I’m sure you all remember when the cover for this novel appeared on the internet – it spread like wildfire, getting spotlights on many, many blogs and websites. Remember? No? this should refresh your memory:
Let’s launch into the review:
Death Troopers tells the story of what happens when an Imperial Prison barge, travelling to a prison planet, breaks down, stranding the guards, the Warden, the inmates and the prison barge’s medical officer. A Star Destroyer is discovered, floating nearby, and travelling to the Destroyer to find parts to repair the barge’s systems, events are set in motion that plunge the characters, and you, the reader, into a creepy-as-all-hell nightmare…
First thing: is Death Troopers scary? Definitely! There are moments in this novel where I literally felt my skin crawling or cover my eyes; the images Joe creates really stay with you, not the least of which was a scene that involved a young Wookiee… *shudder* I’ve read scarier stuff, sure (Stephen King’s The Shining is the scariest I-crapped-my-shorts novel I’ve ever read), but Joe does a damn good job! He lends the barge a dark atmosphere -I’m not talking about power outages and shadows here, I’m talking about that oppressive pressure you’ve felt when you’ve walked into a place that isn’t all the way right, you know what I mean? The lights can be on, the TV, too, but there’s just something you feel that creeps you out. Joe did this, and more.
Getting to the characters, Joe gives us two brothers, a prison-guard captain, the medical officer, and two surprises later down the line.
The two brothers, Trig and Kale Longo, worked well together in scenes, and Joe managed to make me sympathetic to their situation, though I have to admit, after the first chapter, I guess which one of the brothers would die (as you’ve all guessed, while watching slasher- or zombie-movies, who out of the group will be the first to go); the fact that I was right didn’t negatively affect the tale, however. :-)
The prison-guard captain was my favourite character, by far; the man begins as a certain kind of man and evolves into someone completely different, and the fact that he does so without coming across as shallow and prone to changing his mind and opinions on a whim speaks volumes about Joe’s ability to create engaging characters that will surprise you, as any personality does. When I met the guy (the character, not Joe) I hated him (for reasons that’ll become clear to you as you read), but I really came to respect him and admire him.
The medical officer was the weakest of the characters, in my opinion. Why? Well, I just really didn’t connect with her, to be honest. Her history and backstory were great and made sense, but there was just something there that kept me from really sympathizing with her.
The other characters are all great, including the two surprises – very well written as well as offering us insights into their personalities that haven’t been explored in any other EU novel.
But the burning question, I suppose, is the following: is Death Troopers a Star Wars tale? Well, that’s difficult to answer.
If you look at Star Wars (the entire saga) and compare it to Death Troopers, then no, it’s not a Star Wars novel. There are no dogfights between starfighters (that sounds wrong, reading it aloud), there are no lightsaber duels; but is this what makes a Star Wars tale? I disagree. Sure, having starfighters and lightsaber duels in a Star Wars novel makes it more Star Wars, but there is room in the Galaxy Far, Far Away to play in, considering just how massive the Galaxy is. I never thought I’d say this, but it would be great to see more experimentation happening in the Star Wars EU (just not this, please, not this!)
We’ve already seen what I consider to be Military Star Wars with Karen Traviss’ Republic Commando series (which KICKED ASS, btw), and we’ve seen some decidedly introspective and deep Star Wars novels (Shatterpoint and Traitor spring to mind), so why not explorations of other sub-genres? It’ll be interesting, to say the least. :-)
So, even though Death Troopers doesn’t have the normal Star Wars fare, I consider it to be a Star Wars novel; Joe captures everything that matters, from the ineptitude of Stormtroopers to the hulking mass of a Star Destroyer, and he also involves his characters (and the reader) in the kind of philosophical questions that only Star Wars can pull off so well. :-)
I’m giving this a 7 / 10. :-)
Order your copies of Death Troopers at the following links:
P.S. The title of Joe’s second Star Wars novel (and prequel to Death Troopers) has been revealed: Black Orchid! Looking forward to it! :-)
P.P.S. The awesome cover was designed by Indika and David Stevenson. :-)