Moving into the pros and cons here, then will sum up:
1. Kenth's death. I didn't hate him in the end like I thought I would, but I very much disliked him. I think the authors have been trying to swing our opinions of him in the negative direction the entire series, and I think his death was timely and worked very well. Overall, it was an excellent plot point for the series, and one of the first deaths in quite awhile that I think worked wonderfully. We didn't need major deaths like Mara's that were just knives ripping into the hearts of fans, and we didn't need pointless deaths like Isolder's. Kenth's death was, I felt, both necessary and poignant. It showed the instability of the Jedi, and yet at the same time set them on the path of righting that instability. I think this, finally, starts the Jedi toward being able to operate without Luke, now that such is completely and absolutely necessary.
2. Ben Skywalker. Gosh, I started out hating this kid. But finally, finally...! He's endearing himself to me. I've decided that, provided they keep him more or less on his current path (with perhaps a crisis or two along the way), he'll become one of my favorite characters eventually. I think he was handled extremely well in this book. He's got just enough naive teenager in him to be stupid concerning Vestara, but enough smart Jedi to keep me from cringing every time the two appear in the story. I know Ben/Vestara is still a sensitive topic for many fans, and perhaps I'm still hurting too much from Mara's death, so the similarities are comforting, but I really like their interaction. If they continue in the direction of a Luke/Mara repeat, I won't complain. Again, though, Mara fan talking. Maybe I'm just too desperate for the comfort of the well known.
3. Luke Skywalker. My hero! I know Luke has had his ups and downs the last few series, but I couldn't help but love him in Vortex. Normally I am not much of a Luke fan. But the older he gets, the more I love him. Every time he was on the page, I was smiling.
4. Han Solo. I believe Caedus mentioned this earlier, but when Han thought he'd lost Leia, my heart was breaking. I didn't believe her to be dead, but I did think she could have been captured. However, this was at the back of my mind. In the forefront was Han's anguish, and I hurt for him so much! Oh, Del Rey. If you ever kill Han Solo, I will never forgive you.
5. The Jedi Council. Finally! They stood up for themselves, with Saba's leadership. The fact that they finally stood up to Kenth and started listening to the Force again...congratz! *applause* We were back to the Jedi Knights I've come to know and love over the past several years.
6. Chapters 16, 17, 26, and 29. I was practically biting my fingernails off! I was so literally on the edge of my seat that I couldn't sit still. I was having trouble comprehending what my eyes were so desperately trying to read at record speed, and I kept having to double back on passages. I won't go into these in detail at this point, but they were excellent.
7. Jagged Fel. I have been quite tired of one Jagged Fel in the last several books, but yesterday he reestablished his place in my heart. The way he played Daala was quite humorous, and had me going there for awhile. I was so proud of him, ha. And the fact that he and Jaina's engagement is back on...awesome. I wasn't sure how I was going to handle that if and when they went back to it, but Jaina's giddiness just made me smile. It was handled well.
8. Abeloth. Pretty cool villain. Glad, and totally not surprised, that she wasn't dead.
9. Bwua'tu. Okay, am I the only one that was positive he wasn't dead at the end of the last book? Remember, when in doubt, show us a body! They never actually said he was dead at the end of Allies, and I was completely unconvinced. Yet I heard so many acting as if his death was fact. So I was glad he was still alive. Still curious to see what role he plays.
10. Daala. Finally she's beginning to tire. She's old, and she's not right to be the CoS. It's about time she seems incompetent, and this was the book.
11. Madhi Vaandt. Amazingly well handled, the chapter concerning her death. Loved it, loved it, loved it. Surprised to see her die, but loving the possible repercussions of this.
12. Saba Sebatyne. Not going to go into any sort of detail at this point, but you've gotta love Saba and everything that's going on with her.
13. Humor. Denning has managed to find a humor that actually comes close to taking second place to Allston! I found myself grinning quite often at the dry bits of dialogue he threw in there. Good work, Denning. I may just forgive you Invincible one of these days. But probably not.
14. Leia Solo. Last, but not least, it looks like Leia may finally be taking on a more believeable role, considering who she is. It's about time.
1. Editing. Gah, Del Rey! What is up with you?! I believe I had this same complaint with Allies. I am one of those slow readers who takes in every word on the page, and it is quite annoying when pieces of sentences are constantly missing. I can't tell you how many times a "to" or an "of" or one of the articles was missing. Way too many! This threw off my reading, and I had to go back and read the sentence again, to be sure I'd read it correctly. It was over a dozen times, I can assure you. Also, there was a spelling error concerning a character or a vehicle more than once. And finally, the one that takes the cake, the number of times Denning repeated himself! Three and a half times, and I found it very surprising this made it into the final copy. Allow me to explain:
Page 178: That was all Madhi needed to hear. She started down the stairwell toward the Mandalorians.
Now break to farther down the page, just a few paragraphs: She began to descend the stairs, one hand turning the button mike on her lapel toward Rhal.
Hasn't this already happened? She began to descend the stairs twice. Another instance:
Page 345: ...but a lean Keshiri Sith with deep purple eyes and alabaster hair was starting in their direction --- and motioning for others to follow.
Now to page 347: As Luke spoke, the purple-eyed Keshiri started across the circle on an interception vector, with a dozen more Sith following close behind.
This is the one I consider the half, since it can be argued that these are two different actions, but I think it's another mistake. And another one:
Page 344: Ben and his father and Vestara were still fifty meters from the Shadow...
Page 345: The trio had closed to within thirty meters of the Shadow...
Page 350: Luke sprang up first, igniting his blade and crossing the last fifty meters to the Shadow...
I thought they were within thirty meters at this point, back on page 345, and they never moved from their spot at that point.
Okay, so call this nit-picking, but there was at least one other similar incident early on in the book, but I don't remember what it was at this point. I just think it was sloppy editing, personally. But maybe I'm being too harsh. Being such a great book, I suppose I'll forgive them this once.
2. The whole Barabel nest thing. Uh...what?! Totally weird, totally contrived, and totally wrong to use for getting Allana's secret out there. Not sure what's up with the whole Barabel mating thing, but it's really odd, and I'm very curious (though also anxious) to see where it goes from here. If this was its only purpose, I'll be beyond disappointed.
On the Fence:
1. Valin and Jysella. I know this is from the Conviction excerpt, but that's okay. I had three opinions going into this:
a. Valin and Jysella were not going to be in the carbonite, but it was only a mold of sorts.
b. Valin and/or Jysella would be dead.
c. Valin and/or Jysella would still be crazy.
I did not expect for one moment that they were going to be fine. However, I'm a little surprised that they went with option c. I was fully expecting option a. Either way, though, I can't decide if I like it or not. Still pondering.
2. Taalon's death. That seemed a little too easy, but I'm not sure it was a bad thing. I think I like it, but I can't be sure. Very interesting.
3. Wynn Dorvan. I have been thinking for the last several books that surely Dorvan is not what he seems. I almost expect him to be Abeloth! Joking, of course, but I really think he has that much potential to be something other than he's portrayed. Sort of like an Onimi surprise. And Vortex sort of confirmed it for me. I'm more puzzled than ever as to what they've got in store for him, but it's very intriguing. I think we would do well to keep our eyes on him.