Ninja-K #1

 

The premise of this book is a relaunch (not retcon or reboot as it seems to follow the continuity and actually care about what Kindt delivered, actually referencing it in the script – which there’s a portion of in the Pre-Order edition I read), is someone’s going around killing all of the prior Ninja operatives still living. This is a 40 page book, and there’s a lot of interesting ideas, and issues with the writing in general, which i’ll get to in detail.

Conceptually, having a Ninja program with an A-K is pretty interesting. I don’t know if this was established in continuity before, but it makes sense and the history is interesting.  The problem is, leading the book with 8 pages of the history of the program and not just getting right into our characters we’re supposed to care about is a weird way to open a comic. The pages look like pin-ups as someone voices over talking about it, we eventually learn is Ninja-D about 4 pages in.  It cuts eventually to him as an old man and Ninja-K talking, where he asks Ninja-K if this was useful to him. It suffers from a “show don’t tell” aspect of comics in that it delivered us far too much backstory. I get Ninja-D needed to be established as someone important, and the history was important as well, but the lengthiness of it poses an issue.

Especially as it goes into a scene of Ninja-K going over in his head Ninja-D’s “rules of the trade” while he’s in battle in China, rescuing a kid from people we don’t learn much about. It’s a throwaway intro to show us the gadgets, his prowess, his abilities and establish we have a bonafide Ninja. This creates a problem as we already had 8 pages of establishing background, so we’re a full 16 pages in before an actual story starts. Now these pages were a bit more fun and enjoyable to read, but didn’t really grip beyond a generic fight.

After all this intro we are TOLD (not shown) Ninja-D has been killed. Ninja-K already knows and is gonna investigate. Very little tension.  Now this could have been way more interesting easily by having Ninja-D talk to Ninja-K on a call about the rules, training, history, while Ninja-K was fighting. Maybe even a flashback side-by-side comparison sequence to get that history in. The line goes dead after some gurgling, Ninja-K panics and flies back to see what’s going on.  An intro could have been done in half the pages that way and been much more exciting.

We cut to pause for a few pages of relationship drama – which is actually fairly good. I liked where it went on that angle, where Ninja-K is sleeping with Livewire (another valiant hero) which I’m going to assume was established prior to this. She’s not happy with the shallow level of their relationship and it kinda blows up. Solid few pages here.

That leads to the only SJW virtue signaling moment of the book. Ninja K after having the fight goes down, starts talking to himself in a line that added nothing and would have been easy to edited out and not play social justice politics with.  “You can seduce targets of any age or gender in twenty four languages if you’re being paid to do so…”

Okay, it’s weird enough someone talks to themselves (should have been dialogue box probably), but in the mental commentary we’re really worrying about “any age and gender?” It just made me roll my eyes as that line reads like it was out of Teen Vogue, not a super bad ass British agent.  It could be shortened to “You can seduce any targets if you’re being paid to do so…” and would have come across far more natural without the rather pointless signaling. This stuff isn’t brave or interesting in comics anymore, it’s just annoying and throws people out of the story. And the more I look at it, it’s got pedophillia implications I am really hoping are unindented and just missed by editorial.

It follows the rest of the book Ninja-K investigating and trying to figure out who killed them, with an explosion at the end.  There’s a lot of telling of the past, speculating on past villains like Dr. Silke (important in the Valiant Universe) and a femme fatale type who I’m going to guess is the major villain when it comes to it (we haven’t seen, we just have explosion).  This is the meat of the story, it’s pretty good, and though it’s almost all talking back and forth, it’s pretty interesting and tense, especially in the last couple of pages.

If they’re going to do 40-page comics, they need to pack more story into it than this, in my opinion. The set up took way too long to get to, in something that without all the exposition, we really could have gotten to in 2-3 pages to kick off the better action adventure.  Page 1: “Ninja-D, my mentor, is dead.” Page 2 “Who could have done this?” Maybe the femme fatale? Page 3: Explosion of the whole house!  Flip and let’s get into the action with the real bad guy.

