7 Rated Books Book Reviews

Book Review: A New Dawn by John Jackson Miller

A New DawnTitle: A New Dawn

Author: John Jackson Miller

Genre: Science Fiction, Science Fantasy, Speculative Fiction

Publisher: Del Rey
Publication Date: September 2014
Hardcover: 367 Pages

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. . . .

“The war is over. The Separatists have been defeated, and the Jedi rebellion has been foiled. We stand on the threshold of a new beginning.”—Emperor Palpatine

For a thousand generations, the Jedi Knights brought peace and order to the Galactic Republic, aided by their connection to the mystical energy field known as the Force. But they were betrayed—and the entire galaxy has paid the price. It is the Age of the Empire.

Now Emperor Palpatine, once Chancellor of the Republic and secretly a Sith follower of the dark side of the Force, has brought his own peace and order to the galaxy. Peace through brutal repression, and order through increasing control of his subjects’ lives.

But even as the Emperor tightens his iron grip, others have begun to question his means and motives. And still others, whose lives were destroyed by Palpatine’s machinations, lay scattered about the galaxy like unexploded bombs, waiting to go off. . . .

The first Star Wars novel created in collaboration with the Lucasfilm Story Group, Star Wars: A New Dawn is set during the legendary “Dark Times” between Episodes III and IV and tells the story of how two of the lead characters from the animated series Star Wars Rebels first came to cross paths. Featuring a foreword by Dave Filoni.

Stand alone or series: Part of the impressive Star Wars Expanded Universe (EU); first in the Empire and Rebellion trilogy.

How did I get this book: Bought

Format (e- or p-): Ebook

Why did I read this book: I’ve been on something of a Star Wars kick lately – having just read and loved Razor’s Edge by Martha Wells. I was a huge fan of the Clone Wars animated series, and have started Rebels with high hopes. This novel, the first in a *new* Star Wars Expanded Universe and predicating the Rebels series, was an automatic must-read.

Review:

The Clone Wars have ended, and the Republic has fallen.

Peace has come to the galaxy, but at great cost. Gone is the time of the Senate and the order of the Jedi Knights – these are the dark days of the Galactic Empire. Emperor Palpatine, Sith Lord and former Chancellor of the Republic, rules the galaxy on high without challenge or question – his dark apprentice, Darth Vader, at his right hand.

In the eight years since the dawn of the Empire, certain subjects have grown restless, and tired of the oppressive shackles of Palpatine and his lackeys. Hera Syndulla, a Twi’lek pilot and revolutionary, scours the Empire for others she can recruit to her cause. Her search takes her to the distant moon of Cynda and the planet it orbits, Gorse. Both Cynda and Gorse are of vital importance to the Empire because of Cynda’s abundance of rare Thorilide, an essential component in the building of the Empire’s ever-increasing fleet of destroyers. In fact, Cynda and Gorse are so important to the Empire, that a new leader is assigned to oversee their mining operations: the formidable cyborg and self-made business tycoon, Count Denetrius Vidian. Renown throughout the Empire for his ruthless and unfailing efficiency, Vidian immediately starts reorganizing mining operations on Cynda – displacing, even killing, those who stand between him and making his expedited quota.

On the moon’s surface, gunslinger Kanan Jarrus drifts from one job to the next, trying to avoid his instincts to help others and attract unwanted notice – for Kanan is actually Caleb Dume, one of the last remaining Jedi. But noticed Kanan is, by both Vidian and Hera. As tensions on Cynda mount with Vidian’s ever-tightening efficiencies, the fate of the moon, its orbited planet, and all the lives on both outposts, hang in the balance. Hera must play her hand and trust in unlikely allies – including a bomber named Skelly, surveillance operator Zaluna, and the wild card Kanan – to make a stand against the Empire.

The first book in the new Star Wars Expanded Universe (comprising 4 new CANONICAL novels) – cause of some complaint among fans of the existing EU – A New Dawn delivers. An action-filled romp starring new main characters, two of which who are starring in the new Rebels animated series, A New Dawn is the story of Hera and Kanan’s introduction and the birth of an outfit that will become a larger part of the ultimately triumphant Rebel Alliance. A little extracurricular context: having read this book and just caught up on the animated series to date (the introductory Spark of Rebellion double feature/mini movie and 2 subsequent episodes), there isn’t a whole lot we actually know about Rebels‘ older characters Hera and Kanan – other than the fact that they have a shared history, Hera knows about Kanan’s past as a Jedi padawan, and they trust each other. A New Dawn opens up both of these characters in a surprising and enlightening way. Surprising, because the circumstances under which the pair meet are not at all what I expected – Hera is the firebrand and mastermind here (ala Leia Organa), with Kanan in the Han Solo-ish don’t-suck-me-into-your-caring-for-others-crap attitude; enlightening, as we see just how the pair are nicely suited and match up to become leaders of a burgeoning rebel ship.

