To start off, this book chronicles 4 different storylines that eventually converge on one another. I'll do my best to describe the plot, but I will mainly zero in on Han/Leia parts. If you want a real good synopsis, check it out on Wookieepedia under "Allegiance".
We start on a Star Destroyer captained by Captain Ozzel and meet (5) stormtroopers (LaRone, Brightwater, Quiller, Marcross and Grave) who are becoming disillusioned with their service to the Empire for different atrocities they are witnessing/hearing of including Alderaan. When one of them is confronted by an ISB agent (Imperial Security Bureau - a bad group of guys with control issues) and ends up killing him in self-defense the (fivesome) is banded together in their fate. They steal a ship and flee Imperial Service forever as deserters stealing a fully-loaded, well-equipped ISB ship (Suwantek) in the process.
We then meet Mara Jade and follow her on what seems to be her first or one of her first missions as Emperor's Hand for Palpatine. She is researching a supposedly corrupt politician who is skimming Imperial tax rolls. To be fair, I guess I should mention here that this book is probably truly about Mara Jade, so if you like her you can add a star to this rating, if you don't like her - you may want to skip this book.
There is a short scene where Han, Luke & Chewie escape the same planet (Teardrop) that our stormtroopers end up completing their last mission on. During their escape Han contemplates how he got sucked into the Rebellion and complains that with his holds full of Alliance equipment he cannot take any cargo that pays.
The next time we see Han he is landing on the current Alliance base. Han notes how typically awful the place is except for 'one redeeming value' which is Leia. He is immediately pulled into a potential mission with Leia that he deems as ‘political’ and basically is not too happy about it, especially when Luke is throwing himself all in. Leia notices Han’s attitude and volunteers to speak to him. Before she leaves Rieekan offers any help if needed and says, “We need all the good people we can get.” To which Leia replies, “You really think there’s a good person under all that?” And Rieekan says, “Of course there is. Somewhere.”
When she catches up with Han, after a few words they have this conversation:
“Is that what’s bothering you?” Leia asked. “You’re not getting enough credit?”
“Of course I’m getting enough credit,” he said. “Don’t you remember that shiny medal you hung around my neck?”
Leia felt her cheeks burning. “My apologies, Captain Solo. I’m just trying to understand you.”
For the briefest fraction of a second she thought she saw something almost vulnerable in his eyes. But the moment passed, and the mask of cynical indifference dropped back into place. “Don’t bother,” he advised. “Even if you did, you wouldn’t believe it.” (For some reason I liked this little exchange)
In the meantime, the stormtrooper deserters, while trying to keep a low profile, keep finding trouble that they can't turn their noses away from. The first of which has them inadvertently helping a Rebel Cell supply line from an attack by pirates. Mara Jade is also thrown into the trail of Pirate activity, too. Of course, all of this trouble will eventually be tied into the same pirate activity that is at the heart of this storyline.
After the Rebel Cell is attacked by Pirates, Leia’s mission is compromised and they decide to send Han (a quasi-Pirate himself) to investigate while Leia goes alone on her mission to meet her politician. Leia volunteers to recruit Han on the new mission. This is an excerpt from that:
“Something’s come up that General Rieekan would like you to look into.”
His lip twisted. “Is that before or after I take you to this Grand Royal Elite Privileged Ball?”
With an effort, Leia forced herself to stay calm. In their brief acquaintanceship Han somehow managed to learn exactly where all her irritation keys were and took great satisfaction in flipping them. “Actually, you’re off the hook on that one,” she said.
“What?” He said in a tone of wounded outrage. “You mean I had the Falcon fumigated for nothing?”
“Don’t worry, I’m sure it needed it.” (I thought that was cute/funny)
A little later after Leia has described what they have in mind, Han said, “So this is a send-the-scum-to-catch-the-scum sort of thing?” (I liked this, I think it shows how Han thinks that the Rebellion and maybe Leia view him?)
Then a little later, as Han becomes intrigued with the mission, Leia notes his relief and wonders if he is relieved that he won’t be going on the mainly political mission with her or if “he was relieved that he wouldn’t have to be spending so much time with Leia herself”.
