I first attempted to read the New Jedi Order series in high school … and it didn’t go well. The reason, I’ve found out, is that the audiobook of the first novel, Vector Prime, is catastrophically abridged. Earlier this year, I got back into Star Wars, so I decided to try NJO again. I had better results — Vector Prime is readable, but not great. It serves as a setup for the rest of the series. The Dark Tide duology was much better, though it seemed to contain a little too much “monster-of-the-week” type adventures for the characters. So I went into Hero’s Trial — the first book in James Luceno’s Agents of Chaos duology — cautiously optimistic that the upward trend would continue.
Hero’s Trial gives us the first real glimpse of the NJO Han Solo, dealing with the aftermath of Chewbacca’s death. In the Dark Tide books, he’s almost unbearably emo; it’s understandable, but not necessarily ideal for a story. It’s good to see Han back in his element here. He’s upset and slightly more low-key in certain areas, but it works for the kind of characterization that Luceno uses here. Han is still too standoffish with his family for my tastes. I kind of wish that Luceno went in a different direction than the cliche middle-age crisis (though Han fiddling with having an affair would be interesting!), but there are only a few moments in the book where I found myself rolling my eyes.
The big picture seems to be fairly inconsequential until the very end. A Yuzhang Vong priestess, Elan, and her familiar, Vergere, decide to act as defectors to trick the Jedi into a meeting, where Elan can slaughter the lot of them. This defection eventually attracts some unsavory characters, who, of course, have connections to Han (what unsavory SW character doesnt?). This defection leads the Galactic Alliance and Han Solo to (separately) track the defectors and fend off Vong. There’s a pretty big conflict at the end, with about four or five separate groups fighting for different things. It’s exciting, but starts to strain credulity when the Vong begin fighting against their own fake defectors being returned to them.
One of the best new additions that Hero’s Trial introduces is Droma, a male Ryn (new species, looks a bit like an older, but not ancient, Dark Elf) . Droma, in Chewbacca’s absence, is the perfect foil for Han. He’s smart, slightly sarcastic (but not annoyingly so), and mystical if not superstitious. He doesn’t put up with Han’s crap, which is exactly what he needs at this point in the story. Of course, Leia would probably be even better in this position — but so far, NJO has been pretty unwilling to have her do anything of consequence.
Overall, Hero’s Trial is a good read — not great, but not bad either. I’m still waiting for that killer book: one that connects on every level, and makes me say wow. But for now, it’s entertaining and continues the SW story. I’ll give it a 3/5.