Palpatine's issuance of the now infamous "Order 66" is one of the few subtle, understated moments in the over-the-top, in your face cgi-fests that were the Star Wars prequels. The noble Jedi, morally compromised into leading cloned warriors into a war to save a bloated, corrupt Republic, are suddenly betrayed by the very soldiers they lead into battle. It's one of only a handful of scenes in the prequels where Lucas achieves a sense of emotion, drama and tragedy.
It's also the shadow that has long hung over the characters of Karen Traviss' REPUBLIC COMMANDO series of books published by Del Rey. Throughout the series, Karen has spun a fascinating web of intrigue and suspense, as we gain a great deal of insight into what life is like for the rank and file that make up the Grand Army of the Republic. The REPUBLIC COMMANDO books, for those unfamiliar with the series, follows the exploits of Omega Squad, four clone commandos who lost the rest of their original squads and have been reorganized into a new unit. The series also involves Mandalorian training sergeants Kal Skirata and Walon Vau, as well as numerous Null ARC Troopers that serve as Intelligence units for the GAR. With three previous books in the series, the cast has grown exceedingly large, and may be a bit impenetrable for those who haven't read the previous novels.
ORDER 66 picks up where the previous book left off, and mostly deals with Kal Skirata's priority of making sure his commando "sons" have an opportunity to escape the war at some point and live normal lives, something that the Republic doesn't seemed too concerned in providing it's cloned, meat-droid army. Paramount to Skirata's goal is finding a way to stop the clone trooper's accelerated aging, a sub-plot that has wound it's way throughout the series. Kal and the small family of clones and outcasts he's accumulated throughout the series have found evidence that many things about Palpatine's war just don't add up, and suspect that the end of the war is near. Traviss does an exceptional job of making that the elephant in the room; we, the reader, know what's coming, and begin to worry that there may be no way out for the characters we've come to love.
This is one of the many areas Traviss shines as a writer. She doesn't necessarily feel the need to have a major plot twist in the story; you may know where she's taking you, but her ability to surprise you with how she gets you there is key. Often the revelations of the psychological motivations for her characters is much more satisfying surprise than simply pulling the rug out from under you with a cliched "The butler did it!" At one point I was sure I knew where she was taking me with one particular chapter; I was positive Jedi General Etain Tur-Murken was going to meet her end on Kashyyyk at the hands of Delta Squad; but again Traviss switched gears and the resolution was nothing like I expected, and ultimately, more satisfying to me as a reader.
ORDER 66 starts off a bit slow, but this is Traviss layering a masterpiece...the story builds slowly, and then comes to a boil so quickly you're left rather exhausted by the finale. It's also a fresh perspective on the events of the Clone Wars that by far surpasses anything we saw in the films. It gives you an idea of why some of the battles took place, and more importantly, the lives of the men who fought them. They may be clones, but Traviss infuses each with their own identity, dreams and personality that makes this a fascinating read. It's a potboiler that leaves you wanting more, and I hope we get it, because by the books end some characters are better off, but some are in a worse position than ever, and much like in real life, not everything is wrapped up in a neat and tidy bow. Here's hoping Karen is already hard at work on IMPERIAL COMMANDO, or whatever the next chapter might be called. All in all, this book, and the entire series, actually, gets my highest recommendation. It exceeded my every expectation, and believe me, after the earlier books in the series, the bar was set quite high. 9 out of 10.