Last thing, after she wished him luck and told him not to get himself killed, she turned and walked away and ‘she could feel his eyes on her back the whole way’. (I don't know about anyone else, but I like reading into these little thoughts, especially during this time period.)
Okay, and I guess some stuff happens with the stormtroopers and Mara Jade and everything is happening around the Shelsha sector which hints to the fact that all of these players are somehow going to end up crossing each other eventually.
So before Han leaves on his mission (with Luke and Chewie) he notices Leia across the hangar and to make her jealous he encourages the flirtations of a female pilot that approaches him. Although he does feel guilty once it’s all said and done.
Okay, some here’s some plot stuff:
Leia goes to meet with three different leaders to hear a proposition which includes the governor of Shelsha Sector (Choard) turning tail on the Empire. While there she meets with Choard's second-in-command and realizes that her rebel friends have been duped and Choard has no intention of turning on the Empire. Once identified by Choard's administrator the entire planet is put on lockdown with Princess Leia's description posted everywhere, meanwhile the Empire is notified that they have Princess Leia on the planet, the call is put immediately through to Vader's ship.
Mara in her research of the same govenor (Choard) follows a lead into the same pirate gang. Taking over a ship and taking one of the pirate's hostage and two elite troopers given to her by the ISB agent onboard the Reprisal. Unbeknownst to Mara, Ozzel and the ISB agent, thinking Mara is researching them for the deserting stormtroopers, tells the agents assigned to her to kill her.
The rogue stormtrooopers run into Han/Luke/Chewie, eventually fighting off a few pirate ships together, docking their ship with the Falcon under pretense to share info, the troopers take the trio hostage thinking they are pirates. Luke is getting help from Ben Kenobi via thoughts through the Force. Ben tells Luke that Leia is in trouble on Shelknonwa, that the planet is locked down and she is being hunted. There’s a little part in here where Han considers Leia’s predicament, sure that the Rebellion will save her and shuttle her away somehow. “And once Leia was out of the picture, his last reason for sticking around this crazy Rebellion would be gone.”
Mara and her captor run into some trouble while trying to find/meet with the head of all the pirate activity. Between her two stormtroopers trying to kill her and then the pirates themselves, her and her captive get burned pretty badly. Mara uses the Force to sustain herself and does her best to help her unlikely comrade. Meanwhile, the Reprisal comes over the planet and begins to obliterate, taking out the pirate's nest and (so they think) the Emperor's Hand in one fell swoop. The ship that Mara arrived in (loaded down with At-St's that the pirates were trying to steal) is taken by Caaldra. Mara takes a small ship with the badly burned pirate captor, he doesn't make it and she 'buries' him in space as per his dying request.
Meanwhile, of course, Han & co and the deserting stormtroopers show up at that same burning planet while it’s been blown to bits by the Reprisal. The Reprisal recognizes the stolen ISB craft and gets in a tractor beam (while still piggy backed to the Falcon) Luke/Han/Chewie escape their confinement onboard the stormtroopers ship and then help the stormtroopers evade the tractor beam of their old ship the reprisal with Ozzel at the helm trying to reel in his deserters that he just so happened hasn't reported and tried to cover up. After touching down on the planet and finding all signs pointing to Shelkonwa, Han comes cleans and tells the stormtroopers that they need to get to Shelkonwa and that it's under lockdown (thinking the stormtroopers will be able to get through the Imperial red tape) so the stormtroopers come clean about being deserters, still unhappy to be assisting the Rebels in any way since they still cling to their oath they swore to the Empire. After Han shares his story of being an Imperial soldier, the groups call a temporary truce. They will head to Shelkonwa together, leaving the Falcon in orbit somewhere. But the stormtroopers make it clear that they don't intend on helping the Rebels rescue their friend.
Meanwhile, Leia is waiting tables as part of her cover while being hunted by the Empire, her rebel friend thinking that hiding her 'in plain sight' might be a brilliant idea. In the middle of the night, Leia foils a neighborhood break-in that was endangering a young child, endearing her to the locals. When things start to get ‘hot’ (the arrival of Vader and the stormtrooper searches), Leia encourages her contact to leave her. At one point he kinda falls apart on her and then he apologizes, “Forgive me for my moment of despair.” And Leia replies, “Everyone has such moments,” Leia said, her checks warming as she thought back on her own latest battles with that emotion. “The trick is to make sure they stay moments, and don’t lengthen into hours or days.” (I liked that.)