The exposition didn’t add enough interesting worldbuilding or character (aside from the Livewire interaction) to really justify much existing. The story really only got started in those last couple pages.  If you wanted to layer in some more exposition, could flashback a little after that but on the storytelling level, it’s a bit disappointing.

Character wise, they all kind of talk the same. There’s one British dude who actually sounds British – he’s the guy questioned late in the book, but everyone else sounds pretty American. Same cadences, same verbiage. Everyone talks to themselves at that (shouldn’t have been more than one character doing that, it stands out when it’s multiple), and so the characters come across a little flat too.

Now it sounds like I’m roasting the story, but it’s got some potential. There are interesting concepts, interesting ideas where it could pan out over the next couple issues. With 40-page comics, I’m happy Valiant is trying out pushing the boundaries on that front too as most comics stick to 20 for monthly production.  The end pages was enough of a hook I’ll keep reading, but this story wise was a tough first issue that should have had more meat to it.

On the art front: Tomas Giorello makes it all worthwhile. I can look at the pages and they’re so beautiful I don’t care about anything else. Perhaps they were thinking that, and made this more of a pin-up book for him than anything else, and it worked to some level. His masterful and beautiful art made it a joy to flip through the pages, and almost made me forget the story issues until I went back and thought about it afterward.  I really loved his Femme Fatale late in the book, one of the most beautiful drawings of a woman I’ve seen in a comic in a long time.  I mean wow! No complaints there at all. The coloring is a bit on the darker side, but it works for the book as well.  I hope they can keep up the quality when it rotates artists on this monthly book, as I know there’s no way someone can keep up a 40 pages a month schedule for long.

Overall, the art saved it. An intriguing premise, but the execution really needed some heavy editing, and story wise, I feel we should be well into wherever issue 2 is supposed to be rather than where we’re at.  I’m still on board, but I really hope issue 2 has more meat to the story.

7/10

Review: Win Bigly by Scott Adams

Win Bigly By Scott Adams

As an author who enjoys the marketing aspects of my business, I am always hungry in good marketing strategies or psychological persuasion analysis. As such, I’ve been following Scott Adams for some time, as he’s been keen to talk about the topic. His citing of Robert Cialdini’s Influence only gave him more credibility in my mind, as I have read the book and apply several of its methods to my online presence.

That said, I was primed to feel as if I wouldn’t fill up on the content of this book. I’d read Adams’ autobiographical How To Fail At Almost Everything And Still Win Big, and while I enjoyed learning about the trials of his life and how he worked hard to overcome them, I felt like it was a little lacking in terms of deeper content applicable to me overall. But, by the same token, I still recall several phrases and life-advice blurbs he gave in the book, so perhaps it was better than I give it credit. But this is also a political book, and I’ve seen a trend of a lot of authors use their blog posts, retool them, and push a book out for marketing purposes. As I’m happy to support Adams because I do love his blogs so much, I did buy it. But I was firmly expecting there to be little meat to the book where I’d already satiated my interest in psychology with a good meal on his blog.

Getting into the book though, I found a nice refresher of the persuasion topics, The first ½ of the book or so delves deeply into that, the techniques both he and President Trump use in marketing, including some points I hadn’t paid attention to along the way of the election, or that Adams added for this book specifically in order to make it more substantive. While I’m typically a slow reader, If I have something I find incredibly compelling, I find I read a book in just a few days—and Win Bigly did that for me.

There’s some expert advice in here, but it’s on the reader to apply it to your own life or business. I’m fine with that as I’m good with taking abstract constructs and modifying them for my own use. I’ve built a brand on that kind of persuasion myself in the last year, and both some of my fans and critics have noticed it. Reinforcing the concepts was very useful for me in that regard. The sections on the Persuasion Stack and How To Design a Linguistic Kill Shot I found most flavorful and substantive.

The last third of the book for me or so was skim material. It had all the ingredients of the blog content I had been concerned about when I bought the book. For someone who already follows Adams’ content closely, it’s like the filler at a Poke Bowl restaurant where you’ve got your nice ahi on top with some of the good stuff, and the carbs of the rice or noodles on the bottoms are designed to fill you up a bit cheaply for the restaurant. Now Adams specifically says not to use analogies in persuasion, but bear with me in this review. Believe me, you’ll want to keep reading.

