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While I try my best to keep my reviews spoiler-free, everybody has a different definition of what spoiler means. There are no major plot details in this review. However if you’re worried about ruining the full experience of discovering these characters for yourself, here is my short and sweet review: This book is amazing. Go read it now.
Bloodline is the second Star Wars novel by author Claudia Gray and the first “adult” novel through Del Rey. As the author of the fantastic young adult novel Lost Stars (go read it if you haven’t), I was excited to see Gray earn the opportunity to write again in the Star Wars universe. Set six years before The Force Awakens, Bloodline is a rarity on two fronts: it’s a novel about politics and a novel about Leia Organa. Thinking back to the hundreds of old Legends novels, many included Leia but few ever focused on her (Razor’s Edge being the most notable). The level of political intrigue in the Legends timeline varied greatly, but I can really only think of one that focused completely on politics and that was Darth Plagueis. To write a book focused on politics, Leia is the obvious choice of a main character, so it was great to see these two ideas come together.
Ever since this new Story Group-driven canon was announced, I’ve been advocating for material featuring new characters. There are plenty of great new characters to be found in this book, but it struck me that Leia is really a new character as well. I hate to keep comparing these new novels to the old ones. But after 20 years of reading post-RotJ Legends material, it’s hard to shake my understanding of the characters as they were in this time period. In Legends, Leia was the most ill-defined and underused character out of the Big Three. She was in the books more often than not, but she never really stood on her own. It was always “The wife of Han Solo, Chief of State Leia Organa Solo” or “The sister of Luke Skywalker, Jedi Knight Leia Organa Solo.” Her character was frequently defined by comparison to the men in her life instead of her standing on her own merits.
With Bloodline, Gray had a huge opportunity not only to define the political state of the New Republic, but also to redefine how we have come to view post-Return of the Jedi Leia. This is Gray’s greatest accomplishment. This is a book that is 100% Leia from cover to cover. Much like her character in A New Hope, this is not a damsel in distress. She is an accomplished politician, a decorated war-time leader, and she doesn’t need rescuing. This is a Leia that is defined by her own actions. Even her interactions with her husband serve to highlight her independence and the importance of her work in the Senate. She is now Senator Leia Organa, who happens to be married to Han Solo.
Bloodline was also full of great new characters. First and foremost among these was Ransolm Casterfo, up-and-coming senator in the Centrist faction. He is a proponent of a strong central government, while Leia and the Populists are in favor of individual planets or systems keeping much of their independence. Essentially, he is the Alexander Hamilton to Leia’s Thomas Jefferson. First impressions of Casterfo are poor to say the least as he and Leia are tasked with a joint investigation into a criminal cartel. They butt heads like any good political rivals would, but their respect for each other (and the reader’s respect for Casterfo) grows as his true self is revealed throughout the book. Without spoiling anything, the conversations Casterfo and Leia have are some of the most important and emotionally impactful of the book. He was instantly one of my favorite new characters. The only issue I had was with his silly name (even by Star Wars standards), but that is a minor quibble.
We were also introduced to two new pilots: Greer Sonnel and Joph Seastriker. Greer is the personal aide to Senator Organa as well as her pilot. She is confident, competent, and loyal. Though she plays a minor role compared to Leia and Casterfo, she is not without depth. Gray gives her a compelling and moving subplot which adds rather than distracts from the main narrative. Joph is young and cocky, everything an X-wing pilot should be. Through him, we see the rogue spirit of the Rebellion hasn’t completely died off in the New Republic military. In fact, he reminds me of Gavin Darklighter in that he is talented ( if somewhat inexperienced), naive, and has a heart of gold. His story may not be very important going forward, but what he represents as a pilot who is willing to shirk authority for what he feel is right certainly is important.
The wonderful characters were my second favorite part of Bloodline. A close second, but second to be sure. My favorite part was the excellent sense of history and how it all connected with the rest of the canon. We learn a lot about Leia’s relationship with her past and that is about the only way I can describe it without getting into spoilers. It’s safe to say, though, the history in this book is some of the most emotionally devastating reading I’ve ever done when it comes to Star Wars. In just a few chapters worth of writing, Gray manages to connect half a century worth of Star Wars history better than it has ever been done before.
Bloodline is a serious book. It’s a book about the unpleasantness of politics, how the sausage gets made and how it impacts the personal lives of those involved. It isn’t a love story, but it is a story about love. It’s a story about the love a woman has for the very thing she helped build. It’s a story about her love for her family and her family’s love for her. And despite all these serious and sometimes overwhelming feelings, it retains that sense of adventure, that essential Star Wars-ness that makes a good story great. I’m going to take this back to Legends one more time because Bloodline isn’t just the best book of the new canon. It’s one of the best Star Wars books I’ve ever read.