Book Review: Star Wars The Old Republic: Annihilation
Star Wars Saturday is my weekly blog column where I cover the news, review a product or give my opinion on just about anything related to the galaxy far, far away…
Bioware’s Star Wars The Old Republic has had mixed success. Some players love the game, while others lament that it isn’t the single player Knights Of The Old Republic 3 they’d prefer. Like it or hate it, it’s provided a new time period for Star Wars fiction. Four books have been released so far that tie into the game, the latest of which is Annihilation.
Annihilation is written by Drew Karpyshyn, probably best known to fans as the writer of the Darth Bane trilogy of books. Karpyshyn is also the primary writer for the Jedi Knight storyline in SWTOR so he’s not only familiar with writing Star Wars fiction but he’s contributed plenty to the source material too. The novel differentiates itself from the previous three by being set after SWTOR. Meaning every single piece of game content takes place before this book. This means it unfortunately has to spoil a few plot points. However if you’re interested in the game you probably know what it spoils, but that said it’s something to keep in mind.
The bulk of the story takes place from Theron Shan’s point of view. The secret son of Jedi Grand Master Satele. He was introduced back in the comic book series The Lost Suns in 2011, and established as an agent for the Republic’s intelligence branch, SIS. Still working intelligence, Theron’s story picks up a few months down the line with the Republic finally on even ground in their war with the Imperial Empire. The Republic’s number one concern is the Imperial battle cruiser Ascendant Spear, one of the most advanced ships in their enemies’ arsenal. With nothing in the Republic fleet able to destroy it, Theron soon begins his mission to destroy the ship via sabotage.
Theron has no Force abilities whatsoever. Despite being the son of Satele he’s just an average guy. This is an interesting change for an Old Republic book which generally follows Jedi or Sith characters. Furthermore the time period is completely dominated by Force users. The Empire itself is ruled by a council of Sith Lords and the Jedi order is booming with Knights and Masters aplenty. It’s refreshing then to have the protagonist not have the Force to rely on in any way.
Karpyshyn is infamous for really putting his characters through hell. In most of his novels you’ll be introduced to interesting new characters only to have them cut in half later. Annihilation isn’t quite as dark or brutal as usual, it does have its moments but overall this isn’t quite as bleak as the others. Theron is quite a fun character who willingly defies his boss’ orders multiple times and generally makes things up as he goes along. At his core he’s a good man and it helps to make him quite a likeable character. There’s a restless energy about him and even a layer of humour, it’s amusing to watch him improvise his way through situations when it blows up in his face.
Oddly enough Twi’lek criminal Teff’ith, also seen in The Lost Suns, turns up intermittently throughout the plot. Grouchy and borderline selfish, she’s a strak contrast to Theron and feels almost shoehorned in. The story honestly has little need of her. A development of her character would have perhaps justified her use, but instead she stays just as she was back in the comic series. It’s perplexing why she’s here and her presence stands out awkwardly.
Meanwhile Darth Karrid is the novel’s villain. A Sith with an interesting backstory but a rather flat personality. She fulfils the role of villain sufficiently enough, but she acts in quite a predictable and stereotypical manner. As captain of the Ascendant Spear there’s little to her other than serving as a face for Theron’s target. Karpyshyn can, and has, written much deeper villains so it’s disappointing that Karrid is so simple. Thankfully Theron’s allies, save for Teff’ith, are more interesting. Jace Malcom for instance, who many will remember as the solider in the Hope trailer for SWTOR, is now the Republic’s head military commander. He’s haunted by the losses he’s witnessed through the years and is dead set on striking back. However his determination to hurt the Imperials is blinding him to the needs of the Republic, ironically his blood lust is making him sound more like his enemies. This murky gray morality deepens the plot in the face of such blatantly evil antagonists.
As with the majority of Karpyshyn’s novels, the plot builds up from multiple directions before crashing together in an exciting finale. When Theron is carrying out his missions with nothing but his equipment and training it makes for tense storytelling. He feels more vulnerable and real than many Star Wars protagonists because, in a way, he’s just like us. He can’t feel the Force, he doesn’t have a lightsaber or any fantastic abilities, he’s just a guy doing his best to get his job done. Rather than sulk over his lack of flashy weapons he just gets on with his mission. It would have been easy for Karpyshyn to have Theron curse his denied Jedi powers but he does nothing of the sort. Resourceful and intelligent, he’s a character that deserves some more attention and amplifies the novel’s enjoyment considerably.
The story overall is not terribly complex but it is entertaining. Espionage is something we see very little of in the Star Wars world. Jedi and Sith teachings take a backseat in Annihilation for trickery and subterfuge. It’s quite a different take for a Star Wars novel, especially one set in The Old Republic. The only problem is that early on it’s clear to see where the novel will conclude. To combat this there’s plenty of unexpected obstacles that crop up along the way forcing the characters to find creative solutions. This at least stops events from feeling too predictable and throws in enough hectic action to not make the journey just seem like a way to kill time.
Annihilation isn’t the most memorable Star Wars novel, but it’s definitely worth reading for SWTOR fans. The story isn’t essential but it gives a look beyond the game at areas we never quite got to see in the first place. For those who don’t play the game the novel is a harder sell. At the core the story is simple enough to grasp but it’s very much a part of the SWTOR conflict. As long as you understand the very basics of the time period though, there should be nothing too serious getting in the way of your ability to enjoy it.