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Sunday, April 30, 2017

Book Review: Aftermath (Book #1 in the Aftermath trilogy) (A “Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens” book) by Chuck Wendig

Right off the bat, I have to admit that I definitely went on quite a rollercoaster ride when it came to me simply trying to decide whether or not I should actually read Chuck Wendig’s Aftermath. When I first saw Aftermath at Barnes & Noble back when it was first released in 2015, I immediately became intrigued by the book and interested in reading it after seeing the cover of the book, and reading the plot description that’s on the cover of the book. However, seeing that Aftermath had gotten a lot of mixed, if not bad, reviews really made me reluctant to read this book. I’m a big fan of the Collider YouTube channel’s weekly show, Collider Jedi Council, and Kristian Harloff, who’s one of the show’s regular panelists, repeatedly criticizing Aftermath on Jedi Council, even calling it garbage at one point, really scared me away from reading Aftermath even more than I already had been for a very long time. However, I ultimately started to have some serious doubts about whether or not I should actually avoid reading Aftermath simply because it had gotten a lot of mixed reviews, and because Kristian Harloff had repeatedly trashed the book, after I read James Luceno’s book, Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel. I read Catalyst partly because Kristian Harloff had repeatedly raved about the book, and called it a must read; and I ended up hating it when I read it. The fact that I hated Catalyst really made me question if I should actually let Kristian Harloff’s thoughts on Aftermath be the primary basis of whether or not I decided to read it. Ultimately, I decided to read Aftermath, and I have to admit that I went into reading this book with low expectations.

With that being said, while Aftermath does have its fair share of flaws, I ended up really enjoying this book for the most part, and I’m so glad that I read it. After actually reading Aftermath and seeing for myself what I thought of the book, I definitely have to disagree with most of the comments that Kristian Harloff has made regarding Aftermath. I think it’s safe to say that my taste in Star Wars books definitely differs from his to a certain degree, and I personally feel like people in general have been way too harsh when it comes to their critiques of this book. I definitely regret letting the fact that Aftermath has gotten a lot of bad or mixed reviews be the reason that I didn’t read it sooner, because I’ve never let a TV show, movie, or in this case a book, getting bad or mixed reviews keep me from giving it a chance, and enjoying it in the past. I honestly have no idea why I let that keep me from reading this book back when it first came out, and I immediately became interested in it.

Perhaps it’s because I’ve always considered myself to be more of a Star Trek fan than a Star Wars fan; even though I’ve been a fan of both Star Trek and Star Wars since the prequel trilogy was released, and I was a kid at the time. I definitely know very little about all of the Star Wars books that are out there, and I’ve been trying to prioritize which Star Wars books I want to read based on which books have been recommended by various Star Wars fans on YouTube. I’m just now really getting into reading Star Wars books, and I ultimately feel like Aftermath definitely succeeded in getting me truly interested in reading more Star Wars books, which is definitely something that Catalyst failed to do. For the record, I’ve recently finished reading Timothy Zahn’s new book, Thrawn, and I hope to post a review for the book relatively soon, but I digress.

While Aftermath definitely succeeded in getting me excited about reading Star Wars books, whereas Catalyst failed to do so, Chuck Wendig’s writing style did take some getting used to. There were definitely times throughout the book where Wendig’s writing style seemed rather odd to me, but the further I got into the book, the more I got used to his writing style; and the less I was bothered by it.

As far as I’m concerned, Aftermath’s greatest strength is its characters. I felt like Chuck Wendig did a really great job of creating interesting and compelling new characters that I really came to care about as I was reading Aftermath. My favorite character in the book is without question, Sinjir Rath Velus, who was a former loyalty officer who served the Galactic Empire until the Battle of Endor. Following the destruction of the second Death Star, he abandoned his post and fled from the Empire. I felt like Wendig did a great job of writing Sinjir in such a way that he was a complex character that I honestly found rather amusing at times. There were definitely times when I laughed out loud at the things that Sinjir said as I was listening to Aftermath on audiobook. I know that Wendig apparently received criticism from people regarding the fact that Sinjir is gay, but being bisexual myself; I personally really appreciated the fact that there was a gay character in Aftermath. I felt like Wendig did a pretty good job of handling that aspect of who Sinjir was as a character in the sense that the fact that Sinjir is gay is just one aspect of the character. Sinjir ultimately isn’t defined by his sexual orientation, which I think is always great to see when it comes to any fictional character who happens to be a part of the LGBT community, not just Sinjir.

Grand Admiral Rae Sloane is also another character that I really enjoyed whenever she was featured throughout the book. Sinjir is my favorite character in Aftermath, but Sloane was definitely my second favorite character in the book. While I haven’t read John Jackson Miller’s cannon novel, A New Dawn, which originally introduced the character Grand Admiral Rae Sloane into the Star Wars universe, I thought that Chuck Wendig did a great job of writing Sloane as a very strong and nuanced character. After seeing what Sloane was like in Aftermath, I’m definitely interested in reading A New Dawn.

