I only heard about it a couple of months ago thanks to some Goodreads friends, all of whom were also completely surprised by how good this book was. (Granted, I think a lot of them don’t regularly read YA and might be unaware of some of the wonderful authors currently working in the genre.) But still. Even with all of those reviews, the book still managed to surprise me. Because what’s so surprising about it isn’t that it’s good, but HOW it’s good.
The basic plot of this book is that it follows two young citizens of the Empire from the age of eight living on an Outer Rim planet, through their time at the Imperial Academy, and their eventual deployment and involvement with the Empire during its stable years, and as the fight with the Rebellion begins. The major events of all three original films are seen from the other side, and when I heard this I was worried it would seem gimmicky, but it doesn’t play out that way. The characters of Ciena Ree and Thane Kyrell are always front and center. The story is always about them, and nothing seemed stretched to include them. In fact, quite the opposite. This book fleshed out the world of Star Wars in a way that no other expanded universe novel has for me quite yet. Those have always focused on the Rebellion and our main heroes, and tended to view them in a more heroic light. This book, with so many of its (very human) characters on the side of the Empire (at least, most of them, for most of the time) had the opposite effect. It complicates the world of Star Wars away from black and white. It humanizes the citizens of the Empire, from the most ardent Imperialist, all the way down to the citizens of backwater, exploited planets.
This isn’t to say the book takes the position that the Empire is good. It doesn’t. At several different points, several different characters state that the Empire is evil. But what it does complicate are the people who make up the Empire. How they could ever support it, how the degrading political and economic situation in the galaxy affects those opinions. And how someone who is supposedly a good person could still live with themselves after seeing the atrocities committed in the Empire’s name. In a lot of ways, this novel is really a psychological character study; it isn’t afraid to delve deep into its characters’ motivations and have them make complicated decisions.
It’s also a love story. The blurb advertises it as Star Wars doing Romeo and Juliet, but that’s not very accurate, excepting the fact that Ciena and Thane are quite literally star-crossed. But the love story is never simple or predictable, and because of their at times very conflicting beliefs and political leanings, it’s never simple, either. The writing is at times a little unfulfilling, but the story and the characters and the structure of the thing more than make up for it. The hints for what’s to come in the new movies were also tantalizing. If this book is anything to go by, the galaxy our heroes and villains will be living in for the next while will be an interesting one.
Definitely recommend this for Star Wars fans, and would also recommend if you’ve never read a Star Wars book in your life. Some knowledge of the movies would be helpful, but you don’t need to be hardcore to enjoy this story. Young adult fans, romance fans, sci-fi fans, any of y’all might enjoy this.