Push and I read "The Hutt Gambit" this week, or at least I finished. This is the second book in the AC Crispin Han Solo trilogy. And this was my second reading of it, though I hadn't read it in probably at least ten years. First, points to the cover artist as I like Han on the cover, nicely done and made to look a bit younger.
The book begins about five years after the last one leaves off. This lengthy jump skips us over Han's entire stint in the Imperial Academy, his meeting and freeing of Chewie, how Han earned his Bloodstripes, and his being kicked out of the Navy. I should note that I have read in the past that the author was not actually allowed to write about these events, I'm assuming leaving them open to interpretation so someone else can write them later - so we will not fault her for skipping these seemingly important pieces of Han's life.
Chewie is with Han right in the beginning. He is merely an irritating tagalong at this point, refusing to leave Han and insisting on his lifedebt which Han tells him doesn't matter because his saving Chewie was his way of paying back Dewlanna for having saved Han. Discharged, Han decides to go to Nar Shaddaa and begins working for the Hutts. Yes, even Jabba, who actually has a very high opinion of Han at this point. Han has an old friend from the Academy he meets up with and has a nice group of friends for in between smuggling runs.
Han has his first try at the Kessell Run, which you can imagine went very well as he is a natural. Throughout all of this, Chewie grows on Han and proves useful in helping him not get killed, so he decides to let him stick around. Han starts up with a woman named Xaverri, who is an illusionist that Han watched perform and was quite taken with. She tries to resist his charms but of course eventually succumbs even though she had been married before with children but her family had been killed by the Empire so she tries to avoid becoming too attached to anyone. Han starts traveling around and participating in the acts and apparently gets to wear tight, stretchy outfits.
Things were going quite well at this point, until Han had a run in with a bounty hunter. Who else but Boba Fett, because as we all know, in a galaxy with presumably trillions of beings, there is really only that one bounty hunter and maybe those few other guys Vader talks to in ESB. This bounty hunter was ordered by the High Priest on Ylesia who Han had stolen the treasure from in the prior book. Anyway, Boba basically has Han cornered until someone jumps in and saves the day. His savior is none other than Lando Calrissian. This was not a coincidence, but Lando needed a good pilot so he sought out Han and just happened to follow him when he got into trouble with Fett. They did not kill him because neither one of them believed in killing in cold blood. Ironically, later on Jabba actually pays Boba not to kill Han because he is his best pilot.
Lando has Han help him learn to pilot a ship and Han sees for the first time and instantly falls in love with the Millennium Falcon. In fact, he immediately thinks to himself that that ship will eventually be his. After helping Lando, Han gets to choose a ship from his lot, which he decides to call the Bria. (please contain your vomit)
At some point on one of his runs Han "thinks" he sees Bria and tries to chase her down only to realize that it was someone else. Except it really was Bria but she had managed to disappear into the crowd and when Han got close enough the woman he sees was only who he thought he had seen earlier. The two haven't seen each other in five years, and apparently this encounter brought up a lot of hurt and longing for both of them. Bria has been busy helping start the Corellian Resistance against the Empire. In fact, she starts working under cover as the mistress of a high ranking moff so that she can gain information. She does not actually have to sleep with him because he is not attracted to humans, but is only there for show. Han discovers her playing this role, thinking she's sleeping with the enemy and they have to pretend they don't know each other. Bria is devastated that Han would think that of her and Han is devastated that she would do that and tries his best to hate her.
Xaverri eventually leaves Han, another one leaving him a note, though he is far less devastated. She simply does not want to get too attached and moves on with her show and career. It doesn't take that long before Han meets Salla Zend, a woman who was good at working on ships and seemed to share Han's love of being very forward when stating what you want in a relationship. The two worked well together as neither seemed interested in anything but having fun while it lasted. So later on when Xaverri comes back to help them all with a mission, Han doesn't feel too uncomfortable when Xaverri and Salla become good friends.
