Since I've recently added Vortex to my shelves for a (surprisingly) reasonable $17.00 I figured I would share my thoughts on this most recent installment in the Fate of the Jedi series.
Okay so after deleting and rewriting this paragraph many times, I'm going to come out and say it. Troy Denning's new Star Wars book is extremely poor. It is easily the worst book of the series and you may feel inclined to set it between The Crystal Star and Darksaber on your shelves. Now to be fair I have never been a fan of Troy Denning. I find him to be the most overrated author in the series and am looking forward to the day when he stops writing for Del Rey.
While Vortex was a bad read, it was far from painful. There were moments when I cheered and moments when I cried (though I always get carried away when reading Star Wars... much to the chagrin of my girlfriend). Denning does manage to succeed in making the characters' situations seem very precarious. I found myself fearing for the lives of even some of the most classic characters in the series. However, that is virtually the only good aspect of this book, save for the enticing cover art of Han Solo and Kenth Hamner by Ian Keltie. The only use Vortex will serve in the future is bridging the gap between Christie Golden's Allies and Aaron Allston's Conviction.
Vortex is certainly a wild ride. However, not one of those exciting wild rides where a giant, robotic ape pretends to rip your face off. It's one of those rides through India where real monkeys actually rip your face off and then chew/swallow it before vomiting it onto the ground and defecating on it. The action never lets up. Ever. There are very few moments of respite from the dozens of lightsaber duels, riots, massacres, and deaths. Those times of rest the reader is granted are hardly relaxing or enjoyable. Instead they are filled with contention and violence between some of our favorite characters (in ways you may not expect) and, as a result, they are ineffective at regenerating the reader before a new battle, and they are terrible stopping points. Realistically the only place to stop is when you finally get bored with reading about the same story to the neglect of all the others.
I guess that brings me to my second criticism of the book. There are something like 6 parallel stories going on at once, which is far too many for an author like Denning to juggle successfully (not to mention in a damn 360 page book... do the math... if each story got equal coverage that's only 60 pages each). He erratically switches between Luke and Ben Skywalker, the Solos, the Jedi Council, Madhi Vaandt, Admiral Daala, and Tahiri Veila's trial. Think back to end of Return of the Jedi. It was chopped up, but flowed well. All three stories built and lost momentum together, so that the viewer never became confused and the film retained its pacing. Now imagine that Vader saved Luke before the battle on the ground even started. That he escaped and the Death Star blew up before the shield was brought down. That Admiral Ackbar was having an affair on the bridge during the battle. That the Ewoks were having a snugglefest in a village on the other side of the planet but GL decided to show it anyway just to break up the action. That's Vortex. Individual stories are paced, but they aren't paced together, so the reader is on a constant up-down with almost no cohesion. To add insult to injury he spends hundreds of pages focusing on some of the storylines while devoting maybe a dozen to others. The ones he favors quickly grow boring while the ones he ignores become the most exciting (when they do get some pages).
The writing is also fairly atrocious. The dialogue is typically stale and unbelievable. It's humorous when it shouldn't be and bland when it should be funny. The way Denning writes the fight scenes they are often confusing and drawn out. Sometimes it seems like the bad guys just sit there while the good guys converse with each other about what to do next. The timing is off very frequently as well. How does one character manage to spit out entire paragraphs of dialogue while running away from a stationary character? Shouldn't he only be able to say a few words before he's too far away?
Realistically those are all problems the Star Wars series often faces. However, there is one unforgivable sin that Denning has committed in the actual technical writing of this book. One moment a character could be left hanging in a virtually disabled spacecraft on the verge of explosion and a chapter later they're back on Coruscant. No explanation given. Precariousness of the situation never mentioned again. This happens several times and I can't figure out whether Denning accidentally spilled coffee on his final draft or he's stupid and just forgot. Granted once or twice he adds a wink-nudge sentence to explain how the character got there, but they're sloppy and feel tacked on, probably after the publisher caught the glaring mistake.
The book concludes with nothing wrapped up. Nothing. Some stories seem like they just cut off while others are given a lazy send off as Troy Denning hands off the torch he has just doused in gasoline and lit on fire, to the much superior Aaron Allston.
Read it. Then stick it on the shelf for eternity and let's start waiting for Conviction.
<3 to all (except Troy Denning)
Btw, I gave it 5 stars because it's Star Wars