The second novel in Chuck Wendig’s Aftermath series, Life Debt, sees Norra Wexley and her gang of outcasts stir up some more trouble for the failing Empire, as well as for themselves. Those familiar with the term ‘Life Debt’ in regards to Star Wars lore will be pleased to note that Han and Chewie do have a far larger role to play this time around, and that’s not all there is to look forward to.
But first, the elephant in the room must be addressed. The first Aftermath novel, which took place shortly after the Battle of Endor in Return of the Jedi, wasn’t regarded well amongst fans of the saga and the SWEU. I didn’t mind it, but for me it was hard to deny that it was one of my least favorite novels in the new Star Wars canon. This novel fixes many issues found in the first novel, even some that I quite enjoyed – but this is very much a sequel to the previous novel. That said, it was a far stronger book than its predecessor, and a very good time.
One of the major concerns Star Wars fans had with the first Aftermath book was the fact that the first novel was interspersed with far too many interludes. The interludes are still here in Life Debt, I’m happy to say, but they’re included more sparingly. This makes for a more fluid reading experience, but you still get a good grasp on how the entire Galaxy is still reeling in the wake of the Empire’s demise.
This also lets us better trade off with different point of view characters, from Norra, to Snap, to Jas, to Sinjir and so on. Perhaps the most interesting POV character is Grand Admiral Rae Sloane, and how she begins to understand that she doesn’t truly have much power after all. She’s been by far one of the new canon’s strongest additions, ever since she arrived in A New Dawn, but she shines strongest in this novel. I think she may actually be my favorite thing about this novel.
Wendig’s writing style is quirky and doesn’t always work for me. He has a tendency to cut paragraphs short for dramatic tension, and that really sullies the experience for me. Sometimes he uses awkward phrases that are, well… awkward. (e.g. She opened the door with a hiss; Their snotty noses filled with the mucus of Justice; His world goes tipsy-tumble…)
The inclusion of characters we know and love works extremely well, all while giving the main characters of this story enough page-length to keep the story from getting too side-tracked. Han is off trying to save Chewbacca from a prison on Kashyyyk still owned by the Empire, and Norra’s crew are tasked to find Han and help him out. But beyond that there are plenty of twists and turns in the plot that keep the book from getting stale. There are some serious consequences to be dealt with as well, that we’ll certainly see more of in the final book of the trilogy. One of the best moments of the book involves Leia truly reaching out to the force for the first time – a truly emotional experience.
The hidden fleet commander at the end of the first book, whom just about everyone took to be the introduction of Thrawn into canon, turned out to be just another poor copy – a guy named Gallius Rax. Can’t say I wasn’t a little disappointed.
Overall a solid book, one that taps into real-world current events and fears, insurgency and terrorism being right at the forefront. I recommend this book to Star Wars completionists like myself, but casual fans may wish to sit out of this one.