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SWTOR: “Fatal Alliance” Review

August 4, 2010

Unless a book really hooks me, I know I can take much too long to read. So maybe I didn’t devour Star Wars: The Old Republic: Fatal Allliance in no time like I had expected, but at the same time I delighted in taking my sweet time to read it. I’ll cut to the chase here — if you can look beyond the faults that are so typical of novels based on video games, you will probably enjoy it. Keep reading for further thoughts, though I’m not going to go into the plot too much (if you want that information you can find it here as well as preview the first chapter) and I promise there will not be any spoilers.

I’d like to mention that I am a big reader and fan of Star Wars expanded universe books, and I can honestly say that Fatal Alliance can stand next to any of them. I’d even go as far as to say it was better written than most of the Star Wars books I’ve read. Sean Williams’ writing style is easy to follow, without feeling like you’re being talked down to. Dialogue can get cheesy and positively cringe-worthy at times, but it’s made up for by the author’s excellent handling of the characters’ relationships with each other.

The story, on the other hand, was a bit disappointing. I realize, however, that storylines that work for a game don’t necessarily translate as well into book form, and I’m sure much of characters and plots from Fatal Alliance were developed under such game-to-novel constraints. At times you may find the story predictable, and inevitably, you will come across parts in the book which will make you stop and think, “Wait, that doesn’t make much sense!” Fortunately, it’s fairly easy to look past these flaws if you can maintain appropriate expectations for an MMO tie-in of this nature.

Fatal Alliance is also blessed/plagued with a large ensemble of characters, depending on the way you look at it. The novel follows the activities of no less than eight characters, no doubt for the sole purpose of showcasing all the classes of the SWTOR game. Consequently, you can expect to find the points-of-view constantly switching around between and even within chapters, sometimes rehashing certain events over and over again. This may annoy some readers, but I think most will end up appreciating the author’s attempt to give equal attention to both the Republic and the Sith.

I also found the character development sufficient, but perhaps die-hards will still find it unsatisfying. In some ways, I believe the book was written with the expectation that the reader is already familiar the Star Wars universe, as well has decent background knowledge of the SWTOR MMO. Indeed, the class archetypes (Smuggler, Jedi Knight, Trooper, etc.) and their traits are well reflected in the novel, and readers will greatly benefit from having existing knowledge of them. Otherwise, you may find the story background and characters’ histories severely lacking and even confusing, and admittedly character development will not go that much further beyond what has already been established and/or understood about the archetypes.

Nonetheless, I am impressed with the way Williams handled the characters and the classes they represent, especially considering how much of it is obviously required to correspond to the game. It’s a challenge to create characters that are based on such prominent archetypes and still make them unique and interesting, but he manages well. Particularly, if you are interested in the Smuggler or Imperial Agent and are disappointed by the limited information Bioware has revealed on them so far, Fatal Alliance will be a treat. While reading, I also picked up on many hints regarding class abilities and other game mechanics, so SWTOR addicts might also have that to look forward to.

While some of my criticisms of Fatal Alliance might seem a little harsh, I do want to make it clear that I enjoyed the book. I think most people who are looking for a fun, casual read will enjoy it too; just don’t expect an epic tale. If you are a fan of Star Wars or the expanded universe, this book is worth checking out. And if you’re a fan of SWTOR, this is a must-read.

16 comments

  1. I’m number 4 on the waiting list at the library still. 😦 But I’m pleased to see there will be more info on Imperial Agents. As I’m pretty sure that will be the class I roll first.


    • Yeah, I liked how the author handled the Imperial Agent. Definitely gave me more information to help me envisioned the class, but the character himself was also very interesting.


  2. Interesting review. I have only read one Star Wars book in my life and it was (deep breath) the novelization of The Phantom Menace. I doubt I’ll be picking this up, but it has to be better that the thing I read, right?


    • Hey, nothing wrong with the Phantom Menace novelization! 😀 I actually own all three novelizations for Episode I, II and III…in a lot of ways, the story telling in those books were handled much better than the movies!


  3. I like a big cast but I don’t have to see from all of their perspectives. 8 sounds kind of schizophrenic.


    • Yeah, I would say there are 8 main players, but you technically only get to follow 5-6 characters when it comes to perspective.


  4. Hmm, sounds like they could have had maybe two novels and spread the characterizations out a little. Maybe even a Sith/Republic mirror story, like “Flags of Our Fathers” and “The Sands of Iwo Jima,” which tell the story of the WWII battle from the American and Japanese sides, respectively.

    I’ll have to read it when I get back from Hawaii.


    • There wasn’t actually that much story (like, I thought it was on the simple, straightforward side) now that I think about it, so I think it would have been difficult to make it a mirror story in this case. I definitely get the feeling they want one single book to showcase both sides and all the classes.

      Ooh, you’re in Hawaii? Fun!


  5. Yeah, that is too many characters to keep track of. I like 3 at most. I’ll wait fir paperback or library for this one


    • Yeah, because it seems you have a lot of other great SW books to read!

      Hope FA will come out in paperback in good time. Hunter told me Del Rey are sometimes slower with that though.


  6. I’m not a huge fan of the SW books. Made it two books in to “the good series” and that was about it for me. Which is odd because I eat up the setting in other mediums.

    Good review in any case. Nice job being informative while dodging spoilers.


    • I don’t blame you, I like reading Star Wars books but it is often hit or miss for me too. Some of the SW books/series that are wildly popular I’m actually not too crazy about.


  7. I usually don’t read novels that tie into games but recently I picked up a WoW book for a dollar at Half Price and I thought I’d give it a shot. I think the big reason I would like to read novels that incorporate into games would be for the lore.

    Sorry to hear that one was a bit disappointing!


    • Hey, a dollar for a WoW book is awesome! Which one is it, may I ask?


  8. Nice review, you hit it dead on. This is my first Star Wars book and my biggest gripe was having to look up races on computer. Fortunately I recently came into the possession of an iPod touch so doing a search for races allowed me to remain on the couch instead of at my computer desk. If they were looking to draw new fans in, this is not the best book to accomplish that.

    My other nitpick gripe was the use of “Sir” for female authoritative figures. I don’t know if this is common in the star wars universe, but being former military this dug under my skin a bit.

    Overall I thought it was a good book. I was probably a little more excited about it than I would be if it wasn’t connected to an MMO though.


  9. […] Fatal Alliance by Sean Williams. Williams is also a brilliant and very prolific writer. Like MMOGamerChick, I was initially dismayed by the bombardment of characters and point-of-view changes, but once I […]



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