Rollback Review – Bloodline

I’ve decided to approach novel reviews a little differently than I had planned. I want to make sure I can dig as deeply as possible into each and every canon Star Wars novel, so I’m psyched to introduce my new Rollback Review feature. The idea is after more than one pass through of a novel I’m going to review (or re-review) it and give added insight that I simply couldn’t or didn’t provide the first time around. I’m also not going to spend a ton of time providing detailed plot summaries, instead I’m going to attempt to dig into characters, developments, and how the story relates to the SW universe at large. Up first – Bloodline by Claudia Grey, which is in my opinion the very best canon novel to date and I consider it REQUIRED READING for any Star Wars fan. Seriously, no joke. So here we go, ***SPOILERS*** abound after the image below, as usual.

Todd's Rollback Review - Bloodline by Claudia Grey

OK, so a quick-hitter summary of the plot of Bloodline: set 24 years after the Battle of Endor (6 years prior to The Force Awakens, if that also helps), we see that the New Republic,after being set up by Mon Mothma, Leia Organa, and the leaders of the Rebellion is beginning to show wear and cracks, with doubt being sewn as to the effectiveness of the new government and policy. We also learn that there are two political parties at this point in the Star Wars timeline – the Populists and the Centrists. During the course of Bloodline it is decided that the New Republic needs a stronger, single voice leadership so the idea is proposed by the Centrists to elect a First Senator, which would act more-or-less in the role the Chancellor had previously occupied. Leia is nominated to represent the Populist party for First Senator, and during the process it is revealed by the nasty but well written Lady Carise Sindian, a Centrist senator from he planet Arkanis (more on that below) who has ulterior motives as well…. In the midst of all of the political turmoil, it is discovered that a criminal organization headed by a Nikto named Rinnrivin Di has been funneling money in a clandestine fashion to and through Centrist systems, and Leia, her aides, and a Centrist Senator named Ransolm Casterfo decide to investigate. During their investigation they discover a group of militants called the Amaxine Warriors, led by a woman named Arliz Hadrassian (whose history and family run deep within the old Empire, even to the point her brother was a Royal Guard) on the planet of Daxam IV, who are seemingly prepping for a coming war. Hadrassian and her Amaxine’s successfully bomb a breakfast where the Populist Senators were meeting and later assassinated Tai-Lin Garr, who succeeded Leia when she removed herself from the running for First Senator. Why did she remove herself? Well, it seems the galaxy most certainly did not know that Leia and Luke were the offspring of Anakin Skywalker / Darth Vader and one Lady Carise revealed the truth in dramatic fashion in the Senate. In the end it is revealed that Lady Carise Sindion had been in league with not just Hadrassian and the Amaxine Warriors, but is also a prominent member of the First Order, who as of the time of Bloodline had not yet been revealed. And the aforementioned assassination of Tai-Lin Garr? She framed Ransolm Casterfo for that, and he was returned to his home system to stand trial and probably face the death penalty. After witnessing this, Leia broke from the Senate and planted the seeds for the Resistance, recruiting pilots and leaders for the war she now knows is inevitable.

What I absolutely loved:

