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Star Wars: Death Troopers
Joe Schreiber
Narrated by Sean Kenin
Random House Audio, 6.5 hours

Star Wars: Death Troopers
Joe Schreiber
Joe Schreiber is the author of Chasing the Dead, Eat the Dark, and No Doors, No Windows. He was born in Michigan but spent his formative years in Alaska, Wyoming, and Northern California. He lives in central Pennsylvania with his family and several original Star Wars action figures.

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A review by John Ottinger III

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Full of scary action/adventure, this title creates a genre shift in the Star Wars universe. Most titles set in this mythos are of the space opera or adventure variety. But with Death Troopers, author Joe Schreiber has added horror.

Set just a few years before the events in Star Wars: A New Hope, this stand-alone novel follows the events surrounding the prison ship Purge. Purge is carrying a load of prisoners to an Imperial prison planet. Young Trig and Kale Longo, grifters, were snatched up with their father in an Imperial sweep. After their father's untimely death, they are forced to make their way alone. Providing other perspectives in the narrative are Doctor Zahara Cody, daughter of a wealthy family, serving the Empire to get experience before going on to more humanitarian work, and Jareth Sartoris, the sadist Imperial Captain of the Prison Guard. When the Purge's thrusters go out, leaving the ship stranded, it seems a boon that the crew happens upon a seemingly derelict Star Destroyer. But the Empire had its reasons for leaving the massive ship floating in space. The crew of Purge begin to fall dead, only to rise again in just a few hours from a hidden airborne menace. The few immune survivors of the plague must find a way off both ships before they too become a part of the madness.

The narrative is split into two parts. The first (and larger) section is character building, foreshadowing, and the slow build of tension. The second section of the story is a lot of fighting and running, owing a lot in form and content to the Death Star capture/rescue scene in Star Wars: A New Hope. Very exciting, to be sure, but not very terrifying. The great build of tension and foreshadowing of danger and suspense does not pan out in the latter half of the story. The danger that Schreiber had been so careful to build becomes blasé. The tension simply melts away in the face of the horde of zombie undead and the tale becomes as repetitive as a hack and slash movie.

Having read both the novel and listened to the audiobook, this reviewer finds that he prefers the audiobook form. Narrated by Sean Kennin, the audiobook version benefits from a superb voice talent. Kennin is able to do multiple voices, seamlessly shifting between various accents and characters. Kennin not only gives unique voices to each of his characters (his Zahara is a little bit too baritone perhaps, but men voicing women cannot be easy) but also gives them character. Even the most minor of individuals project an image in the mind through the subtleties of voice Kennin employs. His own natural baritone makes for a narrator, and he maintains a fairly even volume throughout, making this an audiobook that will be as easy on the ears in a car as on a home stereo. Coupled with the sound effects, background noise and music that are easily recognized as part of the Star Wars milieu, the audiobook version listens like it has a full cast, rather than being read by one man.

The plot of this tale is a fairly simple one, following a straight line from point A to Z with no real twists or turns. Though there is an excellent build of tension in the early part of the novel, once that tension is loosened, it is never gained back again, much to the book's detriment. There is a little bit of everything for fans of horror here, and those who enjoy reading in the Star Wars universe should expect a completely different novel from what has come before.

Though children may want to listen to this story, parents should be aware that this particular Star Wars offering can be gruesome, emotionally upsetting and has a great deal of scary suspense. Children will need an emotional maturity to handle some of the more terrifying elements in this tale.

Should you choose to enjoy Star Wars: Death Troopers, I recommend the audiobook form. Though Schreiber's writing is fair, Sean Kennin's reading makes it much better and more effective.

Copyright © 2009 John Ottinger III

John Ottinger III's reviews, interviews and articles have appeared in many publications including Publishers Weekly, Sacramento Book Review, and Tor.com. He is also the proprietor of the science fiction/fantasy review blog Grasping for the Wind.


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