I will keep this review spoiler free, but if you aren't familiar with Star Wars Rebels season 1 you should probably proceed with caution.
The book begins by establishing Kanan as a former Jedi who survived Order 66 and where he has ended up roughly 8 years later (6 years before the events of the tv series, 11 before Episode IV). He is a bit of a drifter and a roughneck, moving from system to system, picking up new jobs before the Empire presence grows too strong and he is forced to move on again. He has changed his name and hidden his identity, concealing his Force powers from everyone, even himself.
At the start of the book, Kanan is living and working on Gorse, a mining planet in the Outer Rim. The Empire has taken an interest in the planet Gorse, its moon (Cynda), and the thorilide mined there. A star destroyer arrives, bringing Count Vidian, a wealthy businessman and Empire efficiency expert. Hera Syndulla, a twi'lek pilot and rebel, has also arrived on the planet to learn more about the Empire's intentions and the mysterious Vidian.
The events of the book help establish how difficult life in the Outer Rim has become under the Empire, and how ruthless the Empire is; lives are expendable, as long as the Empire keeps running. Hera arrives on Gorse to gather information on the Empire and their interest in the Gorse system, though we also learn that she works as a liaison between a network of rebels and people tired of living under the oppression of the Empire. There are also references to her looking for potential team members, and we are led to understand that is how the crew of the Ghost was assembled prior to the events of the Rebels TV show.
This grassroots rebellion, life under the oppressive Empire, and corruption within the Empire's ranks bring Hera and Kanan together as they find themselves unlikely partners working to uncover a plot against Vidian's rivals and save Gorse.
Miller has done a fine job writing this book. I've read some awful tie-in novels before, some of them from the Star Wars EU, but this book does not suffer from the problems I've seen before. Specifically, the characterization of Hera and Kanan is consistent with their portrayal on Star Wars Rebels. This is likely due to the involvement of the Star Wars Rebels executive producers in the creation of this novel. It is also not too heavy-handed - the book does not get bogged down trying to make readers believe these are the same characters on the Disney XD show, nor does it introduce unbelievable behaviors or characters traits.
The action sequences are well written, for the most part - the hoverbus chase scene halfway through the book is particularly fun and helps to demonstrate Hera's fantastic flying skills. I also liked the descriptions of technology and scenery, and thought they helped root the book in the Star Wars galaxy without overwhelming readers with superfluous details.
|Hera's ship, Ghost. via Wookieepedia|
As for secondary characters, there are only a few to keep track of. Everyone introduced seems to serve a purpose, showing what life is like on Gorse, how the Empire operates, or acting as a foil to our main characters. I also liked the gender balance among the characters, with a fairly equal number of important male and female characters (of many species) contributing to the story. And several of the female characters held powerful positions, such as Star Destroyer captain.
I do have one complaint with the writing, though. This story is told predominantly through Kanan's experience, and readers are frequently reminded of how attractive he finds Hera. At times I found this derailing - why are we reading a paragraph on how green her eyes are when there are more important things to worry about? But what I found most irritating was the frequency with which these paragraphs appeared. These moments seemed to reduce Hera to her physical appearance. This bothered me because Hera and her story are just as interesting as Kanan. We never learn why she joined the rebellion or how she got her ship, but we are told frequently just how green her eyes are, or how the sound of her voice pleases Kanan, or how gracefully she moves. Yes, Kanan is attracted to her, yes the attraction is mostly one-sided, yes it contributes to his characterization, but it is unnecessary to remind readers of that.
(Disclaimer: I ship them. I was still put off by this.)
|Crew of the Ghost. via Wikipedia|
I am very much hoping that we get a Hera-focused novel, because I want to know more about her. Why is she a rebel? How did she first meet/contact Fulcrum? Where did she get her ship? What was her life like after the Jedi helped her family during the Clone Wars? And after the fall of the Republic? How did she meet Chopper? The second season of Star Wars Rebels is supposed to reveal more about Hera and the other characters, but Kanan has a comic and this book to tell his story and I am doubtful that the TV series, being an ensemble cast, will delve very deeply into Hera, Sabine, and Zeb's backstories.
Despite these complaints I strongly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys Star Wars, especially if they have watched Star Wars Rebels. It was a fun and easy read that helped expand on newer characters, and has set the bar high for the remaining books being published in the lead up to episode VII.