The Star Wars expanded universe encounters zombies as a mysterious infectious disease converts the inhabitants of an Imperial prison barge into flesh-hungry walking corpses. The Imperial prison barge Purge is dead in space with engine troubles. Aboard are teen inmates Trig and Kale Longo, medical officer Zahara Cody, sadistic guard captain Jareth Sartoris (who has recently killed the Longos' father as he lay convalescing), and two mystery prisoners in the high-security holds. When the prison ship's sensors detect a derelict Star Destroyer, a boarding party, led by Jareth, is sent to scavenge for necessary parts. They find the warship abandoned.
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But they don't come back alone. As the party returns to the Purge, its members begin demonstrating symptoms of a serious disease. Despite quarantine measures, soon the entire ship is infected, and the virus proves near 100% lethal. Zahara, who is immune, is able to synthesize a vaccine, but not in time to save the ship's inhabitants. The only remaining people alive aboard the Purge are Jareth, Trig, Kale, Zahara, and the two mystery prisoners, who have not been exposed due to their isolation.
Meanwhile, Kale and Trig have run afoul of a petty but violent crime lord Aur Myss, sit in their cells. As the plague ravages the ship, a sympathetic guard frees them as his last act. The diseased Myss, who is also let out, makes an attempt to kill the brothers, but older sibling Kale manages to stab their attacker to death. The Longos try to escape the ship, but are intercepted by Jareth, who refuses to share his pod with them. Jareth, haunted by guilt at this despicable act, flies off.
Zahara frees the high-security inmates, who turn out to be the famous smugglers Han Solo and Chewbacca. She inoculates the criminal duo. As the three leave, they make a frightening discovery - all of the diseased corpses have vanished.
As Trig and Kale approach another set of pods, they encounter Han, Chewie, and Zahara. Initially, there is a tense confrontation, but cooler heads lead to an alliance. The pods turn out to be locked, so the smugglers and the medical officer head to the ship's bridge. Kale wanders off to track down a noise, leaving Trig alone by the pod. He begins to hear scratching sounds from within it, but is unable to stop his companions from opening it remotely.
On the command deck, Zahara notices the sudden return to the ship of a host of life signs, all headed for their location. Kale soon arrives, carrying his nonresponsive brother, and saying that something is in hot pursuit. The five head for the still-intact tether between the Purge and the Star Destroyer, only to discover the true nature of their pursuers: reanimated corpses, hungry for their flesh. Among the undead horde is the father of Trig and Kale. The heroes escape to the other ship, although Kale is bitten by his dead father in the effort.
Kale's bite rapidly turns severe, and Zahara remains with him while the others search the ship. On their way to the control room, Han, Chewie, and Trig encounter the zombified remnants of the larger ship's crew. They flee to an engineering compartment, where a narrow catwalk separates the smugglers and Trig, who is too scared to continue.
In the ship's shuttle bay, where the boarders accessed the Star Destroyer, Zahara is forced to amputate Kale's infected leg and cut out a black substance from his abdomen. Further treatment is interrupted by the arrival of the Purge's zombie contingent, who have figured out how to use weapons and tools. Zahara tries to drag Kale along with her, but he is shot by the oncoming horde. The doctor escapes to a medical room, where she is able to use the computers to determine the origin of the plague - an Imperial bio-weapon.
The Star Destroyer has an unexpected passenger - Jareth Sartoris, whose pod was captured by the larger ship's tractor beam. Jareth hides from the zombies in a shuttle, where he finds a few surviving Imperials. Captured by the beam weeks prior, the shuttle's crew has survived through cannibalism. Jareth fights off an attempt by the weakened crew to put him on the menu, kills the ringleader, and seeks to turn off the tractor beam, only to find that Han and Chewie already have.
Trig is cornered by the zombified Aur Myss, but is saved, first by the intervention of the smugglers, and second by the timely arrival of Jareth on a small loading vehicle. The weight of four passengers begins to drag the flying vessel down, but Jareth sacrifices himself out of guilt for murdering the boy's father.
Arriving at the shuttle bay, the three heroes find the shuttle Jareth took shelter in operational and ready to go, with Zahara on board. After killing one final zombie, Trig, Zahara, Han, and Chewie escape the Star Destroyer. They witness the zombies attempting to follow them in other spacecraft, which they have figured out how to pilot. Fortunately, the zombies are only able to function within a short distance of the material that has infected them, and they soon go inert. In an epilogue, Trig and Zahara deliver a note from a dead prison guard to his widow, providing her with closure.
Best part of story, including ending:
I enjoyed this book on the whole, although it had some of the telltale signs of the mass-market paperback. I would particularly call out the inclusion of Han Solo and Chewbacca, who seem incongruous with the tone of the piece. Nevertheless, Schreiber is wise enough to avoid letting the guest stars run the show, building a fair amount of character in his own creations. The blend of Star Wars and visceral zombie horror is perhaps surprisingly effective, with some scenes far gorier and edgier than one would expect from a franchise novel like this.
Best scene in story:
I enjoyed the impromptu surgery scene, with its vivid description of the black mass infecting Kale, as well as the scene in which Jareth encounters the cannibals on the shuttle. They showcase two kinds of dread - the grossly physical and the creeping realization.
Opinion about the main character:
Although the book tries to position Trig as the main character, he ultimately is not a very compelling figure; he is far too dissolute and mostly just seems to go with the flow. Thankfully, Schreiber seems to realize this, and gives more development to the rest of the ensemble than is typical.