Book review: Troy Denning’s Fate of the Jedi: Vortex

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?

The Jawas bid you read more book reviews at Erika’s blog: Jawas Read, Too!

17 thoughts on “Book review: Troy Denning’s Fate of the Jedi: Vortex

  1. Amaranthine

    Well, if I remember correctly from the RH blurb of Ascension (or was it Conviction) Daala does get removed from power one way or another. I’m looking forward to seeing it though.

    I also liked the little scene with Han when he thought Leia had died, after they rescued the Horns from the convention center.

  2. Erika (Jawas Read, Too)

    I prefer not to read blurbs of future publications because I like going in completely surprised.

    That Han/Leia scene was a little sad. Poor Han! You really feel bad for him, even if you know Denning wouldn’t kill off Leia.

  3. jawajames

    i was a bit surprised that Abeloth returned – i really figured that with Allies being the middle point, they’d wrap up the cause of the madness and then move onto Sith/Jedi wackiness, but instead we get Sith/Jedi/Abeloth wackiness. My favorite parts were the jailbreak scenes and Saba’s duel.

    I really felt that Vortex helped kick things into a higher gear, at least with the Luke/Ben/Vestara plotline and the Jedi/Daala stuff. Tahiri’s plotline was interesting but slow.

    I didn’t feel that Kenth was incompetent – merely indecisive because of his conflicted loyalties, and not realizing that he doesn’t have to go it alone. Teamwork is one of the strongest Jedi strengths, and he shuns it.

    Nice review, and good stuff to think about: the overall theme of “playing it safe” vs “taking a side”. One thing that I think Denning does well is actually giving the droids a role.

  4. Erika (Jawas Read, Too)

    Well, Kenth wasn’t fit for the role. I mean, he could not perform it well because he was indecisive and had conflicting loyalties. To me, that means he didn’t have the skills necessary to do the job. Or, incompetence.

    I was surprised Abeloth wasn’t killed off either. Now I’m left doubting whether the Jedi are really cured when that I feel like that subplot should have ended so the rest could move forward.

  5. Erika (Jawas Read, Too)

    Thank you!

    Ah, part of why I didn’t mention that was I couldn’t remember too well what had happened with that subplot in the previous book, only that someone was a slave and was freed by the reporter. I’ve completely lost continuity with what’s going on behind the scenes there.

    Of course, if you’d like to jog my memory, feel free. :)

  6. Doyle

    Great review, Erika. Seriously, if you could just go ahead and review, like, all of the Star Wars books? Ever? That would be awesome.

    As for the book itself, I think that this is the volume I’ll look back on as the point where FotJ finally clicked for me. I’ve been enjoying the series up to this point, but this is the one where I felt like everything gelled and I started getting more out of it than just basic entertainment. That’s always a great thing to get out of a piece of franchise fiction, and I’m not surprised that it was Denning who got me there.So many great, telling little scenes throughout that hinted at the deeper motivations that we always suspect that these characters have but rarely get to see. In a way, I did come to understand and respect Kenth in this one, enough so that when I finally reached the conclusion of the arc I could feel pain enough for both he and Saba. Just some wonderful character writing going on.

    Oh, and Erika: There really wasn’t anything else going on with the reporter in the earlier volumes. She was more or less just going from world to world and reporting on slavery and these Underground Railroad conspiracy cats started guiding her from world to world in an effort to (I guess?) have her report back on the revolts that they were inciting. I was frankly a little surprised at the scenes with her in Vortex and the conclusion that came from it, but I think that’s mostly from how loosely defined that plot is and how unclear any of the players or their motivations are.

  7. Erika (Jawas Read, Too)

    Thank you, Doyle! I appreciate the vote of confidence. :)

    I thought Kenth was really good in this one, even if I did call him incompetent a few times. Denning did a great job at showing how completely conflicted Kenth is and how easily (i.e. scarily) he slid into an extremely defensive and, I suppose, irrational position. That is a very fine line he crossed, but it was done well. I mean, was I the only one that kept thinking he would change his mind? That the fight scene would have a different outcome? Or at least, hoped it would have a different outcome? I couldn’t figure out what would happen and that made it one of the best parts of the book.

