future, he is more concerned with atoning for the adultery he committed with the wife of another man in order to avoid reincarnating as a carrion fly on another world. Unable to admit that to his superior, Sung-wu accepts the assignment and leaves – only to discover that, maybe, the Tinkerers aren’t so bad after all.

As I said, this is a weird story. It’s also a bit explicit in places, and so may not be appropriate for Younger Readers in the 12-15 age range. While it is a wacky piece, the tale is not necessarily a bad one. It is certainly worth reading at least once.

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“Custom Fitting,” by James White, is next. This is a straightforward tale about a tailor who receives galactic recognition for his work. Hired by the government in secret to design clothing for a Centauriform alien, George Hewlitt is struck dumb with fury when he discovers what type of clothing the administration wants him to design. A true craftsman, he sets out to fulfill his clandestine contract – the way he believes it should be done.

This is definitely a worthy story. It is readable for anyone of any age, with no objectionable content whatsoever. A fun romp, it is more relaxing than most of its fellows in this anthology.

Following this is Vernor Vinge’s “Conquest by Default.” This is a very disturbing thought experiment about how an anarchic government could be achieved. Anarchy is, and will always remain, an impractical form of governance in reality. You cannot have everyone running around doing their own things and still maintain a unified, ordered front.

Of course, that is not the point of this story. “Conquest by Default” is science fiction and thus it suspends this rule of reality to make a point about what anarchy would do to a society if it could be made into a workable frame for governance. A sad tale with an enormously important message, it has some objectionable content and may not be good for youths to jump into at once.

I did not like “The Skills of Xanadu,” by Theodore Sturgeon, very much on the first read through. The second reading left no better impression than the initial one. Young Bril of Kit Carson arrives on the world of Xanadu to exploit its people and technology. Although human, the Xanadu people appear childishly simplistic. They wear strange belts that produce a filmy energy outfit that hardly covers them and live in idyllic innocence.

But for a people that should be easy to conquer, Bril finds them almost impossible to outmaneuver. Whatever attempt he makes to learn the secret of their magnificent belts and skills is solidly stonewalled. It is like dealing with gullible, indolent children who have somehow crafted fantastic powers of the mind and technology one hardly notices.

For me, this story did not work. It is hard to say just why without giving anything away. Suffice it to say that the resolution feels too…effortless for this blogger to accept it. Although the message of the story is an admirable one, it is highly unrealistic, moreso than that found in “Conquest by Default.” Perfection is not possible in this life, and every time a story resorts to this trope, it bothers me because it is so implausible.

So, while “The Skills of Xanadu” is worth reading, it may not be particularly satisfying. You will have to make your own decision about it, readers, if you wish to read it. Young Readers may find some content a bit disconcerting, but there is not one explicit scene in the story.

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Jerry Pournelle

The same cannot be said of the final piece in the collection that this blogger can review. “Into the Sunset,” by D.C. Poyer, has a couple of romantic interludes. Something of a reverse 1984, the story has a good point despite these scenes and some other irritating tropes. I definitely recommend reading it, since one does not have to like the lead character or some of his actions to appreciate the story.

Admittedly, I cut the lead character a lot of slack because it is really nice to have a tale that shows a Party losing. One of the most depressing things about George Orwell’s 1984 is that it ends in despair. “Into the Sunset” does not have a happy ending for the protagonist, but it certainly is not as discouraging as 1984 was. I will take what I can get.

Whew! This author is wiped, readers. Hopefully she will be back again next week with something new. I am not sure what this will be just yet, but it will certainly not be another anthology. I am taking a break from those! 😀

‘Til next time!

The Mithril Guardian

Book Review – Star Wars X-Wing: Rogue Squadron by Michael A. Stackpole

X-Wing: Rogue Squadron - Wookieepedia, the Star Wars Wiki

Previously, this blogger expressed great affection for Wedge Antilles, one of the best known third tier characters in the Star Wars franchise. She also stated that she wished to read more of his Expanded Universe adventures someday, not only to “get to know him better,” but to see his future wife. Iella Wessiri Antilles was little more than a name and an image in the books I had read at the time I wrote about Wedge and that was a situation I hoped to rectify.

