The following review contains very minor, non-plot related spoilers such as locations, species, and characters that appear in the novel.
Hot on the heels of the success of her debut Star Wars novel, Lost Stars, Claudia Gray makes a triumphant return in her new novel Star Wars: Bloodline.
Lost Stars gained critical and fan acclaim as the Young Adult novel entry in the Journey to The Force Awakens publishing program. In that book Gray displayed a familiarity with the universe and deftness at character and story that no doubt caused Lucasfilm and Del Rey to take notice.
As revealed by @DelReyStarWars on Twitter, Star Wars: Bloodline is set six years before the events of The Force Awakens.
— Star Wars Books (@DelReyStarWars) October 10, 2015
I am noting this because I don’t believe we actually get a fixed date within the text of the novel.
The novel is described as follows by the publisher’s summary:
ABOUT BLOODLINE (STAR WARS)
From the New York Times bestselling author of Star Wars: Lost Stars comes a thrilling novel set in the years before the events of Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
WITNESS THE BIRTH OF THE RESISTANCE
When the Rebellion defeated the Empire in the skies above Endor, Leia Organa believed it was the beginning to a lasting peace. But after decades of vicious infighting and partisan gridlock in the New Republic Senate, that hope seems like a distant memory.
Now a respected senator, Leia must grapple with the dangers that threaten to cripple the fledgling democracy—from both within and without. Underworld kingpins, treacherous politicians, and Imperial loyalists are sowing chaos in the galaxy. Desperate to take action, senators are calling for the election of a First Senator. It is their hope that this influential post will bring strong leadership to a divided galaxy.
As the daughter of Darth Vader, Leia faces with distrust the prospect of any one person holding such a powerful position—even when supporters suggest Leia herself for the job. But a new enemy may make this path Leia’s only option. For at the edges of the galaxy, a mysterious threat is growing. . . .
I am pleased to say that Bloodline is one of the best (if not the best) Leia-focused story we have gotten. It blows away Marvel’s Princess Leia mini-series as well as the older Legends novels such as Tatooine Ghost, The Courtship of Princess Leia, and Razor’s Edge.
I think I can say this safely without spoiling anything, if you go into this book expecting lightsabers and massive space battles, this isn’t the novel you’re looking for. Bloodline is light on action, but high on suspense. This is a political thriller with a healthy dose of mystery and a splash of action and adventure. It feels a bit like Tom Clancy writing in the Star Wars universe.
The story centers around Leia working on two different yet connected problems in her role as a Senator of the New Republic and borderline illegal investigations into a criminal organization that leads to startling and dangerous revelations.
Gray makes an interesting choice in how she deploys film characters in this novel–Leia is really the only main character that we see in the films that receives significant page time. This allows for the introduction of new characters for the readers to get to know, but it also has an in-universe benefit of isolating and forcing Leia to rely on these new characters in the course of the story which pays off in terms of storytelling very well.
If you are familiar with history and the development of the American political system, I think you will get real kick out of this novel as there are some interesting parallels to what is happening within the New Republic. It would be hard not to draw a correlation between George Washington and Mon Mothma. The central political conflict centers around the gridlock and dispute between the two political factions the Populists (who want a weaker central government and more local control) and the Centrists (who want a stronger central government an a new leadership post, the First Senator).
The star of the story is Senator Leia Organa. Not Leia Solo, not Leia Skywalker, but Leia Organa. The political and familial legacy of Bail and Breha Organa are all over this story. At war with the legacy of House Organa is the dark legacy of Darth Vader, which Leia must also wrestle with in the story. Gray writes a Leia who is a full person–for all of her positive characteristics she still has her flaws. Leia’s biggest flaw is probably her temper, which we see on display a few times in the story. Leia makes mistakes and suffers the consequences of those mistakes; she is a hero but one with some obvious scars. She makes decisions that will come back to haunt her, but in the end she is a character that is doing things for the right reasons.
Gray introduces a number of new characters in the novel, but the three that really stood out to me were Joph Seastriker, Greer Sonnel, and Ransolm Casterfo. Joph is a young New Republic pilot who falls into Senator Organa’s orbit. He’s good-hearted and brave but a bit naive and inexperienced. Greer is Leia’s Senatorial assistant and sometimes pilot, who comes from a very cool new culture from the planet Pamarthe. Ransolm is a young Centrist Senator from Riosa; he is an extremely complex character with an interesting taste in collectibles.
Joph is fun and he provides some youthful enthusiasm. In some ways he reminds me of Bardan Jusik from the Republic Commando novels–a character who is introduced to a new culture. In Joph’s case he goes from the world of the military to the world of the politics.
Greer is a great character in her own right but also provides some great character and story links that play into the characters of Han and Leia as well. She hails from a planet, Pamarthe, which seems like the bastard child of Mandalore and Adumar.
Ransolm is a character I love. There’s so much to pull apart here, but I don’t want to spoil it. I will say that he has a penchant for collecting items associated with the Empire. Both his justification and the way they are displayed strikes me as a little strained. I have some trouble believing that 24 years after the Battle of Endor this behavior would be tolerated by a New Republic Senator. But this is a relatively minor complaint.
In addition to these characters, Gray does some really cool world-building. Setting up the galaxy, we get more insight into the relationship between Han and Leia, and more information on Luke and Ben, Mon Mothma, and other film characters. We also get really cool galaxy-building such as the Elder Houses and information on the Hutts, the Niktos, Ryloth, and for the careful reader an idea of what planets could go on to become part of the First Order.
I am intrigued as to what is going on with the Hutts and I hope the Elder Houses is something that gets more play in a future story.
Reading the book I will admit I was a bit nervous as to how Gray was handling Han and Leia’s relationship; it felt rather odd at first, but as the novel develops it really rounds out and explains this situation nicely. There is one major action scene in the novel in chapter 13 which USA Today released as an excerpt, but other than this and one other brief scene there is a dearth of action in the first half of the novel. If I have one major complaint with the book it is probably this–for pacing’s sake, and for a segment of the readership, the novel could have used another action scene earlier in the book. The other issue I have with the novel is disappointment in that we do not see Snoke or a character that could plausibly become the Snoke we know in The Force Awakens.
If you are jonesing for more The Force Awakens-era storytelling, Bloodline answers a lot of questions we had before and after watching The Force Awakens, but it also presents us with more questions. Some of the questions the novel brings up may tie into Rian Johnson’s Episode VIII. According to Lucasfilm Editor Jennifer Heddle;
Some of the story ideas and elements in this novel came straight from Rian Johnson, director of the forthcoming Episode VIII. We are indebted to him for his creativity and generosity!
In closing, perhaps the highest compliment I can pay this novel is that I will be waiting and hoping to see the story of characters such as Joph, Greer, and Ransolm continue in future books.
In other words, what are you waiting for? Go buy this book.