Aftermath: Life Debt by Chuck Wendig is the second novel in the Star Wars: Aftermath trilogy, continuing the story of Norra Wexley and her team; her son Temmin, his battle droid bodyguard Mister Bones, the Zabrak bounty hunter Jas Emari, the ex-Imperial Sinjir Rath Velus, and the special forces soldier Jom Barell, who work together to hunt down Imperial war criminals. The New Republic continues its fight for a firm foothold in the galaxy, while the Empire under Grand Admiral Rae Sloane and her mysterious advisor Gallius Rax conspire to regain the control lost after the deaths of the Emperor and Darth Vader. Meanwhile, in a risky move to free the Wookiee homeworld of Kashyyyk from enslavement, Chewbacca has been captured and Han Solo has gone missing. A distressed Leia enlists the help of Norra’s team to find out what happened to her husband.
This novel was a notable improvement on its predecessor. The first book did a fairly good job of establishing the characters, but sadly there was very little plot development. It felt too much like it was just spinning its wheels. This book turned that problem on its head, giving the story a lot more forward momentum while still allowing for more good character moments when the narrative does slow down a little. We are reintroduced to Norra’s team while they’re in the middle of a mission, helping to establish where the characters are at with each other since the last book. This is wrapped up effectively quickly, without feeling too rushed, leading into the quest to find Han.
I really enjoyed the progression of this novel, which continually shifted the paradigm of the story to new objectives against new obstacles, but in a way that felt natural. The team first had to locate Han, but once they did they decided to help him rescue Chewie, which led to a contingent of them accompanying the pair further to continue their plan to liberate Kashyyyk. The inclusion of the iconic duo and Leia really helped with my investment in this story. I enjoyed reading about Norra’s team well enough, but for a trilogy literally entitled Aftermath it was a little unfortunate how much more the focus was on new characters when I’m dying to know what major established characters were doing at that time.
Speaking of Norra’s team, I will credit them for feeling like a more well-rounded ensemble of characters than they did before. The first book did set them up well, but the experience was a little protracted. This time around there was good cohesion altogether, working off of each other more while also having their own personal moments. Norra might be the closest this trilogy has to a protagonist, but it never really felt like she had the spotlight over the others. Her and Temmin were actually the characters I was the least interested in, exhibiting family drama that I didn’t have the patience for. Wendig also has a weird habit of having Norra go off on tangents in her head at inappropriate times, when she should probably be a lot more preoccupied.
The drama of the fissuring Empire was a lot more apparent in this book too, well represented in the friction between Grand Admiral Sloane and Gallius Rax, the true puppet master behind Imperial movements. Sloane is the face of the Empire as it stands and is ostensibly in charge, but Rax is the one pulling the strings, in ways both known and unknown to the Grand Admiral. The nature of their relationship kept me guessing a lot and I was intrigued to see how it would develop; whether schemes would bring them closer as co-conspirators or push them apart. Sloane continues to be one of the most compelling characters in the new canon of expanded fiction.
One of the only things I found particularly regrettable was that the liberation of Kashyyyk could have been a novel in its own right, but much of that story becomes glossed over as the greater plot necessitated time moving forward a certain extent. There were glimpses into some rather menacing characters running the show on Kashyyyk, making sure the Wookiees stay in line, that I would have liked fleshed out more. For the more limited time spent there it did still manage to expand upon the lore, ecology, and customs of that world though, so it did still make good in some respects.
For me, Life Debt has cemented this trilogy as something worth reading in the new canon of Star Wars expanded media. The first book was written well-enough, but this one really delivered on the goods, weaving in iconic characters, intrigue, and confronting numerous pressing issues in the aftermath of the Empire’s fall from grace. Interlude chapters showcasing perspectives across the galaxy were included the same as the first book, though they were fewer in number. It is to this book’s credit how much I didn’t notice their absence until after the fact.
My rating: 4 out of 5