Review: The Krytos Trap

by Michael A. Stackpole.

Book 3
Book 3

Something about the X-Wing series has always reminded me of a TV show, a very ambitious TV show with compelling characters and plots that if it ever actually became a live-action show, I’d be hard-pressed to maintain my dogged opposition to any new Star Wars films or shows.

Michael A. Stackpole is a master. The first book was about fighter pilot jocks; the second was about a covert operation behind enemy lines. The Krytos Trap is a courtroom drama, prison escape, dogfight extravaganza. (By necessity, the review of a third book in a series contains spoilers relating to the first two books, which I do not consider worth specifying as “spoilers.” Our society is too spoiler-oriented as it is.)

Winning Coruscant was a bittersweet victory for Rogue Squadron and the young Republic. With the loss of Corran Horn biting deeper than previous deaths, they try to pull together a funeral ceremony that will get them some peace and closure, but political tensions require it to become a media frenzy. Furthermore, they have inherited a diseased world: Ysanne Isard’s Krytos virus is devouring the nonhuman population along with the rebel bankroll and bacta supply. And then, as the rotten cherry atop the whole bloody mess, Corran’s death has been ruled a murder — and Tycho Celchu is the man facing the gallows.

Unbeknownst to them, but knownst to us (via the epilogue in the previous book), Corran is not dead — he might wish he was, if he could get his torture-pocked brain to process anything from more than 90 seconds ago, because he is captive to Isard in her secret and unescapable prison, Lusankya, and she wants to break him and turn him into a secret agent to do her dark will.

The courtroom battle with its parry-and-riposte dialogue is only part of the battlefield Rogue Squadron is not prepared for, because the Alliance is still desperately trying to come up with a way to cure the Krytos virus. With precious bacta shipments falling under attack and Kirtan Loor overseeing a counterinsurgency program on Coruscant, these pilots must become diplomats and detectives as well as aces.

Did I already say the part about Stackpole being an absolute master? This book is a gem. Unlike Reaves, who, much as I like him, always falls over by the third book because he has nothing left to say, Stackpole keeps the plot moving fast and there’s enough to keep him and the reader busy.

The other thing I love about Stackpole is his humor. He understands perfectly how to spice the narrative with a few grains of comedy without jarring the reader, losing track of his plot, or being totally unrealistic. There are things in the book that are funny just because they are funny, of course, the usual quips and one-liners — but by far the best are the bits that are funny just because you know and care about these people. A friend can say something that isn’t necessarily funny, but you find it so because you know them; that’s how it is with these guys. Reading the book, you’re part of Rogue Squadron, invested in the characters and their relationships, and you can smile just because you know they’re smiling.

Protip, watch Corran’s scenes very closely for the moment when his grandfather stops being referred to in the past tense and hints start dropping about the main subplot of I, Jedi. Or, just read this book for the rollicking good time. I’ve read it before and was on the edge of my seat and grinning through the last chapters.

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