I also really enjoyed the parts of the book that featured Wedge Antillies, who was on a low-key reconnaissance mission for the New Republic and was searching Outer Rim worlds for signs of the Empire when his communications are jammed, and he runs into Sloane. I also thought it was great that Mon Mothma, Han Solo and Chewbacca were featured in Aftermath, even if they were only featured in the book in an incredibly minimal capacity. That being said, one thing that really surprised me about Aftermath is that my enjoyment of the book wasn’t dependent on the inclusion of characters from the movies. I honestly enjoyed the parts of the book that focused on the characters that exist only in the expanded Star Wars universe more than I enjoyed the parts that focused on characters from the movies. While Wendig’s writing might have some issues, I think it’s a real testament to him as a writer that he succeeded in getting me so invested in what happened to Sinjir, Norra Wexley, and Grand Admiral Rae Sloane throughout the book that I enjoyed the parts of the book that focused on them, even more than I enjoyed the parts of the book that featured characters that I know and love from the movies.

If I had to say who my least favorite character in the book was, it would definitely be Norra’s son, Temmin Wexley. I’ll admit that there were times that I enjoyed Temmin as a character; but for the most part, I just thought that he was incredibly whiny and annoying. Don’t get me wrong, I can kind of understand Temmin having feelings of resentment towards Norra for leaving him to go be a part of the Rebel Alliance for an extended period of time when he was just a child, and then when Norra finally returns home years later, she seems to still think of Temmin as being the same young child he was when she left him; even though he’s a teenager when she returns home. It also doesn’t help that the Galactic Empire had taken his dad, Brentin, away, too. That being said, what made Temmin’s behavior towards Norra somewhat frustrating to me is that it wasn’t like she had up and abandoned him so she could go off and party, or for some other selfish reason. She left to go serve in a war, which is definitely a noble cause. I can kind of understand Temmin not being able to fully understand the various reasons why his parents weren’t around when he was growing up, and him feeling a certain amount of anger and resentment towards them when he was a child. However, I really wish that he had gained at least a little bit more of an understanding and maturity when it came to having to deal with his parents not being around as he got older. That being said, while Temmin did kind of annoy me at times, I felt like Wendig did a really good job of writing the range of emotions that Temmin expressed throughout Aftermath in a way that felt very realistic to me.

Personally, I felt like the overall pacing of the plot of Aftermath was handled very well. The plot had plenty of action that consistently kept me interested and engaged in the book, but at the same time, Wendig also did a great job of having the plot not be too fast paced. While this book definitely has some issues, I still thought that Wendig did a great job of writing Aftermath in such a way that I never got bored with the plot of the book at any point as I was listening to it on audiobook; which definitely happened quite a bit when I listened to James Luceno’s book, Catalyst, on audiobook.

Aside from having very mixed feelings about Temmin, the other thing that I wasn’t a huge fan of when it comes to my thoughts on Aftermath is definitely the interludes. While I didn’t completely hate the interludes, they were way too hit or miss (Mostly miss) for my taste. For the most part, I felt like the interludes were really weird and oftentimes hard to follow. Admittedly, I felt like some of the interludes came across as being a somewhat decent attempt at doing some world building in the book. That being said, for the most part, I just felt like the interludes disrupted the flow of the book’s pacing; which as I’ve already said, I thought the book’s pacing was otherwise handled very well. While I didn’t think that the interludes were entirely bad, they ultimately just didn’t work for me personally, and I feel like Aftermath would have been better off without them.

All in all, while Chuck Wendig’s Aftermath has its fair share of flaws, it definitely succeeded in getting me interested in reading more of the Star Wars books that are out there. As far as I’m concerned, Aftermath’s greatest strength is definitely the new characters that are featured in the book. Sinjir definitely stole the book in a lot of ways for me personally, but Grand Admiral Rae Sloane and Norra Wexley were also both great characters that I really enjoyed. While I didn’t completely hate Temmin, he was still my least favorite character in the book. Aside from Temmin being my least favorite character in the book, the interludes were honestly the only other thing that I didn’t really like all that much about Aftermath.

Perhaps people who’ve read both this book and James Luceno’s Catalyst will think that this is a strange and potentially unpopular opinion to have, but I definitely found Aftermath to be an all-around much more interesting and enjoyable book compared to how I felt about Catalyst. I honestly don’t think that Aftermath deserves the amount of hate that it has gotten from people. Reading Aftermath not only got me really excited about reading the rest of the Aftermath trilogy, it also succeeded in getting me interested in reading more books that are a part of the expanded Star Wars universe in general. As I mentioned at the beginning of this review, I recently finished reading Timothy Zahn’s new book, Thrawn, and the next cannon Star Wars book that I’m planning to read is Lost Stars by Claudia Gray. However, I’m definitely planning on reading Life Debt and Empire’s End after that.

That being said, my final score for Aftermath is 8 out of 10.

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