Review: Choices of One by Timothy Zahn
(Mild spoilers ahead.)
In the wake of the destruction of the Death Star, an Imperial governor on the edge of the Unknown Regions has approached the Alliance leadership and offered up a well mined moon as a new home base for them. But can he be trusted, or is this actually a well-set trap for the Rebels who are now being actively hunted by Darth Vader.
Meanwhile, the Emperor has gotten word of his possible defection, and so dispatches Mara Jade to determine truth and respond with the appropriate action. Mara knows she’s working in the unknown where all potential allies may be working against her – so she brings along the former Imperial soldiers now known as the Hand of Judgment as backup.
The Rebellion sends along various teams to conduct their own investigations as well. Luke Skywalker assigned to the rebel ambassador in hammering out the details of the potential deal, but finds himself wrapped up in a plot way over his head, where he’s being set up as a patsy. While looking into the potential base of operations, Han and Leia come across another secret base within the mines, one that might have something to do with a warlord named Nuso Esva operating in the region.
Nuso Esva is seen as a huge potential threat by Captain Thrawn, but who is actually the better tactician, and who will outmaneuver whom?
I found Choices of One to be very refreshing read, in fact I think it’s Tim Zahn’s best book since Vision of the Future. Not only that, he proves again why he is the author to beat in the Expanded Universe (EU) with this novel. There is a fantastic moment – I hesitate to call it a twist – just near the end of the book that puts the whole thing on a whole new level. It’s one of the only Star Wars books I can ever remember wanting to go back and reread immediately.
The plot is a little like a cold war spy film, with intrigues and a tense undertone to the whole affair. This is the kind of book that someone who has walked away from the EU (or never tried it) could easily pick up and enjoy.
But for long-time readers, many minor plot points start to bear fruit in this book. Hints that have been made in the past about the Chiss facing other threats start to come to a head. Zahn addresses retcons he himself has made over the years. He addresses the Empire of the Hand and we start to see how and why it was created. There’s a discrepancy that exists (though somewhat unacknowledged) in the 501st (during the movie era versus far later in the timeline) which is given a possible explanation in Choices of One. And there’s a few really cool, unexpected cameos early in the book.
The Hand of Judgment has more personality than I remember from Allegiance, where Zahn first introduced them. These former Stormtroopers are fully realized characters now, interesting people with individual characteristics this time around. After Allegiance I’d have been happy to never hear from those characters again, but upon finishing Choices of One I find myself hoping that we pick up with these characters in another book.
Thrawn is also given a worthy nemesis in warlord Nuso Esva, a character whose presence is felt throughout the book. For those, like me, who’ve questioned some of Thrawn’s actions in his appearances since the original Thrawn Trilogy and how different his character has seemed at times – Thrawn in Choices of One makes far more sense to me, and matches well with the character I remember.
It is also said that Zahn mostly just builds off his own prior writings/additions to the Star Wars Expanded Universe – and yes, that can be said about this book as well. But as I said near the beginning of this revuew, that kind of take can be kind of refreshing – he takes the time to fill in areas of the saga and ultimately it makes his books far more approachable for new readers (or lapsed readers) than other Star Wars books might be.
The hardest part for me in writing this review has been in keeping away from the surprise, it’s something any reader should do their best to avoid being spoiled on because it’s worth discovering on your own while reading it. Choices of One is a great “one-shot” single book adventure – even as it could be both a continuation of the story from Allegiance and could be used as a stepping stone to the next novel, should Zahn choose to use it as such. It has all the classic elements of Star Wars in it, with some great space battles and lightsaber-wielding; it’s a rousing swashbuckling adventure. This is one of my favorite Star Wars novels, hands down, and I highly recommended it both to long time readers and those who are just looking for a single Star Wars story.