Going over the election cycle, process, all the scandals, all the persuasion points used, and the final victory didn’t do much for me, but if you didn’t read Adams’ blog every day and you’re not already in the know, the content is really compelling, even spooky (a word he often uses). I’m not sure I buy into how heavy his influence was on the election, as my vote didn’t change based on what he said, but he did change my life in the way I perceive the world. I’m chowing down bigly on the persuasion filter and it’s partially because of the way the events lined up and the way Adams described it. If you’re interested and you haven’t followed his work, the final third section might be the most compelling part of the book for you.

Overall, I enjoyed it as much as I do a good meal. Win Bigly solidified what I already believe in terms of influence and persuasion, brought up some fun new points and a couple of good laughs along the way. He did rely a bit on reposting blog content, but not so heavily that it deterred me from enjoying the book. It’s a must read for anyone new to marketing or with interest in the persuasion game of life. There’s a lot to chew on.

Overall, I give the book a 9/10. Entertaining, useful, and just about the right length to hold my interest.

Post Review Important! Read! 

Now my real persuasion plan with this review is to try to get Scott Adams to read and let me take him out to lunch. I live about 10 minutes from Scott Adams and it’s been on my bucket list as an author. I layered my review with food metaphors, in hopes that he reads it, it made him hungry and that he might reach out and contact me. We do have a lot of similar friends on the online presence and I believe we’re firmly on the same team. I’d even use WhenHub to let him know when I arrive, and I’m buying if he’s in! We’ll see if my persuasion was up to snuff. At the very least, I know I delivered a good laugh.

If you like persuasion and Trumpisms, you might also want to check out the new anthology MAGA 2020, some of the only pro-Trump pop culture out there, which features a story by me, a nice intro by Milo Yiannopoulos and a great essay by Ivan Throne. You can check it out here.

Comic Review: Batman Dark Prince Charming

Batman Dark Prince Charming comes in a nice hardcover package – a bit small for the hardcover treatment and at a bit of a steep price point at $12.99 for what looks like a thin book. It doesn’t help the book comes shrink-wrapped so if you’re not in the know in having researched it, you are gambling on the quality of the book. Marini being the only creator listed on the front was confusing to me too, as I didn’t know who that was going in. The cover art really doesn’t do the story justice either, with a very un-exciting look of a Batman mid-shot pictured above. Not sure why they went with that as it probably harms the book sales rather than helps it.

Enrico Marini is an Italian artist and writer who does the full duty from start to finish on the comic, as he’s done on several others published through a French press. It’s something we don’t see often in the comics world and so it’s intriguing by itself, but what’s inside is some beauty nearly unparalleled in comics.

His art style is one of my favorites. It’s that hyper-detailed pencil-to-colors look where you don’t get the broad strokes of the ink covering up the original drawings save for where the artist chooses to for the art’s sake. I personally think it makes for a very fresh looking quality. It’s one Tomas Giorello used on the first 3 issues of X-O Manowar, another Italian artist, and I wonder if their styles come from their training over there. Either way, once I saw the art, I was immediately in for this book. Even if the story was non-existent in this book, I would have  probably liked to flip through the panels just to get a glimpse at Marini’s drawings. They’re that good.

Story wise, we have a standard Frank Miller-esque dark Gotham with a Joker who is kidnapping children, a Bruce Wayne who’s getting hit up for a paternity allegation, and a Batman on an obsessive mission to find the Joker and save the day. What I like about this that I don’t see in the current Batman ongoing  — which is where I think the Miller-esque Batman has gone a bit too far – is Batman doesn’t sit around whining about how he’s lonely or how he’s sad and how he doesn’t feel he’s making a difference. He’s being a hyper-driven Detective here by  every means possible, and so it’s more fitting with the character. We get some nice cameos from Killer Croc and Catwoman (who is stunningly drawn).

