Bloodline by Claudia Gray is a standalone Star Wars novel following Princess Leia Organa long after the events of the film Return of the Jedi. Set decades after the fall of the Empire and the birth of the New Republic, Leia has served as a Senator in the unofficial Populist party, who believe member planets should retain full sovereignty over themselves. Their counterparts are the Centrists, who believe in a stronger centralized power in the government with significant military prowess. The story begins at a time when the senate has trouble getting anything done, as these opposing sides spend more time bickering than trying to work together. Years of these divisive politics has left Leia tired and jaded, longing for the days of danger and adventure with her friends and loved ones that was her time in the Rebellion. Resolving to retire at the end of her term, Leia decides to spearhead an investigation into criminal activity disrupting certain worlds as a final deed in service to the galaxy, which begins to unearth a greater threat hiding in the shadows.
I’ve enjoyed all of the new canon of Star Wars novels I’ve read thus far, but this book stands out among them. What made this novel work so much better for me was that it didn’t try to do too much. We do come to witness important things like the birth of the Resistance and the beginnings of the First Order’s emergence onto the galactic stage, but these aspects are rather muted in the grand scheme; the story never loses sight of what it’s really about. This is a story about Leia at a specific time in her life and it stays largely cemented to this, giving the characters time to develop and flourish. The supporting cast was well-developed and likable, but it never felt like too much time was being spent on them. I was actually surprised and refreshed to see how few and far between sequences focused on them were.
Leia’s investigation of a cartel leads her to form an unexpected partnership with Ransolm Casterfo, a young Centrist senator with a troubling fixation on Imperial artifacts and a reverence for monarchy, none of which sits well with the veteran rebel. The relationship between these two characters actually forms heart and backbone to the whole story, as the shaky start to their partnership develops into mutual respect and even friendship. While Populists are more clearly framed as the “good” side of the partisan disagreements, Ransolm does do a good job of explaining his beliefs from his own unique perspective, which contrary to appearances does not involve domination, but rather strength through unity and pride in one’s government. He, his family, and even his world suffered at the hands of Darth Vader and he understands only too well the evils that can come with absolute, unchecked authority. Naïve though it may be, he admires the idea of a galaxy run by a benevolent leader while at the same time believing in the political process and that as a senator he can make a difference. I couldn’t always agree with him, but I really came to like him.
It is actually their mutual sufferings at the hands of Darth Vader that helps bring the two closer together, granting some rich insight into Leia’s feelings on him that fans have not seen before. Luke’s steadfast belief in the goodness residing in their father is well documented, but we’ve never really gotten a chance (at least in the new canon) to see how Leia felt about learning the truth about her biological father. She was, after all, tortured by him aboard the first Death Star, so such a revelation did not sit easy with her. I loved the parts of the story concerned with her parentage, especially the ways in which it escalated and came to the forefront of her political life. It was all built up to very organically and the drama that ensued left me hungry to read what would happen next.
The investigation into the cartel, which turns out to be suspiciously expansive for having been around for a seemingly short amount of time, allows for some good moments of espionage, action, and expansions on the lore too. The cartel is run by a race of aliens called Niktos, who used to be indentured by the Hutts. As it turns out, Leia is somewhat revered by them as the “Huttslayer” for having killed Jabba the Hutt, footage of which had been recovered by some of these criminals. Leia isn’t particularly moved by this reverence, but I enjoyed this nugget of lore as both a fun nod to the films and a plot device allowing her to move in certain circles a little more protected.
I really liked how much more subdued this side of the story was, leading Leia and her team closer to rogue paramilitary groups and criminals but not the front door of the First Order itself, which remains a phantom menace throughout this book. This stands as another example of the book not trying to do too much, to great effect. The reader can piece together some insight about how the First Order actually operates as far as funding and the way they’ve wormed their way into the underbelly of the galaxy, but it doesn’t go from zero to ten as far as conflict between sides.
Bloodline stands as a shining example of a great Star Wars novel, telling its own neatly self-contained story while also tying itself to the greater events of the films. Leia is the star of the show and it never felt like she had to share the spotlight with the other characters, a focus that gave this book strength. The insights into her experiences were wonderful, and while the action and adventure aspects of the story were not unwelcome, I was surprised with how much I loved the political drama that unfolded. Other Star Wars novels that mean to shine a light on a specific character would do well to follow this book’s example.
My Rating: 5 out of 5
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[…] by Claudia Gray, which I have spoken highly of numerous times since: it received a 5 out of 5 in my review and was listed among my top five personal favourite reads of the year. I’ve enjoyed many of […]