By Michael A. Stackpole.
I can’t even begin to figure out a way to write this review spoiler free. I myself don’t believe in spoilers, especially for books that were published in the 90s, but for the sake of preserving the surprises I got when I read this — knowing zero about it — I’ll tell you up front, this is one spoilery review.
The last shot in the last battle is fired — somewhat inexplicably. Grand Admiral Thrawn’s fleet has gone into sudden retreat long before they should have, and Corran Horn is perplexed. They say GA Thrawn is dead, but the former CorSec officer, now crack pilot with Rogue Squadron has a hard time believing it. Pretty easy and convenient, if you ask him.
Still, there’s other things Corran ought to be more focused on — like other people whose deaths were perhaps a smidge too convenient and easy. As it turns out, “Isard’s revenge” isn’t a metaphorical term for some contingency plan she set up . . . oh, no, Iceheart is back and she’s grooming likely Imperial powers for a new assault on the young Republic.
For said young Republic, though, things look good: Warlord Zsinj is out of the picture; Thrawn’s dead; the Emperor reborn and the retaking of Coruscant has yet to come on the horizon. Corran thinks he’s finally found the perfect time to find his former fellow prisoners on board the Lusankya, whom he promised to rescue but who instead were scattered by Isard out of his reach. Instead he finds it’s a perfect time to get blindsided and brought to the edge of another major conflict that could be the coup de grace for the struggling Alliance government.
I love Corran Horn. There can be no secret about this. Stackpole need do no more than begin typing, and I’m on the edge of my seat ready to laugh, cry, or do both at once. More delicious foreshadowing about the events of I, Jedi, with two references made to a possibility of Mirax disappearing. Corran dispenses profound life advice with a casualness that makes it easy to overlook the fact that he’s wiser than Yoda — and Whistler proves himself way more awesome than Artoo in a chapter dedicated to his own daring escape from enemy hands.
A deft twist that keeps the rebels vs. empire from turning stale, Stackpole masterfully makes the Rogues go rogue again, this time to fly TIEs wing-in-wing with the Imps they were previously fighting. Enemies become allies, and allies become enemies as once again, Borsk Fey’lya proves just how much he NEEDS TO JUST DIE OH MY GOSH.
Again, I could complain about Stackpole’s habit of faking out at least one death once per book, but it’s so beautifully done in Isard’s Revenge that I’m not going to complain: some deaths are faked, some are not faked, and the reader is never quite sure until the bittersweet and heartbreaking end.
Timothy Zahn gave us the EU, there’s no doubt about that; no other writer has the right combination of skill, voice, and imagination to provide the strong foundation of what was to come. And he doesn’t have to go the comic series death fakeout route, it’s true. But when it comes to making these more than just a string of spin-off novelizations, it takes Michael A. Stackpole’s insights and irony to flip the tropes Alec Guinness despised George Lucas for into something quite close to philosophy, and turn them into something I apologetically add to my collection of life advice.