We come full circle in The Old Republic this week, ending as we began five weeks ago with a novel by Drew Karpyshyn. Now, if you’ve read my review of Revan you may think that’s a bad sign considering my thoughts on that one but honestly, I tend to really like Karpyshyn’s work, so let’s see how we fare with The Old Republic: Annihilation.
Welcome to Legends of the Hydian Way, the chronicle of my attempt to read through and review all the novels that make up mainline Legends canon in chronological order. May the Force be with me
All of our Old Republic novels to date have been prequels to Bioware’s MMO of the same name. I was surprised, then, when I dug into this one and realized it’s set after the events of the base game (but before a lot of the expansion content). Annihilation stars Theron Shan, secret son of Satele Shan and a soldier she was in a trailer for the MMO with (more on that later) and direct descendent of Revan for…no real reason? Beyond his relationship to his parents being touched on in the book there seems little reason to make the Revan connection as it’s never brought up.
Anyway, Theron Shan didn’t immediately grab me as all that interesting in his first couple of scenes but did grow on me as the book went on to the point that by the end I was rooting for him with the rest of the characters. We first meet him on Nar Shaddaa, a moon of Hutta and what’s basically the Reno of the Star Wars galaxy. He’s following Teff’ith, a Twi’lek girl who he considers like a little sister, and who currently has a hit out on her courtesy of one Morbo the Hutt.
Despite officially being on vacation, Theron has taken it upon himself to do some extracurricular fieldwork to spring his friend from her predicament, despite her not knowing of his involvement and how much she would hate it if she were to find out he’d helped her. Teff’ith is sort of like an independent little sister to Theron’s overprotective big brother. Regardless, Theron gets a call from the Director of Republic Special Intelligence Service (SIS) who berates him for getting involved on Nar Shaddaa and orders him to get off the planet.
Theron ignores him, injures and incapacitates a fellow agent (who was threatening him with a knife, to be fair) and then breaks in to Morbo’s palace, frees some slaves, and fails to stop Morbo dispatching his hit squad. Fortuhately for Teff’ith, Theron is in time to stop one of the three attackers from flanking them, but to prevent Teff’ith learning of his involvement, Theron leaves the other two to her and returns to Coruscant.
Predictably, this rogue behavior gets Theron benched to the Analytics team by the Director for all of a few weeks before a big enough mission comes along. Theron notices some important details and conveniently forgets to redact his own name from the report before forwarding it to Supreme Commander Jace Malcolm of the Republic military. Malcolm of course sees that Theron is already involved (and has his own reasons for wanting him on the mission) so the Director is overruled. What, exactly, is this mission?
A massive Sith dreadnought called the Ascendant Spear presents the current largest threat to the Republic in the wake of Vitiate’s disappearance and Darth Malgus’s attempted coup de’etat. Oh yeah, those things must have happened in the video game, because they are referenced here but not explained at all.
Anyway, the Ascendant Spear is commanded by a fallen Jedi turned Sith named Darth Karrid who is able to use a gross array of wires that connect to her brain to directly interface with the ship and command it with a mixture of Force powers and cybernetics. The upshot of this is that the Ascendant Spear is a massive ship with nearly instant reaction times and operating capacity.
Malcom wants to take it out, and between himself, The Director, Theron, and a Jedi master named Gnost-Dural, they concoct a plan to steal an Imperial code cipher, use it to determine when the Spear makes it’s next port call, and plant a saboteur (Theron) aboard to wreck the place before the Republic swoops in for the kill.
It’s at this point that my frustrations with Theron as the main character simultaneously came to a head and started to evaporate. You see, Theron is a terrible spy. Truly awful. He’s reckless, makes bad decisions, refuses to follow orders, and above all hates to have an actual plan. He literally stands up in a meeting with both the head of his own department and also the head of the entire military and says he doesn’t have time to make a plan to execute this incredibly important mission, he’d rather just wing it.
However, Theron is very, very good at adapting to changing circumstances, and since the plan goes to hell in a handbasket nearly every time he gets near one, the end result is that he gets the job done, just very differently than expected.
Malcolm invites Theron over for a drink before the mission starts, and also chooses to awkwardly drop the bombshell that he thinks that he might be Theron’s father. He’s deduced this after learning that Satele was his mother and to Karpyshyn’s great credit this scene is as awkward and uncomfortable as such a blunt, poorly timed revelation would be in real life. Theron makes a hasty exit but promises that he’ll talk to Jace again if he survives the mission.
The first stage of the plan calls for Theron and Master Gnost-Dural to head to Ziost, a Sith controlled world, in hopes of stealing a code cipher intact from the Imperial Minister of Logistics’ office. Gnost-Dural, by the way, is a Kel-Dor like Plo Koon in the prequel movies and is definitely my favorite character in this book, proving his worth by sticking to the plan, executing it perfectly, and swooping in to save Theron when a door that wasn’t on the blueprints has our protagonist trapped. The two succeed in stealing the cipher without alerting the Empire that one is missing and return to Coruscant.
Stage two of the plan requires them to get aboard an Imperial port station once the Spear chooses its next docking destination and use the chaos of shore leave to sneak aboard and sabotage the ship. For this, Theron recruits Teff’ith, who begrudgingly agrees to help smuggle him on board. Upon arriving, however, Theron learns that the Empire plans to attack Duro, and worse, that Malcolm and the Director both know and have decided to let the attack happen rather than alert the Empire that their codes have been broken. Theron and Gnost-Dural are horrified, and quickly revise the plan (shock, awe) to save Duro by luring the Spear there and forcing Malcolm and the Director to save the planet if they want to kill the Spear. Teff’ith is once again grudgingly dispatched to warn the Republic while Theron sneaks aboard the Spear and Gnost-Dural allows himself to be captured by Darth Karrid.
Using his capture and torture to make Karrid believe he’s telling the truth, Gnost-Dural convinces her that he was sent to stop her from going to Duro and that she’s too late to make a difference there now. Judging correctly that her pride will goad her into going, Gnost-Dural is satisfied that he has succeeded and resigns himself to self-sacrifice in the line of duty. Theron’s having none of that, and slices into the ships computers to set him free. Meanwhile, he’s in the engine room in his underwear (uh, it’s hot in there, I guess?) trying to sabotage the ship in time.
As the Spear arrives at Duro, Theron realizes everything is tied in to Karrid’s mind through cybernetics and that killing her is the only way to sabotage the ship. He meets up with Gnost-Dural and what follows is a truly amazing scene featuring a Jedi Master and a Republic Special Agent storming the bridge of a Sith Battlecruiser while literally stripped to their underwear.
Theron manages to kill a distracted Darth Karrid with an overloading blaster pistol while Gnost-Dural fights off Sith apprentices who outnumber (as well as out-clothe) him three to one. With Karrid dead, the ships systems all fail (which seems like a crippling weakness, but I suppose that’s the point) and the two escape in a pod as the Republic annihilates the ship.
In the end, the day is saved, the Republic is victorious, and Theron agrees to meet his dad for a drink sometime. Overall this is a solid story with a lot of fun moments and spy action. While there are a few headscratching bits I found myself invested in the story and I breezed through the book quickly.
If there’s one negative I can level beyond Theron’s frequently appalling fieldwork, it’s that the relationship between Jace Malcolm and Satele Shan doesn’t really seem relevant to what’s going on. It’s brought up, as far as I can tell, as a way to explain why Theron is Satele’s kid if Jedi aren’t supposed to have kids, and also to call back to a promotional trailer for the MMO featuring Satele and Malcolm. As it stands though it isn’t a terribly important bit to the story, though it does add a little bit more sympathy for Theron given his difficult family situation.
With that, we’re done with The Old Republic but not quite done with tie-ins. We’re jumping another few thousand years forward next week, and are actually closing in quite quickly on the last significant time jump we’ll encounter before we hit the Prequel movies era. Next week we visit Knight Errant…which is another tie-in to a comic series. Oops.