Review: Razor’s Edge: Star Wars (Empire and Rebellion) by Martha Wells

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Star Wars goes back to basics with the Empire and Rebellion series. The series’ debut novel Razor’s Edge is delivered by veteran author Martha Wells and focuses on Princess Leia Organa in the early days after the Battle of Yavin and before the dramatic events of The Empire Strikes Back.

Razor’s Edge is a solid edition to the Star Wars library, but there are a few issues that prevent this fun read from being a truly great Star Wars book.

The story does a nice job intersecting the Rebels search for resources, the Empire’s search for the Rebels, a small group of Alderaanian survivors and a large pirate organization. We have seen the idea of Rebels either seeking resources or a base often in Star Wars stories, we have also seen the use of asteroid bases before, so some of the settings and plot points are familiar to longtime Expanded Universe readers.

There are a number of things that I really enjoyed about this book. Having a group of Alderaanian survivors and Leia interact was really interesting, it allows for interesting characterization for Leia, particularly the way Leia’s allegiances are spread between her home planet and the Rebellion. It also deals nicely with Leia’s desire to put her mission above her personal interest and feelings. Some of the most amusing scenes are the novels are slightly racy by Star Wars standards and involve Leia and Han’s attraction. But I think portraying Leia’s attraction to Han is relate-able and helps to portray the internal struggle that she is going through trying to stay focused on the Rebellion. This Leia and Han interplay also provides some nice lighthearted humor in the story. It is easy to play armchair psychiatrist and see how Leia’s throwing herself into the Rebellion can keep her from emotionally processing the loss of her world and her family, it is also easy to see how she would be afraid of getting close to Han because allowing those emotions out would breach the walls she is trying to build around herself as a defense mechanism.

The three most prominent characters in this novel are all powerful females. The interaction and actions of Leia, Caline Metara, and Aral tukor Viest drive the plot for the majority of the novel. These three are all well characterized and compelling characters. There is much discussion about gender and diversity in Star Wars and other science fiction, but this novel is an example of it feeling organic to the story rather then being forced. It is also interesting how these characters are juxtaposed to each other, Leia on the side of good, Viest on the side of evil, and Captain Metara somewhere in between.

Wells also crafts what is one of my favorite villains to be created in the Expanded Universe in many years. I loved Aral tukor Viest, the special abilities she has because of her species, her sadistic despotism and what little we learn of her back story had me hooked and wanting more of this pirate. Viest is like the illegitimate love child of Hondo Ohnaka and Natasi Daala.  I would love to see Viest as the primary villain in a trilogy of books.

Unfortunately this leads me into my biggest problems with the novel. This is a story that begs for more fleshing out. It is often said that in terms of length, a book should only be as long as it needs to be to tell the story. Having a book that is overly long because the author is uneconomical with their words can be just as frustrating as a book being short. In the case of Razor’s Edge I think that the relative short length of the novel hurt both plot and more particularly character development.

Timothy Zahn is the master in the Expanded Universe of weaving various subplots into a novel and having them all come crashing back together at the climax of this novel. Wells does this to an extent in this novel, but to me the use of the Imperial portions in this novel felt odd. It would have worked much better if there was more integration of the Imperial story line through the middle portion of the novel.

The biggest issue I had in reading Razor’s Edge was what felt like very uneven characterization. This was a problem for me given the number of new characters we were dealing with. Some characters I thought where brought to life very vividly such as Metara and Viest, while others seemed rather generic and nondescript. On the whole among the Alderaanian survivors and the Rebels there is hardly a character that made a real impact on me as a reader.

I really enjoyed Razor’s Edge for the action and the return to the Original Trilogy time period.  While I may be critical of the novel in part it is because it was good enough that I can see the tweaks that would take it to the next level of enjoyment for me as a reader.

Razor’s Edge is a solid debut novel for a new Star Wars author, but it is more of a solid double high off the outfield wall than a home run.

Razor’s Edge will be available in hardcover, ebook, and unabridged audiobook formats on September 24.  For more on the novel visit Random House’s Razor’s Edge page.

Author’s Note: A review copy of this novel was provided by the publisher for this review. 

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