Packed with action, adventure, therapy Ewoks, and more than a couple Wookiees, Chuck Wendig’s Life Debt is perhaps more like the book fans expected from the first novel in the trilogy, Aftermath, than Aftermath was itself. Picking up a few months after the first installment, Life Debt follows Norra Wexley’s eclectic team—which is more established than at the end of Aftermath, but not necessarily any more cohesive—as it attempts to track down and aid Han Solo in his goal to liberate Kashyyyk and the Wookiees from a fractured Empire’s grasp.
Life Debt is a fun, action-packed ride with a story that feels much stronger and more immersive than its predecessor. Full disclosure: I enjoyed the first novel, but I found the story holding the book together weak and somewhat empty at times. Life Debt, however, seems to have fixed that issue, with a story that holds tension almost the entirety of the novel. More of the galaxy leading up to The Force Awakens is revealed, and Life Debt links not only to the films, but to other novels and comics from the new canon. To say this story gives the Star Wars universe a feeling of cohesion is an understatement—Wendig ties together a mix of new and old characters in a way that could come across as forced cameos, but instead feels natural and wonderful. His love for the entire universe and the characters that inhabit it is clear in his craft, whether or not one is a fan of his style.
Speaking of the style, though Life Debt is still third person present and is still written with Wendig’s particular flair, and love of short sentences, the prose of this novel feels far more accessible and less eccentric than that of Aftermath’s, as if Wendig has settled more into writing Star Wars. For those who disliked the style of Aftermath, Life Debt’s may potentially be an easier read—his writing’s peculiarities disappeared to me as I was reading. Though his penchant for short sentences can feel repetitive and off-beat in slower scenes, the shorter sentences work well for high tension, which in turn works well for this novel. Of course, if third person present isn’t for you, this novel will probably still not be for you.
The characters populating this novel are colourful in Wendig’s way, from the leading cast to the side characters who appear for a couple pages within the interludes. They each have vibrant personalities, though they can at times sound similar in voice. This is the most apparent with old-guard characters, like Han Solo, who have established voices for fans. Wendig’s writing of Han is hit-and-miss for me; at times. It’s like I can hear Han’s voice in my head speaking the words on the page; other times, however, the tone just isn’t there, the words reading more like Wendig’s own voice rather than Han’s. Regardless, the integration of the cinematic characters with new canon characters created both by Wendig and others spices up the main cast like Norra and her team. Norra’s interactions with Wedge in particular are a strange—yet delightful—mix of both new and old, and they helped me warm up to Norra a little more. (Related: I would love Wendig to write an X-wing book, or two).
Other characters, such as Sinjir and Jas, gain more character development which will no doubt lead to interesting places in Empire’s End. Temmin is still very Temmin, and Mister Bones is still hilariously obtuse. There tends to be some cliche within Life Debt, whether tired or not is up to debate—though the knowledge a situation will likely happen because that’s what a certain cliche dictates does ramp up emotions in some chapters.
The development of Rae Sloane and her slice of the Empire’s remains is certainly interesting, and there are a lot of hints towards the formation of what exactly might happen to form the First Order, including the mention of certain characters linked to said faction. The mysterious Fleet Admiral from Aftermath does get revealed, and I’m honestly not sure what I expected when it came to that reveal or how I feel about it now. In some ways, Life Debt creates sympathy for Sloane, even with the knowledge of what she controls, what she has done in the past, and what she would do to regain power for the Empire now.
As for the interludes, which of course are still a convention within this novel, they’re more fascinating vignettes into what the galaxy is like at the current time than anything else, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. One interlude even introduces a non-binary character, the first canon non-binary character in Star Wars as far as I know. Damn Wendig, back at it again with that diversity.
And of course, the diversity for me is a huge plus in any new Star Wars material. It’s part of why I personally love the new canon so much, and why I think the Aftermath books are so good for the GFFA—however, Life Debt may do more than most other Star Wars novels, but it’s still borderline bare-minimum. Where are the lesbians? My biggest complaint.
Life Debt isn’t a top-three Star Wars novel for me, but it’s a fast romp and quite a blast, keeping that lighthearted and humorous Star Wars tone despite the at-times darker mood of the novel. If this is the level of creativity and storytelling Wendig is bringing to the table, I have a feeling Empire’s End is going to be a great Star Wars story. If you liked Aftermath, you’ll love Life Debt. If you hated Aftermath, well… I’m not promising anything.
You can buy Life Debt on Amazon now.