Claudia Gray’s second Star Wars novel is required reading.
If you just saw The Force Awakens and are looking for a Star Wars novel to get into, this is the book for you. Bloodline presents a political thriller that illustrates the state of the galaxy in the time leading up to TFA.
The basic premise: The New Republic is paralyzed with political infighting and posturing. The two sides – Populists and Centrists – constantly bicker to the extent of being negligent to the needs of their represented worlds. Leia (a popular Populist), weary with this dysfunction, is looking for a way out of politics, but is ultimately pushed into the center of broad political upheaval and becomes her parties candidate for First Senator.
This book gives us a view into colossal dysfunction – and conspiracies – underlying the New Republic. It could be argued that there are hero’s on both sides… but not many, if any.
As far as political drama’s goes, this is the story that Episode I needed. The corruption, back-stabbing, and political maneuvering is what George Lucas had failed to capture in his first prequel film. Claudia Gray accomplishes this by introducing several interesting new characters. The most important new character is Ransolm Casterfo, a Centrist Senator from a world trashed by The Empire who agrees to investigate a disturbing event with Princess Leia. It is through his relationship with Leia that we see much of the events later in the story unfold.
There’s also a lot of action in this book. There’s a kidnapping, a rescue, an impromptu fight, and even a small star fighter battle. They all fit together and support the central story.
The Best Parts (without spoilers):
Leia only: This book is really the first time we get to see (meaningfully) Leia standing up on her own. She’s not bickering with Luke and/or Han. We really get to see her in her element and she’s not dependent on anyone.
Huttslayer: I really love that this book touches on, in a significant way, Leia having killed Jabba the Hutt. That was perhaps the highlight of her action throughout the films and it was a great touch to be able to illustrate how that action had an impact throughout the galaxy.
The Reveal: The big reveal in this book (though not all that spoilery given all the marketing materials) is the discovery of Darth Vader being Leia’s father. Without discussing the details, the method of the reveal is very powerful (it’s actually done twice, but they’re both fantastic). It’s incredibly personal and is, perhaps, better delivered than the “I am your father” moment that we see with Luke. It is a very different moment, but has a significant impact on Leia and her situation. Gray has a unique talent for creating these big moments that are plot-turners, but also incredibly personal (the other example being the destruction of the first Death Star in Lost Stars).
The Bad Guys: One of the great things about Star Wars is that the bad guys usually win. This is one of those books where we end up in a very different – and not better – place than when we started. This aspect is really what gives the emotional depth to Star Wars stories and Bloodline fits right in.
Things I’m not sure I liked so much:
I think Claudia Gray is masterful at presenting new characters and illustrating what motivates and influences them. She has a fantastic way of putting characters into situations – in the case of Lost Stars, situations with which the reader is already familiar – and illustrate those characters in a rich and organic way.
In this story, we see many new characters, but the primary character is still Princess Leia. In reading the story, Princess Leia didn’t feel quite right. I realized, though, it’s because the original trilogy (and TFA) don’t really delve very much into Leia’s motivations and emotional state. We see her bicker with Han Solo. We see her fight to the end on Hoth. We see her volunteer to go to Endor. But we don’t really get to see/understand much of her internal monologue. Claudia Gray does a fantastic job of presenting Leia in a more textured way. We see her go through many different emotions throughout this story and get to live through one of her most trying times. But it also feels a bit unfamiliar.
Some movements in the book didn’t quite seem believable. Not to give any spoilers – this references an important plot point of the book – I would have expected Han to respond more personally after the napkin incident.
Unnecessary sexual tension
I think Claudia Gray is so good at character development, especially in their personal interactions that I also read-in some level of romantic tension. She realizes this in some cases and writes it away. But it still feels like it’s there. This is, obviously, a bit of an issue when reading Princess Leia. But it feels unrequited with Greer and Seastriker – I wanted to see more of their interaction.
There could still be more….
Gray ended Lost Stars in a way that left me wanting more. The same can be said about this book.
So where does this book rank in the New Canon? For me, it’s not as good as Lost Stars (the best so far for me). This is no knock on Bloodline – Lost Stars just pushes too many emotional buttons. It’s a different book than Lords of the Sith, but it’s not clear that it’s “better”. But if you asked me which book should I read and I haven’t read any or many of the others, I’d say read Bloodline first. So it’s probably the third best book in terms of story excitement (LotS does have a lot of Vader in it…). But Bloodline is a far more important book than LotS and it’s not an argument.
Collider has a great interview with Claudia Gray on her work on Bloodline