Scourge

Some mild spoilers.

Synlah: First off, let me just say we like this book so much we just held Hutt Week on Roqoo Depot in celebration of Scourge.  The book is that good.  No, Luke Skywalker does not take out an SSD with only his lightsaber, The Sword does not single-handedly wipe the Sith from existence nor does Leia (with Han at her side) bring universal peace to the galaxy.  In fact, there are no canon characters in this book at all. So why did we like it so much?  Well, in many ways, Scourge is the quintessential Star Wars story.  It’s action (lots of), unusual allies, unusual bad guys and at the heart, an unusual Jedi that the reader is just really going to come to like.  Then there’s the Force and make no mistake: the Force is a key element in this book.

Skuldren: Scourge is also the first Star Wars novel to truly tackle the Hutts. It was labeled as a Hutt novel, and it delivered. In this case they serve as both the unusual allies and the unusual bad guys. But like Synlah said, there’s also an unusual Jedi, and he’s at the heart of the story. Rather than just being a scum and villainy tale, Scourge shows the personal growth of a Jedi who comes complete with flaws, doubts, strengths, and a bit of humor. Jedi Master Mander Zuma came into the Force late in life and he’s spent much of it as an archivist for the Jedi library. His field skills are a bit rusty. His underdeveloped powers and experience, combined with his senior status, creates a Jedi character that is very different from what we usually see. In fact one of the best things about the book are all the little unexpected aspects that continual surprised me as I read it.

Synlah:  In all honesty, while I thought Jabba was a great gangster figure in the movies, I pretty much didn’t care about Hutts one way or the other.  But what Grubb brings to the table in Scourge is a touch of uniqueness along with the standard Hutt traits of greed, scheming and treachery.  Because of the book, I’ve actually begun to appreciate Hutts for what they are.  They are the perfect counterpoints to the Jedi master Mander Zuma.  And with another touch of the unique, Zuma forms an alliance with the Hutt lord, Popara.  Like Mander, Popara is not your standard Hutt lord, and when he requests that the Jedi find his son, Mika, and bring him home, I actually felt sympathy for Popara.

Skuldren: Much of the story is an investigation. It starts off with the death of Mander’s apprentice, Toro Irana. From there it leads to drugs, Hutts, vengeful Rodians, and a mysterious Spice Lord who appears to be behind everything. It’s a fun adventure, and Jeff creates some wonderful characters to bring the story to life.

Synlah: During his investigation Mander quickly picks up his former apprentice’s sister, Reen Irana, and her partner, the Bothan Eddey Be’ray, as allies.  While there’s virtually no backstory given for Reen or Eddey, their characters are brought to life so well by Grubb I didn’t really feel the lack.  In fact, in Scourge, Jeff Grubb displays a deft hand at defining characters and breathing life into them without resorting to the standard Star Wars cliches.  Later, the Corporate Sector’s Lieutenant Commander Angela Krin joins in the investigation, and again we have a person who isn’t quite the expected.  I personally really liked this glimpse into the CSA, and enjoyed the juxtaposition between it and the wild and lawless elements of the Outer Rim.

Skuldren: One of Jeff’s strengths is his ability to combine so many great elements so subtly. He brings in a lot of Expanded Universe bits. Droids, ships, species, a lot of the objects brought into play are specifically named but he doesn’t clobber the reader over the head with it. It’s there, it works, and the story moves on.

With the same ease, he uses the characters just as well. I didn’t think they were cookie cutter characters. They felt genuine. Mander’s character in particular has a lot of flaws. He has to struggle to be a Jedi rather than strolling through the landscape like a demigod. Those flaws also give his character room for growth and we get to see that in the story. The other characters have their quirks too. For instance the Bothan character Eddey Be’ray has a moment when he picks up a hat. This reminded me of Cad Bane and Embo from The Clone Wars, both of which have a fondness for hats. Small things like that, spread throughout the book, gave each character more personality.

Synlah: I couldn’t agree with you more regarding Jeff Grubb’s storytelling and characterization.  There’s a lot there but it flows and neither story nor characters are sacrificed one for the other.  There may be a few (very few) spots where it isn’t quite as seamless as you’d like, but the entirety of the book more than makes up for that.

Skuldren: There was also an interesting Godfather theme that was channeled through the Hutts in the book. You have a criminal family led by an aging patriarch. In both cases the patriarch is a wise individual who strives for a higher ethical code. There are certain illegal activities they stay away from like hard drugs. Both patriarchs also care about their children, and their offspring aren’t perfect. Each family has one child who stands out from the rest and doesn’t appear to belong. They even have a trusted family adviser whose not related but treated like an adopted family member.

Synlah: Make no mistake, though, the star of this story is Mander Zuma.  By stepping out of his comfort zone of Jedi archivist, Mander must transform sterile knowledge into action.  What has been, heretofore, academic becomes real.  Jeff Grubb’s Mander Zuma learns growth isn’t achieved without striving.  In facing his doubts and uncertainties about himself as a Jedi and a master, Mander truly becomes one.

Skuldren: In a way, this is like a murder-mystery novel combined with the Godfather starring a Jedi librarian who learns to become a field agent. It’s totally unique and a very entertaining read. Scourge really has me hoping we see more of Jeff Grubb in Star Wars.

Synlah: Jeff Grubb has accomplished what I thought was all but impossible.  He’s seamlessly transitioned a game into a thoroughly intriguing story with engaging characters.  He’s made it all work, and he’s made it work with nearly all new characters that feel like they’ve been around in the EU since the beginning.  These characters leave you wanting to read more about their adventures, and I don’t know if you can say better than that.  This is a great Star Wars debut novel.

Skuldren: We give Scourge a unanimous five out of five metal bikinis. It’s a fun adventure and a great addition to the Star Wars Expanded Universe.

Reviewed By: Synlah and Skuldren for Roqoo Depot.
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