Review: Chuck Wendig’s Life Debt could help sell the Aftermath trilogy to doubters (maybe)

Aftermath: Life DEbtGood news for folks who had trouble with Chuck Wendig’s first Aftermath novel – the sequel, Life Debt is far more accessible. No, Wendig doesn’t change things up too much, but plotwise, the book is slightly more traditional. (Those who can’t move beyond his writing style, well… Good luck.)

It also helps that we’re well past The Force Awakens. The first Aftermath found itself targeted for a lot of things, but I think the most notable (and least discussed) was the burden of expectation. As the first important canon novel to tread into the newly-cleared territory after Return of the Jedi, it was bound to disappoint readers who thought they’d be getting Heir to the Empire 2.0 – or at least Truce at Bakura 2.0. The reality turned out to be something more off the beaten track and with Life Debt, we have a far better idea of what we’re getting.

With the ground laid in the first book, Life Debt gets off the ground quickly. Wendig is free to use (sparingly) characters like Han and Leia in the A-plot, which gives readers an anchor. But the majority of the action is still with the newer characters.

Minor spoilers, if that, behind the cut.

Grand Admiral Rae Sloane, introduced in John Jackson Miller’s A New Dawn earlier in her career, is one of the highlights of the book. I can’t say I was particularly enamored of the character before, but her arc in Life Debt – her suspicion and investigation into her mysterious superior – may tie more into the franchise at large.

I’m hesitant to draw any firm conclusions on the Fleet Admiral’s ultimate identity. There’s certainly enough of that floating around, and the assumptions don’t sit quite right with me yet. And that’s all I’ll dance around – for now. No matter which direction it ends up in, we’re still only getting hints, not sweeping revelations.

The other high point is Sinjir Rath Velus, who struggles with the concept of… Friendship. Aww. Mister Bones also continues to amuse. Leia, Han and Chewbacca’s role in the plot may not be quite what fans were expecting, but you do see some interesting echoes (homages?) to the Legends EU in them.

I was less enthused about the Wexley family’s subplot, which was about as off-the-shelf as these things come. You’ll spot it coming a mile away. Hopefully the conclusion takes things in a new direction.

There are also far less interludes in this one, and I rather missed those glimpses of the wider galaxy. The one featuring the survivors of Alderaan was the most promising, but Malakili’s also held some interesting hints.

If you hated the first Aftermath, or Wendig’s prose, I doubt this book will change your mind. No one should be shocked when I say this book isn’t going to please everyone. But I enjoyed it, and look forward to Empire’s End.

Grade: B

Aftermath: Life Debt is available now in hardcover and eBook. A copy of the book was provided by Del Rey for review.