Han also gets another cohort by the name of Jarik Solo. This kid showed up and claimed to be related to Han. From the beginning Han was skeptical, but let him hang around because he proved useful in helping him with his smuggling runs and was just generally good to have around. He likely had a similar childhood to Han's and Han never called him out on not being his relative and let him use his last name.
While all of this is going on there's a whole lot of conflict going on amongst the Hutts which I won't get into the details of, but it does result in a battle that Han takes part in and is the reason he is working with Salla and Xaverri. In the end, Han is basically just smuggling and pretty happy with his life on Nar Shaddaa with Salla and his friends.
I had said after re-reading the first book that I didn't mind Bria nearly as much as I thought I used to. I guess I had forgotten that it wasn't so much the initial relationship itself that bothered me, but a whole heck of a lot that happens afterward. First, when Han "sees" Bria for the first time and it's not her and it stirred up all of those old feelings, it implies that in the five years since she left him, he still hasn't moved on. When he is drawn to Xaverri, we are told that this is the first time he has been attracted to a woman like that since Bria.
Um... what? Five years?!?! Is this the same Han Solo? I have to say, I am as much as a die hard Han and Leia fan as just about anyone and have silly, romantic notions that they are of course meant to be together, can't live without each other and all of that crap. But even if for some reason Leia left Han I still wouldn't see him not thinking about moving on with someone else after five freakin' years. And the fact that Bria is all noble and apparently is instrumental in starting the Rebellion also irks me. The whole concept of all of this implies to me that basically if she didn't wind up (spoiler alert!) dying at the end of the third book, she was really the one that Han was meant to be with and they would've lived happily ever after.
I don't mind Han having past relationships, I really don't. I just hate the implication that his true love wasn't really Leia, but she was instead a second choice only due to the death of his first. His relationship with Xaverri didn't bother me. I found it a little odd that Han would've traveled around performing in a magic act, but hey, I can see the guy doing a lot of weird stuff for a woman. I don't mind his relationship with Salla. They are actually a pretty good match and seem to speak the same language and be on the same page even if they don't really seem to be in love, they are only expecting some companionship and fun and that's what they are getting. Once again, more implied sex for Han in this book. I think we've now quadrupled the amount of EU sex he ever had with Leia.
Aside from the female relationships, I enjoyed him getting used to having Chewie around and he and Lando had a sort of instant, easy friendship that I actually believed. Han has a good group of smuggling friends that maybe I liked even more because they were in the Dark Empire radio drama and again, I could just see Han having good friendships with these people and their interactions. It is also interesting to see Han as basically Jabba's favorite human since we all know how that turns out later.
This book certainly included some foreshadowing, though maybe not on an annoying level. Lando we knew was from Han's past so he had to have met him at some point. I can maybe see him liking the Falcon when he first sees it, but I don't know about the instantly thinking that she will be his someday. He has a run-in with an old Jedi seer, Vima, who tells him his future. I actually liked this part. It was very quick and he asks if he'll be rich and she tells him that he will have great wealth but only when he doesn't care about it anymore, which of course Han does not believe because money is far too important to him. And she also tells him that he will do a lot for money, but he will do a lot more for love. At that point Han decides she's crazy and moves on.
Overall, aside from the idea that he hasn't been able to think about another woman in five years because Bria was his soul mate, I enjoyed this book on the second read. I had totally forgotten that Jarik Solo existed (not you, Jarik, the one who follows this blog except has disappeared and never comments) and I dind't remember that he met Chewie so early in these books. But again, it did feel like "Han" to me in this book. He stands up to powerful people when he doesn't think he's getting what he deserves, he takes pride in his piloting and in whatever other job he might have, he enjoys having fun with his friends and underneath everything he does have a soft spot for certain things and enjoys his time with his girlfriends.
The story and the characters kept me interested and again, this was certainly the Han that I know and love. So in spite of lack of Leia, I'll also give this one a 3 out of 5. I miss Leia of course, but she's still a child at this point so that would not be good! And at least Han's relationships are more in the spirit of what I might see him having had before Leia. So, another decent read that you should check out if you get a chance.
Next book: "Rebel Dawn"