Well now that I've finished it I can attest that Star Wars: Aftermath was pretty much a waste of money. Maybe 1% of the whole book actually mattered for explaining what happened between ep 6 and 7.
The storyline was terrible and challenging to follow. Things which should have been described or explained were glazed over while minutia was explained in painful detail. I now know the behavior patterns of about a dozen animals on different planets, exactly how a lot of alcoholic drinks taste, and details regarding the histories of various worlds.
Yet I learned almost nothing about the overarching story or what happened between movies. Battles were slapstick and poorly described. So many Storm Troopers died and the whole thing felt like a kids show. Overall it was a remarkably disappointing story.
The one strong point was the actual conference of Imperial officials trying to devise a plan for what to do post battle of Endor. It was interesting to see the different elements of the Empire's government all laid out and explained, but it too suffered. Characters were poorly developed and with the exception of Admiral Sloan were petty incompetent caricatures.
There were so many kids in this book, and miraculously they all were great at opposing the Empire, and none of them ever died opposing an organized military. The main story arc revolved completely around a rebel pilot coming home from the war and having challenges rebuilding her relationship with her son. That could have been a good storyline, but again the characters were whiny caricatures instead and was just really annoying and long.
Overall the whole book came off as forced and it was a challenge of endurance to get through it.
Overall rating: 1.5 out of 5 Star Destroyers
If you don't want to know any spoilers don't read this part.
As the purpose of reading the book was to explain events between episodes 6 and 7 here are the 2 key take aways from it:
1. The New Republic IS a thing and had just been established. It is also doomed...
The seeds of its collapse are already apparent though and are sadly very believable.
The political leadership (Mon Mothma) has decided that the New Republic needs to disband its military to prevent anyone from viewing them as tyrannical. Note the Empire is still in a state of open war with them and holds at least HALF its total territory and 1/3-2/3 of its military might. The suicide plan for the republic is to keep only a token force to help train local system militaries to be self sufficient. I'm not kidding, this is the plan.
The case against this plan is made very loudly by everyone with a brain in their head, an understanding of history, and a working knowledge of what power vacuums are and why they are bad for maintaining galactic peace. It's actually very eloquently and succinctly put by a general early in the book as the republic military reels from being informed that they will soon all be unemployed because the still ongoing war is over and we won! This was actually the single best chapter in the book, it's the interlude at the end of chapter 9 and I'd honestly advise just reading this part of the book and the epilogue.
Naturally the military is being ignored because politicians always know best. Honestly it makes me think of the early Iraq War when the U.S. Government decided to disband the Iraqi army because it had been a tool of oppression and we wanted to start things over with a fresh slate. Of course without any force maintaining order all the simmering discontent boiled over and the different factions in the country started killing each other, as always happens when a power vacuum occurs and no one faction is strong enough to take power.
2. The Empire is crumbling from its own corruption and ineptness. It also may just happen to have a certain dude with blue skin and a white uniform to build something new from the ashes...
This is really well shown through the Imperial Council on Akeeva. The different factions don't agree of get along at all, and most of the top brass have either surrendered to the republic, stolen money and run, or are only thinking of how to use the chaos to advance their own positions. There are a few people who actually are trying to put things back together but they are in the minority.
By the end of the book though most of the chafe is culled by either being killed by the "give a damn" crowd or being allowed to be captured by the republic. So in the end it does seem that the Empire will pick itself back up, particularly because the republic is determined to give them the space and time necessary to do so. It will just be a changed and reformed version of the Empire that emerges from the ashes.
Cool news, the Empire still has 1 super star destroyer left, The Ravager, and it is under the command of a brilliant ADMIRAL who we never get the name of, but who shows an interest in musical ARTS, has spent a seemingly very long time out in the outer rim, and knows exactly what both his allies and enemies will do way in advance. You learn this in the epilogue, and honestly it was the most exciting bit dropped on the book. They don't give you the Admiral's name, but there are so many hints that it's Grand Admiral Thrawn that despite how disappointing this book was I'd be willing to buy the sequel just to see him in it.
Thrawn is a crowd favorite and it would be really cool to see him get a second chance at rebuilding the Empire, and if he makes a film debut I'd be giddy.