Coruscant Nights Book II: Street of Shadows (Michael Reaves)
The middle book in a trilogy detailing the life of Order 66 survivor and budding Jedi Jax Pavan, and his eclectic group of companions, Street of Shadows has a relatively difficult act to follow. The first book was above average, but with several flaws that prevented it from attaining must read status. Does book number 2 earn similar scores, or is it a breakthrough for the series?
The story is basically a murder mystery of sorts. Our heroes are acting as private investigators while they also go about their goal of crippling the Empire with the help of the Whiplash movement. This leads them to the case of murdered sculptor Volette and his distraught partner, Dejah Duare. It’s a well told mystery with the usual peaks and valleys, red herrings and deceitful witnesses, and it’s a fun break from the norm to see Jedi involved in detective work. The main storyline of Jax and company vs. the Empire doesn’t advance much in this installment, but it’s a solid standalone work with a passable mystery and fantastic character development, but unfortunately it isn’t the only show in town.
Two other stories play a significant role in this book, and both nearly ruin the off-the-wall goodness of our main tale. First up is Vader’s decision to employ imprisoned bounty hunter Aurra Sing to track down our heroes. Despite springing her from prison, Sing isn’t too grateful towards Vader and they get in several huge brawls for no apparent reason. Sing has always been a bit of a hot head, but this kind of stuff is just ridiculous. An appearance by one of the franchise’s most marketable characters from a decade ago paired with the franchise’s most marketable character ever deserved much better than the quality of interaction you would expect in a particularly bad superhero team up, such as the recently reviewed Spawn vs. Batman, where half of their story is fighting one another for no reason.
Meanwhile, the other plot point comes straight out of the worst fan fiction imaginable. Captain Typho, Padme Amidala’s head of security in the second and third films, has decided to go on a hunt to discover the truth behind her demise. His motivation? A deep, burning love for her that we have never heard about in any other source, nor one that was foreshadowed in any way in the films. We spend far too much time following this bumbling character as he digs up details we already know about, waxing poetic about his lost love, and once he finally discovers the truth it ends in a ten second confrontation that will surprise absolutely no one. A total waste of time with almost no tie in to the story of Jax Pavan and company, you could skip over these segments and save yourself a massive headache without losing much story context.
Once again, characterization for our hero cast is solid. I5-YQ and Den continue to have a solid dynamic, and Jax continues to develop a relationship with these characters and all the others while also learning more about his past and becoming the leader he is destined to be. Laranth detaches a bit in importance late in this book, but newcomer Dejah fills the female love interest role quite capably.
Where it falls apart is in the antagonists. Aurra Sing and Vader have a really stupid relationship straight out of the worst comic book tropes. They fight each other for no reason, make idiotic taunts, and behave nothing like the characters we are accustomed to seeing. Vader’s too verbose, Sing barely competent and completely unhinged. Worst of all though, is Captain Typho. This man’s character is utterly ruined by this book, and though he was never a particularly fascinating character, molding him into a love struck fool was not a great creative decision.
Predictably, author Michael Reaves uses a fairly similar style in this book as he did in book 1, albeit to diminished effect. Descriptions aren’t all that impressive. There are plenty of big fancy words but precious little in actual substance, and no real success in capturing Coruscant’s persona any more than the previous book. Most descriptions feel this way- rehashed and unoriginal, just setting the stage for the more substantive plot elements, and the tone falters just a bit as a result. It never really captures the hard boiled noir-detective angle that the title and cover so masterfully emulate, which is a true negative mark on the book’s uniqueness. It goes from being an interesting genre experiment in the Star Wars universe to just another “Jedi on the run” story as a result of these failings.
On the other hand, dialogue between everyone not named Aurra Sing or Darth Vader is razor sharp. I5 is a great character for a zinger or two, and Den brings out the best in him. As Jax learns to communicate more with this sentient droid, he too opens up and establishes a handful of amusing gags and one-liners that contrast nicely with the otherwise serious, desperate material in the book. This book isn’t as heavy on action as the previous, but there’s a really nice build up to the finale, and the scenes where Vader fights Sing are well written even if they fail from just about every other perspective.
Unfortunately, there’s more timeline weirdness sure to befuddle continuity fans already upset over the two deaths of Jedi Master Even Piell brought about by the first book. Dates get mixed up as this book is alleged to take place 22 years after the Battle of Naboo, yet the purge that Jax barely survived mere months ago was only twelve years after Naboo. This is mentioned several times so it’s certainly not a typo, although I suppose it’s possible that the book fast-forwarded ten years from the previous installment with no other indications of the fact. According to the wiki and common sense this didn’t happen, but it’s a bit of a jarring insertion that could’ve easily been prevented.
There are parts of this book to like- the banter is solid, Jax’s journey is compelling, and there are a handful of solid action scenes, but there’s just as much to dislike. Typho and Sing’s storylines are an utter waste, Vader is completely botched, and the writing is unbalanced and rote. Possibly worth consideration if you enjoyed the previous novel, but even then Street of Shadows is a notable step backward in terms of quality.