But what was happening to Gorse and Cynda was beyond serious. It was the sort of thing she’d vowed to stop someday. The day had just come early – too early, before she’d assembled a capable team. Not exactly the new dawn she’d had in mind.

The reason why A New Hope is so successful rides on the strength of its characterizations of Hera and Kanan. And Hera is a badass. Acting largely on her own, Hera is a Twi’lek woman on a mission to stop the Empire and find other like-minded, highly skilled individuals to join her cause. She’s tough, methodical, and knows the importance of keeping a low profile; she also knows when to risk it all in order to do the right thing. There’s certainly more than a little Leia to Hera: they’re both leaders and highly competent, they both clearly have vested interests in standing up to the Empire. But, unlike Leia, one gets the feeling that Hera hasn’t had the kind of resources or upbringing (and from The Clone Wars‘ Twi’lek Ryloth arcs, starring Hera’s uncle Cham Syndulla, we know things have been pretty rough for her people for a very long time).

THIS IS OBI-WAN KENOBI
REPUBLIC FORCES HAVE BEEN TURNED AGAINST THE JEDI
AVOID CORUSCANT, AVOID DETECTION
STAY STRONG
MAY THE FORCE BE WITH YOU

In contrast to Hera’s determination and steadfast adherence to her mission, Kanan is a surprising vagabond in A New Dawn. An inquisitive young Padawan in the book’s foreshadowing prologue, Kanan’s tough cowboy/gunslinger persona is born after the Jedi are all Order 66’d, and he manages to escape thanks to his Master’s efforts. Without family or other Jedi to turn to, Kanan instead turns to a life of smuggling, drinking, and drifting – all low under the Imperial radar. This is a much different side to the sure-footed Jedi and co-leader seen thus far in Rebels, but I love the conflicted backstory – especially as it pertains to the complicated relationship between him and Hera. The Kanan of A New Dawn is a little bitter and certainly conflicted in his feelings for using the Force, as well as in his desire to stay hidden and warring instincts to help, versus lie low.

Also, on the subject of relationships, I love that there isn’t an overt romantic subplot between Kanan and Hera. Kanan is into her – his narrative makes this clear a few times – but Hera has bigger Bantas to wrangle with at this point. I appreciate this so very much.

“Keep moving! Destroy barriers! See everything!”

Beyond these two protagonists, A New Dawn also introduces a pair of fascinating key villains: Count Denetrius Vidian, Captain Rae Sloane, and the shadowy Baron Danthe. Vidian is a fantastic Grievous-like character in makeup – a cyborg, largely by choice, following a grave illness, Vidian has reinvented himself from a cog in a corporate machine to the mastermind behind some of the most profitable and manipulative industries in the Empire. With his management slogans – forget the old way, destroy barriers, etc – applied diligently to anyone who stands in his path, Vidian is a chilling foe. My only complaint with regards to Vidian is his more one-dimensional makeup as a villain – but, as a minor character in the overall scheme of Empire, he’s fleshed out (pardon the pun) well enough for this solo episode.

They were separated by title and fortune, but she and Danthe represented the New Imperials – the media’s catchphrase for the first generation of people to ascend to adulthood under the Empire […] The Empire would be a better place once people her and Danthe’s age were in charge.

In contrast, Star Destroyer Captain Rae Sloane, is a more nuanced and less-explored leader. I’m thrilled to see that unlike in the original six films, there is more than one woman in the galaxy in this Dark Times era – enter Rae Sloane, female captain of Imperial forces and alluded to as a powerful character who will become more important as the Rebels arc progresses (one hopes). Her ties to the mostly off-screen Baron Danthe are another intriguing part to this character – I appreciate a villain who plots and plays the game for power well, and I can only imagine that she will show up again in Tarkin.

