Last week we started an adventure of, well, reading L. Neil Smith's The Lando Adventures, a trilogy of '80s novels that imagine the life of Lando before he became the Baron of Cloud City. While Mindharp of Sharu ended up being a weird, fanciful escapade, its follow-up, Flamewind of Oseon, is weird for much less enjoyable reasons.
Part of Sharu's quirky charm - its saving grace, really - was that its hard lean on the fantasy elements of Star Wars' universe made an interesting foil for its take on Lando, who cares more about playing cards and looking good than literally anything else happening around him. But for Flamewind of Oseon, Smith decided to try something a bit different, thrusting Lando and his newly-acquired droid accomplice Vuffi Raa into a noir-esque tale of double-crosses and underhanded deals, befitting a suave smuggler like Lando.
There's a bit of a problem in this case, though: Everyone around Lando in this book is a complete idiot who acts in the most convoluted way possible, so the noir underpinnings end up turning the whole thing into a bit of a mess. At least there's... more scenes of sabacc being played? God, L. Neil Smith loves sabacc so much, guys.
Let's rewind a little: Set shortly after Mindharp of Sharu, Flamewind of Oseon sees Lando and Vuffi out on their luck, as the vast quantities of cash they made selling off the life-crystals they scooped up at the end of Sharu have been drained by Lando's complete and utter distaste for the paperwork, maintenance, and taxation of an honest life as a freighter captain. (The perfect origin story for a future governor, don't you think?) Also, there's been some weird attempts on Lando's life — a casual aside mentioned here and there — so he goes back to doing what he loves most, which is being a con man. A few sabacc games later, Lando is embroiled in a deadly encounter with another unknown assassin that lands him in custody for using an illegal blaster to kill the attacker.
Lando, instead of being locked up, is given an opportunity to earn his freedom. The local police force will let him go if he helps them set up a sting on a wealthy entrepreneur named Bohhuah Mutdah, who uses the cover of a travel ban during the seasonal arrival of the titular flamewind — a beautiful yet volatile aurora that heavily damages ship systems, making it dangerous to navigate — to receive illicit shipments of drugs. With two police officers in tow (one of whom, Waywa Fybot, despite later being retconned into the minor Star Wars species known as the Quor'sav, is literally described by Smith as looking suspiciously like Big Bird from Sesame Street, right down to the bright yellow feathers), Lando sets off, forced to navigate the dangerous flamewind despite one of his defining traits in the last novel being that he actually kind of sucks at piloting the Millennium Falcon.
This is, apparently, what a Quor'sav is meant to look like, according to West End Games' Secrets of the Sisar Run supplement for the Star Wars RPG. It's almost as silly as an Imperial Narcotics Officer looking like Big Bird, really. Image: West End Games (Wookieepedia)
It's from here that Flamewind of Oseon really starts to buckle under the weight of its attempts at being a seedy tale about dodgy bureaucrats and underhanded dealing, mainly because Smith decides to forget about actual motivations and instead have very stupid characters turn on one another for little to no reason. While navigating the flamewind's current, the Falcon is attacked by a completely out-of-nowhere third party of aliens, the Renatasians, who have a surprising beef not with Lando, but Vuffi, apparently for selling their system out to the Empire in his past life.
When Lando and the crew evade the Renatasians and reach their meeting point with Mutdah, everything goes even more to hell: Fybot, a.k.a. Not-Big-Bird, was secretly working for Mutdah and kills his fellow officer as they're about to complete their arrest. Mutdah then turns on Fybot, killing him before revealing he's not actually Mutdah, but instead Rokur Gepta, the weird Force-sorcerer/minor villain from Mindharp of Sharu, who has developed a grudge against Lando. Gepta, it turns out, has been pulling the strings behind the scenes all along, including the random attempts on Lando's life and undermining his freight-pilot career... despite the fact that Gepta and Lando barely even interacted that much in Sharu. Certainly not enough for Gepta to develop a grudge worth planning the most excruciatingly nonsensical revenge plot in the galaxy to act upon.
Oh, I didn't even mention the third double cross, in the form of one of Gepta's officers secretly sending information about Gepta's activities to... the Renatasians? For some reason? That's sort of Flamewind of Oseon in a nutshell — it's a story that barely has time to focus on anything even resembling coherence because it barrels itself into the next "shocking twist" so quickly you have to just sigh and roll with it.
Lando eventually escapes from Gepta's grasp thanks to another attack by the Renatasians (one of whom asks Lando to donate some of his riches to the poor system's cause as penance for Vuffi Raa's role in their subjugation, only for Lando to basically tell him to bugger off, which is fun), and everything is set up for one last conflict in the next novel.
Despite being a complete and utter mess narratively, Flamewind of Oseon at least gives us a Lando that feels more like an ex-smuggler than the jokey gambler of Mindharp. The disillusionment with the bureaucracy of a legal career, the distrust of government, and his disregard for pretty much anything that isn't his own winnings all feel more "Lando-y" here, even among the incoherence of the rest of the story, and there's something fun in Lando having a total distaste for the career he'd eventually find himself in by the time Empire Strikes Back happens. It's that, if anything, that makes the neverending double-crosses of Flamewind of Oseon worth wading through.