Other than that, it’s a standard Batman v. Joker fare. Joker is out of control insane, and leaving a trail in some ways to toy with Batman. He acts a bit shocking throughout – this is very dark, close to R-Rated in its  content. I usually don’t like that in a comic, but it fits here decently.  I wouldn’t say the story is mind-blowingly different in any regard to other stories I’ve read, but it IS classic Batman. It feels right, and that’s what’s important.

It is half a story as this is a part 2. So you are committing to $12.99 x 2 to get the full story here. But on the flip side, it’s clear the amount of art quality and time they took toward making this book, I’m all in on it and I’m waiting for more. Marini’s art has me wowed and I’m itching for the conclusion.

9/10

Review: Rocky Mountain Retribution by Peter Grant

Peter Grant’s Brings The Lightning was my favorite fiction work of 2016, so I was thrilled to see a sequel come out this year. The first story is one of travelling west, working hard, and persevering through all sorts of adversity. It’s really a testament to the American dream, perfect thematically for a western and the opening of a series.

Rocky Mountain Retribution opens with Walt being somewhat established with his business in Colorado, a small time jump in his life, but a sensible one. I think people can start with this book first no problem if they want to jump right into it, but there’s some character banter about characters from the first book, and I think you’ll care more about side characters like Rose if you read Brings the Lightning first.

This book proved equally as adept, and perhaps from a structural craft perspective is superior to the first. Whereas the first book was about a man making it and working hard, however, this book was much darker in its themes. It was truly about retribution—with an opening scene having Walt get into a battle with horse thieves, and one of his men getting killed in the process. Walt decides to be the arbiter of justice and it sets off a cascade of events of further retribution, this time from big criminal elements in Colorado down to New Mexico.

Walt sets into investigation to stop these thieves from terror, though with a nice mix of his own interests that make his character a lot more rational than standard altruistic investigators in fiction. It’s pretty tense the whole way through, with a stellar pace to the plot as it unfolds and spirals into bigger and bigger situations.

Unlike the first book, we get a lot of villain perspectives in the book, and Grant does a great job of switching between perspectives and making them sound distinct. I liked that the main villain didn’t end up feeling like a mustache twirler, but he was quite rational in most of his actions as well.

It’s brutal. The opening scene establishes this as well. Grant doesn’t mince words going into this and says right out “this is the wild west, and it’s going to be a lot tougher and scarier than the travel over.” It jarred me at first because Brings The Lightning was so uplifting in a number of ways—of which part of it continues with the way Walt treats his men right, something that distinguishes him from the villains and shows his personal code of ethics.

But there is, as mentioned, a lot of brutality. A lot of loss. It probably will appeal to a wider group of people because of that as I could see Rocky Mountain Retribution developed into a show on AMC or HBO easily. It’s hard to get into the points where the book really hits hard without spoiling it, but let’s just say the book goes much further than the “this town ain’t big enough for the both of us” I usually see in westerns… to a full “this territory ain’t big enough for the both of us.”

Western fans won’t be disappointed in this latest effort in the least. Another solid installment by Grant in what I hope will be a long series. We could use more works like this series in modern American literature.

9/10

https://www.amazon.com/Rocky-Mountain-Retribution-Ames-Archives-ebook/dp/B06XX1J2SN

Praxis by Justin Knight

Last Friday, as I mentioned in my periscope earlier, we had a new science fiction novel come out by one Justin Knight, of which I had the privilege of reading an advance copy. Praxis is the story of a group of humans going to a mining colony for the first time, mostly focused on the organizational aspects of heading out on such an expedition, and the personal relationships that are impacted.

Much of the book is very slice-of-life, and Justin is fantastic at presenting unique and thoughtful characters that have conversations like you and I would have. I thoroughly enjoyed the main characters. It does get a little political on the right spectrum in the way it handles radical feminism, but not burdensome so.

There’s an interweaving side plot of aliens who are dealing with escaped prisoners which escalates throughout that. It culminates in solid action, but I won’t spoil that further for you.

Much of the book is close to hard science fiction in the not too distant future. The characters have a lot of things like kindles and the like, and it’s loaded with references to popular culture.

