Title: Star Wars: Scoundrels
Author: Timothy Zahn
Nutshell: This book is very easy to describe in a nutshell:
Han Solo Does Ocean’s Eleven.
For those of you not sold, or not familiar with Ocean’s Eleven (Get thee to the library. Get, I say!) Han Solo is looking for work between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back. He would go pay Jabba with his Rebel Reward Credits (trademark!) but, alas, they were stolen. By a pirate. Stupid pirates. He’s approached by a man with a job: Break into the most secure vault on the planet, owned by a high-placed member of Black Sun, the criminal syndicate which makes Jabba look forgiving and generous by comparison. All Han has to do to be set for life is come up with a team, bang out a plan, and pull off a heist. In two weeks. Say it with me: “I’ve got a bad feeling about this….”
Read-alikes: Most other Star Wars books involving Han Solo (There’s a trilogy named for him you could start with). Most other Timothy Zahn novels (although the Icarus Hunt is the one most like an actual heist). I confess, the only other titles I can come up with are actually movie titles like Ocean’s Eleven and Leverage.
So this is odd, but what stuck out to me most about this book was how Zahn managed the way that the characters were recieved by the reader. You could rewrite the nutshell in a way that describes the complicated plot better but sets readers up for the wrong expectations.
“Avrak Villachor is the richest man on Wukkar, and because of his place in the criminal syndicate Black Sun, one of the most powerful. Little does he know that the elements of a tangled caper are converging on him, and unless he uses every resource he has, he may lose everything to it.
First to arrive is Quazadi, his superior in Black Sun, come to strengthen the local arm of the crime syndicate. With Quazadi comes the surprisingly essential Aziel, as well as plenty of thugs and guards to push the balance of power around.
Hot on Quazadi’s tail are two members of Imperial Intelligence, looking to snag themselves a huge chunk of Black Sun’s empire, and happy to go through Villachor to do it.
Adding chaos to the mix is Han Solo and a hastily gathered team of small-time thieves and hackers. They’ve heard that Villachor has millions hidden in his vault, and intend to help themselves to it.
Complicate matters: In two weeks is the Festival of Four Honorings, during which Villachor opens his estate to the public. He’ll need to make amazing security changes, or he risks losing everything.”
That way it sounds like the villain is the hero, a man who has to overcome a sudden outpouring of trouble. But of course Zahn didn’t write the book that way. He set up each character in a very sleek way, so that you knew exactly how far to trust them, even though you didn’t know what their goals were right off.
(Which was an odd feeling, by the way. I had no idea who the character Dayja was or why he was on the planet, but I felt like it would be alright if he succeeded, from the first scene.)
The heist itself has added complexities because of the Star Wars universe, of course. The Falleen, the Black Sun crime lords, can smell if you’re lying. Try conning one of those. The security measures on the vault include a suite of sensors and biometric safeguards that would make Captain Kirk jealous and a vault that literally flies around in its housing. But the resources Solo has at his disposal are also complex. He’s got… a clown. And a pair of twins! And Lando Calrissian!
Scoundrels is merry caper through a jungle of loyalties and a heist worthy of the bizarre technology of the Star Wars universe. The intrigue is as thick as rainforest humidity. The twists are nearly Moebian. It’s a wild, intricate, thrilling ride.