  • Princess Leia Organa – this is one of the best portrayals of Leia in my opinion, showing her strength as a leader of course, but also letting us know she has retained so much of what we loved about her in the original trilogy. She gambles, she takes risks, she bends the rules – all with that confidence and charisma we love her for. The way she deals with her staff is awesome, especially her Chief of Staff, Greer Sonnel, who was possibly my second favorite character in Bloodline (more on her below, of course). I really felt for Leia and her struggles… Early in the novel she decides she is going to leave the Senate and public service to travel the galaxy with Han, who is still her husband and running a race team and series. The way she handles her relationship with Han is great as well, understanding that he will never be the type to settle into a simple life, and that he will always crave excitement. It’s evident that Leia herself still craves this excitement, but understands that at least up until the point where the novel starts that she has to be a leader in the government for it to function properly. Her handling of the big reveal that Darth Vader was her birth father was awesome as well. Very emotional, as it is made obvious throughout the novel that she hates him, and simply hasn’t come to terms with him in the way Luke did – despite the latter’s best efforts. Her love for Bail Organa is front and center and it never wavers, as she considers him her true father. I love that she didn’t let Vader / Anakin off the hook for all the terrible atrocities he committed. Luke had the benefit of witnessing Vader destroy the Emperor and return to being Anakin Skywalker, but Leia did not, which to me at least totally justifies her ongoing hatred towards him. When she decides to leave the Senate and public service you really get the sense that although she yearns to reunite with Han and travel the galaxy worry-free, it simply isn’t in the cards for Leia. This is her life, and by the end of Bloodline you fully realize that it will be her life forever. One last point about Leia and Vader real quickly, though… I thought it was really cool how at the end of the book she begins to realize that maybe Anakin didn’t turn to the dark side because of greed and hatred, but possibly because of love. It was a very subtle line in the novel, but given what she had been through and how angry she was, it was cool to see her begin to understand and rationalize exactly why her birth father may have been corrupted by the Palpatine and the dark side and turned into Darth Vader. I hope we get to see more of this evolution for Leia moving forward, I think it’s time. The story wraps up with Leia doing Leia stuff, destroying the Amaxine Warriors’ base on Sibensko and killing Rinnrivin Di in the process. This was accomplished with a little last minute help from Han, of course, and it was cool to see them reunited and doing the things we love to see them doing! Lastly, we see Leia forming the beginning of the Resistance, recruiting personnel from the New Republic for the cause. It all played our very organically and convincingly, all the way through to the end.
  • The Hutt Slayer – a small but rad side note to Leia’s storyline was the reveal that the gangster Rinnrivin Di had a holovid of Leia killing Jabba the Hutt aboard his sail barge on Tatooine, which he gifts to her (and she cunningly gifts back later in the book so she can track him..) while dubbing her the Hutt Slayer. The Nikto species in general hate the Hutt for the centuries of servitude and slavery they forced upon them, so Rivvrivin obviously holds Leia and her murder of Jabba in very high regard. It was a cool plot point and reinforced how freaking awesome Leia has always been.
  • The new political landscape, part one – the way the Lucasfilm story group and the author, Claudia Grey, set up the political landscape in Bloodline is really strong. We learn that there is now a two party system – the Populists who believe individual systems should retain their sovereignty and the Centrists who favor a stronger galactic government, not too dissimilar from the Empire. We also learn that Mon Mothma – the original leader of the Rebellion and the first Chancellor of the New Republic – has stepped down after becoming ill, but not before enacting a strong demilitarization of the New Republic’s forces – a decision will come back to haunt the New Republic, as we begin to find out in Bloodline and really realize in The Force Awakens….. Also of note here, the two party system was reportedly put into place and into the novel by Rian Johnson, who is writing and directing Episode VIII – The Last Jedi. This is very intriguing and to me at least hints that we may see a return to political discussion and landscaping in The Last Jedi, a return I am most excited about! The politics were one thing that really worked well in the Prequels and The Clone Wars to me, so I would LOVE to see it back in the new generation. I guess time will tell.
  • Ransolm Casterfo – what a great, well written, and thoroughly thought out character. I mean, wow, you can really tell Claudia Grey liked Ransolm a lot and she gave him a ton of plot to work with. I for one really enjoyed every chapter he was in, and by the end of the book you really feel for him and his situation. Here is some background and info on Ransolm from the novel: he was a young Centrist senator from the Riosa, who was born just a couple of years before the Battle of Yavin. He has a huge collection of Imperial war artifacts, and this really puts Leia off when they first meet, for obvious reasons. However, throughout the course of Bloodline, Leia and Ransolm form a solid friendship, each softening their stances on multiple issues to see each other’s points of view. It is also revealed that Ransolm hates the old Empire, but loves the structure it could have provided under non-corrupt leadership (ha, if he only knew Palpatine was a SITH LORD… yeah, at this point in the timeline this is NOT common knowledge, which I think is great). It is also revealed when he was very young he watched Darth Vader torture his father and other laborers on Riosa, pushing them to meet their production quotas for the Empire. Leia then tells her story of her individual torture at the hands of Vader aboard the Death Star, as well as what he did to her brother and those closest to her, but she does not reveal her connection to Vader…. Ransolm undertakes a mission to Daxam IV with Leia’s assistant Greer Sonnel to meet with Arliz Hadrassian under the guise of acquiring a Royal Guard helmet she is selling, all the while spying on Hadrassian and her Amaxine Warriors, going so far as to entering in to a Force Pike duel with one and besting him! Greer, watching from a distance is impressed to say the least, and this moment certainly seems to earn her respect for Ransolm, respect which had obviously been lacking to this point in the story…. Unfortunately for Ransolm (and Leia, and the galaxy at large), when one Lady Carise Sindion discovers Leia’s deepest, darkest secret (more on that below, be patient), it throws Ransolm into a tailspin and he tells the entire Galactic Senate that Leia’s real father is Darth Vader. This is obviously the biggest point in Bloodline (hence, the name of the book….), and it drives a stake between not only Ransolm and Leia, but Leia and the Senate at large. Lady Carise played Ransolm like a fiddle, and it’s really unfortunate for him, because even though he was in the Centrist party, you truly get a sense he wants what’s best and right for the galaxy. In the end Lady Carise pulls the double-whammy on him, framing him for the murder of the new Populist candidate for First Senator Tai-Lin Garr, and he is arrested and taken back to Riosa to stand trial and most likely face the death penalty there. We do get an awesome moment with he and Leia, as they make up and he realizes he should’ve been on her side the whole time, regardless of her past and father. In the end, he was a great character, and I really hope we haven’t seen the last of him… Time will tell, I guess.
