I find that I cannot provide an honest review of Timothy Zahn’s books. I unconditionally love everything he writes. Some of it is better than others but I find even when I start to notice things that would have driven me crazy in other authors I don’t mind it so much.
If you haven’t read Timothy Zahn’s Blackcollar books you are missing out on some great stories. These books don’t have the strong, unforgettable characters that his Star Wars books did, nor do they have the moral lessons that the Dragonback book had. What they do have is breakneck pacing and brilliant action scenes that both never stop and never get old.
Earth was conquered 30 years ago by a brutal and powerful race called the Ryqril. They initiated ‘loyalty conditioning’ which renders humans incapable of thinking anything bad about their conquerors. The Blackcollar are a group of elite commandos trained at the end of the war. They’re basically samurai ninjas, and, as if that wasn’t cool enough, they are also geniuses. In the first two books they are roused out of retirement when Alan Caine comes looking for them and they instigate a few steps in a plan to overthrow the Ryqril and kick them out.
This book has all of the Zahn trademarks. Brilliant plans that don’t always work but frequently do coupled with enemies that are just as brilliant, if not more. I like that the enemy characters are not crippled by stupidity. When something strange happens they know immediately that it’s a diversion and they have their own answer to it. This is not a case of a tactical genius and a squad of samurai ninjas wiping the floor with a bunch of idiots. This is the case of a whole team of tactical geniuses that also happen to be samurai ninjas trying to outsmart a whole team of loyalty conditioned tactical geniuses working for insanely fast aliens with superior technology.
It’s a constant battle.
I also like that the Blackcollars use primitive weapons – shuriken and nunchaku mostly – because the Ryqril can detect complex circuitry and metal and disable it.
The story twists and turns in usual Zahn fashion. Characters keep things from each other and from themselves and build a web of intricate secrets that give a lot of “oh no you didn’t” moments.
There is little to no character development. The people in this book are only different enough that you know which ones are good guys and which ones are bad guys and which ones are in between. But that’s enough. This is some of the best fun I’ve had in a long time.