From A Library – Star Wars: Shattered Empire

Star Wars: Shattered Empire collection cover

Star Wars: Shattered Empire #1–4
Written by Greg Rucka
Art by Marco Checchetto (and Angel Unzueta and Emilio Laiso)

I didn’t expect to see Rucka writing a Star Wars comic, especially one that starts at the end of the Battle of Endor; what I did expect was that Rucka would write a good comic book, and at least I was right about that. Lieutenant Shara Bey is an Alliance pilot in Green Group, fighting Imperial ships outside the Death Star; she comes close to accidentally shooting Luke Skywalker as he exits the Death Star following his battle with the Emperor. She is married to Sergeant Kes Dameron, part of the Pathfinders team assigned to Han Solo, which is how she ends up volunteering as a pilot for his team when it goes on a clean-up mission after the celebrations. Her adventures in the weeks after see her acting as a pilot for Leia and Luke on separate missions, as she also struggles to come to terms with being a rebel but who wants to settle down with the husband she barely sees and their baby they haven’t seen since joining the rebellion.

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Book Review: Patriot Acts

By Greg Rucka

My latest ‘Look at me, I read books with no pictures as well’ post is still linked to comic books: it was comics that introduced me to the novels of Greg Rucka, and that is one of the many things I for which I can thank them. Although I loved his great Queen & Country novels (at least, I think you can get that message from my appallingly written post about them [LINK]), it is his Atticus Kodiak novels that are even better. Starting out as stories about a bodyguard (‘personal protection service’) with a great name, they were great thrillers based on realism and detail with a fascinating central character, an interesting supporting cast and a level of understanding and research – but without being dry or boring – all of which was cased in Rucka’s sharp, clean, precise prose, with flashes of warmth and humour.

As with all series of novels – this is the sixth in the series – the central character must progress and evolve; in the case of Kodiak, it took a strange but logical turn when his world mixed with that of an assassin, known as Drama, one of The Ten (the world’s elite murderers for hire), which led to this book. It follows on from the events of previous novel (Critical Space), as he and Drama (aka Alena) escape from the threat on their lives and learn of the people responsible and the levels of power to which they are linked.

The amazing ability of Rucka is to combine telling a gripping tale in a world just outside that which we know but to fill it with facts that enhance the story and make it more believable. From little things (Kodiak and Alena don’t drink caffeine because it drains the adrenal gland, and they need all the adrenaline to survive) to the logical explanation of the way in which the underworld operates (there is a chapter explaining how a trained military killer goes freelance and obtains a lawyer to be their contact that is practically a manual, even though it isn’t real). This balance is amazing, especially when creating the suspense scenes requisite in a thriller: at the start of the book, there is an ambush on Kodiak that is an intense set piece, even though you know he can’t die because he’s the narrator (the book is told in a first-person narrative). The precision in his plotting is excellent as well, as the narrative progresses intelligently and inexorably – you can’t escape the grip it has on you.

If there is one tiny fault, if it can be called that, it is the requirement for a woman who was an important part of Kodiak’s life has to die as part of the plot. It’s not Women in Refrigerators but, as I get older, I find that I have lost my stomach for the ‘woman dies to get hero angry for revenge’ plot line – even though I love the Bourne films, the second film loses something by forcing him back by killing Marie (and my girlfriend can’t watch it, or any film where this sort of thing happens). However, this is a very minor qualm in an excellent book, which is taut, gripping, emotional and powerful, and displays Rucka’s skills as a thriller writer once again.

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Book review: Queen & Country novels

A Gentleman’s Game and Private Wars by Greg Rucka

Queen & Country, from Oni Press, is a great comic book series, with a complex leading character in Tara Chace, that looks at a more realistic view of the world of modern espionage, specifically the Special Operations Section of the British Secret Intelligence Service. It was a shame that the series went on hiatus while Rucka wrote these novels and ended up as one of the architects of DC’s weekly series redefining their universe, 52, but it was worth it when I read these books.

The first, A Gentleman’s Game, is the more powerful. The story involves wahibist extremists bombing the London underground – the build up and the characters detailed with an accuracy that is overwhelming. Tara is brought in for the unofficial retaliation, doing the job too well and taking out an unfortunate (but important) witness. She is cut loose by everyone except the head of the Minders, Paul Crocker, who helps her to make amends by doing another job, which she can only do by bringing in former minder and former lover, Tom Wallace, to get the job done. The power of the real-world events (researched and presented in an engaging manner) with the personal conflict and emotional aspect that happens to Tara make this a compelling read, especially for Q&C fans, but equally riveting for novices to her world.

The second novel doesn’t have quite the emotional resonance for me as the first; it tries to draw parallels to the family situation between Tara and another major character, but it doesn’t quite connect. It involves the delicate political situation in the former Russian state of Uzbekistan and its position in the war on terror and oil. Again, the detail and suspense Rucka brings to the novel make for a fascinating and exciting read, but it feels more like one of the stories in the comic book (which are excellent), rather than the ‘special’ nature of the first book, which seemed more appropriate in novel format (life-changing events for Tara and the requirement for the intimacy of prose versus the words-and-pictures combination of the comic book).

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