Spoiler Free: The Old Republic: Fatal Alliance Part 2 (With Spoilers!)
The time for the first of my Spoiler Free reviews of Star Wars: The Old Republic is here. If you’re like me and hear “spoilers” and run as far away as possible, or even if you just need something to hold you over for another week, For those of you waiting for the dirt, you can finally find out what Sean Williams’s Fatal Alliance is like. Beware, spoilers follow!
A smuggler, an agent and a Mandalorian walk into a bar. Wait a second, that’s not a joke; that’s a scene from Fatal Alliance! When all eight classes from Star Wars: The Old Republic find themselves in the same place, at the same time, faced with the same threat to the civilized galaxy, each class has a chance to let their class features shine. But is the story any good?
Last time I faced you with a question. Is it possible for a novel to do what it must to showcase all eight playable classes and still maintain that Star Wars vibe?
I had been sure that every member of the Dramatis Personae would be completely safe. But there was maiming, death, brushes with the Dark Side, and several other reasons to fear for the characters. The novel maintained its video game quality, but it was that of a challenging game, one that pushed the players, and the player that expected the least amount to challenge him fell to an unexpected cause: PVP Combat- or rather, the advance of a story that he existed to catalyze. So yes, in response to the above question, this does have all the makings of a Star Wars novel, and yes, it retains everything it takes to advertise The Old Republic. Seriously, a semi-likeable lower level player using the story arc to aid her in demolishing an unlikeable high level player in a classic Star Wars archetype? Nobody’s going to complain, right?
The main enemies, though, are revealed in the middle of Part One. The droids, nicknamed “hexes” by several characters and never referred to by a proper name, are introduced to us as a trio of mindless automatons who exist only to kill. We discover that they are fighting to get back to their home, then that they are the government back home, then that they are likely to attempt to destroy every living thing in the galaxy, then that they’re doing it to protect the full grown adult equivalent of a fetus, and then that the fetus is a deus ex machina who can control them, but only if the plot calls for it, and can transfer her power to the girl she’s cloned from, and the droids actually carry the ghost of… well, it’s getting a bit hokey here.
Part One is all about the individual stories. Our Imperial (Double) Agent is assigned to act as Envoy for the Republic, and a Jedi, Sith, and dishonored former RC Commando who have all fought against the mysterious Mandalorian Dao Stryver in his search for a vessel that the Hutts are selling to the highest bidder all come looking for it. It shouldn’t be a surprise for many gamers or Star Wars fans that nobody plans to pay for this- seriously, when was the last time you barged into someone’s house and paid for the loot you found by destroying the crib?
The battle scenes here are some of the most elaborate in the book, and for good reason. What Empire fan never wished for that battle between Luke and Boba Fett? How about a three-way battle between Luke, Fett and Vader? You don’t quite get that here, of course, but it’s close enough, and close enough to wet the pants appetite of anybody interested in enacting their own similar battle in The Old Republic.
After crashing everybody’s plans and turning a private brawl into a palace-wide free-for-all, the droids (which may or may not have come to evolve into the predecessors of one Vuffi Raa) begin screaming that they do not recognize anybody present’s authority. Despite the fact that it is becoming painfully obvious that these droids have less programmed lines than a Buzz Lightyear Piggy Bank, Ax is particularly peeved by this (possibly because she seems to be number one on their Target List), going into Kaiyo Ken mode and asking them “Whose Authority do you recognize?” just as repetitively.
They don’t answer, of course, but it is a nice bit of foreshadowing for what happens later on. The battle concludes after some God Mode Force Shields on Ax’s part, but the fight that everyone came for- the origin of the ship, and hence the mysterious hex droids- goes on. The characters struggle, and we learn that Eldon Ax was not God Moding, but actually using game mechanics. In typical fashion (though written believably, and with a lampshade hanging), every faction does the impossible and traces the droids back to their home: a star system in an almost impossible location.
Once there, the Republic division attempts to negotiate with the columnists, unaware that the droids are all that remains. When the droids use up all of their lines and attack, someone on board points out that their actions can only be Madness!
Dao Stryver exposits the horrifying truth: Hex droids build one another at a fast enough rate that in twenty years, they could wipe out all life in the galaxy (as long as you throw in some hyperbole and questionable math, but the general concept and threat still stands). What does it take to face this deadly threat? A name drop!
Actually, Fatal Alliance does remarkably well in that, despite several (verging between “just enough” and “too many”) discussions about the alliance between Empire and Republic being doomed from the start, I don’t believe the word “Fatal” is used once in the text of the novel. You certainly get the point that this operation is what the book is titled for, and it comes just shy of beating you over the head with it.
As the operation to defeat the Hex droids in one decisive battle gets under way, things get a bit more hectic. The party is separate again, and in multiple theaters. It feels like Sean Williams is going out of his way here to give as diverse a battle as possible, which is a Star Wars staple dating back to Jedi that many feel have been missing from recent works, and the action rate accelerates to something similar to the climaxes of the prequel novels, making it a little confusing if you are not paying close attention. This is also where we get our temptation story, Larin’s wrap-up, and our deux de machina. The story closes itself off pretty well, and the third part of the book is dedicated to giving us five separate epilogues, each one well done and wrapping up that character’s plot in a way that makes a sequel unnecessary, but nonetheless very welcome.
Now that I’ve gotten past the linear story, there are a few tangential things that bothered me. The first, and one that I anticipate sharing with certain readers (such as MrNomAnor) is the way Tasaa Bareesh has a non-Hutt name and her species is never actually named. It’s as though Williams was given a Hutt, knows it’s a horrible name for a Hutt, and just refers to her tangentially as though she is a Hutt so that readers can’t tell.
The next complaint, though, is the author’s fault entirely. Because when you get an author that’s received the type of hate regarding characters that Sean Williams has in the past two years, you should not need to throw down the book, groan, and swear up and down that he’s better than that. This book proves that Sean Williams is a talented author, yet he can’t help but write stupid! It’s plots like this- plots like “the first time I laid eyes on her, I fell in love because she’s the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen, even though a major point of her character is the way she punishes people like me without a second thought”- that make character interactions drop to an abysmal level. Think Death Star, but with less convincing role players. After coming off the recent release of Allies and its character focus, this is particularly jarring. (See? I can say something nice about Allies!)
There is character development, though, despite that one particular point remaining stupid throughout. We get an example of what might have happened in an equivalent situation to Starkiller and Juno’s last interaction in The Force Unleashed and Eldon Ax, despite her Animorphs-esque name, gets quite a wealth of development. Personally, I felt the two leading women were the most interesting characters, and they both got some decent development, though Ax probably walked away with the most changes (both internal and external).
The character development and the action are by far the best parts of this novel. Each main character, including two that remain mostly in the shadows, is fleshed out, with a full back story that is revealed in a relevant manner and leaves room for growth after the novel. Some questions are raised in the process, but none that ruin the ability of a reader to enjoy what is revealed in here and now. Fatal Alliance does what it is required to do for the sake of The Old Republic without losing its inherent Star Wars qualities. There’s nothing perfect about it, but nobody read the blurb expecting this tie-in to be the next Mindor or Rule of Two- it’s just not focused enough for it. Settle for a good Star Wars book, and read it.
Advanced Reader Copy courtesy of Del Rey