Spoiler Level: Medium
This book was a real mixed bag. After the first 50 pages I had made up my mind that it would be the only Old Republic book I'd read, but by the end of it I was enjoying it so much that I had completely changed my mind.
Just as I was finished reading all the books set in the Sith era, Del Rey sneaks out Old Republic: Fatal Alliance to tie in with the latest Star Wars video game. This book takes place 3650 years before Star Wars, which puts it right smack in the middle between the Lost Tribe of the Sith e-books and the Darth Bane trilogy. Since I really enjoyed getting to know the Sith culture in both of those, I was looking forward to this book showing what it was like when the galaxy was full of rival Sith Lords who were fighting each other as much as they were fighting the Jedi. That, and the video game trailer showing the Sith ransacking the Jedi temple on Coruscant (which I posted in my review of Darth Bane: Dynasty of Evil) made me really want to see what lead up to that battle.
In that sense, this book disappoints on both counts. The ransacking of the Jedi Temple is mentioned as having happened years and years ago, so the epic trailer has nothing to do with this book. And the book itself focuses mostly on one Sith apprentice, occasionally her Master, and very briefly the Dark Council of the Sith. So we get very little of the Sith culture as well. What I really did like, however, was learning that after The Great War (which apparently culminated with the scene from that trailer), the galaxy was now divided in two, with the major ruling powers being the Sith Empire and the Republic. The idea that there was already an Empire millennia before Palpatine's rise makes his actions a little extra chilling. Emperor Palpatine wasn't just establishing his Empire; he was re-establishing the Sith Empire!
The Sith themselves are also written as rather two-dimensional caricatures, simply being evil for evil's sake and literally abusing small furry animals. There's some bits of Sith philosophy in here, but nothing to make you really understand why the Sith think they're in the right as in the Darth Bane books.
The final complaint I have with this book is the first segment, which covers the first 100 pages or so. It takes a long time to get to know the characters that will end up becoming the stars for the rest of this story. We're introduced to all of them in their normal settings, which is logical enough, but this also means we're introduced to a lot of other characters who will have no little to no impact on the story at all, with no one character standing out (at least to me) to let me know which ones I was supposed to be paying attention to. And to be honest, the set up wasn't particularly intriguing. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't good either. It doesn't help that the character that's supposed to unite all of the main characters is nothing but a McGuffin.
Luckily, by the second part of the book all the important characters are in place, and the story starts to get interesting. We now have about five main characters-- a Jedi Padawan, a Sith apprentice, a down-and-out former Republic trooper, a Republic emissary who's really an Imperial spy, and the usual lovable rogue smuggler. And the search for the McGuffin character leads the group to fighting a new breed of droid that's nearly unstoppable... hence the need for the "fatal alliance" of the title.
The book consists of four parts, and each part just gets better than the last. By the end of the book I couldn't believe this was the same book that was literally putting me to sleep at the beginning of it. We get high-stakes combat with a new, nearly unstoppable enemy, and we watch the characters go through life-changing events.
Maybe the first part would have been more interesting to me if I had been into any of the Knights of the Old Republic games or comics. But any time I tried those out, I was just bored with them. So if you're into those, this book might work from start to finish for you. For me, the last three fourths of the book were far and away worth the tedium of the first fourth. So while I can't highly recommend this, it's still a very worthwhile read.
Next month: I'm now all done with the Sith Era, and it's on to the Prequel era!