After teaming up in Allies, relations between the Lost Tribe and the Skywalkers have turned a bit sour. Abeloth has been defeated, but the two sides are determined to keep secrets and double cross one another (both are good stalling tactics, after all). Luke and Ben tread dangerous ground, but it isn’t long before the pair is forced to flee the planet when they discover Abeloth did not die after all. Taking Vestara with them again, the trio travels to the moon of Pydyr to track down and destroy her, hopefully for the last time.
On Coruscant, the secret mission intended to aid Luke and Ben, has been stalled. The Jedi Council is increasingly growing tired of Master Kenth Hamner’s stubbornness. It becomes apparent that there’s something he’s hiding and the other Jedi Masters are fed up. When young Jedi begin recovering from their strange psychosis and Daala refuses to acknowledge this progress, the Jedi Council is especially convinced that rescuing Valin and Jysella Horn will accomplish one of three things: reassert the Council’s autonomy, discredit Daala, and serve as a distraction while the Stealth X-Wings deploy for Pyrdyr. As it turns out, Daala is the least of their problems. An unexpected friction arises that threatens to unravel the Council Luke has worked so hard to achieve.
Overall, Vortex (the sixth Fate of the Jedi book) progresses, but just barely. This is a novel that toys with the idea of “playing it safe” and why that is not always the best decision for different situations. Whether that’s Kenth Hamner’s incompetence leading the Jedi Council, Eramuth Bwua’tu’s misleading theatrics in the courtroom, or Luke assuming the Sith will always betray everyone, there is ample evidence that erring on the side of caution can have both positive and negative effects. With so much waffling and mirroring of earlier scenes throughout the series, it’s all to easy to see why Vortex appears to take an excruciating step back for every well-earned step forward the series has made so far. There were, however, a few things that worked very well.
Despite revisiting the Abeloth storyline again (it was too much to hope Allies saw the end of her—too much to hope this book would see the end of her, but one antagonist isn’t enough this time around), in which Sith and Jedi grudgingly team up only to spend half of the time considering how each side might be plotting to outsmart the other, the scenes with Luke and Ben were a bit eye-opening. As much as I began to lose interest in how gullible Ben seemed when compared to the Luke of Old, I realized the comparison was automatic because Luke isn’t the bushy-tailed, bright-eyed, gullible farm boy anymore. In fact, he hasn’t been for quite some time. I think Legacy of the Force proved that. It was interesting to notice how his character has grown by watching his interactions with his son—particularly as related to the difficulties of parenting: sometimes telling Ben that Vestara is untrustworthy isn’t as effective as letting the boy learn for himself, even if it means watching his son lose (i.e. hone through experience) part of his earnest appeal to the misguided. Ben is idealistic, but inexperienced. The wonderful thing is he has someone to guide him when Luke often times had to learn the hard way.
The Father-Son relationship was good. Then again, in this series, it has always been good. Coming in a close second is the subplot involving Kenth Hamner and the Jedi Council. Maybe it was just me, but I didn’t notice Kenth’s utter incompetence (in this series) until this novel, when he becomes very important to the storyline. It was, however, quite believable, especially because Denning builds on a fact that I am sure most of us are aware of: Luke should never have picked Kenth to babysit while he was gone. It just goes to show no one’s as good at the job as Luke is. Rebuilding from the ground up tends to create that unfortunate side effect. Kenth was never a bad Jedi, as far as these things go, but that might be why he was chosen for the position in the first place: he’s unremarkable and unlikely to cause trouble. The brilliance of his incompetence comes from how well Denning teases out his spiral into extremism. His poor decisions come from good intentions, but like many solutions, Kenth’s became problematic—very problematic.
His wavering loyalties were entirely dependent on not knowing what to do and grasping futilely at the trust Luke gave him as justification for poor decision after poor decision. Whether his death was an unfortunate and tragic accident or merely an inexplicable left turn, I never once questioned how difficult it must have been for Saba to rise to the occasion and confront a fellow Jedi Master. At the end of the day, Luke chose Kenth, but it could have been any of the Masters. Any one of them could have had Kenth’s burden on their shoulders and there’s no saying what any one of them would have done the same or differently. That sense of fellow feeling is part of what made that storyline tragic, yet successful.
Keeping secrets, confused loyalties, and acting independently of the Order is a large part of what directly decided Kenth’s fate. His conflicting emotions, however, are mirrored in the Tahiri subplot where we see her doubting whether Eramuth’s can do the job he’s been hired to do (rather than Kenth worrying—through his actions—if he can do the job he’s required to perform). To be fair, the progression with her character has been achingly slow, but there has been progress. Ultimately, Vortex can be retitled (regarding this particular subplot): In Which Tahiri Realizes Her Defense Lawyer Is Competent. I was disappointed to find the majority of her scenes were not focused on proving her innocence. Rather, those scenes involved copious amounts of doubts and misgivings about Eramuth’s feigned incompetence (sleeping at the bench was laying the act on a little too thick) and senility. Unlike Kenth’s plea for trust, Eramuth’s is eventually accepted (it remains to be seen whether Luke is proven correct in his unwavering conviction that Vestara really intends to ultimately betray or hurt them, but I’m inclined to agree with him), if slightly undercut by how quick he is to always put his hands up and shrug, quite willing to accede to Tahiri’s demands for supporting counsel—the insinuation being, “well, maybe you can’t trust me,” even if it is pedagogical. Eramuth may be very good at what he does—and may prove as much a little at the end—but I found myself not really caring one way or the other when the proof took too long to arrive.
Fate of the Jedi still has a long way to go, but the end is within sight and it looks like it’s going to be interesting. After LOTF, the terrors of FOTJ seem lukewarm: Kenth is stopped before he can really do much damage; the Sith are kind of cooperative. These are, however, welcome changes from the ominous undercurrent of fear Jacen wove throughout the previous series. At the very least, I’m eager to see what becomes of Daala. I am personally looking forward to whether we see her political downfall or not. It doesn’t seem as if the GA wants her and clearly, I don’t think Jagged Fel would welcome her into the Empire, but I’m curious if the softening of her character will have any bearing on where her future will take her. With Luke and Ben on the run once more and the Horn children finally on their way to a thawed victory, the last three books seem well underway to delivering some tangible resolutions. And, if Booster Terrik’s appearance is anything to go by, hopefully more cameos?
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