Thursday, September 07, 2006

Bloodlines by Karin Traviss: Review

I remember the first time I saw him, a mysterious menace in wildly colorful yet fearsome armor full of wear and battle scars. He stood somehow apart from the others, and indeed, I realized he was something far more than them. Why else would the Dark Lord of the Sith warn him so sternly off disintegrations? Curious, I was eager for more of him, and was not disappointed when he alone succeeds where all others, including the mighty and vast resources of the Empire, fail. He captures his prey, and brings him in for not one, but two bounties. Here was a man above the petty politics of galactic dominance and revolution, here was a man who belonged to himself, and his own code. A clever, calculating, interesting, dangerous man.

But really, who was he? I can’t say as I knew him then, nor in Return of the Jedi. I just knew he did not rest easy in the gullet of the Sarlacc. And then came the books to prove it, and the comics. Rumor ran rampant through the galaxy, and the more I learned of his future and his past, the less certain I became, the more questions I had. Who was the real man inside that armor? What was his past, what effect did it have upon him, what secrets hid behind the T-shaped visor. Did he have hopes and dreams? Did he know love? What did he feel of loss? Did he have any regrets in his life, and any plans for a future? Who was at the top of his most recent bring-em-back-alive-or-dead-list? Who was this enigmatic, lone figure untouched by mere mortal concerns? Who was, and, who is Boba Fett?

Bloodlines took the visor off, and the gloves, and revealed him. The book itself is more than just Fett, and yet, the epic span of his life, his tie in to critical galactic events (if even as a contract player), his reputation, the tragic events that shaped him, somehow these stand out in a stark, simple clarity and overshadow all else. The book begins in Boba Fett’s voice, as a passage from his private record, ten years after the Yuuzhan Von war. It’s a very visceral, intimate way to bring you into the tale, conveying an intensity and an immediacy that puts you for the first time, firmly behind the visor: you become the man on the inside. And you learn that he has some heavy things going on in his head. Fett thinks he’s dying, and identifies three things that he has to do: “Find out what happened to Ailyn. Another is to decide who’s going to be Mandalore when I’m gone. And the third, of course, is to cheat death. I’ve had a lot of practice at that.”

Indeed, Fett, more than most, cheats death at just about every turn in what we know of his life. But for all he’s cheated death, there are many things he’s never done, and he begins to consider these, and life in general, as he sets about completing his ‘to do’ list. His doctor has all but written him off, however, Boba Fett always has a back up plan. In addition to searching for his daughter, he determines he’ll need to track down one of the original cloners, a specialist in anti-aging and cutting edge genetic manipulation. Of course, the scientist, a Kaminoan, fled the planet long ago to align with the separatists. No problem. Fett doesn’t have much time, per his physician, but, he has enough time he figures to get his tasks accomplished. Remember, he is the most infamous, and arguably, successful bounty hunter the galaxy has ever seen. And, he wants the galaxy to continue seeing him. So, plan in mind, he kicks into action. He doesn’t think too hard that the Mandalorians he represents are struggling to rebuild after the devastation of the war, or that they are suffering from the effects of mass scale diaspora that’s occurred over the span of many decades. He doesn’t think to hard that the Galactic Alliance is on the cusp of war, facing growing dissent from a variety of fronts, the most pressing, Corrillia. There has always been war in the galaxy, in one form or another. Fett is focused on his objectives, and the rest of the galaxy, if not furthering or contributing, somehow, don’t enter into his radar. Except for opportunities to profit. These are always front and center.

Galactic players the scale of Boba Fett, however, are never entirely out of the mix, no matter how much they believe otherwise. In the midst of his personal quest, he learns a bounty’s been placed on an old associate / prey: Han Solo, and, his entire family. Once again, Fett is drawn into intrigue. He knows his daughter will go for the bounty, and is about to track her down, when he hooks up with another woman, a young girl Mirta Gev. Mirta holds an old token, a necklace Fett gave to his now dead wife, back when he was not so infamous, and, not so cynical. As he returns to memory, we find many explanations for things that have mystified us and left us questioning long into the night. Goran Beviin is back again, serving counterpoint to Fett, a beacon of humanity that has imparted some heat to the stoic Boba, thawing some of the ice, bringing more of the past, and the man to the fore. From Goran he begins to appreciate the dire straits of the residents of Mandalore, to understand they are not just warriors, they are fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, spouses, families, some how trying to keep it all together and not doing a fantastic job. More than ever, the Mandalorians need the Mandalore, to join them, to lead them, to be more than a menacing figurehead. And if not Fett, there might be one who fits the bill.

