Posts Tagged With: Chuck Wendig

REVIEW – Star Wars: Aftermath by Chuck Wendig

Aftermath coverWriting this review was difficult. I intended/expected to blow through this book as quickly as I did Wendig’s Heartland Trilogy, but I just couldn’t. Oddly, I had the same trouble getting through the last media tie-in novel I read, Star Wars – A New Dawn, but more on that later…

If you want the short, short version: I didn’t like it as much as I wanted to. I really wanted to like it. I’ve read the majority of the Star Wars Extended Universe novels now relegated to Legends, and I have no beef with Disney essentially wiping out the EU to start over.

The longer version: Aftermath starts off after the Battle of Endor as seen in Star Wars – Episode VI: Return of the Jedi. Some time has passed as the New Republic is established with Mon Mothma at its head (much like in the old continuity). It’s easier to just cut & paste the plot blurb from Amazon than for me to write a whole new one, so, from the Amazon blurb:

As the Empire reels from its critical defeats at the Battle of Endor, the Rebel Alliance—now a fledgling New Republic—presses its advantage by hunting down the enemy’s scattered forces before they can regroup and retaliate. But above the remote planet Akiva, an ominous show of the enemy’s strength is unfolding. Out on a lone reconnaissance mission, pilot Wedge Antilles watches Imperial Star Destroyers gather like birds of prey circling for a kill, but he’s taken captive before he can report back to the New Republic leaders.

Meanwhile, on the planet’s surface, former rebel fighter Norra Wexley has returned to her native world—war weary, ready to reunite with her estranged son, and eager to build a new life in some distant place. But when Norra intercepts Wedge Antilles’s urgent distress call, she realizes her time as a freedom fighter is not yet over. What she doesn’t know is just how close the enemy is—or how decisive and dangerous her new mission will be.

Determined to preserve the Empire’s power, the surviving Imperial elite are converging on Akiva for a top-secret emergency summit—to consolidate their forces and rally for a counterstrike. But they haven’t reckoned on Norra and her newfound allies—her technical-genius son, a Zabrak bounty hunter, and a reprobate Imperial defector—who are prepared to do whatever they must to end the Empire’s oppressive reign once and for all.

There are a lot of elements I should like in Aftermath. For years, I wanted more novels focusing on new characters; I felt the adventures of the core trio (Leia, Luke, and Han) were overplayed and tired. My favorite Star Wars novels are the X-Wing series written by Michael Stackpole for that very reason. Quirky, wierd characters like the re-programmed Mr. Bones tend to be among my favorites. The cameos by existing characters like Wedge Antilles and Admiral Ackbar don’t overshadow the actions of the protagonists.

Still, there was something about the novel that didn’t gel for me. It wasn’t the point-of-view. I was well-acquainted with Wendig’s use of present-tense and was used to his writing style since I finished three of his books just prior to starting this one. The new characters didn’t resonate with me, not Norra and Temmin Wexley, Rae Sloan (a character returning from Star Wars – A New Dawn, which I mostly enjoyed), nor turncoat Sinjir or bounty hunter Jas Emari. I didn’t dislike them, per se, I just didn’t get strong feelings for them. Maybe I just really wanted to read more about Wedge’s adventures, and if you go into this novel hoping he’s a main character, you’ll be disappointed.

I get that some people don’t like Wendig’s writing style. One thing I’ve learned from decades of reading and writing is that not everyone’s writing style is compatible with everyone’s reading style. There are well-regarded, immensely popular authors I don’t read because I can’t stand their writing style. I’m not going to say they’re bad writers; their success belies that claim (and yes, bad things can be successful, but art is subjective).

I can’t quite place why this novel didn’t appeal to me. And no, it had nothing to do with the so-called “homosexual agenda” in the book. One character stating his or her preference does not an agenda make, nor I did feel it was “shoved down our throats.” (There was a second couple featured, too, if I remember, but again, it’s not A Thing; it just is.) Frankly, it’s good to see greater representation for all gender and sexual identities in popular media. It’s good for us as a species to accept what is different. It’s how we grow.

Maybe, my Star Wars tie-in fiction burn-out is complete. The Force Awakens was great and I enjoyed it more than any Star Wars film since The Empire Strikes Back, but ever since the New Jedi Order series, I have had a very difficult time enjoying any Star Wars novels.

Still, I won’t say “don’t read this book.” Aftermath is well-written and well-paced. It’s certainly not the worst Star Wars novel I’ve ever read, but it’s not the best, either. Above average, maybe? I did grow on me as I got further along, but overall, it just didn’t resonate with me as a Star Wars fan. If you’re a die-hard fan who is eager to see what await in the new continuity, you’ll probably enjoy Star Wars: Aftermath. If you’re a die-hard “The Old EU is Sacrosanct!”-type, you’re probably not even going to bother. If you don’t care about the EU one way or another, perhaps you’ll find something of value here. Certainly, there are worse ways to return to a galaxy far, far away. This is definitely another case where I wish I could award half-stars, so just add another 1/2-star on mentally.

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REVIEW – The Heartland Trilogy by Chuck Wendig

I’m not going to get too optimistic and claim that reviews will become a regular feature here, but I’m going to try to start posting them if I write them for Goodreads/Amazon. Perhaps I’ll even make a separate page to archive them and make them easier to find after they’ve been lost to the blog update scroll.

