We’re living in the prime time of Star Wars and the fandom that clings to the franchise grows every single day, willing to consume every piece of information shared on the nerdy parts of the Internet with feverish velocity. It’s nice then when we catch a break from checking Twitter every hour to see if new Episode 8 or Rogue One information has been leaked to read an official canon Star Wars novel. The novels are released sporadically throughout the year giving us fans insight to characters and events that occur in the times a movie camera isn’t recording; the latest of these novels is Star Wars Bloodline written by Claudia Gray. The novel is set 6 years before the events of The Force Awakens and follows Princess Leia as she navigates a different kind of asteroid field: politics. Bloodline concerns itself with the increasing divide in the galaxy’s political factions, crime syndicates and the formation of both the First Order and the Resistance giving us the huge events that shaped the galaxy into the one we witnessed in The Force Awakens making it one of the best – if not the best – novel in the new canon.
Before I rattle on about how brilliantly the book connects to the wider Star Wars galaxy and mythology I have to acknowledge how well the novel works as an individual story. Yes, prior knowledge of Star Wars is pretty much required to understand and fully appreciate the novel but the plot is succinct and builds an atmosphere and world purely of its own while using the wider continuity as literary seasoning. Claudia Gray deserves a huge amount of awe and respect for writing such a book; there is no doubt in my mind that an author of lesser talent couldn’t have brought everything together at all let alone create the phenomenal narrative Gray has managed to pull off. Bloodline is part political thriller, part investigatory fiction, part action adventure and part romance yet is all undeniably and amazingly Star Wars.
When leaving the cinema having seen The Force Awakens my brain was full of questions, not only on the future of the series but also on the past. What actually happened between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens and when and how did those events occur? Bloodline gives us answers to many of those questions making it a must read for shameless uber-nerds as well as those just wanting a bit more information about such a dense and imaginative world. We learn where Ben Solo is at this point in the story. We understand the finer points of Han and Leia’s relationship. We discover the origins of the Resistance and remove some, but not all, of the shrouds surrounding the rise of the First Order. It’s not only Episode 7 that Star Wars Bloodline links to however because recent reports stated that Rian Johnson, the director of the upcoming episode 8, had some creative input in the novel. I have no doubt that the input is minimal and that most of the story and creative choices are Gray’s own but it does spark some interesting questions about whether Bloodline does hold information and/or characters that will play into in the future of the film franchise.
My favourite thing about Bloodline is definitely the characterisation of both the returning classic characters and also the brand new characters. Bloodline is Leia’s story and she shines throughout because while she is as strong and tough as ever we see the more of her personal side with the jagged edges of her personality and lineage laid bare for the reader – and at times in the novel the whole galaxy – to see. Great focus is rightly placed on some supporting characters as well with the interplay between Leia’s chief of staff and personal pilot Greer and young X-Wing pilot Joph hitting the correct fun and comedic notes and later becoming genuinely heartfelt and human which is needed in a novel focused largely on huge political ideas. The big show stealer character, or book stealer I guess, is that of Ransolm Casterfo, a political idealist known for hanging Imperial memorabilia on his office walls who could have been incredibly one note but instead transcended all expectations and has become my favourite new addition to the Star Wars continuity with Dr Aphra from the Darth Vader comic being pushed down into second place. My only issue, and it’s not really an issue, is that not all of these new characters and their stories have conclusions but with their popularity and importance I have little doubt that we will be seeing them again soon. Maybe Rian Johnson’s input was to do with the fates of the characters and that we may be seeing them in Episode 8. I think the character of Lady Carise definitely has a chance of appearing.
Bloodline unashamedly focuses on the politics of the galaxy and while politics in Star Wars has previously been a mixed bag here they shine. The New Republic is divided into two political parties, the populists and the centrists and while even a war of words between both parties would be enough for interesting reading each party also has a right and a left wing causing infighting adding a dimension not normally shown in such narratives and it harkens to real life politics. I’m a fan of these grandiose fictional politics, in Game of Thrones I’d rather just have hours of small council meetings and political back stabbings rather than watching people actually get stabbed in the back. This deep and rare exploration of the Star Wars galaxy makes Bloodline a must read for fans looking for a different kind of Star Wars novel and yet the narrative still features gun fights and ship combat for the more lightweight fans. Whatever you are looking for Bloodline has it (including multiple Mad Max Fury Road references and easter eggs, seriously I’m not kidding) making it a book for everybody who unites under the banner of Star Wars. Does it beat out last year’s Lost Stars as my favourite novel in the new Star Wars continuity? Probably not but I’m sure Claudia Gray isn’t bothered with that statement. She wrote that one too.
Have you read Star Wars Bloodline? Lets chat about it in the comments and geek out with me about Star Wars on Twitter @kylebrrtt.