© 2011 Timothy Zahn
Although the plot proper doesn't add much to the Star Wars canon, other than setting up The Empire Strikes Back, it offers first a mystery and then an action thriller that sees the character growth we missed between A New Hope and its sequel; Luke is still "the kid", still growing in confidence and ability. Han's connection to the rebellion, formerly tenuous, grows here -- and he and Leia bounce off each other nicely. It is Zahn's characters who steal the show, though: despite the fact they're all villains in that they serve the Empire in one form or another, their motivations are wholly respectable -- or in Jade's case, at least understandable -- and I couldn't help but root for them, especially for the "Hand of Judgment" and the Thrawn-Palleon duo which has its beginnings here. Like the films, the action steadily increases, and at its height all of the characters are involved in desperate fights of their own, all of which are part of a greater conflict between the characters and whoever is responsible for drawing both the Empire and the Rebellion to this previously-forgotten world on the fringes of the empire.
Fun thriller with great characters; recommended.