Picking up a few months after the events Aftermath, Life Debt immediately re-establishes the protagonists, Norra and Temmin ‘Snap’ Wexley, Jas Emari, Sinjir Rath Velus, Jom Barrell, and their murderous battle droid Mr. Bones, as a team seeking out and capturing high ranking Imperial officers that have been eluding the New Republic. However, after returning with their latest mark, Princess Leia Organa asks team leader Norra Wexley to track down her wayward husband, Han Solo and his Wookiee copilot, Chewbacca, who mysteriously disappeared after running off to Kashyyyk, the Wookiee homeworld, in an attempt to liberate it from the clutches of the Empire.
Life Debt also spends a significant amount of time establishing antagonist Rae Sloane as Grand Admiral of the Imperial Navy, whom is trapped in a game of wits, intrigue, and deception with her mysterious benefactor, Fleet Admiral Gallius Rax. Rax controls the events of the novel through a master plan that only begins to reveal itself at the novel’s end.
Unlike the more localized first novel, Life Debt is packed to the brim with galactic wide intrigue and conflict. Flitting back and forth between the main team, Leia, and Sloane, we get a clear picture of the post-RotJ state of the galaxy showcasing the flaws of the New Republic and what appears to be the sinister, secret beginnings of the First Order, buried in the death throes of the Empire. In addition, Aftermath’s interludes are back and just as intriguing as they were in that novel. From the shadowy Acolytes of the Beyond to more bizarre stories like the fate of the Rancor keeper from Jabba’s Palace, the interludes plant story seeds to be continued in Empire’s End and likely beyond. Best of all, Life Debt acts as a nexus for the new canon, drawing upon characters, planets and ships from other novels and comics. As a completionist, it was very satisfying to see all of the connections to the new canon, wrapped neatly into this already expansive tale.
Chuck Wendig does a fantastic job giving every character their due; even secondary characters like Wedge and Sloane’s assistant Adea play important roles in the story. Wendig also does a great job giving each character their own voice, including capturing the essence of characters from the movies. Impressively, Wendig also seemed to take some of the criticism of his writing style to heart by mostly eliminating the choppy descriptions liberally used in the first novel, although he continues to use present tense as well as utilizing a more casual, modern narrative style. Even the title, Life Debt, is used throughout the novel as a recurring theme of what various characters owe, or feel they owe, each other and the galaxy at large.
Unfortunately, Life Debt’s biggest failing was more toward the end of the novel. As Wendig hurtles toward the novel’s climax, he glosses over the events that are happening on Kashyyyk, showing only the tail end of the conflict. Considering the entire plot of the novel builds to these events, it felt rushed and unsatisfying which is a shame considering the quality of the rest of the novel. In consolation, there are concurring events that feel more satisfying and give the novel a conclusion that feels very reminiscent of The Empire Strikes Back.
Life Debt is so packed full of characters, plots, and significant events that I’ve barely even scratched the surface in this already lengthy review. In stark contrast to its predecessor, Life Debt delivers a grand look at the post-RotJ GFFA and highlights how hobbled Wendig must have been by the desire of Lucasfilm to keep the plot of TFA a secret. I began reading this novel with a healthy dose of skepticism and found myself entirely engrossed, finishing with an eager anticipation for the trilogy’s conclusion, Empire’s End. Life Debt is, easily, tied with Claudia Grey’s excellent Bloodline as the best book of the new canon, and I cannot recommend it enough, especially to fans of the new novels and comics.
Book reviewed by Space Dragon contributor Matt Pellegrino