- Seth Saunders
What Else You Got?
Welcome to the first installment of “What Else You Got?”
The premise is pretty simple. Basically, I’m taking a look at the original fiction of some favorite Expanded Universe authors. Our first subject may be something of a controversial choice, as he’s far more beloved as a video game writer than a novelist, but I picked up his fantasy trilogy a while back…and there’s probably some part of my chronologically minded brain that is pleased by starting with an author whose work is thousands of years in the “past.”
I’m speaking, of course(?), of Mr. Drew Karpyshyn, a gentlebeing whose largest claim to fame within Star Wars circles is being senior writer for the Knights of the Old Republic video game. Which is excellent and needs nothing but a graphical overhaul, Aspyr (or whoever’s on the job now). He does also qualify as novelist for Star Wars, however, having scribed the Darth Bane trilogy as well as the divisive Old Republic MMO tie-in novel that serves as the continuation of the KOTOR game protagonist, Revan, plus a later entry in the Shan family saga, Annihilation. Beyond Star Wars, he was lead writer on the first two Mass Effect games, penning many of the tie-in novels there, as well.
Like most fans, I have thoughts on Karpyshyn’s work within the EU, but what we’re focusing on today is his Chaos Born series. Whether I’d recommend this trilogy is, as with most things, dependent on your individual tastes. As far as the basics go, I’d describe the character work, plotting, and world building as…competent. My impression was that this is a story by someone who clearly knows how to tell one, but is perhaps working new muscles when it comes to crafting an original setting, solo. Which doesn’t bother me, personally, as I think it’s admirable to stretch one’s abilities by exploring new means of applying one’s skills. Just know that if you’re going in expecting flawless execution from a more seasoned original novelist, you might find the journey a bit underwhelming.
I do think Karpyshyn’s footing on his own ground grows surer by the end, however, and there’s much here to like for fantasy fans. While there are many familiar aspects to the lore, Karpyshyn builds up his protagonists well and did enough to change up the standard tropes to keep me from guessing precisely where things might be headed. The crux of the plot admittedly isn’t anything revolutionary. Big Bad was imprisoned long ago, and is now trying to get back into the world and cause problems.
The focus of things, however, is very much on the four characters on whose shoulders this problem inevitably comes to rest. The earnestness to the storytelling largely makes up for any gripes I had about the characters, and the way the separate threads wind up coming together is mostly satisfying. Personal and widespread struggles force growth upon the protagonists in believable ways, and the testing of various loyalties provides some good and meaty interpersonal conflict that tends to avoid feeling too forced.
EU readers should be aware, however, that this is not a family friendly read or world. Chaos Born leans acutely into modern dark fantasy trends, which isn’t exactly a selling point for me, but if your reading tastes tilt more toward the edge lord fare, you’ll probably find more than a few scenes to appease. Things also veer more towards the realm of “high fantasy” as the story and characters progress, with a goodly amount of magic flying around with the rise of the eponymous Chaos.
Will the protagonists save the world or destroy it? A familiar question in the genre, but if you’re the kind of reader who enjoys exploring new fantasy worlds with numerous recognizable elements (and isn’t horribly prudish or squeamish), you could certainly have a good time visiting a realm more entrenched in Karpyshyn’s personal imagination.