Allegiance marks the first time that I have been disappointed with a Timothy Zahn novel. Before we explore the possible reasons, let's look at the storyline briefly.
The novel starts out with a group of five Stormtroopers who have found themselves in the middle of a serious moral crisis. After acting on these feelings (in the form of slaying a disrespectful superior officer), they are forced to flee. Meanwhile, we see a young Mara Jade (who was created by Timothy Zahn and is heavily featured in most of his other works) at the age of 18 serving the empire as The Emperor's Hand. It goes without saying she reports directly to Emperor Palpatine and we finally get to see how this relationship works and how it plays out. Her primary role to the Emperor that has been assigned to her is one that will weed out disloyal Moff's, Governors, and other high ranking officials in the Empire. She does this deep under cover with many aliases attached to her name. Meanwhile, the core group of Han, Luke, Leia and Chewbacca do appear in this novel, but they play mostly secondary roles. Luke, Chewie and Han eventually run into and work with these renegade Stormtroopers mentioned earlier. Meanwhile, Leia is featured even less while on a diplomatic mission. Darth Vader makes two or three appearances, each time in a very impressive manner. In the end, the storyline of these five Stormtroopers--who call themselves "The Hand of Judgment" and find themselves assisting those in need--and that of Mara's mission to fight corruption within the empire, eventually collide. The familiar characters of the films play but an extremely minor role in the climax of this story.
Allegiance is Zahn's eighth full length Star Wars novel. It is his first story that does not directly tie in with his other novels, and it is by far the shortest written. So, what was about it that disappointed me so much? Well, first of all, it seems Zahn--who is known for his complicated storylines--does not know how to simplify matters when the novel is so short. There simply is too much going on, and not enough development in each of the plots. To add to this, there is scene after scene of action with little or no dialog. While these scenes are described in an excellent manner, they do very little to move the plot forward.
As with Zahn's previous effort, Outbound Flight, the core characters of the Star Wars universe (created by George Lucas) play only a secondary role in the central storyline in comparison with the characters that Zahn has developed himself. I believe in the aforementioned story, this worked perfectly because it was part of a larger storyline weaved throughout his past novels. And who can go wrong with an appearance by Thrawn? However, in Allegiance, this simply does not work here. Most of the new personas introduced are just not that compelling: The Stormtroopers, the Smugglers, the Imperials. Even Mara, an excellent Zahn creation of the past, spent the majority of this novel either sneaking through corridors silently or creating an action packed environment around her. Admittedly she does have some key moments that were rather fascinating to read that shows her in her prime while working for the Empire--something that we only have read vaguely about in the past but never actually "experienced". When the Lucas characters are involved, they are developed just as well as the movies--and no more. In fact, their role in this story at times seems rather "clunky" and "gratuitous". Even almost forced.
With the above being stated, Timothy Zahn has already proved his worth to me as the man who sets the standard of all Star Wars novels. I will acknowledge he is not perfect, yet I will eagerly anticipate his next work. One can only hope that is a much longer storyline where he has time to develop his notoriously complicated and detailed plots of politics and adventure.