Okay, so now we have the following people arriving on Shelkonwa where Leia is: Caaldra in the ship full of AT-ST’s, Mara Jade in some little skip and the stormtroopers and Han/Luke/Chewie in the stormtroopers ship (the Suwantek). Basically the stormtroopers and Han & co. are preparing to part ways when Caaldra takes one of the AT-ST’s and shooting Mara out of the sky. Han and Luke leave to find Leia while the stormtroopers head to help the downed ship, leaving the easily identifiable Chewie in the stormtroopers ship at the hangar.
When Luke comes to the seedy dive where Leia has been hiding and tells Han this is where she is, Han thinks to himself: “Her Royal Highclassness, hanging out in a place like this? Luke’s mystic Jedi tricks must have popped a circuit breaker.”
And when he enters the place he: “..came to a sudden, disbelieving stop. Across the murky dining room and the clumps of alien heads, he saw her. Not just sitting in a back corner, either, trying to hide with a hood over her head…” (Can't you just feel the love from across the room?)
And then, I thought it was cute when Leia is trying to say a long, heartfelt goodbye to the owner of the diner she is saying:
“Someday, when the slavery of the Empire is finally over-”
“We’ll buy you a drink,” Han cut in. Taking Leia by the shoulders, he hustled her through the door.
I laughed at that. Of course, Leia tells him he was rude.
Okay, so now they have to make their way back to the hangar. They start to get trailed by stormtroopers and Leia takes Han’s blaster and shoots down this drainpipe to take out two troopers, impressing Han - which was pretty cool. Then they take the troopers' speeders. Luke is on one and Leia and Han are on the other. Leia drives so Han can shoot and there is some arms around the waist and stuff. Okay, I’ll quote a part: “He wrapped his left arm around her waist, noting with private amusement that she squirmed a little at his touch. This might turn out better than he thought.”
Alright, so then they make it back to the stormtroopers and Mara and they watch as Chewie takes the stormtroopers’ ship into the sky and helps the group take out the AT-ST. Chewie then lands the ship in such a way that Han/Leia/Luke can climb aboard covertly while Mara and the stormtroopers get questioned by the REAL stormtrooper contingent. Mara covers for the deserter stormtroopers and recruits them to assist her on her mission.
So the Han/Leia mission is basically over at this point. Mara and the stormtroopers invade the governor’s mansion and uncover the entire plot. I’ll leave it at that just in case you want to read the book. The stormtroopers do have to come clean with Mara and she lets them go and tells them to stay out of her way. When they return to their ship they get special clearance from Mara to leave but they still have to hide Leia in a compartment that will shield her from detection.
When Han finally goes to let Leia out of her compartment he offers her his hand to assist her and she ignores his hand and steps out on her own, asking Han what took him so long. Han gives her the lowdown on the stormtroopers and he jokes that she could get them to join the Rebellion and she says: “Former stormtroopers?” Leia countered with a wry smile. “I don’t think so.” She hesitated. “Especially since I can’t even talk you into joining up.”
Han likes that she noticed that he hasn’t joined and they have a conversation about it. He tells her that he would like to stick around a little longer, but that it is a big step and he is not ready to commit to Mon Mothma, Rieekan and everyone. Then this conversation ensues:
“Then don’t start with them,” Leia said, looking earnestly back at him. “Start with loyalty to just one person.”
Han looked at her, a funny feeling in his stomach. Was she actually saying….?
But then she makes it clear that she was referring to Chewbacca and Han reels his feelings back in.
And…I guess that’s pretty much the book! Again, I glossed over alot of the real plot, so if you are really interested, you'll have to read it.
I have to say that overall I liked this book. I like Timothy Zahn's writing and I enjoyed even the non-Han/Leia parts. But if I'm rating it for a Han/Leia factor, those little morsels are sparse...good - but sparse. So, I'm going with a 3 star rating.
Up Next? Choices of One by Timothy Zahn