I really enjoyed Claudia Gray’s Bloodline when I listened to it almost exactly two years ago. I was delighted to find an audio version of Gray’s Leia: Princess of Alderaan and immediately dropped everything else I was listening to.
I was 8 when Star Wars: A New Hope came out. I have never been a super fan, but Star Wars is one of the cultural touchstones of my life. As a kid, my roll models were Jamie Summers – the Bionic Woman, Diana Prince – Wonder Woman, and Princess Leia Organa. Princess Leia was the one with smart mouth and I loved her.
I am so grateful for the care with which Claudia Gray has taken with her Leia-centric stories. I love the grit and complexity she has given Leia. It complements the depth Carrie Fisher brought to her portrayal of Leia. In Bloodline, Claudia Gray painted a thoughtful portrait of a Senator Organa who has tired of politics and wants to spend time with her husband and son. She is driven by duty, but is considering that perhaps she has given the galaxy enough. She is a politician, a leader, a warrior, a mentor, and a wife and mother. I loved the complex middle aged woman that Gray painted.
Leia, Princess of Alderaan is a YA novel about teen aged Princess Leia and how she comes to be involved with the Rebellion. In this YA book, Leia at 16 is already steeped in duty and service, but she is not yet a leader or have the skills to be a warrior. Gray does a beautiful job of taking Leia from a princess who feel neglected by her once loving parents to the Rebellion leader who will soon survive the destruction of her planet and keep fighting. The book begins with Leia announcing the challenges she will undertake during the year that will prove she is worthy to be the heir to the throne of Alderaan. During the coming year, she will prove the strength of her heart by undertaking charity missions throughout the galaxy, the strength of her mind by participating in the Apprentice Senate, and the strength of her body by climbing a mountain on Alderaan. To prepare for the challenge of her body, she joins a Pathfinder class with other members of the Apprentice Senate. All of these activities broaden her education as an independent thinker, diplomat and conspirator.
During the year she gets to know and develop a romance with Kier Domadi, a fellow Alderaanian, and Amilyn Holdo, who we meet later in their lives in The Last Jedi.
The relationships with Kier and Amilyn become vitally important to Leia through the book. They are the first relationships she has had with people who are her peers (as much as a princess can have peers). Until recently, Leia had always been with her parents, their shadow as they went about their duties. She has grown up immersed in planetary and galactic politics. What she lacked was the companionship of people her own age. Kier and Amilyn provide other perspectives and counterpoints as well as validation. Kier is her first love and her first heartbreak. We know this relationship has no future, but Gray doesn’t let that stop her from giving the relationship depth and heft.
You know, every once in a while, it’s okay to just live for yourself.” Kier held up a hand, forestalling her objection. “I’m not telling you to be, I don’t know, selfish or trivial. You’d never want that; that’s not who you are. But it’s all right to just, you know, be a person. Every once in a while, you can let go and live in the moment. I think you have to. Because if you’re carrying the weight of the worlds every single day, you get tired. You don’t have strength when you need it most, because you already burned yourself out.”
As the book opens, Leia feels emotionally abandoned by her parents. She is used to being in their confidence and now she is shut out. She seeks to prove herself to Queen Breha and Viceroy Bail Organa. She takes initiative in choosing her charity missions and inadvertently compromises efforts to provide more long term solutions. She unknowingly endangers herself and runs across the nascent Rebellion. She also discovers her own strength and the harsh realities of the empire.
Apparently, every once in a while, leadership meant abandoning decorum and yelling as loud as you could.”
Eventually it becomes clear to Leia (it’s clear to the reader from the beginning) that her parents are heavily involved in the Rebellion and they have shut her out to protect her. This is where we really see the Leia that we got to know in the movies – she recognizes that ignorance will not protect her from the Empire’s wrath. Through her charity missions and work in the Apprentice Senate, it becomes clear to her that there is no possibility of safety in the Empire unless she is willing to become as corrupt as the Emperor.
In the end, Gray has answered the question of how Leia comes to be a 19 year old Senator and Rebel Leader. She has been forged in fire and accepted that safety is not an option. She still has some of the naivete of youth, but we know it won’t be long before she loses that too.
My parents. My friends. My world. These are the things the Empire can never take away.”
This was an unexpected treat and a delight.