When I first saw Star Wars: Death Troopers in its paperback form, I thought long and hard before buying it. My experience with Star Wars expanded universe (EU) novels is that they are either amazing (The Thrawn trilogy and the surprisingly good Force Unleashed) or just plain bad (The Courtship of Princess Leia).
Death Troopers posed a particularly sticky dilemma for me since it was both a Star Wars novel and a zombie-based book. Personally, zombies just don't do it for me (although the AMC series The Walking Dead has captured my attention), but I was intrigued enough by other reviews that I just had to give it a shot.
What I got was a decent, middle-of-the-road Star Wars book and a standard zombie horror novel wrapped into one.
The story centers on a small group of people on the Imperial Prison Barge Purge. This group consists of Zahara Cody, the barge's physician, Jareth Sartoris, the cruel captain of the guard, and two brothers, Kale and Trig Longo, who are prisoners on the barge who's father has recently been killed by Sartoris.
The Purge's engines inexplicably fail in the outskirts of the Unknown Region of the galaxy. With no immediate assistance available and very little opportunity for accidentally running across someone for help, the barge comes upon an abandoned Star Destroyer that registers only minimal life signs.
The Purge crew finds it quite odd that the Empire would allow such a massive and vital ship go to waste, but they decide to send a small salvage crew lead by Sartoris to find parts for their own ship.
When Sartoris and his group arrive in the Destroyer, they find a ship that looks as if the crew just vanished. Droids go about their regular business as if nothing is wrong. Monitors and other equipment plug along waiting for their next prompts.
Sartoris splits his group into two. Once his squad finds a few useful parts, they return to the prison barge. Unfortunately, one of the Imperial prison guards comes back with a very bad cough, and the two engineers start experiencing strong vomiting spells.
Zahara Cody attempts to find out what is happening to the infected crewmen, but soon enough the virus spreads throughout the entire barge. Only Kale, Trig, Sartoris, and Cody appear to be immune to the violent symptoms, and eventually only they and two inmates in solitary are the only ones left alive on the ship.
The survivors have very little time to react to such a massive loss of life, as the dead eventually walk again, and they are hungry. The survivors find themselves in a desperate fight for their own lives, and make their way to the abandoned Destroyer in the hopes of finding a ship to escape on. Little do they know that the seemingly quiet Destroyer holds literally thousands of the walking dead, and they are even hungrier than their Purge brethren.
Author Joe Schreiber does a very good job of blending the Star Wars universe with the horror genre. The story moves along at a very good pace and held my attention the entire time. The major problems of this book, however, are standard for both zombie tales and for the novels of the Star Wars EU.
As far as the zombie troubles go, despite having the ability to adapt to their surroundings and learn from their actions, these zombies are still pretty much the "eat everything that lives" type of zombies. The fate of the zombies is formulaic as well, but that's all I can say about that.
On the Star Wars front, this book is plagued by the need of seemingly every EU author to incorporate popular characters from the films. While I was happy to see some of my favorite characters included in the tale, I felt that their presence actually stole the thunder of characters like Cody and Sartoris. I also didn't like the way that one particular canon character was mentioned and the actions that they supposedly took that put the zombies into play.
Overall, the book does have one excellent redemption story and I found myself actually cheering on the one character I probably should have despised. I also applaud Schreiber for putting the Star Wars universe in a horror story. It made for a very unique and somewhat more adult look at George Lucas' legendary creations.
Will I ever read another Star Wars horror novel? Absolutely. In fact, I just started reading Schreiber's newest Star Wars horror tale, Red Harvest. I hope that Schreiber takes the praise and criticism he has received for Death Troopers and puts it to good use in Red Harvest and any future tales he might spin for the franchise.
Mildly recommended. It's a good read, but it could have been a bit better.