- Minor Spoiler Review -
Mercy Kill is full of joyful silliness. It also contains death, double-crosses, and the gross-out factor of Yuuzhan Vong technology, but the image of a half-dressed Gamorrean sensuously dancing is the one that I had trouble burning out of my brain. I wouldn’t say that it goes on to define the tone of the whole novel, but it makes a big impact.
So, what is the tone of the whole novel? It’s a mix between A New Hope and Inception, with a team of fighters, thinkers, and actors ranging across the galaxy. Instead of changing reality, they change faces and break stereotypes to get their mission done.
The main character is Voort “Piggy” saBinring, a Gamorrean pilot-turned-professor. His relationship with the other squad members marks the deepest characterization in the book. His conversations with other pilots deviate from the war plot to instead discuss motivations and fears that could apply to the real world as well as the galaxy far, far away. I found Voort’s dialogue some of the funniest in the book, including some references to math that made me laugh out loud not only because they were funny, but because they showed the unique way in which the very intelligent Voort views the world.
Voort is also far from the model-pretty human protagonists who are perhaps the natural inhabitants of a world based on a blockbuster film. Voort’s appearance and alien status makes him a refreshing character. It also brings us back to the dancing. Multiple times Voort takes what is basically the role of the obsequious Twi’lek dancers and distracts an audience with some shimmying.
The second character who gets a lot of face time is Bhindi Drayson, the Wraiths’ leader, who appeared as an incidental character in a few New Jedi Order books. The team has almost as many women as men on the roster, and like the others she’s skilled in stealth and combat. She’s also criticized for having too much of a motherly instinct toward her troops, and her character arc helps Voort’s carry on.
A Yuuzhan Vong character represents the species that dominated the New Jedi Order but was sidelined in most of the latter books. Viull “Scut” Gorsat was adopted by a human family, making him familiar with human culture as well as with the technology of the Yuuzhan Vong. His purpose in Mercy Kill is less as an ambassador of his species and more as an individual – Voort makes the mistake of laying on him all of the Gamorrean’s vitriol toward the extragalactic species. Their conversations was great, and the dynamic they end up with at the end is very different from at the beginning. Voort also supplies a lot of the disguises for the team – living, slimy disguises based on the ooglith masquers that caused so much trouble for the New Republic. Seeing them in action on the side of the good guys was exciting, and it’s nice to see the slow but sure technological development of the GFFA.
Another source of conflict is the generational gab between members of the team, and the wars they have or have not faced. One character refers to “Civil War Two”, another half-reference to the real world that felt a bit coy to me. The titular mercy kill stretches across both generations and ties into other parts of the book, including Voort’s characterization arc and the main plot line.
Everything ties together nicely at the end, and I had fun re-reading parts of the flashback sequences to see where characters recurred and relationships started. The central question of the novel is whether Voort can free himself of the guilt, fear, and anger he’s built up over the years of war – a question consistent with the Star Wars movies’ teachings about the the light side even if they’re taught to a character who isn’t Force sensitive. Other questions include who will survive, which lasers and missile shots will hit their targets, and whether Voort could have ever gotten through this mission without his ability to dance.
DISCLOSURE: I received a copy of this book from the publisher at no charge in order to provide an early review. However, this did not affect the overall review content. All opinions are my own.
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