If I had to chose between getting a backstory of a film character or getting more stories like these, I choose more stories like these, please.
Star Wars: Canto Bight was the last novel released before the release of Star Wars: The Last Jedi and is a series of four short stories set within the Canto Bight Casino. Here is the publisher’s description of the story:
“Welcome to the casino city of Canto Bight. A place where exotic aliens, captivating creatures, and other would-be high rollers are willing to risk everything to make their fortunes. Set across one fateful evening, these four original novellas explore the deception and danger of the lavish casino city.
- An honest salesman meets a career criminal as a dream vacation turns into the worst nightmare imaginable in a story by Saladin Ahmed.
- Dreams and schemes collide when a deal over a priceless bottle of wine becomes a struggle for survival as told by Mira Grant.
- Old habits die hard when a servant is forced into the mad struggle for power among Canto Bight’s elite in a tale by Rae Carson.
- A deadbeat gambler has one last chance to turn his luck around, all he has to do is survive one wild night as told by John Jackson Miller.
In Canto Bight, one is free to revel in excess, untouched from the problems of a galaxy once again descending into chaos and war. Dreams can become reality, but the stakes have never been higher-for there is a darkness obscured by all the glamour and luxury.”
And to be honest, none of those stories sound all that interesting to me. Even after listening to the novel (on Audible), I am still not impressed by those descriptions. And based on some reviews I had heard earlier for the novel I was not anticipating going through this one at all. On top of that, if you read my review of From a Certain Point of View, you know that I am not a fan of short story collections, especially not that one, which was released just before this one. So, all in all, I was not looking forward to this book.
But in my need to read (listen) to all of the Star Wars stories, I pressed on and bought the Audible version (and also the hardcover version), bit the bullet and started the book. The first story started off slow, so much so that I found my mind wandering as I drove. But it quickly grabbed my attention. Now, each of these four stories aren’t really short stories but more like novellas, so they have time to really flesh out the story. After a bit, the story, combined with the voice acting (which is superb), I was hooked and really loved it. The characters were great and even though the stories don’t impact the movie directly, or even indirectly (as far as I am aware) it was all a fun ride.
But then the first story ended, and again I was left with my mind wandering as the next story started. But then it too picked up speed and I grew greatly invested in it, wondering how it would turn out. And the same thing happened with each story. I had a hard time getting into each one but by the end of the story I didn’t want it to finish. I wanted to know more about the characters and what happened to them later.
All four of the stories also seem to take place over a very short span of time, overlapping each other. This is hinted at subtly when things happen in one story that are caused by or effect events in another story, specifically the power outage. But even the last story by John Jackson Miller ties up the characters nicely to the first story at the end.
My favorite story by far was the last one, The Ride, by John Jackson Miller. The way he sets up plot points just to spike them home later was marvelous. I kept wondering, why does he keep mentioning that Kal, the main character, is hungry and hasn’t eaten? But then that hits home in the most unexpected way. There was even a supposed “throw away” part where a man was balancing on a pot and ended up injuring himself. Even that came back around and I found myself literally laughing out loud. The whole story had me so riveted that I found myself just sitting at home listening to finish it up, which I rarely do with audiobooks.
After having listened to all four of the stories I would say that my second and third favorites were Rules of the Game by Saladin Ahmed, then The Wine in Dreams by Mira Grant, with my least favorite being Hear Nothing, See Nothing by Rae Carson. But even then I still loved Hear Nothing, See Nothing. It just probably had the slowest sections with the plot points that I liked the least.
Rules of the Game was about a rube who won a trip to Canto Bight and ends up getting mixed into a homicide attempt. The interactions between the seasoned assassin, Anglang, and the unwitting assistant, Kedpin, were often times heartwarming and genuine. I think what really won me over on this one though was the voice acting. I loved Kedpin’s cheery, yet naive voice.
The Wine of Dreams was a story about a wine seller trying to get her hands on an infamous bottle of wine held by two seemingly airheaded twin sisters. The way that the sisters manipulated everyone was well played. Even working the bar’s manager into the proceedings was unexpected and I genuinely was interested to see how everything would turn out because of the way that the sisters were set up in the story meant that the rules of how stories normally go could go out the window. Although I did not like how one of the characters was left behind at the end. I feel like the sisters should have taken her on as their assistant.
Hear Nothing, See Nothing was about the most famous masseuse on the planet who is being strong-armed by the local politician/mob boss. In the process of being strong-armed, the masseuse must retrieve his kidnapped daughter getting into whole heaps of trouble in the process. This story had me laughing out loud, specifically at the end with a joke that was set up towards the beginning of the story about how the human daughter and the alien masseuse are not actually related. But overall, I find it hard to believe the murder would go off without a hitch in the long run, especially when it was committed by a fairly rare alien species.
And the last story, The Ride, was about a “grinder”, a gambler who continually plays making small wins over time who needed to let go of his biases and just accept that sometimes luck is a factor. Within the story there is a trio of alien brothers who are all hellbent on gambling in any way they can but don’t really care if they win or lose, because they have the most astounding luck and usually win. The story makes this trio, who at first are obnoxious and grating, into a group of friends with the main character of Kal. And even though luck was on his side, Miller made Kal’s redemption at the end of the story worthwhile by allowing Kal to stand on his own without the help of the brothers (for the most part).
The audiobook version of the story was exquisite as usual. It was narrated by four different narrators: Sean Kenin, Saskia Maarleveld, Marc Thompson, and Jonathan Davis, all of which did superb jobs creating easily recognizable characters and fitting their voices to the character’s personality traits to a tee. The audio rendition of the story was likely one of the reasons I enjoyed this book as much as I did (giving it a few points of a bump), even though the book could stand well enough on it’s own.
Overall, the book is a roller coaster. Each story lagged in the beginning and eventually picked up speed until I didn’t want to get off, but then it bottomed out again at the beginning of the next story. Fortunately, since these were longer stories I had more time to enjoy and soak in the narrative. And even though the stories don’t have any (noticeable) impact on the movies, they were fantastic stories; ones with characters that I want to see more of in the future. If I had to chose between getting a backstory of a film character or getting more stories like these, I choose more stories like these, please.