This is the review I submitted to Halc's November competition, but I thought I would post it up just for fun
Title: Fatal Alliance (novel)
Author: Sean Williams
-----Previous Work: The Force Unleashed I/II novelizations
Page Count: 417
Era: Old Republic (3,643 BBY)
Set in the time of the upcoming MMORPG The Old Republic, this is an era we have not previously seen in Star Wars lore. The Treaty of Coruscant was just signed, bringing a cease-fire between Imperial-Sith and Republic-Jedi forces, but not everyone wants the war to end, most notably the war-hungry Mandalorians. The backdrop for the story will be most known to those keeping up with the backstory to the MMO. For those who do not, parts may not make as much sense, but the overall plot is still enjoyable.
A mysterious object has been captured by a smuggler and is currently in possession of a powerful Hutt, Tassaa Bareesh. Wanting to earn as much as possible for this artifact, she holds an auction between both the Empire and the Republic. This is where our characters come together, and cutout characters they are. There's Dao Stryver, the Mando; Darth Chratis, the Sith Lord; Eldon Ax, the Apprentice; Jet Nebula, the smuggler; Larin Moxla, the Republic soldier; Satele Shan, the Jedi Master; Shigar Konshi, the Padawan; and Ula Vii, imperial spy.
Obviously, no one plans on respectably buying the object, and the usual Star Wars antics ensue that lead our characters from Coruscant and Korriban to Nal Hutta and finally to a planet orbiting a black hole at the edges of the Galaxy. All the characters are working against each other to try to get what their faction wants, but as the title suggests, they must band together to stop an even greater threat to them all, Star Wars-style. Not the most original, I know.
For those following the MMO, you may have noticed something very peculiar and intentional in the characters: each of them represents a playable class in the upcoming game. That is, perhaps, the most important thing to keep in mind when reading this novel: it is meant as a promotional story to prepare fans for the backdrop of the MMO. This turns out to be a very positive thing, but before reading it is certainly a cautious pretense. Star Wars novels based on games are always a toss-up, from Traviss' extremely deep Republic Commando series to the most recent duo-logy of Force Unleashed. I, personally, enjoyed The Force Unleashed, but I can certainly see where it lacks. Fatal Alliance is written by the same author, Sean Williams, and while loads better, the writing style is similar.
Williams takes a risk with this story by having it set in a time fans don't know with characters completely new to us. Often, Star Wars novels (for example, Deathtroopers) toss in well-known Prequel or Original Trilogy character(s) just so fans have a pillar they can lean on while adjusting to the new. Fatal Alliance has none of these, and at first it seems its downfall. Each of the characters, as would be expected from their class-based origins, are very generic. There's the ruthless Sith, wisecracking smuggler who wants the check, a stereotypical soldier if there ever was one, and Jedi who always try to do what the Force is telling them. The characters may not be the most original, but Williams makes good use of them.
Jet, the smuggler, for example, is exactly the wise-cracker pirate you would expect him to be. He's mysterious and seemingly out for his own skin and profit, and yet in the heat of battle shows that he's thinking more steps ahead of any of them. Vii, the spy, is written is quite the dichotomy, having to work both Imperial spy and Republic envoy sides. During the very well-worked out climatic battle (if anything, too thought out and long), Vii has quite the character development while being pushed from side to side. The Sith Lord and Jedi Grand Master provide the perfect example for each side, whilst the Padawan and Apprentice show us young kids who are still easily influenced by their elders, both good and evil, light and dark. Likewise, the Republic and Mandalorian soldiers each give us a solid standard for what to look for in those types of characters. At first, the characters seem generic and boring, but by the close of the novel each has shown just how original they can be.
The story, likewise, is not the most original, with enemies having to band together to face a common foe. What makes it bearable is the newness of the period. There's an infinite amount of room in which to explore and introduce the reader to the era in which the upcoming MMO will be placed, and Williams does do that, but at times he also fails to do as much of it as he could. Hence, the time is also one of the worst parts of the novel. For those who have not kept up with news concerning the game, the cold war going on between Sith and Jedi forces may not be understandable. Still, the action sequences keep you entertained, and Williams makes sure to give you every character's perspective. This, at times, can actually drag things out too much. The story is definitely more enjoyable if you have this backstory in mind, and it also gives it more weight, not only of what is happening, but also just to get you ready for TOR.
Fatal Alliance is a bit long, and could probably be at least fifty pages shorter, but it is still a good read. If you plan to play The Old Republic when it releases Spring 2011, then this is a must-read. It may not give you any new backstory that website timelines and planet profiles haven't told you already, but at the very least it serves as a good introduction to the different classes and the overall mood of this new era. This is what excites me the most about reading this novel; this era is ripe for the picking of Star Wars stories, and I very much look forward to reading Paul Kemp's Deceived, released next March, as well as Drew Karpyshyn's untitled Old Republic novel. All in all, Fatal Alliance was a good read because, if anything, it is Star Wars at its purest, and that never gets old. 4/5 Stars