If this sounds like your speed, check out Praxis, available on Amazon. 

Comic Review: X-O Manowar #7

Aric has donned the X-O armor up to the shoulders now, and is regularly wearing it, despite the fact that he spends time talking to the armor and telling it how it is simply a tool (poor good skin!). He’s uncovered in quick fashion that the plot of the general to bring in this monolith to subdue the Burnt had more to the equation, that the emperor made a deal with the aliens, in exchange for an artifact in his palace tower. He leads soldiers into epic battle, but is facing multiple fronts and is forced to choose which is the best course of action for the planet.

Story wise, it may be  the best issue so far. This isn’t a comic that you’re getting a big twist from, it’s not set up like a mystery reveal, but it’s interesting the way Kindt set up world-building reveals in every issue. The plot is simple — very action/adventure pulp, and that’s very fitting for a Conan The Barbarian In Space Armor story. It feels perfect for the character and the book.

It’s both extremely fast paced and yet still manages to be very single-issue contained for storylines. Each issue so far has been an escalating battle. First at a unit level, then into full armies, and now even against space invaders. It makes you wonder if the ante can really keep being upped every issue, but he’s managed to do so through seven issues so far. That’s what’s impressed me really is the fast pace and the single-issue storytelling (even though it does build into a larger arc). It’s very different than most modern comics.

The issue also has a side story, one that’s being told of the day’s events, and you can actually go back through and read the dialogue boxes in this issue by themselves (I did and I recommend doing so) after it’s done for a different perspective of the read. It’s extremely detailed and hard worked on in that regard.

Speaking of extremely detailed, it’s time to talk Clayton Crain, whose digital art graces this issue. I really loved Tomas Giorello’s original run and thought in many ways issues 4-6  with Doug Braithwaite surpassed that. Crain’s style is very much his own, you can see it on any book he touches. It’s extremely intricately painted, and beautiful on that level. I think it fit the scope of the alien invasion well and is beautiful to look at all the details within the panels. I’m a big fan and I thought the issue flowed fine like that. I did see it mentioned that it was a little tough to follow, as it’s so complicated at times with the frazzled, dark space battles it can get hard to read. This is something that happens in Crain books which I’ve seen a bit of. I believe it’s from the overuse of dark saturated colors, and a little brightness and less saturation would fix those issues, but this is his stylistic choice. It’s correct that because of that it’s not perfect, but the design of the aliens, the intricate details of every figure are so beautiful, that it may take a sec to focus and really absorb what’s going on, but it’s incredible work.

Overall, the storyline is getting even more compelling than before, even as of issue #7. It would be fine to jump on with this issue alone, but still better with the first six issues as a backdrop. If there’s one complaint I have, it’s that the wall-to-wall action doesn’t leave a ton of room for character development. There were only a couple of panels of those moments and I’d love to actually get to know some of this cast that gets explained in the opening credits every issue. There’s still not a ton of reason to care about many of them. But there are a limit to pages, and to keep this pace in which i love so much there definitely have to be some sacrifices… just like Aric has to make whenever he goes into battle (thematic!). Conclusion: Aric Rules!

10/10


New Release Book: War Demons by Russell Newquist

I meant to blog about this on Wednesday but with how crazy this week has been, I didn’t quite get around to it. For those new here from the SFWA Anti-Male Writer controversy or #ComicGate, I try to make sure to keep people up date on fun fiction that’s politics-free in the market, as the most important thing we can do outside of calling out the massive ethics problems in the entertainment industry, is to support people who don’t hate us, who write fun, action-adventure like we keep demanding.

Russell Newquist hit that spot with War Demons.

I almost never read Urban Fantasy as a genre. It’s known by the Dresden Files or Monster Hunter or October Daye, but for some reason I just love Steampunk or Space as a setting a bit more than a modern environment. Maybe it’s my PTSD from having read Spider-Man’s One More Day arc that i just can’t read modern supernatural fiction anymore.