With help from Mr. Bookstooge, this author managed to do just that. Hunting up the X-Wing novels, she has bought and read seven out of the eleven books in the series. Number eleven, Mercy Kill, is not on my TBR list because it is set after the Yuuzhan Vong War. Both that War and the New Jedi Order storyline are, in this author’s opinion, not written in the spirit of Star Wars and are therefore not worth her time.

Since this opinion has been expressed elsewhere in greater detail, I will not rehash it now. It suffices to say that all of the X-Wing books reviewed here at Thoughts will take place before the Yuuzhan Vong War. Also, as seen in previous Star Wars posts, there will be Warning for Younger Readers attached in each review. This way those younger fans who want to begin exploring the old EU can do without worrying about stumbling on mature material they wish to avoid. It should also make coming back and enjoy an older Star Wars adventure when they are prepared to do so easier.

All right, with these items covered, we can get down to business. Star Wars X-Wing: Rogue Squadron is the first novel in the series of the same name. Set two years after Return of the Jedi and three years before the Thrawn trilogy, the book begins with a training simulation. Corran Horn is working to become a new member of Rogue Squadron, and he has arrived at his final test: the Redemption scenario.

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The simulation is based on Rebel rescue missions performed prior to the Battle of Yavin. Medical shuttles and the corvette Korolev bring their wounded to the Alliance ship Redemption. In the middle of the offloading process, the Imperial frigate Warspite pops into the system and drops off several wings off TIE fighters. These fighters attempt to take out the X-Wing pilots and/or destroy the vessels they are protecting.

Everyone dreads the Redemption scenario. It is the toughest examination a fighter pilot faces in training, and failing to pass would mean exclusion from the Rogues and other elite units. Corran is no less nervous about his score than the others, but he is determined to take the test. “Flying in” with wingmates Oorl Qyrgg, Nawara Ven, and Rhysati Ynr, they get set up in time to see the TIE fighters appear. Controlled by their fellow Rogue Squadron candidates, the simulated TIEs swoop toward the X-Wings to begin the practice battle.

Corran and the rest put up a good fight, but the other pilots are “killed” and Horn is left dead in space. Believing he lost the exercise, the former CorSec officer is startled when Rhysati explains that he actually won. Thinking he beat Bror Jase, a Thyferran and the other top pilot in the running for the Squadron, Corran receives a second shock when an officer with brown hair and blue eyes congratulates him on his performance. Simultaneously impressed and worried by the stranger’s skill, the Corellian cannot help wondering just who almost beat him.

Elsewhere, Wedge goes to discuss the Rogues’ contenders with Admiral Ackbar and General Salm, the commander of the training facilities which the new fighter squadrons are using. Though happy with most of his candidates, Antilles has a couple of pilots he wishes to add to the team. Both are opposed by Salm and, while Wedge knows he cannot change the man’s mind, he also knows Ackbar likes him enough to potentially give him what he wants. If he plays his cards right, Wedge will get these pilots on the Rogues’ roster without too much fighting.

He starts the meeting off by explaining that Gavin Darklighter, the young cousin of Biggs Darklighter, has personally asked to join Rogue Squadron. While not as close to Biggs as Luke, Wedge considered him a good friend. In honor of Biggs he wants to bring Gavin into the Rogues. Salm has refused on the grounds that the Tatooine farmboy is sixteen years old and therefore far too young to join a military unit.

After a little back and forth, it is agreed that Gavin will be admitted to the Rogues only if he passes the Redemption scenario. Confident the boy will not fail, Wedge makes his second request. He wants Tycho Celchu to be the Executive Officer for his squadron.