 

I’m not a professional reviewer and if I do any sort of literary analysis, it’ll be because it just happened, not because I set out to do so. So, give it a few days and check back; I’ll likely have created pages for the reviews I previously posted on Amazon. For now, the freshest review is for the three books of Chuck Wendig’s The Heartland Trilogy.

 

When I started reading the series, I hadn’t actually heard anything about it (I looked some stuff up later). I bought it basically on the strength of Wendig’s blogging and because I liked the covers (see, people DO judge books on their covers).

 

Heartland1Under the Empyrean Sky

An exciting start to the Heartland Trilogy, Under the Empyrean Sky is what I can only describe as “rural dystopia.” The world is a place of inequality, where the elite live in floating cities and the rest toil on the ground scavenging or tending to the invasion corn species on which the economy revolves. Like Wendig’s other works I’ve read, Under the Empyrean Sky is fast-paced and relentless as it builds to its conclusion.

I found the dystopia depicted interesting because it wasn’t (as far as I can remember) the result of an apocalyptic war, or a zombie plague, or an alien invasion; it was just the result of the way the world progressed until the rich were able to leave behind the land worked by the poor.

The characters were well-developed, as well, and while there were clear divisions between who was “good” and who was “bad,” no one was without their flaws and even most of the antagonists had moments of sympathy. I’m interested to see where the story goes in Blightborn.

 

Heartland2Blightborn

Blightborn picks up pretty much where Under the Empyrean Sky leaves off. Since I read this back-to-back with The Harvest, I won’t go as in depth as I normally might because the details blur together. Our main cast has been split up (which seems to be pretty standard for these kinds of stories; I’ve done it myself) and situations escalate. Everything proceeds very logically and the characters’ flaws often come back to bite them in the ass.

 

The story is done well-enough that by the time I got to book two in the series, it felt less like a dystopian story (though it clearly is) and more like rural fantasy. I guess there’s no reason it can’t be a rural fantasy set in a future dystopia. The Heartland could be the American Great Plain at some specified point in the future, but it doesn’t have to be and this is a strength. I don’t think the more fantastical elements of the story (and the Blight is definitely more like fantastic nature magic than a real-world mutation or disease) would work as well if one could pinpoint where and when in the real world this story is supposed to have taken place.

 

By the time I was ¾ of the way through the story, I started to get annoyed that some of the characters were making the same mistakes and I thought “Are these people stupid?” Well, no. Well, some of them are, but what I mean is: they’re young. It’s easy to forget that these characters are still teenagers. I don’t think any of the main characters are yet twenty. Most teenagers think they’re invincible and really need to be hit on the head before they learn a life lesson. So, it might get annoying, but it is realistic. More on that in The Harvest review.

 

Blightborn is a good necessary follow-up to Under the Empyrean Sky. Even more than its predecessor, when you reach the end, you’ll want to jump right into The Harvest.

 

So I did.

 

Heartland3The Harvest

Book three of The Heartland Trilogy, The Harvest picks up the story about a year after the events of Blightborn. The characters are a little older, though not much wiser. Lane and Gwennie have undergone the most change, not counting Cael and Wanda’s physical changes. I mentioned in my review of Blightborn that I was annoyed that some of the characters kept making the same stupid mistakes, belated realized it was a flaw of their ages, not of characterization. More the same here, and to their credit, they didn’t kill a few characters that I really wish they had (it gives them a stronger moral standing). Had Wendig indulged in that type of revenge fantasy, the meaningful deaths in the story wouldn’t have had as much meaning, either to the readers or the characters.

 

Not everyone in The Harvest has a happy ending, or at least, the happy ending I think most readers expect. That’s okay. That makes for a better story and the conclusion is still satisfying. I think the unexpected fates of some of the characters makes the conclusion MORE satisfying. Every characters earns their end. I didn’t reach the end and declare with incredulity “That’s IT?” Not that I was expecting, to, but it wouldn’t be the first time I reached the end of a well-regarded trilogy and been disappointing that some reset button had been pressed or that the character I wanted to DIE DIE DIE ended up having a happily ever after .

 

The Heartland Trilogy covers world-changing events, and by the end the world has, indeed, been changed, for good or ill. I enjoyed that the end didn’t create a magical, wonderful life for all the characters. Happily ever after is fine and dandy, but it has to be tempered through the eyes of the characters to be true. Life isn’t easy and clean and so it is not for these characters. They’ve been tempered by the events of the story and come out the other side better people.

 

Wendig has received some criticism about profanity and sexuality in his YA works, and these are YA fiction. Compared to the type of language I heard from my peers at that age, these books are mild. The sex? There’s nothing graphic. There a homosexual relationship, but I’m not even going to address those criticisms because they’re not worth the effort it would take. I will say report of a “gay agenda” in Wendig’s writing, in this series in particular, are grossly misleading. I’m not sure those people read the same books I did.

 

Read The Heartland Trilogy. You won’t be sorry you did. Unless you HATE corn. Corn-o-phobes might be uncomfortable, and there are some elements of body horror, but it’s not really framed that way.

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