But this story follows a soldier with some PTSD, who’s not sure if the problems he’s having adjusting back from his trip from Afghanistan are in his own head — until the world goes crazy with demons, zombies, and so much off the wall action it never lets up.

I received an early copy of this, and already left my review (and my blurb). So if this kind of story appeals to you, check it out:

https://www.amazon.com/War-Demons-Fantasy-Thriller-Prodigal-ebook/dp/B075NZDP8S

Comic Review: Bloodshot: Salvation #1

Bloodshot is a character from Valiant Comics who is kind of like a cross between Punisher and Wolverine. An experiment from a secret military organization, Bloodshot is infused with nanites that make him a killing machine and give him regeneration powers.
This book continues with the feel of Bloodshot: Reborn, much more than the crazy/zany epic Bloodshot USA mini-series that directly preceded it. I would recommend reading both (no need for the 2012 Bloodshot series which doesn’t really have the same feel) before getting into this. Bloodshot has a baby and him and his girl Magic are on the run, trying to live normal lives. There’s a project omen happening from the evil government mooks and Magic’s father is a weird creepy dude who’s calling and saying awful things to her. It went back and forth between now and a “soon” when baby bloodshot is a bit older, an interesting way of doing things, will have to see how that develops.Characters great. I love it all. I didn’t love the fighting between Magic/Bloodshot but these are messed up characters so it’s fitting with the way they are. I kinda want my heroes a little more heroic when it comes to home life, but that’s a personal preference. Though nothing BAD happened, there were points where it made me uncomfortable. But… that’s a testament to how much I care about the characters, so maybe it’s a plus.

Pacing was a bit slower than the last Bloodshot series. Bloodshot: Reborn did open with pacing like this, but part of it felt like it moved a little more quickly. Maybe it’s the now/soon vs. the way the Reborn plot had an FBI element to it that was intriguing. I’m ready for a return to real action after that introspective run, however. Bloodshot USA really pushed the action and it got me itching for it. I’d dock a couple points here on that level

I’m a -bit- worried about political signalling. It’s not all that bad but there’s mentions of racial killings, the bad father is of course a church leader of some sort (was clarified with cult but still ehhh…). Nothing really bothersome like we see from Marvel but I hope it doesn’t mean the books’s going there in the future. Lemire did say in an interview with Newsarama that he meant to go further, but dialed it back in later drafts. I think that was a smart choice if that’s the case. We need less political nonsense in comics. As it is, no points docked but I’m paying attention on that level because I think there were 3 lines of it — one or two is easy to glance over once it’s three it’s a pattern, something I pick up when I’m editing as a writer.

The art is fabulous. I love the style. Love Lewis LaRosa. This is top notch and it’s where Valiant books have been standing out above Marvel/DC lately. Nothing negative there. There’s a bit much on the talking heads back and forth layout wise but I think that’s a script issue getting back to the pacing more than anything to do with the artist.

Overall, solid start. I’m definitely interested in more though part of that is trusting Lemire to wow me like he did in Bloodshot: Reborn.

8/10

Retro Review: King David’s Spaceship by Jerry Pournelle

Last week, like many, I was saddened by the news that Jerry Pournelle died. He was one of the giants of Science Fiction, so prolific and really having done so much for the genre. I hadn’t in the course of my readings, read King David’s Spaceship, however, and so I figured I would honor his prolific and fruitful life by remedying that, of which I spent the last week doing.

King David’s Spaceship is a story about a fallen human imperium which is slowly reclaiming worlds that have lost technology, been disconnected, in an effort to never have a devastating war between humanity again. All new worlds get monitored and brought in according to 3 classes: class 1, class 2, and colonies, and the colonies end up getting flooded by imperial merchants and the like who take over society. King David wants none of this so he sets about a team of people to figure out how to get to the class 2 status.

They’ve determined the way to do so is build a spaceship, but they don’t have the technology to do so. Colonel Nathan McKinnie among others are sent off to another planet to go find some sacred library that is supposed to have information on the ship.

The opening of the book was interesting, but it slowed down a bit significantly into discussions of how things were going to happen. I wasn’t sure about the book after part I as to whether I liked it or not, but it turns out Pournelle was just setting the stage for part II which is all epic adventure.

