Last year, Lucas Books began a brand-new Star Wars series, the Empire and Rebellion, wherein we got to read three different stories, each focusing on a different member of the Star Wars trinity: Leia, Han and Luke. The first novel came out last year, Martha Wells’ quite excellent Razor’s Edge, and I’ve been kind of looking forward to the other two books ever since, Corey’s Honor Among Thieves and Kevin Hearne’s Heir To The Jedi. I love reading fiction about the Rebellion Era and Razor’s Edge scratched that particular itch quite well, so I was expecting Honor Among Thieves to be quite good, even though it is written by an author I don’t like.
Honor Among Thieves is the second in the Empire and Rebellion series and it focuses on smuggler and pilot-turned-hero Han Solo as he undertakes another mission for the Rebellion some time after the destruction of the first Death Star and before the events of the second of the original trilogy, The Empire Strikes Back. And it proved to be a very disappointing read since neither the characters nor the premise of the novel made any good impression on me. In fact, it feels most unlike a Star Wars novel, for the characters are nothing like how they’ve been portrayed over the years and the premise is just entirely silly.
The novel started off decently enough, in a very typical style I must add, but then it just got boring. Every chapter that followed after the first two-three, I felt as if I was reading not-Star Wars because the characters rang false in comparison to how they’ve been developed over the years. And worse, both Leia and Han are essentially duplicated in the characters of Rebel spy Scarlet Hark and bounty hunter Baasen, the latter actually an old friend of Han’s. By the end, when the big showdown happened, I was thoroughly disappointed with the novel because it felt as it James S. A. Corey, the pen name of writers Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, really didn’t understand either the setting or the characters. In fact, Honor Among Thieves reads as a Star Wars novel the same way that 2012 debut Jay Kristoff’s Stormdancer reads as a Japanese steampunk fantasy. Neither book is representative of what it is supposed to be.
The worst part about the novel was definitely the cliches and the simplifications and the omissions. For instance, never once does the novel acknowledge the romance between Leia and Han, something that was setup in A New Hope and then later on developed further in Empire Strikes Back, by which point we saw that there were indeed romantic sparks between the two of them. Considering that the love between the two of them is one of the rock-solid facts of the entire setting, and considering that the role the two of them have played in the setting, I found this to be very odd. And then, Leia, Scarlet and Han all act so stupid for most of the novel, often falling into obvious traps and the like. Not to mention the ridiculous low-tech solutions to some of the big challenges that the characters face in the final hundred or so pages, that got me really mad. It was all as if Corey was trying to tell an Indiana Jones story in Star Wars, except completely cliched.
Sure, Han Solo is a smuggler and a damn good pilot and a Corellian so he never cares about the odds and all, but Corey really took it all to an extreme in the novel. Han Solo in Honor Among Thieves is the brashest and most irritating that he’s ever been, and all the character got reduced down to was that he doesn’t make plans and hates making plans. Or something of the like. By the end of the novel, I really wanted to strangle Han because he kept going on about how plans are bad. Give it a rest, dude!
And Leia… well, Leia. Yes, she is the self-sacrificing type, the one who cares about people’s lives and maintains a morally right stance in everything. But she was ridiculous in this novel. Not to mention the fact that when she learns that a planet she is on is slated for slagging by a fleet of Star Destroyers, she not only elects to remain on the planet but also forgoes issuing an actual alert and save the lives of even more people. Throughout the novel she makes really terrible choices, and then in the end she is shown to be in a positive light because she’s one of the last survivors of Alderaan and because she has lost so much. Just… weird.
The most offending character however was Scarlet Hark. The novel repeatedly makes a mention of how smart she is, and how capable and all. And yet, her plans keep failing. She makes far too many mistakes, and all of them in Han’s company, giving him more room to talk about how bad planning is and how his improvisations are best and so on and so forth. Original characters in Star Wars in this day and age have a lot to live up to and Scarlet did start off as really good, but by the end she was little more than a poor foil for both Leia and Han, which placed her in a very odd position. Not to mention that a lot of the banter between her and Han is much more suited to Han and Leia. She was just presented as… eye candy or something of the like.
And as for the premise. Well, the less said the better. The problem is that this novel is set before The Empire Strikes Back and it comes after several decades of Star Wars fiction in which we’ve seen so many different types of superweapons. The novel introduces yet another one, and also yet another ancient alien race that dominated the galaxy or something (really, how many have there been??). We all know how things are going to shake out by the time the main premise is introduced and we know what the big mission for Han is going to be. There is no other way for things to end since, for one, the superweapon introduced is just too powerful and grandiose.
Unfortunately, as far as the story is concerned, Corey went for the improbable and ludicrous and focused on the flash rather than on the substance. That’s the problem with this novel. It tries to be really smart and unique and what not but it just ends up falling on itself. Poor characterisation. Poor story. Poor logic. Poor everything. I kind of had high hopes for this novel, but they amounted to nothing. I’ve read Corey’s Leviathan Wakes, which is the first in the Expanse series, and that too was a poor read, though marginally better than this novel. Now after Honor Among Thieves I have to say that I am really not encouraged to read any more of Corey again since as far as I’m concerned, the author(s) just doesn’t understand proper pacing or characters or the like.
Of all the dozens of Star Wars novels that I’ve read to date, Honor Among Thieves is definitely among the poorest that I’ve read, and I’m someone who usually loves any kind of Star Wars fiction. For a novel to be as bad as I claim Honor Among Thieves to be, it has to be really, really bad indeed.
More James S. A. Corey: Leviathan Wakes.