Before I begin the review, let me level set. I approach every book I read with a set of expectations based on a host of things, from the type of book, the genre, the author, the subject matter. Some tales don’t need to work very hard for me, the bar isn’t set too high. Other tales have an impossible task, face insurmountable odds, unrealistic expectations. Those works surrounding Boba Fett are the ones that, like the hunter himself, have the toughest of tasks set before them. I’m pleased to say that A Practical Man, like it’s subject matter, Boba Fett, delivers the merchandise and scores a direct hit.
The short story is a difficult format to master. You have limited space to convey ample information. Retconning is a more daunting task. Doing both in the same narrow gauntlet is certainly a challenge and one well met. Karen Travis succeeds in bringing together many disparate elements into a cohesive whole that imparts unity to the story line of the Mandalorians and Fett, joining them with the larger back story cannon of the rest of the Star Wars novel universe.
The story centers around Boba Fett as Mand'alore, and another Mando warrior, Goran Beviin. Fett, though Mandalore, is not in touch with the culture, while Beviin represents for them. You learn the culture because it influences everything Beviin does, how he acts and reacts. You also see this through the actions of the other Mando warriors, including a young girl of thirteen. She’s gone through the right of passage and is out to fight with the adults. In a way, reading Beviin and Fett made me wonder, had Jango been different, had Fett been adopted into the culture, would he have become more like Beviin? It seemed an interesting contrast, both hard core warriors, but temperament and emotional / cultural connection seemed the thing that set them apart.
The Yuuzhan Vong are first making entry in to the galaxy, and luckily, first contact comes with the Mandalorians. Fett quickly realizes the devastating menace of this enemy, and in the guts of their ship, he begins to see himself as connected to the Mandalorians, if only to protect them as part of his role in Mand'alore. Later in the story another turning point occurs, drawing him to make a connection with his past that joins him to his future and what is to come. Fett bears witness to the perverse idolization of pain and suffering unique to these grotesque invaders, and in doing so, uncovers his own humanity. All of this is done with a deft hand, organically woven into the story, so you feel it happening as the character feels it happen. Very powerful stuff.
The action is well written, the information subtly, artfully communicated. Strange to say, I liked the Mando Commandos (*wink*) more than Fett in this story, though Boba does have solid portrayal. The action was spot on, and there was just the right balance of dialogue, description and introspection. The moments of instrospection that are Fett’s and Fett’s alone are character shaping. The amount of growth he undergoes in this compressed moment in time is phenomenal.
I particularly liked the way the Mando women were handled. They were portrayed as tough, rather than bitchy. A lot of writers attempt to do tough and wind up creating whiny prima donnas. They especially fall flat when they try a hand at women in the military. As a former female soldier I can appreciate the way Ms. Travis handled them. They had both martial and feminine concerns, and maintained a level of professionalism at all times. I’m very much looking forward to reading more about Mandos in general, and the women warriors in particular.
The other interesting thing was the incorporation of Mando’a , in phrases, that are then explained, but not in a pedantic way.
While I would love nothing better than to go on about so many of the high points, and there are many, I couldn’t do that without spoiling the enjoyment other readers will get from making the discoveries themselves during the first read. The download contains extras, as well, including a very interesting interview with Karen Travis. This was an intense, enjoyable, well written, thoughtful tale.
For the die hards, worry not: Boba Fett is in excellent hands with Karen Travis. And you know me, you know what a hard ass I am about such things. I’m playing you straight on this one. A Practical Man is a must read for Fett fans, and well worth the time. It’s also a great set up for Bloodlines.