When it gets into part II, it really becomes a fantasy novel — kind of a book within a book. There’s epic battles, barbarians, pirates, great politics with the church, a lot of fun all around. The world building is so deep and so rich it’s incredible, some of the best I’ve ever read. Pournelle spent so much time working out every detail of multiple civilizations that it’s staggering, a true master of the craft.

And it’s all smooth sailing (or spaceship flying!) from there. The book becomes compelling, the side characters even get wonderful moments in the limelight and are well developed. It becomes very difficult to put the book down at that point, and when it ended, I found myself wishing it didn’t. I love the wrapping a fantasy adventure in a sci-fi novel and it does come back to the sci-fi elements.  Really a neat and imaginative work all around. If you haven’t read Pournelle and would like to, this is an excellent place to start.

9/10

Book Review: Thrawn

Several weeks ago I mentioned I was rereading the original Thrawn trilogy in preparation for the new book by Timothy Zahn. I hadn’t read them since I was a teenager, and was wondering if they held up as much as I’d enjoyed them as a kid. It turns out these are some of the best space opera books ever penned, tie-in fiction or no.

Many of my readers were upset that Star Wars declared the extended universe non-canon upon Disney’s purchase of the property, and vowed to never read Star Wars books again. I’ve taken a different thought on it — where it’s like comics, at least before I stopped reading  Marvel + DC altogether due to their excessive politics: it depends on the writer. That seems to be the case here.

I was nervous about this book as fellow space opera author C.T. Phipps posted a review on the book that was less than stellar, but was mostly due to his disappointment that this built off of an already published short story which he read before. I’m not sure which section of this book it was as I hadn’t read it before, but it feels like the portion where Thrawn was brought to the imperial academy and then his academy stay might have been that, as the book changed tone and pace from that point.

This story follows Thrawn’s life from a point where he was picked up as an alien by Imperials, brought before the emperor, taken to the academy, and then gets promoted all the way up the ranks. We know how it ends up, so there’s no spoilers there. Part of the problem with prequels is knowing that journey, and it makes it a little less tense than non-prequels for that reason.

Zahn also weaved a couple new characters into the plot, a woman by the name of Arihnda Pryce who has appeared several times in Star Wars: Rebels gets an origin/backstory as well, as she navigates politics in the Empire from a lowly worker up to very high echelons. I actually didn’t recall her character from rebels, so her story was actually some of the most interesting parts of the book as I didn’t know where it would lead.

Like the later Thrawn trilogy, Thrawn has a human aide in this where he describes all of his plans to. Eli Vanto, who progresses and becomes a tactician as he learns from Thrawn. This perspective also brought forth a nice element where readers weren’t sure what was going to happen.

I enjoyed the mysterious villain Nightswan who gets introduced in the book, and how he ties the plots together. It was well-crafted and leads to a very fun conclusion to the story. It was well done all around and I enjoyed seeing the back and forth between two strategists trying to out-chess each other as each situation developed.

The characterizations are perfect. Zahn nails his creation, I love the little strategy advice at the beginning of every chapter like it’s a Sun Tzu book and actually how that ties into the end as well. Just nicely done all around in that regard. I actually care about Arihnda more than I do Mara Jade. I really thought she had a lot of depth to her. Eli Vanto replaced Captain Pellaeon from the original series and filled that role quite nicely.

I didn’t see many contradictions from the original universe. There’s probably some details to nitpick, but I’m not that type of reader. I read for fun plot and character feel — and this delivered all the way around. I could hardly put it down once I started the book.

While it didn’t have the masterful grand epic plot of the original Trilogy, I didn’t really expect it to either. It wouldn’t be fair to compare a character origin story to that kind of a sprawling space opera, and so I don’t. This does add to that though, and I’m glad I had that fresh in my mind while I was reading this. It didn’t matter so much, as this book stands alone 100%, but it helps for love of the character going in.

Overall, I couldn’t have asked for more. I was very happy with this book and rank it as one of the best I’ve read this year.