Mirta, he learns, has encountered a clone who still lives and very well may hold the key to the technology that can help Fett cheat death yet again. Though Boba Fett isn’t exactly a warm fuzzy, he finds himself respecting the tag along Mirta and the disciplined way she conducts herself. Mirta is part Mandalorian, and again, serves as mirror and bridge for Fett and the Mandalorian part of his roots.

The galaxy, and his past, do not rest easy for Boba Fett in this book, and they give him no quarter. At every turn he is confronted with a ghost, at every step he faces a side of himself, new and old, and indeed seems engaged with an internal battle between who he was, who he is, and who he might become. In the search for his daughter, he determines he’ll need to squash the threat to Solo, and in an odd twist of fate, winds up partnering with the old rogue to snuff out Han’s heinous cousin, Thrackan Sal’Solo, the man responsible for the bounty, and the leader of rebellious Corillia. They gain access to the world, Fett, Solo, and Mirta, but as that plan unfolds, darker events are also coming into their own.

Fett’s daughter Ailyn was double crossed by Thrackan, and winds up a prisoner on Coruscant. She is interrogated by Jacen Solo, a man on the edge of the abyss, desperate to control the chaotic galaxy at all costs, so longing for order, so possessed by his emotions, he is considering apprenticing as Sith. He believes he can do the right thing with Sith power, succeeding where his grandfather Anakin/Vader failed.

Fett, Mirta and Solo confront Thraken, where they learn together that Fett’s daughter was sold out. Later, they learn Ailyn died during Jacen’s brutal interrogations. Fett also learns that Mirta is more than your average girl in Mandalorian armor: she is Ailyn’s daughter and his granddaughter. So he does indeed make good on his intent to find out what happened to Ailyn, but he does not get to do what he later realizes he wanted: he doesn’t get to see her, to talk to her, to make some kind of peace with her. Peace, indeed, is made when he and Mirta sees Ailyn’s body. Peace is made when he decides to collect his father’s bones as well and return to Mandalore with Mirta, to bury the dead, and determine what to do about the position of Mandalore, and what to do about the Mandalorians. Peace is made when he determines he’ll teach his granddaughter to pilot Slave I, if he makes it that far. Peace is made for both of them when, in the midst of sorrow and loss and rage, they can at least be human enough to realize they are all they each have left. And yet, the peace made is fragile, new, raw, edgy. In making peace Fett realizes that the Jedi and Sith have torn the galaxy apart time and time again, and time and time again, the Mandalorians have suffered as a result, and he personally has suffered as a result. A new outcome must be forged, a change in tactics, a different approach. The Mandalorians, the Fetts, must rebuild, circle the wagons, sit this one out and let the Sith and Jedi go at it on their own.

Karen Traviss has far surpassed any expectations with this book, and left me very eager for more. I very rarely read a book more than once, but I know I need to read this again, because there’s enough richness to sustain and to demand multiple viewings. The character development of Boba Fett in Bloodlines is nothing short of masterful. The story line of continuation and family, as well as destiny, and fate play in a detail that is epic, tragic, and human. The writing comes across as very frank, and very adult. Major galactic events are brought to an every man level that touches you in a personal, effective way. Boba Fett, while growing, still maintains the quintessential traits that define his core, the same traits that draw us all to him and his legendary exploits. This is more than the attention to detail and continuity by the Del Rey and Lucas team, this is the hallmark of a skilled author who has a genuine feel for and understanding of the character, the vision and foresight for where the character has to go to evolve, and the courage to put the character through the wringer (as well as the fans) to get him there.

Bloodlines of course, is about more than Boba Fett. It’s about the Solos and the Skywalkers, about Jacen and Ben, about Sith and Jedi, about truth and spin, about damnation and redemption. Still, as a Fett fan extreme, I think the most satisfying element of the story, and the most engaging story line is the one about the mysterious bounty hunter. Bloodlines is nothing short of a rite of passage for Boba Fett. He has amazing insight and perspective on the galactic events that are shaping up around him, and he comes to gain some very hard won perspective on his own life as well. He arrives at some brilliant conclusions at the end of this odyssey, a changed man in critical ways, wiser, in pain both physical and emotional, but far stronger, in more in control of his destiny, and far richer for the experience. And, he is still a formidable, dangerous, warrior. As readers we conclude this leg of a most amazing journey with all the bits and pieces pulled together, and a glimpse of what is to come. Indeed, you feel not only that for the first time do you really know Boba Fett, you know he still has a great destiny before him. The road he takes to reach that destiny no doubt will be fraught with danger, trouble, seemingly insurmountable challenges, and a pile of bodies, we would expect no less, but it will be one hell of a trip for us all when we take it with him.

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