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I was in Barnes & Noble when I happened to come across a Star Wars hardcover book called Heir To The Empire. The hardcover was an omnibus of Timothy Zahn’s Star Wars Thrawn trilogy. While other science fiction writers have made their mark into adding to the Star Wars lore, Zahn is the one who repopularized the genre and paved the way for every Star Wars novel that followed.

Notable events include the birth of Han and Leia’s twins Jacen and Jaina, the Force-neutralizing Ysalamir, the cloned Jedi Joruus C’boath, and the introduction of the late Emperor’s assassin Mara Jade. Mara Jade would go on to her return to the Light Side and later, become Luke’s wife and the mother of his son Ben. Not to mention Luke’s climatic duel with his clone (created from the severed hand he lost in Empire).

Zahn’s trilogy proved so popular that the planet Coruscant (the planet that serves as the main backdrop for the trilogy) was adopted by George Lucas as the pinnacle of Republic civilization as described in the prequel trilogy. Both Jacen and Jaina have gone on in stories of their own. Every novel since Heir of the Empire featured the Solo twins in one role or another. Hell, an entire series of books (Junior Jedi Academy) was written around their lives and their graduation to becoming Jedi Knights. That’s how great this trilogy is.

If you’re curious about stories that take place after Return Of The Jedi, the Heir trilogy are the books you want to read. Trust me. You will not be disappointed.

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Dance Of Dragons 
Dance Of Dragons is the fifth book from fantasy series Song Of Ice & Fire by George R.R. Martin.  The book depicts a quasi-medieval world described in multiple points of view. Easily dozens of characters are used to illustrate the struggle of power between various families and their quests to gain the Iron Throne, a chair built from the melted swords of all the would-be conquerors of the world’s history.

The plot of the books is extensive, and I’d rather not spoil the surprise for the first readers. The books have it’s own strengths and weaknesses, so this is what I’ll comment upon.

The first strength of the series is also it’s chief weakness. There are a lot of characters. A LOT. Being a feudal society, each character is part of a royal House, none of whom is an only child. There are brothers, sisters, cousins, uncles, grandfathers, great-grandfathers, and so on and so forth. Many a potential fan will be deterred on who exactly belongs to which House.

My advice: don’t. Each of the POV (Point Of View) characters have unique personalities that endear them as real people. My favorite character is Tyrion Lannister. A dwarf, Tyrion has the strange fate of being a member of one of the most powerful royal families in the series, yet for the most part watches the events unfold from the sidelines due to his dimunitive size. Slowly but surely Tyrion manages to include himself in the great scheme of events. He survives two trials by battle, talks the barbarians that kidnap him into his service, briefly becomes the King’s right-hand man, and manages to foil several would-be assassinations (some of whom were ordered by members of his own family). He has gold, the political power of his House, and his tongue, all of which he uses to great effect.

Another strength/weakness that might deter readers is one that I admire about the books. People die. They die a lot. Not just the minor people whose life is a sentence and then never heard again. Major characters are not immune to the author’s lethal pen. Ned Stark is perhaps the chief protagonist of the first book. As chapters go by we watch Ned stumble through a world of compromises and hard choices. A paragon of virtue, he does not belong with the bluebloods and their schemes. We witness his chivarly, his love of his children, the duty and wishes of his king. And then what happens? He dies. Beheaded. Stuck on a pike on a castle wall for all to see.

The vulnerability of these characters is why I love these books. This isn’t a fairy tale story. There’s sex and incest and plotting. There’s struggles and agendas and consequences. Martin’s killing characters left and right is a sign that he takes this world seriously. It is rather refreshing – and nail-biting – to simuntaneously care for these people and know at any moment they will fall.

If you’re willing to take the risk, then Dances Of Dragons (and it’s predecessors) is one hell of a book. If not, then go back to Twilight or True Blood.