Bloodline sits in a unique position among Star Wars books. The first full-length novel, set closer to The Force Awakens than to Return of the Jedi, feels like a return to form to the old Expanded Universe novels, while also carefully placing itself inside the new canon universe. While the writing isn’t always as tightly constructed as in Claudia Gray’s debut Star Wars novel, Lost Stars, Bloodline brings multidimensional new characters and a solid story.
Bloodline alternates between its political story and an action-adventure one. Sick of infighting in the Galactic Senate, Leia wants to resign, but is drawn back in when both a mercenary group and the nomination for First Senator demand her attention. At her side is Senator Ransolm Casterfo, whose collection of Imperial artifacts complicates his own devotion to the New Republic.
The beginning of the novel is relatively slow, even though the dedication of a giant statue of Bail Organa is a good emotional hook and ties right in with the theme of Leia’s relationship to both Bail and Darth Vader. However, it heats up into something that made me gasp out loud several times. The stakes gradually rise as the story knits together Leia’s personal life, the political climate, and the armed conflict. Because characters travel from planet to planet quite often and the perspective shifts to different groups of characters, Bloodline feels more like an old EU novel than most new canon novels. The ensemble cast works well even when they aren’t actually together.
Settling down to review this one, I struggled with where to start. With the book’s treatment of Leia and Vader’s legacy? With the ambiguous state of the galaxy and its political factions? With the new characters, each of whom has his/her own motivation and powerful perspective? Or maybe with Leia, who, as the lone woman in the Original Trilogy trio, isn’t in the spotlight as often as her male counterparts…
Bloodline shows a no-nonsense Leia whose voice sounds just as precise and cutting as it did in the movies. Her characterization is consistent. There isn’t anything new about this Leia, although there may not need to be.
The plot itself, after all, is all about revelation: about the galaxy weighing Leia’s heroism against her father’s villainy, about the dawning of both the Resistance and the First Order. There are some answers here, for fans who are curious to know anything at all about the build-up to The Force Awakens, but people looking for a play-by-play of the origins of Ben Solo will still probably best be served by Episode VIII. One particular bit of information about Leia’s troublesome son is revealed in Bloodline that should provide a lot of conversation until the next movie. Also revelatory is the way Leia reacts to Vader: in a particularly effective scene at the end of the book, she contemplates her own understanding of why he fell to the dark side in the first place.
As her foil, Ransolm Casterfo is a suave and conflicted Empire fanboy with his own history with Darth Vader. Gray does a great job of showing both why Leia initially hates him and how she eventually turns around and forms an alliance between them. Having one protagonist from each political party makes the book more complex than just a story of Leia vs. the Centrists, although the First Order was bound to rise from somewhere. The book started at that relatively slow point where it did because it wanted to show Casterfo and Leia as allies before their relationship shifts, and to show how badly the Senate has fared. The beginning might appear slow at first, but it fits the book’s well-planned structure.
One of my favorite scenes with the supporting characters showed how different people react to different opportunities: presented with the chance to become royalty, Lady Carise Sindian jumps at the chance, while Leia couldn’t care less. The degree to which characters do or do not emphasize the importance of royalty becomes much more important later on, and it’s established insightfully. Likewise, Leia’s pilot, Greer, clearly has her own story going on, which is revealed in small moments of standoffishness or self-sabotage that don’t detract from how likable she is. Greer is from Pamarthe, a cold planet with a gregarious, risk-taking culture, and her scenes are a lot of fun.
The political situation isn’t hashed out quite as precisely as the characters are. Bloodline sometimes feels like the second book in a nonexistent trilogy, because ideas like the Populist and Centrist political parties aren’t explained as deeply as they could be. To be fair, this is in true Star Wars fashion.
Similarly, there’s a lot of discussion of the Elder Houses, a group that remains largely unexplained. Their existence does give some context to both the Alderaanian and Naboo royal families, and a similar concept existed quietly in the old Expanded Universe as the Ancient Houses. They’re given more importance than ever before in Bloodline—or at least, given more attention by Carise—but we never really get to see how they work. Likewise with the Amaxines, a warlike species that supposedly left the galaxy to find a battle to fight. They serve as essentially stock organized crime villains, although effectively entertaining and diverse ones. Overall, there is a sense that this book is part of a larger galaxy that hasn’t been fully explained yet. A significant amount of the story takes place on Hosnian Prime, which doesn’t have much of a sense of place.
That’s partially because of the time period in which it is set. This isn’t the second book in a three-part series, and it doesn’t fling one-off references out into the colorful void of Star Wars ideas with as much panache and freedom as Aftermath did. Instead, Bloodline is very clearly set in an era carefully pruned for information relevant to The Force Awakens. This isn’t a bad thing, per se. It’s necessary, since the movies must be the priority for Disney-Lucasfilm and must have the most narrative weight. They will reach the largest audience. There are a few clues as to the beginning of the First Order, and one surprising detail about Ben Solo, but the story is really Leia’s, and plays coy about most everything else out of necessity.
It builds around that necessity well, though. Leia is clearly devoted to her family, and Han is a significant presence in the book if not a perpetual one. Bloodline is an enjoyable mystery with a wonderfully diverse cast, even though some revelations (such as Carise’s history) are more suddenly dropped into the reader’s lap than subtly revealed. More than others, this is likely to be someone’s first Star Wars book, as they search for more information and for more stories about the Sequel Trilogy era. That reader will get a well-paced mystery and a lot to talk about.
Megan Crouse is a staff writer.