Beyond the introduction of these characters, A New Dawn fares well overall largely because of John Jackson Miller’s straightforward writing style and competent plotting. The story itself is slightly throwaway as an adventure on a distant moon and planet, but as this is largely a setup book to give background to the first encounter between the two main adult characters in the Rebels series? I think it’s safe to say that A New Dawn succeeds, and succeeds beautifully.

Plus, if I were a gambling reader, I’d bet that given the planned trajectory of the new announced 4 book arc, with Grand Moff Tarkin’s story up next, I imagine that the Thorillide mining shenanigans and moon-destroying properties shown in A New Dawn will have some Death Star-bearing significance. I’ll certainly be around to find out – because the new EU is working very nicely in this fan’s opinion.

Looking to supplement your Rebels viewing? Want to get into Star Wars novelizations without needing to read a ton of prereqs? A New Dawn awaits.

Notable Quotes/Parts: From Chapter 1:

“Sound collision!”

Only a moment earlier, the Star Destroyer had emerged from hyperspace; now a cargo ship careened straight toward its bridge. Before Ultimatum’s shields could be raised or cannons could be brought to bear, the approaching vessel abruptly veered upward.

Rae Sloane watched, incredulous, as the wayward freighter hurtled above her bridge’s viewport and out of sight. But not out of hearing: A tiny scraping ka-thump signaled it had just clipped the top of the giant ship’s hull. The new captain looked back at her first officer. “Damage?”

“None, Captain.”

No surprise, she thought. It was surely worse for the other guy. “These yokels act as if they haven’t seen a Star Destroyer before!”

“I’m sure they haven’t,” Commander Chamas said.

“They’d better get used to it.” Sloane observed the cloud of transports ahead of Ultimatum. Her enormous Imperial-class starship had arrived from hyperspace on the edge of the appointed safe-approach lane, bringing it perilously close to what had to be the biggest traffic jam in the Inner Rim. She addressed the dozens of crewmembers at their stations. “Stay alert. Ultimatum’s too new to bring back with a scratched finish.” Thinking again, she narrowed her eyes. “Send a message on the Mining Guild channel. The next moron that comes within a kilometer of us gets a turbolaser haircut.”

“Aye, Captain.”

Of course, Sloane had never been to this system, either, having just attained her captaincy in time for Ultimatum’s shakedown cruise. Tall, muscular, dark-skinned, and black-haired, Sloane had performed exceptionally from the start and ascended swiftly through the ranks. True, she was only substituting on Ultimatum, whose intended captain was serving on assignment to the construction committee—but how many others had helmed capital ships at thirty? She didn’t know: The Imperial Navy had been in existence by that name for less than a decade, since Chancellor Palpatine put down the traitorous Jedi and transformed the Republic into the Galactic Empire. Sloane just knew the days ahead would decide whether she got a ship of her own.

This system, she’d been briefed, was home to something rare: a true astronomical odd couple. Gorse, out the forward viewport, lived up to its reputation as perhaps the ugliest planet in the galaxy. Tidally locked to its parent star, the steaming mudball had one side that forever baked. Only the permanently dark side was habitable, home to an enormous industrial city amid a landscape of strip mines. Sloane couldn’t imagine living on a world that never saw a sunrise—if you could call sweating through an endless muggy summer night living. Looking off to the right, she saw the real jewel: Cynda, Gorse’s sole moon. Almost large enough to be counted in Imperial record keeping as a double planet with Gorse, Cynda had a glorious silver shine—as charming as its parent was bleak.

But Sloane wasn’t interested in the sights, or the travails of all the losers on Gorse. She started to turn from the window. “Make doubly sure the convoys are respecting our clearance zone. Then inform Count Vidian we have—”

“Forget the old way,” snapped a low baritone voice.

You can read the full excerpt online HERE.

Rating: 7 – Very Good

Reading Next: The Time Roads by Beth Bernobich

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5 Comments

  • Joel @ The Library Rat
    October 22, 2014 at 11:37 am

    Nice review. I agree that it worked well as a set-up for Rebels, but it didn’t spark the excitement I had been hoping for as the first book in the new Canon, in my opinion. I am much more hopeful for Tarkin, which I have on my To Read List ready and waiting for beginning of next month! 🙂

  • Sierra
    October 23, 2014 at 12:14 am

    One of my friends is really big on Star Wars novelizations, and I’d always kind of wanted to give them a try but it was so daunting, since there was so much to choose from. I like the idea of a new canon, so that people like me who came in late to the game can have an easy jumping in point.

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