Karen Traviss's four book series based off of the Republic Commando video game came to a close with the publication of her latest Star Wars novel, Order 66. The book is a slightly uneven affair, with a number of story lines coming to a close in a quick, complete fashion. The book is by no means a bad or uninteresting read, but it's not the best of the four.
I came across Karen Traviss when I was in High School, when I began to read Asimov's, a long-running Science Fiction magazine. Karen had published a couple or short stories through them, and I had found that I enjoyed them very much. When it was announced that there was to be a tie-in novel about the Republic Commando game, I wasn't all that interested until I heard that it was Traviss who would be writing it, and the first book didn't disappoint, introducing readers to a series of new characters and a moral element that has largely been lacking in a number of the Star Wars books that have come out recently.
Order 66 picks up where True Colors leaves off- Jedi Etain Tur-Mukan has had her child, Jusik has left the Jedi Order, Fi has been brought to Mandalor, the ARC troopers are working on infiltrating the computer systems of the Republic and Skirata is working to find a way to reverse the rapid aging in order to give the clones a full and normal life after the war is over.
One of my main concerns with the series as it's progressed over the past couple of books is the vast complexity that they have come to. There are a number of very diverse story lines that have largely taken away from the main focus of the original novel - Delta Squad, with Niner, Atin, Darman and Fi. The cast of characters has been expanded, and that goes for the story lines as well. To some extent, this is a good thing, and it falls in with what Karen has done with her other, non-Star Wars books - they've become extremely rich with plots and characters, turning them into books that really make you think. In the Star Wars universe, this is a rare thing, and Order 66 stands as one of the better books in the series for this trait. On the other hand, it feels somewhat overburdened at times. The first half of the book starts off fairly slowly, and its not until the last half in which the action really picks up, where Karen shows once again that she's one of the better writers when it comes to combat situations - Clone operations here are possibly the most realistic and logical than in any other book series, save for the X-Wing Series by Michael A Stackpole and Aaron Allston.
What also sets this, and her other Republic Commando books, apart is the care and devotion that is paid to the Clone Troopers. I've made this point in other reviews - the clones might be genetically the same, but Karen has expertly crafted numerous characters that are wholly different from one another in different situations and in the way that they approach problems. This comes particularly at the end, when one of the team members is left behind in a battle and presumed killed. Karen doesn't shy away from making the characters really hurt when she needs them to be, and the book ends on somewhat of an unclear and unresolved note, which seems very fitting, given how this book ends around the time of Revenge of the Sith.
The absolute strongest point is the morality of the characters, and constant questioning of right and wrong on the part of the Clone Troopers and the Jedi and Republic that brought them into battle. The reactions of many of the Clones during the order to kill the Jedi surprised me, given where I was thinking the story was going and the attitudes of the Jedi up to that point, and it makes me re-think some elements of the movie - the clones weren't mindlessly following their orders to kill their Generals - they had legitimate issues with the way that they were treated and used in the war, and genuinely saw the Jedi as a threat.
One of the big sticking points that I found in this was not the overall complexity, but the Mandalorian subplots that Karen has worked into the series. While it was running full tilt by the time this book came around, the plot took up a lot of the book in places, where it didn't really seem to need to. Karen pulled it out and made it a fully-formed and well realized idea, but at points, it seems a little out of place. This was one element where I wished that the sequels were a little more in line with the first book, in that they focused a bit more on the combat actions of the Clone Commandos.
One of the interesting parts is how the issue of only a couple million Clones has been resolved, and by doing so, ties in her novel with several other pieces of Clone Wars fiction, most notably Timothy Zahn's short stories, Hero of Cartao and his Heir to the Empire trilogy, with the use of the Spaarti cloning technology. Throughout the events of this novel, it's clear that a vast wave of Clone Troopers, including elements of the 501st, were a much larger, quickly grown generation of Clone Troopers, coming in during the months leading up to the final battle over Coruscant. This has been a sticking point for Karen and has caused some trouble for her on message boards by irritated and annoying fans. Despite the troubles that have been caused, it is nice to see that this issue is somewhat resolved, and it is fantastic to see mention of the 501st, of which Karen is an Honorary Member, and a group that she looked at a lot in her novelization of the Clone Wars. The 501st Dune Sea Garrison is honored with a thanks in the beginning of the book.
(This should have been the cover...)
Order 66 is a fine installment in the Republic Commando and Clone Wars series, and I'm sad to see it go. It is a rich and complex read, one that is far superior to most of the novels in the Star Wars line for its stand on moral issues, its writing and genuine care that makes me remember that these books are leaps and bounds above most of the tie-in novels that are on the market nowadays.
While the book is not a perfect read (or cover, for that matter. Side note - I'm not sure who thought that the current cover was a better one than the original, but it's not, and should be changed back. Like right now. Ahem.) but it's a superior one that stands out from the rest of the books out there.