Tyrant’s Test by Michael P. Kube-McDowell (1996, Bantam)
The final book of The Black Fleet Crisis has a lot of loose ends to wrap up: Lando, Lobot, and the droids are trapped aboard an ancient and mysterious starship; Leia and the rest of the New Republic must contend with the threat of the genocidal Yevetha; Luke is engaged in a lengthy search for a woman who may be his mother; and Han Solo has been captured and imprisoned by the leader of the Yevetha, Viceroy Nil Spaar.
This dark and unpleasant state of affairs affords Han and Leia both a chance to shine. Han meets the torment of his captors with his signature style of defiant wisecracking, while Leia is forced to make the difficult decision to attack the Yevetha, weighing the lives of millions against that of her husband. Many folks who’ve written Star Wars books don’t write a great Leia, and McDowell’s characterization of her in these books is a little shaky at certain points, but here, he shows an acute understanding of her greatest strength: her absolutely unwavering commitment to her ideals.
The amount of good material that McDowell and other writers have managed to wring out of characters that originated in the Star Wars Holiday Special continues to surprise me. The mission to rescue Han becomes a rite of passage into adulthood for Chewbacca’s son, and some of the moments between the two of them are mildly touching.
Most effective here is the result of Luke’s quest for his mother, which turns out to have been a well-intentioned deception on the part of his guide, Akanah. One of Luke’s most admirable traits is his capacity for understanding and forgiveness, but the pain resulting from Akanah’s deception renders Luke unable, at least at present, to forgive her for what she’s done. McDowell manages to give the situation the degree of pathos it calls for.
The greatest failing of this book is the Lando plot. Told through a series of “interludes” in this novel, the story of the “Teljkon Vagabond” fails to connect very strongly to the primary story of the Yevethan crisis. McDowell writes Lando’s banter and conflicts with Lobot and the droids well, making it fun to read, but without a solid connection to the “A-plot” of The Black Fleet Crisis, I’m left with the feeling that Lando’s story could (and perhaps should) have been its own book.
Overall, though, The Black Fleet Crisis is a strong series, with an antagonist somewhat more unique than your standard-issue Imperial revivalist and a number of very interesting thematic elements. Tyrant’s Test is a decent conclusion to this trilogy, providing satisfactory resolutions to character (if not plot) arcs.