If you've made it through the previous six stories in this sereis then you know what to expect - fanciful adventures involving nearly impossible situations and memorable characters. This story is no exception and is on par with some of the better tales in the series.
What sets apart our experience with this series is the inspired performance from narrator David Tennant. He doesn't just narrate the story, he gives a rollicking performance full of energy and hilarious characterizations. My kids listen to these repeatedly and like to imitate the vocalizations and accents for their favorite characters. These stories have become a fun family experience.
I was at the theater when the original Star Wars movie arrived and changed everything. The quantum leap in special effects in the Star Wars movie is always credited as the main differentiator from previous sci-fi movies. More importantly, though, it was the characters and the universe that captured everyone's imagination.
Zahn picks up the story roughly 10 years after The Return of the Jedi. He includes all the heroes you would expect (Luke, Leia, Han Solo, Lando, Chewie, etc.) and handles them deftly. They've grown a bit and settled into their roles in the New Republic, but they are the same characters everyone would expect. More importantly, though, Zahn expands the universe with an additional set of great new characters and a villain equal to the task of replacing Darth Vader. Zahn's villain, Commander Thrawn, is different from Vader in his power isn't from own brutal strength and malevolence but from the fact he is four steps ahead of you at every turn. Thrawn if more a Moriarty than a monster.
I picked up this audiobook in 2013, having not read a Star Wars novel since 1979 (Splinter of the Mind's Eye). This story not only reignited my love for the Star Wars universe, it helped wash a bit of the bad taste left in my mouth from Star Wars Episodes 1 - 3.
One cannot over-emphasize how good a job Marc Thompson does with the narration. He is truly the gold standard in Star Wars narration that all others will be compared.
One additional note: Zahn's novels are not only well-written but are kid-safe as well. Zahn doesn't fall prey to the writing crutch of making the story more gritty or darker in order to try and make it more exciting. I had no qualms about giving these to my kids and they had no qualms about asking me for more of his novels.
There is no letup in the second installment of this trilogy (not unlike the original Star Wars trilogy). Zahn continues to move the story along with a quick pace, fleshing out his new cast of characters and expanding the Star Wars universe.
One of Zahn's strengths is his use of the "stars" of the original series - the fan favorites get a chance to grow during the story but aren't radically different from the characters we love. Unfortunately other Star Wars authors aren't as disciplined (I'm looking at you K.W. Jeter).
The one additional star in this production is the narration work of Marc Thompson. His performance is spot on, including the well known characters. His Lando, or Han Solo, or even Admiral Ackbar are instantly recognizable and sincere, not over-the-top caricatures. If they made this trilogy into an animated mini-series they could save money and just hire him for all the voice work.
David Tennant is clearly having a ball while narrating this book. His enthusiasm is contagious and my kids absolutely are enthralled with this audiobook. They've listened to it several times in the last month. The story is fun (albeit simplistic) and the characters are memorable. If you enjoyed the first book then by all means get this one as well.
It's a fun (although familiar) story of a normal boy who overcomes the odds using his brains. But it contains Vikings and that alone gets it an additional star. My kids loved listening to this, especially the inspired narration of David Tennant.
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