Choices of One by Timothy Zahn (2011, Del Rey)
Choices of One is Timothy Zahn’s follow-up to his 2007 novel, Allegiance. Set a few months after that book, it follows Luke, Han, Leia, and Chewbacca as they attempt to broker a deal with an apparently sympathetic Imperial governor. At the same time, however, Mara Jade seeks to dispense the Emperor’s justice to that same traitor, and enlists the help of the Hand of Judgment, the rogue stormtrooper unit from Allegiance, to help her in that task. Of course, not everything is as it seems; secret identities, betrayals, and shifting alliances keep the reader guessing throughout.
Furthermore, most of the strings here are being pulled by an alien from the Unknown Regions, whom current Senior Captain Thrawn has been tasked with combating. Zahn is even able to drop in Gilad Pellaeon for a part of the action, as he tries to ascertain the identity of the mysterious, masked “Lord Odo” who has taken command of the Star Destroyer Chimaera on the Emperor’s authority.
As before, Zahn handles all of the characters present in this book admirably. The dynamics between the classic cast are pitch perfect; the romantic tension between Han and Leia particularly stands out. Zahn writes dialogue for them that parallels their dynamic in The Empire Strikes Back, but stops short of completely mirroring that dynamic, which clearly has come to a boiling point in that film.
Luke is separated from the rest of the crew throughout most of the book, but he’s given a lot to do in the story and a compelling internal conflict over whether or not he has the Jedi chops to pull off what’s being asked of him in this mission. Here, as well as in all of his other Star Wars books, Zahn taps into an aspect of Luke that most expanded universe writers seem to have missed while watching the movies: he’s a clever kid. In Choices of One, Luke realizes and rues his shortcomings when it comes to the Force, but he repeatedly comes up with clever ways around that which still accomplish his goals.
It’s always good to see Zahn’s original characters again, with Thrawn’s presence in this book a welcome surprise. Interactions between him and his current companion, Jorj Car’das, serve to reveal a little of Thrawn’s philosophy of peace, order, and even justice through benevolent fascism. This political philosophy of Thrawn’s has been alluded to a few times, and I’d really like to see it explored in more depth by Zahn in the future.
The crew of stormtroopers Zahn established in his previous Star Wars novel, while not on my roster of all-time great Star Wars characters, was nevertheless fun to read about, and I was satisfied with their ultimate fate. I’d gladly read about them again.
Choices of One is a much more tightly plotted book than Allegiance. As you’ll see in my review of that novel, I liked it very much, but upon later reflection, its plot feels a little more tied together by convenience than in this novel, where everything is solidly and very plausibly connected. The story here is much leaner, with fewer disparate threads, making for a generally more fast-paced and exciting read.
Next week, I’ll get back to my trek through The New Jedi Order with James Luceno’s Hero’s Trial.