I’ve been on a bit of a Star Wars reading spree lately, having read (or reread) both canon and EU books, most of which you’ll see reviewed here, and as such I had to tackle the much-lauded Bloodline, if only to bridge at least part of the years between Episode VI and VII.
Having read and somewhat enjoyed Princess of Alderaan, even if I’m definitely not in the demographic for it as I’ve stated in its review, I was looking forward to Gray’s take on older, more mature Leia, expecting her razor-sharp with and understanding of politics blended with her knack for action and adventure to thoroughly engulf me in what promised to be a romp that somehow threw Vader into the whole thing, too!
...it fell as flat as I imagine reading about Leia’s struggles with menopause and early forms of dementia would. Ok, maybe I’m being too harsh, the fact is that this book had me waiting for something to happen for about three quarters of it, and the eventual reveal was so underwhelming and “Oh. Ok.” in scope that it undid all the previous setup work that was quite decent, all in all.
The plot can be (roughly) resumed thusly:
Leia is bored of the Republic’s political dual-party deadlock between her Populists and the Centrists who fight each other every step of the way and jumps at the chance to involve herself in an investigation even if she has to contend with the presence of a Centrist, Ransolm Casterfo, along the way.
Over the course of said investigation, even from tense beginnings, the two become friends, and both learn something from each other, as well as uncover a plot meant to fund a military force known as the Amaxine warriors who threaten the very seat of the Senate, which they underline by bombing the main Senate building. Still unbeknownst to Leia and Ransolm, the Amaxines are a front that hides the rise of the FO behind them, but that’s quickly glossed over without more than a tease here and there.
Following the Senate bombing, a motion is set forward to elect a First Senator who would hold powers not unlike those that Palpatine had back in the day. Although opposed to the idea at first, Leia is still the frontrunner in every Populist’s mind for their candidate, but in a shocking turn of events she is revealed to be the daughter of Darth Vader, which wipes away all her years of fighting for peace and makes her basically excommunicado.
In light of such events, she gathers a handful of trusted individuals and sets up what will eventually become the Rebellion we see in The Force Awakens, upon which the book abruptly ends.
It takes the book a while to get going, and there are a ton of actual political meetings and talks in this one, which in my opinion Gray does not manage to make interesting, no matter how short and interspersed with action these instances are.
The whole idea of this book also revolves around the very uncomfortable notion that the Galaxy will never be able to find peace, and if they do, it will be at great cost to their actual grasp on and efficiency within the Galaxy, as evident by the all-talk-no-task attitude that plagues the Senate.
This is but a further step of the new canon dismantling the story of the prequels and the OT, basically saying that there can be no peace because even the very elements enforcing that peace will be at each other’s throats, Sith and Jedi aside.
The Galaxy just can’t handle itself.
It’s high time we sat the damn thing down and staged an intervention.
There is also an underlying sense of Leia doing no wrong in this one, and everything that fails in her carefully-laid out plans is only foiled by outside interference.
Either Ransolm Casterfo “rescues” her from when she gets intentionally captured or the aforementioned big twist of her being Vader’s spawn are out of her control, and everything she does is perfect, has her seen as a near-goddess by all around, and the only reason why she’s not already ruling the whole place is her own reluctance at figureheading it all. You could say she’s a bit of a Mary Sue, even, if only within the context of this very book.
I get that we all love her, I get that she’s our Leia, but we can have her take a wrong step here and there without damaging her mythos, even with the experience she’s amassed, tiny mistakes are still possible and will not diminish her overall charm and relatability, arguably enhancing the latter in the process.
The second main-ish character we’re dealt is Ransolm Casterfo, a youthful Centrist Senator with which Leia gets off on the wrong foot but manages to have a good rapport with in the end, even if he ends up being the one to expose her secret to the Galaxy.
His past saw him and his family suffer at the hands (literally) of Vader and the Empire along with their labour-camp-like installations, with his planet having been targeted as such. It goes a long way to enforce the idea that the Empire was even more evil than the movies let on, and why he would recoil in fear at learning of Leia’s origin and telling the truth in spite of the damage he might (and eventually does) do.
