When I read Death Troopers late last year, I had to jump on here almost immediately after I finished the book to review it, because I really loved it. So when I was scouting around for some new books to read the other week and I saw Red Harvest, the prequel to Death Troopers, written by the same chap, I bought it immediately, and once I’d finished one of the books I was reading at the time, I hungrily set to work devouring this instalment of zombies in Star Wars.
Unfortunately in the final analysis I was disappointed. Spoilers after the jump – YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!
Let’s start by reading the summary of the book
The era of the Old Republic is a dark and dangerous time, as Jedi Knights valiantly battle the Sith Lords and their ruthless armies. But the Sith have disturbing plans—and none more so than the fulfillment of Darth Scabrous’s fanatical dream, which is about to become nightmarish reality.
Unlike those other Jedi sidelined to the Agricultural Corps—young Jedi whose abilities have not proved up to snuff—Hestizo Trace possesses one extraordinary Force talent: a gift with plants. Suddenly her quiet existence among greenhouse and garden specimens is violently destroyed by the arrival of an emissary from Darth Scabrous. For the rare black orchid that she has nurtured and bonded with is the final ingredient in an ancient Sith formula that promises to grant Darth Scabrous his greatest desire.
But at the heart of the formula is a never-before-seen virus that’s worse than fatal—it doesn’t just kill, it transforms. Now the rotting, ravenous dead are rising, driven by a bloodthirsty hunger for all things living—and commanded by a Sith Master with an insatiable lust for power and the ultimate prize: immortality . . . no matter the cost.
So, it all sounds good, right? A mad Sith Lord, creating an army of Sith zombies via some arcane alchemy, all set during the halcyon days of the Old Republic in a Sith Academy – with the Sith facing off against something even more dangerous than themselves!
I’m now used to the idea of Star Wars zombies, so there was no sense of dislocation like I experienced when reading Death Troopers, and the basic formula employed by Mr Schreiber is the same – light on Technical jargon and mentions of the larger conflict in the galaxy, keeping things confined to small groups of protagonists, and juxtaposing familiar Star Wars themes against the horror of the walking dead (lightsabers vs zombies!).
It almost seems as if the author read my review of the last book and took some of my notes to heart. There are no “famous” characters in this book – so it’s open season on character killing, there are no ridiculous coincidences (more so than in any other work of fiction), and there is actually some character evolution. However, despite these improvements, I still didn’t really like the book.
I think a large part of it can be attributed to one fact – most of the characters are douche-bags. Darth Scabrous, his undead minions, and the other Sith Masters at the Academy are obviously not going to be particularly likeable. They’re the bad guys. And then you have the Sith student survivors, who you should start to care about as they struggle to stay alive. But of course, they’re Sith, so they’re all manipulative, murderous bastards who make it very hard for you to care about them at all. Even the protagonist Hestizo (and that’s a horrible name) isn’t likeable. The only ones who I came close to caring about were the bounty hunter and Hestizo’s brother Rojo, the Jedi that comes to rescue her, and to be fair, neither of them were particularly adept at bonding with the reader – the former because he’s a brutal bounty hunter with a penchant for taking grisly trophies, and the latter because he’s so two-dimensional as to be almost transparent.
Whilst it was very clever of Joe Schreiber to set the whole thing in the enemy camp so to speak, it does make it very hard to empathise with any of the victims (unless of course you’re a selfish, violent, sneaky bastard, in which case you’ll love ‘em!), which in turn robs you of any real emotional investment in the book and makes it all seem a bit pointless. This may have been intentional – at times it almost seems as if the students are going to behave like we would but then at the last they don’t, and it’s usually done in such a jarring way as to alienate you from them, all the more because moments before you were so close to connecting with them!
All in all, this is a nice bit of light reading if you liked Death Troopers, are a zombie fan, or an obsessive Star Wars fan that has to read everything that’s published in that universe, but I can’t see most people returning to this for a re-read.
Rating: 3 out of 5