The saga that was the repercussions of Aftermath is now behind us and fans are looking forward to Life Debt with great anticipation - well, I’m happy to say, it’s worth it, like…really worth it.
Chuck Wendig came under a lot of criticism for his first book within this trilogy for a multitude of reasons that never made sense to me. However, if you were offended by the present tense and the fact that homosexual characters were involved I would give this book a miss. If you can look past those, and I hope you can, then read away as you’re in for a great ride.
Why? Well my friends, let me tell you in the vaguest and non-spoilery way I can.
Life Debt begins as it goes on, in the midst of action. The main cast of characters we met in the first book are back and find themselves deep in middle of a stealth orientated mission. The gang, led by Norra Wexley, have found themselves in the position of legal bounty hunters - hunting down Imperials and bringing them back to justice within The New Republic’s courts. In the unknown time that has passed between Aftermath and Life Debt they have become a truly well oiled machine, with all the banter included.
If you can’t quite remember who Norra Wexley is, or who Jas may be, then it would be a wonderful time to remind yourself of what went on in Aftermath. This is the second in a trilogy and having some foresight before really did help, especially when familiar names pop out of the blue and you want to remind yourself whom they may be.
As much as these characters are central to the story, I would argue that Life Debt is more a novel about the state of The Empire. We finally get to see what is going on within their realms and how Vice-Admiral Sloane is trying to juggle all of the many pieces to re-create the Empire she loved before the Death Star was destroyed. Sadly for her, she hasn’t got free reign, the mysterious figure we met at the conclusion of Aftermath has her on a very tight leash.
To Wendig’s credit, this elusive admiral is one heck of a villain. They're as good as the Emperor at pulling all the strings and ensuring all events go as they want, when they want. At times it was like reading a classic Agatha Christie novel, as you never knew where the plot was going to go next, or, what the plan may be. Every single character was ensnared in this spiders’ web and they just didn’t know - it is marvellous writing of a vicious villain. That’s all I can say about them as I don’t want to give anything away, but I will say this, Wendig could possibly have created a character that will live long in the memory.
Speaking of which, Sloane is arguably the biggest success story of the new canon. We have never seen her on the silver screen and only caught a short glimpse of her in the Kanan comic. Despite this, she has gained herself a cult following and is well loved. This emotion will only intensify as she further flourishes within this novel. Her journey has come so far since A New Dawn and it maintains its momentum in Life Debt.
Characters and personalities are two of the things that makes Star Wars one of the most loved franchises in the world. Norra’s crew are certainly a fine bunch of “characters”. Jas and Sinjir’s friendship is both venomous and fun whilst the maturating of Temmin is interesting as we all have come to know him as “Snap”. The joy of present tense is that Wendig can shift the story onto different protagonists so we see their view on things, thankfully this resulted in a lot more backstory which truly brought these characters and their past's to life.
As you read Life Debt a lot of blanks from the wider universe are filled in, we find out more about Han and Leia’s marriage, we see how the recovery of the Empire is going and what their next plans are, we discover small clues as to how the First Order may have come into existence. (And General Hux’s first name)! Wendig is able to tantalise the reader throughout the 400 odd pages with a fast flowing plot and little pieces of info we’re all dying to know. Being the “filler” in a trilogy, you may forgive him for just focusing on the plot of his characters but he broadens the horizons within the Galaxy Far Far Away.
Chuck’s writing got a lot of flack after Aftermath and whilst I not a fan of some of his descriptions the writing in Life Debt is much improved. It carries a lot more urgency and due to the events that take place a much more serious tone. That being said, during the lighter moments he gets the banter between all characters spot on with the humour and tone that only he can bring. For me, it was a great response to all the hate and venom he got, he knuckled down and wrote a good book - what a just retort.
One of the most talked about writing techniques of Aftermath was the interludes and they’re back in Life Debt! I for one am thankful of that; they’re essential for showing what else is going on in the galaxy, whether this be on planets we now know and love or have never heard of. These breaks from the story takes the reader to the inner rooms of galactic politicians and the savage front lines of the ongoing war between The New Republic and The Empire. It shows that the story we’re concentrating on has massive repercussions on world’s elsewhere, we see the reality and therefore brutality of war.
Overall, Life Debt is an immensely enjoyable read in which the story of the New Republics’ formation doesn’t just take a small step but a giant stride. With the inclusion of new characters and the return of old ones Wendig has created a vast tapestry full of colour and life that should conclude in gripping fashion. Life Debt is one heck of a book.