Another one of his defining traits (and one that comes into play when they need to infiltrate the Amaxines) is that he’s a collector of Imperial Military relics, something that offends Leia when first learning about it. His office is lined with memorabilia consisting of helmets, weapons, and other paraphernalia, and he eventually manages to convince Leia that he does not do it as a mere intoxicated fanboy. He admits the Empire’s failures, while also recognising that efficiency is needed within the Galaxy when it comes to actually getting something done. If in a less bloody manner than the Empire managed all those years before.
It’s a refreshing take on it all, and one that even Leia manages to see the point of in the end. This is also socio-political commentary that falls in line with the “shades of gray” line that Disney and LF have started to push with the new films, so make of that what you will.
One more character with a heavy point to make is Lady Carise Sindian, a descendant of royal blood who ends up losing her title following her actions. What actions, I hear you ask? Well, she’s one of the reasons the First Order ends up being a thing, but that doesn’t actually get picked up on in this novel, believe it or not.
She actually manages to uncover Leia’s parentage via a message recorded by Bail Organa in an old music box hidden away inside the Treasury on the world of Birren. Unwilling to betray Leia herself because that’s not how the oath of the royal seal worked, she eventually pushes the box onto Ransolm when her loyalties are swayed towards the rise of the FO, so that he can do the dirty job.
Think that over for a second. A character who is beholden to ancient laws can’t betray someone… But hands over the information needed for that someone to be betrayed by another. Dingdingding!
Stupidity and lack of backbone detected. Back to the drawing board, your villain sucks ass.
In the end, after the plot of the Amaxines is revealed in the Senate, she ends up blaming it all on Ransolm and has him basically sentenced to death since he is shipped back to his home planet, where he fought for the death penalty to be introduced.
The irony was not lost on me or Ransolm himself, and I appreciated the twisted poetry behind it all.
There are other minor actors here, including Leia’s two assistants (Greer and Korrie, the first of which is arguably more interesting than Leia herself thanks to her backstory and planet of origin) and an X-Wing pilot by the name of Joph Seastriker…
I’m sorry, I think I had a small aneurysm just typing that out. We’re a sliver away from having Gill Dirtnapper as the main character of a Star Wars novel, mark my words…
C-3PO also makes a few background appearances, and the point of him being a nuisance for his entire existence is further driven home as if we didn’t know that already.
Han also swoops into a few frames, acting as a sort of second consience for Leia, and ends up teaming up with his wife in a short sequence that is definitely the book’s only moment of actively grabbing my attention and having me go “hell, yes!” over what was going on in the moment.
Then I remembered Han died in Episode VII and made myself sad again.
There’s a fair bit of lore and world building done which is always a plus in my book and I appreciated the tidbits we got when it comes to Han’s dealings after the Empire fell, the political layout of the Galaxy, the small links to Gray’s Princess of Alderaan novel, the planets depicted therein, the Amaxines, and so on.
Unfortunately, the way these all gelled together are what had me flipping through the whole thing for a second go, trying to figure out what went wrong and where.
The book itself is solid, Gray can definitely tackle both YA and more mature-oriented novels alike, but this had something that was holding it back from the get-go.
It occured to me that this book is one of those that had the ingrate task of explaining why things are at their Galaxy-turmoiled worst in Episode VII and why the Skywalkers can’t catch a break in their old age, and that’s a hard task to achieve without ruffling feathers.
But further than that, the whole thing ends up as a 400-page stepping stone for other novels to build upon and further explain how the First Order came into being, how Luke and Ben were off training somewhere in the meantime, Snoke became a thing, and all that space jazz.
The narrative is also an ex-machina stroke of luck that the heroes plop into, unraveling one of the biggest conspiracies in the Galaxy through sheer chance.
Seriously, the only reason this all happened was that Leia was bored with all the politics (and I can relate to that, ok, Lucasfilm?) and decided to make an investigation into a random situation out of the dozens that were brought to the Senate’s attention. Ransolm Casterfo was sentenced to death, Carise Sindian lost her titles and statute, an entire underwater town’s worth of innocents were killed, and a Populist candidate was executed with his killer then committing suicide all because Leia couldn’t cope with ministerial work anymore.
While it’s definitely needed to put things into context for the future slew of SW novels (I presume), this is one of the new canon books I just can’t recommend, and one that I probably won’t ever be revisiting regardless of how things progress.
The Gung-Ho Geeks rate this 6.5 out of 10 Thermal Detonators: