Survivor’s Quest by Timothy Zahn (2004, Del Rey)
Survivor’s Quest serves as a kind of companion piece to Troy Denning’s Tatooine Ghost. As that novel focuses on Han and Leia’s relationship, Survivor’s Quest features Luke and Mara Jade Skywalker, as they attempt to unravel the secrets of Outbound Flight, a Republic-sanctioned exploratory expedition sent to the fringes of the galaxy, where it met with destruction fifty years prior to the novel (set three years before the New Jedi Order series).
Like Tatooine Ghost, this book draws a number of connections to the (then-new) Star Wars prequels. Plenty of references to the Trade Federation, the “Naboo incident,” and the Battle of Geonosis are in evidence, and the novel’s climax features a confrontation with an antique droideka.
More interesting, however, are the connections Timothy Zahn makes to history he’d established in his own previous Star Wars tales. Here we learn more about the rest of the Chiss (the late Grand Admiral Thrwan’s species), and the ultimate fate of the Outbound Flight project.
The Chiss contact Luke and Mara about turning the remains of Outbound Flight, which they’ve located, over to the Jedi for study. Also along for the ride are a group of aliens who claim the crew of Outbound Flight saved their people from destruction fifty years ago, and members of the 501st Stormtrooper Legion, affiliated with Thrawn’s less malevolent incarnation of the Empire.
Repeated sabotage and murder attempts, the discovery that Outbound Flight isn’t full of dead people after all, and sudden betrayal from an unexpected source all make Survivor’s Quest an engrossing read. Zahn also spends plenty of time on character drama. He doesn’t lay the romance between Luke and Mara on very thick, but convincingly writes a relationship build on love, trust, and cooperation that is heartwarming in its simplicity. The ending, in particular, made me smile.
Zahn also provides plenty of new and interesting protagonists, my favorite of whom is Dean Jinzler, an old man seeking answers about his long-dead Jedi sister and trying to cope with his feelings of resentment over having been overshadowed by her in his parents’ eyes.
Fans who have read and enjoyed other Timothy Zahn Star Wars fiction will find this book very satisfying. The great characterizations and original characters, tight pacing, and wide scope one would expect from Zahn are all here. Additionally, this novel pays off on hints and references made throughout all of Zahn’s previous Star Wars books. Survivor’s Quest raises a lot of questions, too, teasing his subsequent Star Wars novel, Outbound Flight.
Also included in the paperback edition is “Fool’s Bargain,” also by Timothy Zahn and originally published as an e-book.
The story takes place prior to the events of Survivor’s Quest, following the Aurek-seven unit of the 501st Stormtrooper Legion as they prove they’re not like their predecessors in white armor by liberating a world from an oppressive tyrant. In the process, they pick up a nonhuman recruit, destined to surprise the pants off of Luke in Survivor’s Quest.
While it doesn’t stack up to its full-length companion, “Fool’s Bargain” is entertaining and keeps the pages turning. Zahn has the germ of some pretty interesting characters in the story’s stormtrooper protagonists; it’s a bit of a shame that they fade mostly into the background in Survivor’s Quest.