Life Debt is the second novel by Chuck Wendig in the Aftermath Trilogy and takes place not long after the destruction of the second Death Star, the death of Vader as well as the demise of Palpatine and the downfall of the Empire. It sees Norra Wexley and her crew of misfits working for the Rebels to hunt down high ranking Imperials and bring them to justice. The crew includes her son Temmin “Snap” Wexley, bounty hunter Jas Emari, ex Imperial loyalty officer Sinjir Rath, special forces officer Jom Barell, homicidal droid Mister Bones as well as a cast of supporting characters that you might have heard of including: Han Solo, Leia Organa, Chewbacca, Wedge Antilles and other heroes of the Rebellion.
Taking place shortly after the events of Aftermath the first book in the trilogy this outcast bunch of individuals are surprisingly good at finding Imperials that have fled and bringing them back to answer for their war crimes. They’re so good that even General Organa herself needs the crew to locate and bring someone back to her.
We also are introduced to Gallius Rax a shadowy figure that is the puppet master of the remaining Imperial Army and pulls the strings of Grand Admiral Rae Sloane who we were introduced to in Aftermath as she worked to bring the last of the Imperials together to bring cohesion back to the last of the Empire. The identity of Gallius Rax is shrouded in mystery and his motives are unclear but Sloane wants to discover just who this man is and what he is up to. This won’t be easy as Gallius had some friends in very powerful positions and his duty to see the mission through appears to be utmost importance and one he won’t quit until complete.
We also see how Han Solo is struggling to fulfill a promise he made to Chewbacca to help free the Wookie homeworld of Kashyyyk while trying to fulfill a promise he made to Leia.
The scope of Life Debt is large and introduces many new characters, new plot lines all while filling in information about previously introduced characters and answering many questions from Aftermath. It’s a big galaxy wide view of the Star Wars universe that deals with politics, the fall of the Empire, the struggles the Rebels now New Republic are dealing with in rebuilding a shattered galaxy.
I’m going to start out by saying that I really enjoyed Life Debt and eagerly await the conclusion to the trilogy when it arrives at the end of January 2017. The book is not without controversy and I wanted to address a couple of those now.
The writing style of third person perspective has been panned by many and it is again used in Life Debt. Now, I really enjoyed Aftermath, but will admit that it took a while for me to get into the writing style of the book. This was a little off putting at first but once I got into the book, I realized it was the best decision to fully present how big in scope the book was and with what it was trying to accomplish. If you did not like the writing of Aftermath, you will get more of the same in Life Debt but I urge people to overlook that as the book is really, really good. It offers up a lot of new information that is now Canon in the Star Wars Universe and fleshes out characters that will be important going forward in the universe. In a recent interview that Wendig gave to SUVUDU he had this to say about the writing style:
For me, a person who likes to write in that already, the great thing is that we’re speaking to young readers and to older readers who are willing to be drawn into the cinematic component. Star Wars begins as film and moves on to TV. To have the books feel exciting in that kind of action-adventure thing, present tense keeps you in the moment.
When you realize that he was working to craft a book that read like a Star Wars movie, you begin to realize why it was written the way it was and it works. It does have a cinematic quality to it that feels as if you are reading a Star Wars movie. By the mid-point of Aftermath the flow of the story felt natural to me and it carried through into Life Debt.
Many people who “love” Star Wars but hate that it is now a Disney owned property, have also decreed anything in the new Star Wars Canon, including the Aftermath trilogy to be trash. No matter how good the book is, these individuals will not take a chance on it due to biases they hold tightly from what was previously established in the Star Wars Universe. This is of no fault of Life Debt and many negative reviews are in fact coming from people who hold this dislike of the new Canon and are not willing to invest the time with the new unified Star Wars story galaxy.
With those issues addressed I have to say that Life Debt is an excellent addition to the Star Wars Universe but it is not without faults. First off there is much to love about Life Debt including the crew of the Moth and I for one would love to see Mister Bones, Jas Emari and the others up on the big screen. I really love how this crew has come together into a family, a dysfunctional-functional family but a family none the less. The interactions between the crew and how they are willing to sacrifice themselves for each other and their beliefs make for some truly heroic and tense situations.
The scope of the book as it massives and really works hard to interweave the actions of the Moth crew member, the politics of the New Republic including what is happening on Kashyyyk and the plight of the remaining Empire and how they are struggling to survive in this new Galaxy. To it’s benefit the story is very cinematic and truly makes the reader feel as if this could be a novelization of a new Star Wars movie.
The characters I felt were well developed and you really begin to love some of the characters while hating and wishing doom upon others. The heroes are flawed but do what is right, they don’t always necessarily accomplish what is right as you’d expect a hero to do. The villains are truly evil but their motivations are pure and sometimes sympathetic, while manipulative and deceitful, they do so with an end goal of resurrecting the Empire and unifying the galaxy under one banner of solidarity.
Now, there are a couple of minor things within Life Debt that I took issue with but accept for what they are. The first is that the book while answering many questions from Aftermath, leaves many more unanswered while creating new questions that I can only image will be answered when Empire’s End is released in January. We see Gallius Rax and Rae Sloane as those who wish to lead the Empire back to glory and while we get a feel for who Sloane is, Gallius Rax is still an enigma. Could he be Snoke from The Force Awakens? I think that is where we the readers are being pointed but I think this may be nothing more than a distraction. We may find out who Gallius Rax is in Empire’s End but I don’t think that he will be Supreme Leader Snoke as I think that reveal will be held until Episode 8.
The second issue I have is of no fault of Wendig but it’s that with characters such as General Leia, Han Solo, Chewbacca, Wedge and even Snap Wexley are never in any real danger. The situations they are put into are of course dangerous but knowing that they are around in future comics and in The Force Awakens means that we already know that they will survive the encounter. This does take some of the tension out of the situations encountered and to Wendig’s credit he does address this by choosing to place characters such as Sinjir, Jas and even Mister Bones in situations that could lead to their deaths as we don’t know what their futures hold.
These are minor annoyances that I had about a book that I thoroughly enjoyed. Overall I would give Star Wars: Aftermath: Life Debt a solid 4 out of 5 stars. This is a book that dedicated Star Wars fans are going to want to pick up and read.