    Ah, okay. Thanks for the insight into the reporter. I know in this book at least, Daala was capitalizing on the press to show she’s cracking down somewhere, if not on Coruscant where things are kind of spiraling out of her control. I suppose that’s what this plot has been used for the rest of the series as well. Sad about what happened to the reporter, but only in a detached way for me. Goes to show how Daala can’t hide her ruthless side if she doesn’t even know the amount of force to send for a slave strike. More cracks in her veneer!

  8. jawajames

    I think Daala might have gotten played there – sending in a Mando strike team to quell a corporate slave rebellion among the most docile and barely sentient slaves sounds like she didn’t do her own homework but went with someone else’s suggestion. why would she even care to act in the first place? unless she felt that this straw would be the one to break the camel’s back and out of desperation, she chose the only people she could think of. (Daala does have a history of lashing out in desperation)

  9. Erika (Jawas Read, Too)

    Either way, it doesn’t paint a good portrait of the woman. I can’t see Daala taking someone else’s advice like that (mostly because it’s so obviously bad and with her intelligence, you’d think she would recognize that), but she’s been struggling as head of state (or whatever the term is now). It’s not too far-fetched to imagine how desperate she’s getting with some of the operations she’s been scheming and executing that she might turn to someone else for help making big decisions. Even big, wrong decisions.

    I think she moved on the only disorderly conduct she thought might win her favor with the majority of GA (citizens, politicians, etc…), even if we can see how short-sighted and misaimed that shot was. Talk about a poor judgment call. Daala’s leadership is unravelling at the seams.

  10. Doyle

    @James: At this point I’m all but certain that Daala is getting played in more ways than we have reason to suspect. And while we still don’t have a picture of who’s pulling those strings, I’m increasingly certain that they’re also behind this Freedom Flight stuff, and that Wynn Dorvan is in their employ. Daala has always been strongly reactionary, but she’s also always been shrewd enough to not instigate a massacre at a slave uprising while also dealing with publicity backlash from the Jedi situation. There’s a lot of political complexity in this series so far, and the writers seem to be keeping the truth pretty close to their chests. At six books in though, with little having been revealed, I’m beginning to worry that a lot of it is reader projected and we’ll be looking at some serious straw-man character assassination in the next few books when it comes to Daala.

  11. Chris (The Exalted)

    Some great points so far, really good discussion going on. I think with Daala you’ve now got me thinking she’s being played by perhaps Moff Disra and his group of ‘friends’ in the military etc. Though I have to say if that is the case I’m getting a tad tired of those incorrigible moffs and their meddling ways. Move on!

    I think your right Doyle in saying this book brings the series into focus. If the next three books continue in this vain then we may well have a good series on our hands. But what do I know, I thought LOTF was a good series ha ha.

  12. Erika (Jawas Read, Too)

    I may be in the minority here, but I hope Daala isn’t being used by some distant Moff. I like the idea that she’s making her own decisions, even if they are poor ones. Granted, either way, she appears foolish—whether that’s through desperation (control freak) or inability to catch on to what’s really going on behind the scenes still remains to be seen. At least if they’re her decisions, she doesn’t lose agency.

  13. Doyle

    Oh, no. I”m with you on that call, Erika. If Daala is going to collapse in upon herself I’d like to see it be her fault and hers alone. Since her introduction she’s managed to become a much more interesting character, and one that I always thought could come to be more tragic than villainous. At the same time though, I can’t ignore the signs of manipulation that are emerging in this series.

  14. Erika (Jawas Read, Too)

    She has gotten more interesting lately! Still, I’m disappointed she’s not doing so great in the leadership department (I suppose female leaders are only meant to be good and not full of other self-interests).

    Even more disappointed she’s becoming desperate, but from what I remember, she’s always missed the mark a bit. It’s been many years since I read the JAT. ;)

    Call me silly, but I’m interested in how they’re throwing not so subtle hints about her real relationship with Bwua’tu. I’m not sure yet how I feel about it, but it’s interesting at any rate.

  15. Pingback: Out this week: Vortex paperback, Dawn of the Jedi reprint

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