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Tycho Celchu of Alderaan and Rogue Squadron

Salm absolutely refuses. Though the Alderaanian pilot has had a distinguished career in the Rebellion since Hoth, a recent mission put his loyalty in question. Captured by the Empire during an undercover assignment to Coruscant and taken to the elusive Lusankya prison run by Imperial Intelligence, Tycho escaped some time later.

Normally, this would be cause for celebration, but past experience with those held in Lusankya has made the Alliance cautious. While no one knows where the penitentiary is, what is clear is that Lusankya is both a detention center and a brainwashing facility. When they have a person thoroughly under their influence, Imperial Intelligence director and current Empress-wannabe – Ysanne “Iceheart” Isard – lets one or more prisoners “escape” to rejoin the Alliance. The mind-controlled minions feed information to the Empire before Iceheart orders them to assassinate, sabotage, or otherwise destabilize the nascent New Republic.

Tycho cannot remember his time in Lusankya, which makes him automatically untrustworthy in the eyes of Salm and the Alliance. Although Celchu, Wedge, and their close friends are sure he was not brainwashed or broken, Tycho has no way of proving this certainty to the brass. Without evidence to demonstrate that his free will is intact they cannot trust him, and thus they have to keep him under observation at all times since his escape.

Wedge won’t have it. He won’t allow his friend – a man he considers his brother in all but blood – to have his name tarnished by the Empire. Not when he has done so much for the Rebellion, and not when his training techniques can help keep the new pilots in Rogue Squadron alive. He actually startles Ackbar when he lists off the limitations Tycho has agreed to abide by if he becomes the Rogues’ XO. Summoning Celchu to the meeting, the Admiral points out that the boundaries set for Tycho equate to slavery, something he would know since he was held as a “pet” for five years by Grand Moff Tarkin.

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Admiral Ackbar

Acknowledging the admiral’s point, Tycho insists that he wants to fight the Empire. If this is the only way he can do it, then he will put up with the constraints the brass insists on. He wants to stay in the fight war however he can – even if he has to sacrifice his freedom to do it.

Moved by his answers, Ackbar takes a gamble and assigns Celchu to Rogue Squadron. When he asks Tycho’s opinion of the new pilots he trained just minutes ago, the Alderaanian is succint: if the candidates for the Rogues are any indication, the Squadron will be ready to go in two months. And after that, they will become the Empire’s worst nightmare.

X-Wing: Rogue Squadron is a clean book. There is no gratuitous gore and no descriptions of romantic liaisons to disturb Young Readers. The Twi’lek Nawara Ven and the human woman Rhysati Ynr are stated to be a couple but do not do anything overt to hint at it.

One of the women in the Rogues, Erisi Dlarit, does her best to attract Corran’s eye as well. He makes a comment about how her hair rests on the back of her neck, along with the fact that she left the front of her flightsuit open so he could see more of her than he should. She also tries to corner him in his cabin, but Corran holds her off until Mirax arrives, forcing Erisi to leave. These mild, brief moments and the villain’s vain attempt to have a lustful reaction to Ysanne Isard are the only troublesome items mentioned in the prose. They are easy to skip and therefore do not stay in a reader’s mind.

All in all, I enjoyed this X-Wing novel a great deal. The space fantasy aspects of the franchise take a backseat to the more mundane military sci-fi tropes of the Rebellion, which is a nice change of pace. It is fun to see the X-Wing pilots’ day-to-day lives and missions as they fight for the New Republic, and it helps a reader get to know old favorites (namely Wedge and Tycho) better than a novel following Luke, Han, or Leia’s ongoing adventures would.

I definitely recommend reading X-Wing: Rogue Squadron at the earliest opportunity. A strong installment in the old EU, it carries the same feel as the original movies, albeit with a different focus. If you ever wanted to be an X-Wing pilot, readers, this book is one of the best chances you will have to get in the cockpit! And remember –

“The Force will be with you, always.”

The Mithril Guardian

Rogue Squadron (Star Wars : X-Wing, book 1) by Michael A ...