  • Greer Sonnel – I really enjoyed the character arc of Leia’s assistant, Greer. You learn that she won a starship race called the Gauntlet at a very young age and caught the attention of the legend himself, Han Solo, who recruited her into his racing team. Unfortunately, Greer had to retire from racing due to a rare disease called Bloodburn and began to work with Princess Leia as her Chief of Staff and personal assistant. It isn’t revealed exactly what her ailment is until late in the book, but there is a great build up with a ton of character development leading up to it. Claudia Grey does a great job of dropping hints throughout Bloodline as we build towards the reveal, it’s very well done. Greer hails from a world called Pamarthe, a world we find out that prides itself on piloting, fighting, loyalty, drinking, and apparently sex (yes, I’m not kidding… a line from Joph Seastriker more or less makes this incredibly obvious, and I thought it was cool….). Greer is a major player throughout the novel, even accompanying Ransolm Casterfo on his trip to Daxam IV under the guise of his assistant, and films the Force Pike confrontation he has with the Amaxine Warrior. At one point I thought the author might be building towards an attraction between Greer and Ransolm, but instead as the book plays out it seems that she and Joph Seastriker (more on him in a bit) are the couple to be… Greer is written very well as a capable character in all aspects and I enjoyed her. One note – I love audiobooks, and I’ve listened to the Bloodline audiobook three times. I’m not always a fan of female narrators, mainly because they typically struggle with male characters – or at least the narrators that have tackled Star Wars so far seem to – but January LeVoy does a GREAT job with Greer’s voice. Sometimes I wonder if one of the main reasons I’m drawn to her character is because of her portrayal by LeVoy. Just wanted to put that out there, and I’ll discuss the audiobook and narration in a little more detail below.
  • Lady Carise Sindion – What. A. Bitch. But man, she’s a damn good character. For some background on Lady Carise let’s start with the fact that she hails from one of the Royal Elder Houses – as does Leia Organa – and she never lets anyone forget it…. It seems to be the most important thing in her life, all the way to the end of the book. She is also a Centrist senator hailing from the Arkanis system, the same system that Brendol Hux (General Hux’s father) was from. I did find it interesting that there was barely a mention of Brendol and nothing Ankanis’ history with the Empire, given that it seems to be important not only in the Aftermath series, but also the First Order and their training methods with Stormtroopers, but I’m sure there was a reason it was glossed over. Maybe. Anyway, back to Lady Carise… In the early part of the novel she’s written as more-or-less a young (I’m thinking early 30’s) snot, who most definitely thinks she is elevated above everyone else, mainly because of her place in the Elder Houses. We learn that the Governorship of Birren is up after the passing of the previous Governor, and Leia Organa is next in line to ascend to the Governorship due to her ties from the Organa house of Alderaan. After some deliberation, Leia declines the offer and Lady Carise is next in line – and of course she is beyond thrilled about this. While Sindion is on Birren prepping to assume the role of Governor of Birren, she discovers a chest left for Leia by the previous Governor. Although it’s forbidden for her to open the chest due to the rules of the Elder Houses, she opens it anyway and finds a trove of personal items that Bail Organa had left on Birren for Leia, under the assumption that she would one day assume the role of Governor and it would be passed on to her. Among these items is a music box, that also holds a personal message from Bail to Leia. During the course of this message it is revealed that Leia’s birth father was Anakin Skywalker, who went on to become Darth Vader. Lady Carise of course uses this information to cripple Leia, but does so in a very creative way, manipulating Ransolm Casterfo into revealing the truth to the entire Senate, much to the shock and horror of Leia… This plot device works oh so well because Ransolm and Leia had become friends, and even though they were in opposing political parties, their friendship could only mean trouble for the Centrists, especially considering that Ransolm was viewed by most as a charismatic fast-riser in the Centrist party. At this point it’s also revealed she is in contact and working with Arliz Hardrassian, and it’s hinted that she’s part of something larger that’s looming (which we later find out is the First Order) but it’s not stated openly until the end of the book. Being a master manipulator, Lady Carise manipulates Hadrassian into assassinating the new Populist candidate for First Senator after Leia removes herself from the running, and also frames Casterfo as an accomplice in the murder’s plot. Yeah, what a bitch (that’s twice I’ve written that about Lady Carise, if you’re keeping score…). Leia ends up with the last laugh on Sindion however, telling her that she has been stripped of not only the Governorship of Birren but also removed from the Elder Houses because of the violation of trust when she opened the chest and revealed to everyone in the Senate what it contained. This is a massive blow to Sindion, and it was great to see Leia get the upper hand on her in the end. I also loved the slow reveal and introduction into the First Order and their connection to the Centrist party. It was all very well done.
  • The political landscape, part 2 – in Bloodline we see the formation of the Resistance and the reveal of the First Order. One of the main reasons this book is such essential reading is because of these reveals, and how perfectly executed they are. It is obvious the story group and Claudia Grey worked very closely on this to make sure everything fell into place perfectly, and it worked. The new two-party system also really helped the reader to understand how the First Order was being funded and what systems (**cough cough** Centrist systems) will most likely eventually secede into the First Order. It is pretty clear that after only 30 years, the set up of the New Republic’s government and system is already failing and Leia is really the only Populist that is objective enough to see what’s coming and she acts on it, forming the basis of the Resistance by the end of the book.
  • The huge reveal – I guess I was surprised that the entire galaxy didn’t know that Anakin Skywalker was Darth Vader, and that he was in turn Luke and Leia’s father. Seeds in my mind from the old Legends EU, I guess. Having said that, I loved the way Bloodline handled it. The build up to the reveal was set up perfectly in the budding friendship between Leia and Casterfo, and the dialog that shows both of their general disdain and downright hatred for Vader. One thing I haven’t mentioned is that the novel starts out with a statue reveal and dedication of and to Bail Organa, the man Leia considers her father for all intents and purposes. Grey does a great job of contrasting Leia’s feelings and emotions towards him and Vader, and as stated before it leads up nicely to the reveal that’s orchestrated by Lady Carise in the Senate. As expected, it drives a wedge between Leia and Ransolm, which doesn’t get rectified until it’s too late for the latter, unfortunately. Just to mention it again, I really liked the subtle nod to Leia potentially beginning to understand Anakin’s fall to the dark side, and that she may have had it all wrong – or at least part of it – this whole time, even as Luke has tried to explain that he came back in the end because of his love for them. I’m hoping that continues to be explored in Ep’s 8 and 9, and/or in some form or fashion moving forward. I think the biggest surprise to me was that NOBODY knew the secret aside from Luke, Leia, and Han – not even her son, Ben. This is a obviously a huge plot point, and also a huge mis-step by both Leia and Luke, and one that the reader knows will come back to bite them in the ass moving forward, as we are to assume that Snoke uses this point to manipulate Ben and plant the seeds of distrust between Ben and his family. To me this is one of the biggest things about Bloodline in regards to how it will affect the future, but Grey does a great job of not banging us over the head with it. Again, major kudos.
  • Where the hell is Luke Skywalker – MAJOR kudos to the Lucasfilm story group here and in all new canon media for keeping Luke and his whereabouts a mystery. We learn in both Bloodline and (so far) in the Aftermath series, that Luke is MIA, essentially on walkabout early in the new post-Empire timeline and training his new batch of Jedi (again, a total mystery as to who or what this is, with the exception of Ben Solo…) by the time of Bloodline. Leia has no way to contact him, so we are to assume that nobody knows exactly where he is and what he is doing. I absolutely love this, as keeping Luke a mystery works for the audience and the new canon, all the while running in start contrast to the Legends/EU timeline. We do see that Leia misses them very much – especially Ben – but she understands why Luke is doing what he is doing.

