Carl heads to Alderaan to explore a Claudia Gray novel that’s fit for royalty!
Writer Claudia Gray is well known among Star Wars book fans as someone who delves deeply into her characters, the mythology and writes books that are an absolute joy to read. Take last year’s Star Wars: Bloodline, for example, a fantastic book following Princess Leia in the years between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. Claudia Gray delivered a novel of such well thought out action, suspense and unbridled joy for both fans and non-fans that the plaudits that came her way were well deserved. She had already started the ball rolling with her novel Star Wars: Lost Stars which told the story of two childhood friends who end up on opposite sides of the conflict. The book saw the story through their eyes and was a big hit with Star Wars fans worldwide. We hoped against hope that these two star-crossed lovers would ultimately be reunited by the book’s end.
It was great news when it was announced that Claudia would be writing a new Princess Leia book, this time set during her 16th year. After getting a copy I consumed it in 7 hours! The old adage came true: once I had picked it up, I couldn’t put it down! And the surprises that awaited me were a joy to discover.
The story opens in Leia’s bedroom on Alderaan. Our beloved Princess and her handmaiden/make-up artist/fashion guru droid, 2V, are in the process of getting Leia ready for her ceremonial challenges to be proclaimed the future ruler of the planet, The Day of Demand. She stands before her adopted parents, Bail and Breha, and pledges to complete three challenges to prove herself worthy of assuming the throne in the future; challenges in the areas of body, mind and heart. One of the challenges she pledges to undertake almost claimed the life of Breha years past, an accident that robbed her of her heart and lungs, now replaced by diodes to keep her alive. Leia knows these are not her real parents but loves them as if they were and doesn’t ask questions about her true parentage. She has asked when she was younger and been told her father died in battle and her mother in childbirth.
The problems start as Leia starts to feel isolated from her parents. All her life they have given her their love and attention, but now they seem distant and uninterested in her. She still feels their love but, to her, they are pushing her aside. All they seem interested in are extravagant dinner parties they keep planning and throwing for their various friends in the Senate instead of spending time with her or listening to her worries. She is due to start her studies at The Apprentice Legislature, training for the Imperial Senate. Here, the students are given scenarios from their tutor which are thinly veiled assignments from the Emperor. Each student gives their own solution to the scenario they are presented with and argue like the politicians they are destined to become. Leia argues a solution to the scenario they are presented with and is devastated when the Empire uses it to enslave the planet and its population. She realises the Emperor had laid a trap for the students and intended to use the solution they concluded on anyway, whether they had decided on it or not.
Leia decides to make her parents take notice of her again by undergoing diplomatic missions on behalf of her family and planet. Her first almost ends in disaster when she uses her cunning to take one hundred members of the population off of the planet Wobani in direct violation of her diplomatic mandate, using her wits and her mind to outwit the Imperial officer in charge of the planet. It was nice to read and see Wobani in the book. It’s like saying hello to an old friend that we know and love. This action leads her into trouble with her parents and into a meeting during her Legislature studies with Grand Moff Tarkin; a meeting where both try to get an insight into the other, Leia seeing the evil lurking within him, Tarkin seeing the cunning and deceptiveness in her, realising she will become an adversary in the future. These chapters of the book are really well written. We know what will happen eventually between them and the seeds of that fateful encounter are sown throughout the book.
Leia’s next diplomatic mission leads her to a discovery that shocks her to the core. She sees the reason why her beloved parents are distant to her of late. The seeds of the Rebellion are being sown by her adopted parents. The dinner parties are all a cover to plan their next move against the Empire. One of the missions goes too far as one of the embryonic Rebellion goes far beyond his mandate. Though he doesn’t appear in person during the novel, his name is revealed. He is Saw Gerrera. The plotline touched upon in Rogue One is started here. And it is welcome. It adds a strong thread to an already engrossing novel and brings it into line with the stories we all know and love.
The members of the Apprentice Legislature are given survival and team building training by hiking across several planets and their hostile environments which include rock climbing. Leia becomes particularly friendly with two of her fellow students. Keir, another Alderaan native who comes across at first as disinterested but is in fact really shy and Amylin Holdo, a colourful extrovert who at first seems like a completely crazed person with a permanent half-smile on her face but is, underneath, a complete individual, a person who becomes a good friend and accomplice later on to Leia. Most of you will know that the character of Amylin is in the new film, The Last Jedi, and will be portrayed by the stunningly talented Laura Dern. This lends a great deal of weight to the book. Much has been made that she could be the saga’s first onscreen LBGT character and this may be true. There are subtle hints to this in the book and credit to Claudia Gray for how this is broached and handled.
Keir is slightly underwritten. His character is so obviously going to be a love interest for Leia. He rarely leaves her side, follows her everywhere she goes when they are together like a love-struck puppy and is in awe of her. He too becomes a conspirator in what Leia does during the book but, unlike Amylin, feels like a token character thrown in for one purpose only. His character is welcome, don’t get me wrong but, at the end of the day, a disposable or changeable one.
One of Leia’s diplomatic missions sees her going to the planet of Naboo. As soon as I read this, I knew something gripping would be coming up. And so it did. A character from The Phantom Menace appears here, now an Imperial Grand Moff. (No spoilers here though!) Their reaction to seeing the teenage Leia and her looks stop this character in their tracks. We KNOW who Leia’s real mother is. So does this character, just by looking at her. It was spine tingling to read this part. I knew they wouldn’t say her real mother’s name but, all the same, I was dying for them to spill the beans!
I will not go any further into the book’s contents, for to do so would risk spoiling it for you, the reader. I will just say that some of the dialogue left me smiling. It fits so well into what’s come before and will come in the future that it increases the reader’s enjoyment tenfold. One of Breha’s pieces of motherly advice for Leia left me laughing: like mother, like daughter! It’s a joy to read and to digest. The whole book is like this. One minute full-on drama and the next it makes you laugh or smile knowingly. And there are a few cameo appearances that were unexpected but hugely welcome.
Claudia Gray has delivered a novel of unrivalled joy for both fans of the character and for many people who are new to the character and events. I admit that you will need to know a fair bit of Star Wars history to get full enjoyment from the novel. Star Wars fans will surely consider this up there with the best the saga has to offer.
Until next time…
May The Force Be With You.
Star Wars: Leia: Princess of Alderaan by Claudia Gray is published by Egmont in the UK and is available now.
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