If you are going to read Bloodline by Claudia Gray, read it to understand the politics of The Force Awakens. Actually, make sure you even like politics, because this book has a lot of it. It fools you with some action, but the action scenes are more like side plots and a cover up to give you a greater understanding of where the political scene is leading up to TFA.
The entire novel centers around Leia Organa who is not yet a General, but a Senator of the New Republic. We rarely get any moments with Han, unfortunately. Luke and Ben are off doing their own thing (Ben has not yet turned to the dark side) so we don’t hear from them at all. The only other returning characters that we know are Threepio who is now Leia’s protocol droid and a brief appearance on the last page of Nien Nunb and Ackbar.
We start off the novel with Leia being completely disenfranchised with the New Republic, being a senator, and the senate itself, which is divided into two camps: the Populists (which Leia is) and the Centrists. She intends to quit and go travel around the galaxy with Han, whom she still seems to have a pseudo marriage with, though they live apart.
As a one last hurrah, Leia takes on a mission to investigate a cartel and is paired with a Centrist senator: Ransolm Casterfo. In the beginning, we see him as a pompous young senator who is obsessed with the Empire. Leia first meets him in his office where he has mementos from the Empire and he claims that he believes the Empire could have been a good thing, but the way Palpatine and Vader ran it was not smart. Of course, this puts Leia and Casterfo’s relationship on the wrong foot right away.
Yet as Bloodline and their investigation continues, they manage to break past their opposing viewpoints and come to a mutual understanding that eventually leads to friendship. Together, they discover the beginnings of the First Order and realize that the senate and government is in graver danger than they believed.
The senate decides to nominate a First Senator to create more order and the Populists naturally choose Princess Leia. She has the name and the long standing goodwill of the people since many of her deeds helped in bringing down the Empire. Leia, through her friendship with Ransolm, could unite the two opposing forces in the senate and bring it back to what it once was. Though she realizes she can’t travel the galaxy with Han and can no longer quit, she feels that she must accept the nomination.
But (dun dun dun) then a conniving senator finds out that she is Darth Vader’s daughter and tells her new friend Casterfo, who then releases that news into the senate. All hell breaks loose. Leia loses her nomination, Ransolm turns against her, and she can’t continue her mission. We find out that Ben did not know about this and Leia tells him via a recording (since apparently she can’t reach Luke and Ben because they are on some mission…that’s all very vague).
Being Princess Leia, she continues her investigation into the cartel without approval of the senate or her partner Ransolm and finds all the evidence she needs. She is able to present the findings to the senate who seem to believe her, despite her tarnished reputation. Ransolm backs her up, surprisingly, and she is able to hash out differences with him after the senate convenes. They seem to come back to a neutral relationship of respect and understanding though Leia is still hurt by him outing her relationship to Vader in front of the entire senate without warning her first.
Unfortunately, that sneaky senator who found out that she was Vader’s daughter also doctors some of the footage from when Ransolm and Leia were investigating the cartel to make it look like Ransolm was behind an attack on the senate earlier in the novel – therefore committing treason. At the end of the novel Ransolm is led off to be executed and Leia is heartbroken. We have no idea what happens to him. Leia, in the last pages of Bloodline, forms the very beginning of the Resistance without the knowledge of other senators. She knows that it is only a matter of time until that glimpse they saw of the First Order threatens the New Republic on a larger scale and she wants to be ready.
- I finally understand the Resistance vs. New Republic vs. First Order. Basically, the New Republic is the ruling government but has fallen to pieces with a lot of internal squabbling. Amidst this, the First Order is forming on outer worlds and is filled with Empire loyalists and fanatics. Leia created the Resistance to be ready for when the First Order decides to take on the Republic. In the opening crawl of TFA, it says that Leia leads the Resistance with support of the Republic. I’m not sure when that comes about since this is still in the early stages but at least I’m understanding this a bit better.
- The galaxy finds out that Leia, and by default Luke, are Darth Vader’s children. I always assumed that no one knew about the familial relationship between Vader and his children, but I wondered when they let Ben/Kylo Ren know. Even though we don’t see that happen here, we do see the beginning of how he found out. By the time of The Force Awakens, everyone knows Luke and Leia are the children of Vader which puts an interesting new twist on viewing it. That means Ben had only been on the dark side of the Force for a maximum of six years by TFA. No wonder he still had some hesitations.
- For a book that is almost entirely compromised of politics, Ms. Gray does a great job making the book engaging.
- After the book got through introductions and settled into a good pace, it got a lot less predictable. Every time I thought it was getting predictable, I was thrown off course and what I thought would happen, didn’t. I love that!
- I thought she did a great job with Threepio. He still plays a minor role but she writes him so perfectly.
- There were no real “bad guys” and I liked that. I’m so used to reading Star Wars novels where there is a clear delineation between good and bad that having this murky area was refreshing. The leader of the cartel was obviously bad, but he wasn’t the main driving force behind this. Then there was the terrorist in charge of the burgeoning First Order, but she wasn’t really the main bad guy either. The main antagonist, if there was one, was the sneaky senator who goes around causing trouble. But even then, it was almost a Professor Umbridge kind of bad. She wasn’t Voldemort/Vader, just a normal person doing bad things.
- I thought the first ¼-1/3 of the book was yawn worthy and played out like any Star Wars novel. It was a little predictable and I felt like skipping through many of the pages.
- Where were Leia’s feelings for Han and Ben? She occasionally seemed to feel sad that Han wasn’t around but that was it. If I was separated from my husband almost permanently, I would not be as distracted as she was and I would definitely make more of an effort to see him. She seemed way too resigned to rarely being physically together. And I think Ben was mentioned only two to three times in the entire novel. I’m only a new mom, but I can tell you that I’d be thinking of my child more than three times a day.
- On that subject, I didn’t feel like Han was Han. He was in the novel sporadically but I’m not sure he was captured very well. I also think Han Solo is one of the hardest characters to capture on paper so I understand the challenges but I thought he was lacking a bit when he did show up. He was almost too goofy-like, even though his scenes were serious…it’s hard to explain but there was something missing.
- The action scenes were not well written. I felt like Ms. Gray’s strength lies in writing character’s emotions and relationships – not action. You could figure out what was going to happen in the actions scenes and it felt like they were thrown in just so the book would feel like “Star Wars”. Instead of trying to interweave action in it, the book should have been entirely about politics and stuck to that.
- Leia was a little mopey. At some points it was believable…other times not so much. Leia is not a sit on her butt kind of person. There were times when Ms. Gray remembered that and Leia seemed like the person we remember from the OT, but there are pages where she kind of falls off and I was left thinking she really took after her father in the sulking category. I know she was trying to make Leia seem jaded, but instead I thought she was moping about.
I’d give Bloodline 3.8/5 stars. It was better than A New Dawn, but it still isn’t Zahn worthy. (The new Thrawn book coming out by Zahn is definitely going on my list!) Many people had great reviews for this book and I wasn’t feeling it as much as everyone else, I guess. I am happy to understand more of the politics of this time in Star Wars, but thought that a few things were too disjointed to make me appreciate this fully.