Title: Leia: Princess of Alderaan
Author: Claudia Gray
Genre: Fantasy, Science Fiction, Young Adult
Publisher: Disney Lucasfilm Press
Publication date: September 2017
Hardcover: 409 Pages
Sixteen-year-old Princess Leia Organa faces the most challenging task of her life so far: proving herself in the areas of body, mind, and heart to be formally named heir to the throne of Alderaan. She’s taking rigorous survival courses, practicing politics, and spearheading relief missions to worlds under Imperial control. But Leia has worries beyond her claim to the crown. Her parents, Breha and Bail, aren’t acting like themselves lately; they are distant and preoccupied, seemingly more concerned with throwing dinner parties for their allies in the Senate than they are with their own daughter. Determined to uncover her parents’ secrets, Leia starts down an increasingly dangerous path that puts her right under the watchful eye of the Empire. And when Leia discovers what her parents and their allies are planning behind closed doors, she finds herself facing what seems like an impossible choice: dedicate herself to the people of Alderaan–including the man she loves–or to the galaxy at large, which is in desperate need of a rebel hero…
Stand alone or series: Can be read as a standalone novel, however fits in the larger Star Wars Canon (new canon); one of many books in the Journey to Star Wars: The Last Jedi series
How did I get this book: ARC from the publisher
Format (e- or p-): Print
Princess Leia Organa of Alderaan has always been keenly aware of her luck. She’s known, ever since childhood, that she was adopted–as the crown heir to Alderaan, it’s a truth that everyone on her planet, not to mention the rest of the galaxy, also knows. But that has never once stopped Leia from feeling loved, or like she is part of a family. Her adoptive parents, the Chancellor Bail Organa and Queen Breha Organa, have shown nothing but unconditional love to their daughter–in return, Leia has never really questioned her biological parents, for she has all the family she could ever want in front of her.
But the year Leia turns sixteen and undergoes the customary rites of being confirmed as the royal heir–completing three challengers, of the heart, mind and body–everything has inexplicably changed. Her father, once so doting and close to his daughter, is distracted and distant, even when Leia is apprenticing in his office as a junior assembly member of the senate. Her mother Breha also seems entirely preoccupied with her chores as bookkeeper and is forever planning banquet after banquet, often without explanation or discussion.
Leia Organa has never felt so alone.
But Leia is a pragmatist, and dedicated to showing her family and the rest of the galaxy that she takes her role as princess seriously–so she throws herself into her royal challengers. For her challenge of the heart, she chooses to offer humanitarian aid to a planet particularly impoverished by war and Imperial occupation. Once she lands on the planet and realizes the extent of the situation, she manages to trick Imperial officers by exploiting a loophole in their orders, saving a hundred refugees as hired crewmembers aboard her vessel. But instead of rewarding Leia’s ingenuity and applauding her efforts, her parents are terrified and dismayed. Leia knows that something is going on with her parents and will do anything to uncover their secret–but her investigation pulls her directly into the path of danger as she begins to draw the attention of the Empire (Grand Moff Tarkin, in particular).
Change is coming, and Leia faces the hardest choice of them all: to protect the home and the people she loves, or to follow in her parents footsteps and face the chance of losing everything, for the good of the galaxy.
Holy moly, people–what a book. You know that a book is good when you start to get choked up while reading it on the subway, and such is Leia. (To all of the regular rush hour commuters on the N/W, I sincerely apologize.) Leia is so powerful on so many levels–from Leia’s characterization, to her relationship with her family and sense of duty; to the glorious time we get to spend on Alderaan (oh, doomed Alderaan!); to the plot developments that show us how Leia became involved in the rebellion, and everything that she’s had to give up in order to become the woman who would later topple the Empire. Let me put it this way: if you’re a Princess Leia fan of any kind, you need to read this book.
So let’s start with the obvious: Leia’s characterization. Damn, but Claudia Gray has a knack for this character’s voice. After reading and loving Bloodline earlier this year–it was hands down the best characterization I’ve read of Leia, period–I was ecstatic to learn that Gray would be back to the character in this YA novel detailing Leia’s rise as a rebel and leader. In Leia, we are introduced to a very different Princess than the senator and general in Bloodline. The Leia Organa here is sixteen, and different than the polished and hardened politico we’ve become accustomed to in recent films. She’s different, even, than the Leia seen in the novelizations set between the original trilogy films or immediately afterwards. This was my first exposure to Leia, pre-Alderaan destruction—a devastating loss that will color her narrative and character development in all subsequent books and films. This Leia is close to her parents, already weighed with the burden of responsibility for her people and her planet, but also as a humanitarian and leader for the entire galaxy. This is the biggest struggle, I think, in this book. Where does one’s responsibility end? With oneself? With one’s family? With one’s people? Or is it larger and more important than that—is Alderaan’s luck and prosperity worth risking to save the galaxy from the Empire?
For Leia and her brilliant parents, the answer is an emphatic yes. In today’s day and age, of isolationism and protectionism and Us First-isms, this is all the more resonant and timely and fucking powerful. But it’s important to note that “yes” isn’t the answer for all characters—and that is not necessarily a bad thing. I truly appreciated the way that Claudia Gray examines the other side of this argument through one particular character’s choices—and ultimately as we readers know that Alderaan is doomed, and the freedom of the galaxy indeed comes at the sacrifice of that planet… well, it’s sobering stuff.
Beyond these larger thematic questions and the beautiful characterization, Leia has several other things going for it. Most importantly, the relationship between Leia, Bail and Breha is heartbreakingly real—a relationship all the more poignant because, again, we understand the depth of Leila’s loss in A New Hope. (As a long time fan, I confess I never really made the connection between the true horror of what the Death Star represented—this is something that the novels and new films, like Rogue One, have done so well.)
Other things that I loved in this book was how Leia returns to Naboo, teams up with the current Queen, and —unknowingly—almost falls into the most terrifying trap when she reminds someone too much of her birthmother, Parmesan Amidala. There are many allusions to The Clone Wars, to Leila’s ability to use the Force (even showing this ability), which are also pure awesomeness.
But really, the most powerful thing about this book is getting the privilege of seeing Leia before the storm. I loved this glimpse of the young princess’s life, pre-war.
But damn, does it make the war hurt so much more.
In sum: I loved this book. If you are a Star Wars fan, I bet you will too. One of my favorites of 2017, beyond a doubt.
Rating: 8 – Excellent
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