The Old Republic: Annihilation
Practice makes perfect and Annihilation may be Karpyshyn’s strongest novel yet. With a small, tight nit cast of characters, Drew presents an espionage story interwoven with personal conflicts. On the surface there are space battles, lightsaber fights, and gripping spy missions. But beneath that is a subtle exploration of emotional turmoil. Whether it’s the exploration of a much more relatable dark side when a person becomes consumed with anger, or the burden and doubts of duty, there’s a clear emphasis on showing the depth of the human character.
The book has a great start that immediately perks the imagination with dozens of questions. Rather than diving into a mission with Theron, it actually begins with his birth and his mother, Satele Shan. It takes a poignant look at Jedi pregnancy. The prologue, while brief, manages to explore the emotional complexity of the issue. Even at this time, the Jedi code still frowns on relationships. It’s a unique and touching way to start off. Personally I’d say it’s on par with the shocking and tantalizing start of James Luceno’s Darth Plagueis.
From there the story jumps to Nar Shaddaa to introduce Theron Shan. Unlike the stars of most Star Wars novels, Theron is not Force-sensitive. Not even a little bit. No Force pushing, no lightsaber, and no danger sense. But Theron isn’t a helpless individual. Like Han Solo, he relies on skill and the occasional ally to get by. And maybe a little luck. For anyone who has read the Agent of the Empire comics, Theron is similar to Jahan Cross. They’re both intelligence agents working for the prospective governments to battle the enemy using both covert and overt methods.
Theron is not alone, though. A decent chunk of the book gives page time to Jedi Master Gnost-Dural. There’s also a female Twi’lek named Teff’ith who Theron has a complicated, non-romantic relationship with. Both Gnost and Teff’ith provide some variety to the story. Gnost is the former master of the story’s primary antagonist, Darth Karrid. Teff’ith, on the other hand, is a reluctant, cavalier ally seemingly motivated by credits, but buried down deep…real deep…has a heart. They also provide a couple real good laughs toward the end.
On the opposing team is Darth Karrid and the Sith. Karrid doesn’t play as big of a role as we’ve seen from other Sith in Karpyshyn’s novels. Her role is definitely smaller than Scourge’s in Revan. She also has a very peculiar relationship with her ship, the Ascendant Spear, which becomes a major focus. Blending technology and biology, she can connect with the Spear and empower it with the Force. The result is that both she and her ship are a force to be reckoned with.
One thing that really pushed Annihilation to a new level was the flow of the story. It kicked off strong, took a step back to build things up, and then consistently moved forward with a strong focus. Unlike Revan, there’s no break midway through the story. And unlike the Bane Trilogy, we get the whole story in one book. Drew manages to develop Theron as a likeable character early on, yet surprisingly pulls off a depth to the story through the supporting characters. While Theron’s character is explored and faced with some dramatic choices, it’s the supporting cast that plunges into both intellectual and emotional depths. By doing so, the story is able to move forward without slowing down. In between the action, we get short bursts from the Dark Council, the Republic leadership, and Theron’s allies that provoke questions and reflection on the characters and the story. There’s some nice concepts to chew on and I love how it added layers to the story.
Without spoiling anything, Annihilation is a great story. Personally, I liked it better than Revan. While Theron is no where near the same magnitude as Revan the character, the storytelling is superior. Again, this is helped by having a smaller time span to cover with no need for a time break in the middle. But another factor is the strength of the supporting cast and the directions Drew goes with them. Some of the intellectual and emotional explorations are as deep as those seen in books like Paul S. Kemp’s Riptide and Deceived. In a way, Drew is able to combine the best elements of a fast paced adventure story with a slower, more reflective character tale that ends with a pacing that’s just right. I give it a five out of five metal bikinis.