Up until now the Cobras have been like Jedi Knights. They have super powers — not the same ones — and they are a peacekeeping force among their worlds. They also operate on the morally questionable grounds that they are right in what they do. Luke Skywalker seeks to follow the Light Side of the Force, so he carves his way through Jabba’s Sail Barge, cutting down anybody in his way, regardless of their intent, to save his friends. As long as he’s not mad when he does it it’s okay to murder and destroy — it helps that he’s killing bad guys. The Cobra have operated on a similar moral code. They are the good guys, so they are right. Using this logic they slice down hordes of the enemy, blow up buildings and sew destruction in their wake the likes of which is awesome to behold.
Along comes Jin Moreau, the first woman to become a Cobra — accepted because her uncle convinced the government that it would fool the Qasamans that she’s being sent to spy on.
While on Qasama Jin is called on to question her own beliefs about the differences between their cultures, including the supposed morality of the Cobras. When seeing the actions of her ancestors — people she reveres — through the lens of the Qasamans she is forced to confront the belief that violence, even when so beautifully played out, is the answer to any confrontation.
It should come as no surprise that Zahn would notice these two flaws in his previous books and address them. He is the creator of the only female characters in all of Star Wars that are actually interesting to read about and the author who ushered in the gentler, more caring Luke, who tries to stun and disarm instead of kill, maim and dismember.
I have been pleasantly surprised with Timothy Zahn’s Cobra books. From the covers I expected them to be just some more of his Blackcollar books with a different package (this would not be a bad thing — those are really great books). I should have known better than to judge a book by a cover put on it by Baen. These books have tackled some interesting issues in an entertaining way.
Timothy Zahn has certain strengths which are readily evident here. His action scenes are top notch, cinematic and brilliantly thought out. Some of the weapons and abilities that the Cobra are equipped with actually made me chuckle at first, thinking that combat was going to be really awkward. However, Timothy Zahn pulls it off smoothly and succeeds in making each combat and action situation different and new, over and over again.
He is also brilliant at clever characters. This is really what makes his books so much fun. The bad guys are smart — and not in that Saturday-morning-cartoon-evil-genius kind of way — and the good guys are smarter. The characters are all interesting people to read about and have real lives.
Finally, Zahn is good at politics. The political backlash of actions is not ignored and it plays out with the media and politicians just the way it should. He even succeeds at making politicians who are honest, intelligent, full-fledged characters, yet who have very good reasons — both personal and political — to disagree with the main characters.
In short Timothy Zahn writes brilliantly explosive action with a full cast of interesting and intelligent characters. He addresses moral questions, not by asking them and giving answers but by telling a story about what would happen if people started to ask those questions.