The Joiner King is the first volume in the Dark Nest trilogy, written by Troy Denning. Denning is the fan-favorite author of such Star Wars novels as Star By Star and Tatooine Ghost, as well as several other original sci-fi works.
The Joiner King is set in the New Jedi Order era, five years after The Unifying Force, which saw the conclusion of the war with the extragalactic Yuuzhan Vong. The premise sounds intriguing: a group of Jedi Knights hear a call through the Force from the Unknown Regions, and are drawn towards it. Soon, they abandon their duties to find it, much to the chagrin of the alien Chiss. The Jedi soon find themselves involved in a border dispute between the Chiss and an insect-like race called the Killick that has been spreading rapidly towards Chiss space. Luke, Han and Leia, as well as a few others, head out to investigate what the younger Knights have been up to, only to make some disturbing discoveries.
Denning has an excellent grasp on the characters. He is able to realistically represent these characters, showing how they’ve changed in subtle and not-so-subtle ways over the previous five years. Han and Leia are more cynical. Ben Skywalker, Luke and Mara’s son, is now an eight year-old, with a mischievous streak and who has closed himself off to the Force. Jaina, Jacen, and the other “young” Jedi Knights are now in their latter twenties, having moved in some unexpected directions in their lives. And we see the aftermath of the Yuuzhan War, where the galaxy still has not fully recovered, even after five years.
The biggest change is the attitude of the Jedi Order, which will no doubt cause some division with fans. The New Jedi Order, as of The Unifying Force, has a “wider” view of the Force, which at its core involves something akin to “moral relativism”. Basically, the Force has no light or dark side. The Force encompasses all, and only one’s intentions can be light or dark. Also, the mandate of the Order is no longer to simply protect the weak and defeat the bad guy. They take a wider view of things, and that includes perhaps not involving themselves in the border dispute between the Killik and the Chiss, even if it means that the Killick – who may not be completely at fault- are to be killed. It is intriguing to find how this view is challenged throughout the book, as Luke begins to wonder if the Jedi have lost their way. This makes for some great character moments for Luke, as well as a contrast between himself and Mara in how they handle situations.
The Joiner King is never boring. With some books, you read the back cover blurb, and have an idea of what to expect for the first fifty to a hundred pages. With The Joiner King, Denning covers the details of the cover blurb within the first twenty pages, then leads on a rollercoaster ride of mystery, action, and some fascinating revelations for the next four-hundred and twenty-four pages. Denning infuses a good amount of humor within the book, which is much needed. As exciting as the New Jedi Order series was, it could often be rather dark and serious, and the humor here is a good contrast to the previous books.
It is a credit to Denning that, with such a large page count, the book never drags. Also, both the “classic” characters of Luke, Han, and Leia and the newer book characters (such as Jaina, Jacen, and Saba) are focused on in equal measure, so fans of the various characters will not feel slighted. The “antagonists” and the hive mind mentality are very interesting, considering the nature of the bonds through the Force. And the ending feels right, stopping at a natural point yet knowing there is more of the story to come.
Overall, The Joiner King is an excellent beginning to the Dark Nest trilogy. It succeeds by telling a gripping story, giving us a new and fascinating antagonist with an old twist, and tying in larger elements of the Star Wars universe (such as the Prequel Trilogy) in a satisfactory way. I give The Joiner King a 9 out of 10. Highly recommended.’