What I liked:

  • Arliz Hadrassian and the Amaxine Warriors – this is a cool plot device to move things forward while giving the (potential) new enemy a name and face, but I almost feel like it was a wasted opportunity. I’m reaching a little here, but the Amaxine’s reminded me of what the Legends version of the Mandalorian’s were, and I guess that’s cool if that was the intention. I didn’t really like the fact that they were more or less blown to bits by Leia and Han in the end and Hadrassian was so thoroughly manipulated by Lady Carise throughout. Again, I get why they were there, but I wish they weren’t completely eradicated… The history Leia told about them was very intriguing to me — a group of warriors who disagreed with the policy of the Old Republic and essentially fled to Wild Space / the Unknown Regions to govern themselves. Seems a waste to end them so quickly. But hey, maybe I’m reading too much into it and the story group has a plan. I guess if nothing else the mention of the Unknown Regions does play into what we know about the remnants of the Empire and the rise of the First Order, so I’ll take that crumb I suppose.
  • Han – I get that the story group wants to continue to paint Han as someone who has to be on the move constantly, and who just can’t settle down… However, I felt like with all Leia was and had been going through it is very selfish of Han to be running these races, etc., and maybe that’s the point. I’m just saying that I don’t like thinking of Han this way. Again, maybe that’s the point. And maybe we are seeing the beginning of the end for Han and Leia’s marriage, as seen in The Force Awakens, with the fall of Ben being the straw that broke an already fragile camel’s back. But Han was meh in Bloodline, and his portrayal by January LeVoy in the audiobook didn’t help that much….
  • Joph Seastriker – I almost wanted to put him in the ‘what I didn’t like’ bullet list, but I couldn’t. In the end I came to realization that the main reason I didn’t like his character was his portrayal in the audiobook by LeVoy (see a pattern developing here?). He was your typical ‘young, dumb, and full of cum’ type of character, but certainly not without his talents. He is obviously a very good pilot and served as a potential love interest for Greer (who again, I absolutely loved), but why not put either Poe Dameron or Temmin ‘Snap’ Wexley in this role instead? My opinion on this is further reinforced by the fact that Joph hasn’t popped back up anywhere in the new canon again, so what the hell? Hopefully we’ll find out.. We’d better or I’m gonna revise and move him down to the next set of bullet points! Which brings me to….
  • Arkanis – the Arkanis system is proving to be a major player in the Empire and the First Order, as Brendol Hux installed his new military training initiatives there (his home world, by the way), training initiatives which were used extensively in the rise of the First Order by his son, none other than General Armitage Hux. I’m surprised they didn’t drop a few hints to this and/or give us a little more about Arkanis and it’s connection to the Hux family, but I can live with it. It was cool that Lady Carise was the senator representing Arkanis and that she was instrumental in the formation of the First Order, so again, I can live with it. Just wish I had gotten just a little more about the system’s history.

