Players who have completed the existing story content found within Star Wars: The Old Republic have been eagerly awaiting the next chapter. Drew Karpyshyn’s latest novel, Annihilation, is that next chapter. Picking up where things leave off at the end of SWTOR’s current story, Annihilation follows several familiar characters as they plan and execute a key Republic mission. It also looks deep inside the Republic and Imperial leadership as both sides continue to engage in a full-blown war.
Note: The following article contains spoilers, both for the story as found in SWTOR and the Annihilation novel.
Annihilation brings back several familiar names and faces from Alexander Freed’s The Lost Suns comic book series. Theron Shan, the secret son of Jedi Master Satele Shan who was born without force sensitivity despite his famous and powerful lineage, returns as a top agent within the Republic’s Strategic Information Service. Teff’ith, the Twi’lek smuggler that Theron picked up as an information source during a mission, also plays a key role in the story. Flashbacks and dialogue mention Jedi Master Ngani Zho, the man who raised Theron and sacrificed himself as part of the mission to destroy an arsenal of Imperial superweapons.
At this point in the story, the war seems to be tilting in favor of the Republic. They have won a series of key battles and have regained control of several worlds across the galaxy. The Empire appears to be reeling due to a lack of leadership and constant in-fighting. As detailed in Alexander Freed’s short story leading up to this novel, Jace Malcolm received a promotion to the role of Supreme Commander for the Republic military. The Republic has all the momentum and is looking to land a few more dramatic blows to bring a decisive end to the war.
On the flip side, an inside look at the Dark Council shows the Empire does indeed have some problems. The Emperor remains missing. The attempted takeover by Darth Malgus failed, but has left its mark. Several members of the Dark Council have been killed during the war. Ambitious Sith vie for the vacant seats through any means necessary. However, they do have a powerful weapon still at their disposal – the Ascendant Spear, a massive warship developed by Darth Mekhis using cutting edge technology and Sith alchemy. The ship is made all the more powerful by its commander, Darth Karrid. A former Jedi sent undercover to get close to Darth Malgus, Karrid fell to the dark side completely and became Malgus’ apprentice. Mekhis and Malgus worked together to prepare Karrid for a severe transformation through cybernetic implants. The technology throughout her body allows her to connect directly to the ship and control it with unparalleled precision and power. The firepower of the Ascendant Spear combined with the cybernetic and force enhanced control of it at the skilled hands of Darth Karrid make it a weapon that appears virtually unstoppable.
That is where Theron Shan comes in. The Director of the SIS, Marcus Trant, Jace Malcolm, and Satele Shan come up with a plan to locate, infiltrate, and compromise the Imperial supership to give the Republic fleet a chance to eliminate the threat once and for all. Theron uses all the resources available to him, including several spy gadgets and techniques that may remind readers of some James Bond moments. Jedi Master Gnost-Dural, Keeper of the Jedi Archives and former Master of Karrid, is chosen to support Theron during several portions of the dangerous mission. The plan involves several complicated steps, each more dangerous than the last. When things do not go according to plan, it is up to Theron and Gnost-Dural to use their instincts and skills to survive.
The story itself is a compelling one that leaves the reader wanting to know what happens next. It is almost like a combination of an action movie and a spy thriller. The Republic comes up with the plan on how to locate and infiltrate the Ascendant Spear. Once the plan is set in motion, the Republic must make some tough decisions to keep from jeopardizing the plan’s success. Along the way, Theron and Master Gnost-Dural encounter more than a few unexpected obstacles. How they overcome those obstacles and charge forward towards their final goal is what makes the story exciting. There are several points where it seems like there is no escape for Theron and Gnost-Dural, and seeing how they get out of their latest sticky situation makes for a suspenseful adventure. The success of the mission and fate of the heroes is in doubt until the end of the book.
From a character perspective, the book reveals a bit more about Theron’s background, including the circumstances surrounding Satele’s decision to give him up at birth and the identity of the father. Theron also gets a chance to confront his mother about the decision and her lack of involvement in his life, which leads to some very emotional scenes. It is interesting to see how these heroes of the Republic act in private. For every heroic moment or inspirational speech, there are many difficult decisions and sacrifices along the way. Making those decisions is not always easy and seeing the heroes struggle with those choices and their consequences gives an interesting and welcome insight. This is especially true for Satele Shan given the Jedi affinity for repressing emotions.
In some ways, I have to admit I was a little disappointed with the end of the book. Despite the tension and suspense building up throughout the book, the ending was somewhat predictable. The Republic was victorious and struck another devastating blow against the Empire. I kept waiting for a final scene where we get a glimpse at the reaction of the Dark Council and see a hint of a new plan or weapon they could use to counter the Republic’s success, but that never happened. As a fan of SWTOR the game, I was hoping for some clues as to what would come next as far as the overarching story line, but that was absent as well. The Revan book did an excellent job of teasing some of the game content and setting up how the story within the game would unfold. I had hoped that this book would do the same for the game’s next chapter, but it does not appear to have done so. Instead, it is a standalone book set during the events found in game, but we are unlikely to see many (if any) references or impact from the book actually appear in the game.
Overall, I liked Annihilation. It is a true Star Wars adventure set in the time of the Old Republic with characters familiar to players of the game. As Drew Karpyshyn has mentioned in several interviews regarding the book, it is refreshing to see a compelling Star Wars character who isn’t a powerful Force user. Players of the game, fans of The Old Republic era, and Star Wars fans in general will definitely enjoy this book. And although it might not give direct hints as to where the game’s story is going next, it does at least fill the gap between what’s happened so far and what will happen next.