Claudia Gray is three for three with Star Wars books. I’ve been reading Star Wars books for over half my life now (!) and she is probably the best, most consistent author of these books that I have any experience of. She brings such a nice sense of nuance and character depth. And she really gets Leia, as she proved in her adult novel, Bloodline (which is probably my favorite Star Wars book), and as she proves again here in this young adult take on the character.
Leia, Princess of Alderaan, takes place three years before Episode IV, as Leia is turning sixteen and preparing to officially become the heir to the throne of Alderaan. It does read young adult, which is a bit distracting at first, but the story quickly takes over. Leia is of course not a normal teenager, and she comes into the story already poised and educated in statecraft, but she still has a lot of things to learn, and Gray builds an arc for her nicely that dovetails becoming an adult with her accepting the realities of living in a universe that will soon be at war.
For those who have seen The Last Jedi, we also get appearances by several people and places that appeared in that movie, but I’m glad I saw the movie first. One of those people is Amilyn Holdo, who grows up to be Admiral Holdo. It was nice seeing the blossoming of their lifelong friendship portrayed here, and I thought it was by far the strongest new character relationship present. Gray unfortunately also tries for a first romance for Leia that I didn’t think worked very well, for a couple of reasons. One, obviously we all know that she’s going to end up with Han Solo, so we’re never really going to be super invested in the pairing, which means we’re only interested in it as far as it means something to Leia. That’s a disadvantage storywise. And second, because I think the one spot this book doesn’t succeed 100% at is in creating a believable relationship chemistry between the two of them. I never FELT their relationship. Her relationships with her parents, Holdo, and hell, even Mon Mothma, were 1000 times more compelling, though what she did with the boy in the end was intriguing in terms of plot. It didn’t quite end the way I thought it would.
All in all, another success for Claudia Gray, and I will continue to read her Star Wars books as long as she continues writing them. I also really need to get on reading some of her non-Star Wars work to see what she can do with original characters and stories.