Retro Review: Survivor’s Quest

Hardcover release date: February 1, 2004
Written by: Timothy Zahn
Place in timeline: 22 ABY (New Republic era)

Survivor’s Quest marked Timothy Zahn’s return to the Star Wars Expanded Universe after a six year hiatus following Vision of the Future. It is also Zahn’s last chronological entry to the Star Wars timeline. SQ is one of only two adult novels (the other being Jeff Grubb’s Scourge, to be released April 24) that takes place after the signing of the Pellaeon-Gavrisom Treaty in VotF but prior to the start of the New Jedi Order series.

Outbound Flight (released in 2006) is a prequel to SQ. I recommend reading SQ first and following up with OFSurvivor’s Quest is primarily a mystery, so reading Outbound Flight first will ruin a lot of fun surprises.

Survivor's Quest cover

Characters: Survivor’s Quest contains fewer characters than Zahn’s previous contributions to the SWEU. It is a self-contained story featuring fan favorites Luke and Mara Jade Skywalker. The novel introduces several new characters, including Aristocra Chaf’orm’bintranto (core name Formbi), Dean Jinzler, Chak Fel, General Prard’ras’kleoni (core name Drask), Jorad Pressor, and Evlyn Tabory.

Plot: The novel begins with Mara Jade Skywalker on a mission for her employer, Talon Karrde, to terminate his existing smuggling contracts (incidentally, one of my favorite opening scenes to any SWEU novel). After a brief confrontation, Mara and Luke retreat to their ship, the Jade Sabre, where they receive a message from Karrde. Karrde passes along an invitation for Luke and Mara to join a Chiss expedition to the long-lost Outbound Flight project. After stopping at Nirauan, where they almost perished three years before, Luke and Mara continue on to the rendezvous point and transfer to the Chaf Envoy to join the mission. Things immediately start to go wrong as Luke and Mara are almost killed by a falling cable and a fire breaks out on the ship. When the mission arrives at Outbound Flight, everyone is shocked to learn that there are survivors onboard. And then, the shavit really hits the fan.

The novel follows several character arcs: Luke reconciling the previous Jedi prohibition on relationships with his marriage to Mara; Mara coming to terms with her survivor’s guilt and her past deeds as the Emperor’s Hand; and Dean Jinzler finding peace in his sister’s fate.

Significance to the canon: As a self-contained story, Survivor’s Quest doesn’t add much to the main storyline. As a standalone novel, it could easily be passed over if one is trying to catch up with the main storyline.

However, skipping the book entirely would be a grave disservice.

SQ is a must-read for fans of the Chiss, the Empire of the Hand, the Fels, and the 501st Legion. In fact, SQ is the novel that first canonized the 501st, named for the fan costuming organization. We meet two new prominent Chiss, Formbi and Drask, and learn more about Chiss culture and hierarchy. This novel first identified the Empire of the Hand, the government established by Grand Admiral Thrawn in the Unknown Regions. Its main fortress on Nirauan was previously seen in Vision of the Future, but the government itself was not named.  A new member of the Fel family, Chak, is also introduced. (The existence of Chak Fel prompted a retcon, as Force Heretic II: Refugee, published in 2003, established that Soontir and Syal Fel only had five children: Davin (deceased), Jagged, Cherith (deceased), Cem, and WynssaThe Joiner King, published in 2005, established that Cem Fel had been a “shadow child” known to none outside the family.)

Survivor’s Quest is also a must-read for fans that enjoy the Luke/Mara relationship. While the story is not a romance by any means, it contains many nice character moments between husband and wife. Plus, it is satisfying to see Luke and Mara interacting as a couple at the height of their power. Revisiting SQ reminds me of how much I want new Luke/Mara stories, especially after her untimely death in Sacrifice.

Parting thoughts:  Survivor’s Quest is one of my favorite SWEU novels, which is not surprising considering my love for both the Luke/Mara relationship and Timothy Zahn’s writing. The novel is fast-paced and the mystery is intriguing. I have read complaints that SQ poses more questions than it answers, but in my opinion that is part of the novel’s appeal. (And the mysteries are answered once one reads Outbound Flight).

I love the era in which this novel takes place, and I greatly enjoy self-contained stories that go back in time and flesh out existing characters. I would love if future SWEU books echoed this idea with other established characters, especially during peacetime.

4.5/5 Kath Hounds

4.5/5 Kath Hounds

Reviewed by Nanci 
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