What I didn’t like:

  • Varish Vicly – yuck, what a wack character. A populist senator (and apparently, a highly thought of one, considering how much time her character gets in the book…) hailing from the world of Lonera. First off, I had a difficult time trying to figure out exactly what a Loneran looks like, and maybe that’s on me… But she is oh so annoying. Maybe that’s by design, to show how out of touch the Populist contingent has become, and if so then I commend the author – because she is more or less an idiot. Again, her vocal portrayal by LeVoy didn’t help, so let’s hit on that…
  • January LeVoy and the audiobook – I ‘read’ audiobooks. I love them. Sue me. I’m very short on time, so I can mow through them quickly, and multiple times usually in the same amount of time it would take me to actually read the book. My wife Katrina hates this, and I can see her perspective. I have come to really enjoy the performances in the audiobooks, as it gives the stories life to me. However, I find that when we have a female narrator the performances tend to be lacking – especially on the male side. And Bloodline is no exception. January LeVoy does an amazing job with Leia (which is the most important character, so I have to give her credit there), and a great job with Greer Sonnel. However after that she begins to fall short. To summarize some other major characters for shits and giggles here goes — characters that fall into the AWESOME voice portrayal category: Leia Organa; characters that fall into the GOOD voice portrayal category: Ransolm Casterfo, Rinnrivin Di, and Greer Sonnel; characters that fall into the PASSABLE category: Lady Carise Sindion, Tai-Lin Gar, Arliz Hadrassian, Admiral Ackbar (he was barely in the book, but I’m trying to help LeVoy out here…), Korr Sella; which brings us to everyone else, you get the point. She wasn’t great. I’m used to Marc Thompson and Jonathan Davis, and they do have a lot more experience with Star Wars audiobooks. But the thing that separates them is that they excel at both men’s and women’s voices. Is this being nitpicky, hell yes, but it’s my blog and I’m allowed, right??
  • No Lost Stars characters – dude, Claudia Grey – you are AMAZING! You have set the bar with quite possibly the two best new canon Star Wars novels to date – Lost Stars and Bloodline. Both are superb and required reading, no doubt. But why is there no inclusion of any of the key characters from Lost Stars??? And why aren’t more people asking this question? Missed opportunity here, and a bummer. I kept waiting for Thane Kyrell or Ciena Rae to pop up to no avail. Again, dude…..

OK, so that’s my first ‘quick’ Rollback Review. Whew, it was a doozy and it took me three days to finish. In closing Bloodline is THE essential book for Star Wars fans to read, at least so far. Do yourself a favor and get at it right now. I think you can even sign up for Audible and get a book free, so there ya go. You’ll thank me later, I promise.

~Todd