Star Wars: Lords of the Sith

Overview

Lords of the Sith is by Paul S. Kemp, and based on its strength, I am looking forward to reading his other Star Wars novels.

While Darth Vader and The Emperor are used to sell this novel, and they are indeed major characters, the novel spends just as much time on the leaders of the Free Ryloth movement. Ryloth is the home planet of the Twi’leks, and it has known enslavement and oppression for a great deal of its history. Republic or Empire, the regimes change, but the approach doesn’t. However, the movement has a great opportunity as The Emperor and Darth Vader have scheduled a visit to Ryloth. This is the perfect opportunity for an assassination.

Lords of the Sith cover art

 

Character: 10

All of the characters worked for me in this novel. In fact, the relationship between Darth Vader and the Emperor was fascinating. This story takes place between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope, though it is closer to Sith than Hope. Kemp’s portrayal of the Sith lords works toward bridging the gap between where we last saw Anakin Skywalker and where we first (in real-world chronology) saw Darth Vader. In many ways, this is a psychologically abusive relationship where the Force is just one more tool used to oppress a person’s autonomy. The Emperor constantly goads Vader into remembering the most painful moments of his past, keeping him emotionally enslaved to his darkest fears and anger, and repeatedly emphasizing that he, the Emperor, knows more and is in control. He allows Vader moments to consider asserting himself, but always reiterates that he knows everything Vader thinks and feels. In the end, Vader doesn’t hate or fear the Emperor; he submits because it is the only option he has. It is the only option the Emperor leaves open to him.

Another double act in this novel is that of Cham Syndula and Isval. Cham is the leader of the Free Ryloth movement, and Isval is one of his most-trusted (I guess an organization such as this doesn’t have military rank) co-leaders? A little less leader? She’s interesting, regardless. Cham and Isval are a type of counter-point to The Emperor and Vader. They are leader and subordinate; they are the calm and controlled planner and the angry enforcer. They are different from the Sith, however, because their relationship is built on respect, not control. Cham and Isval are still at odds, though, because of their unspoken love for one another. The two characters are interesting in their own right, and their relationship (or fear of one) elevates them to a level of sympathy that I rarely feel toward characters in books.

The final double act is Moff Mors and Belkor Dray. This is the most chaotic of the leader/subordinate relationships in the novel. Mors is hedonistic and incompetent. Belkor is calculating and calm. But this relationship is upended when the assassination attempt occurs. Belkor thought he was using Cham’s group to subvert Mors. Instead, Cham used and manipulated Belkor. When the targets were not quickly eliminated, Belkor’s carefully constructed plan fell apart, and his cool demeanor broke. Mors, on the other hand, gets a surprising amount of great characterization as Kemp explores why she became a bad leader. Someone in Palpatine’s Empire doesn’t rise through the ranks if he or she is incompetent, and Mors is no different. She was quite good early in her career, but tragedy broke her, and her slide into seeming incompetence was actually a slide into despair. Kemp surprised me by bringing depth to this villain. He made her sympathetic, which was unexpected and gains major points from me.

Story:  8

Of all the novels I’ve read in the new canon, Lords of the Sith is the most cinematic, the most suited for adaptation into a film. It has three major acts, one that introduces the characters and their motivations while setting up the Imperial visit to Ryloth, which leads to act two, the assassination attempt. The third act is the hunt for Vader and Palpatine. Despite knowing that the two Sith would survive, there was still surprise as I wasn’t sure which of the new characters would live or die. Particularly chilling, however, was Palpatine’s lack of concern over the events that transpired. He was always calm, always in control. I never thought the assassination would succeed, but the question of how bad it would be for the heroes was ever-present. Overall, I think the story was strong, with only a few places where my attention wavered. As the new canon goes, that’s pretty good.

Vision: 10

What was it trying to do?

This novel attempted to bridge the characterizations of Darth Vader and Palpatine between the prequels and the original trilogy. It attempted to bring more depth to Anakin and his journey to the Dark Side by showing how he viewed his former self. It also provided a fascinating look into the Vader/Palpatine relationship, which is portrayed as somewhat psychologically abusive. Additionally, the novel continued to set up the idea that disparate rebel groups would one day need to unify into a larger movement. The Empire is large and organized. Disparate cells could not hope to take down something this big.

Was it successful in doing it?

Yes

Relevance to New Canon?

There is plenty here that applies to the new canon. We meet Hera Syndula’s father, thus tying the novel to Rebels. Again, the novel bridges the years between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope. It also showed that while knowledge of Vader’s mystique and prowess were spreading (and sometimes dismissed as rumors—to the horror of those who found out otherwise), the Emperor worked hard to make sure his status as a Sith was known only to Vader and his personal guard. Anyone who saw him use his powers would die.

There is plenty in this novel to enhance the new Star Wars lore.

Personal Enjoyment: 8

I truly enjoyed this one. While my attention waned a bit in the last third, Kemp kept me engaged through the majority of the novel, and I always looked forward to reading it. The strength of the new characters really worked for me. My only real issue was with the fight against the predators (Lyleks) in the forest. I don’t think I would say that it was unnecessary; I just didn’t care for it.

Style/Craft: 9

Kemp is a good writer, and as I said earlier, I look forward to reading his other Star Wars novels, especially those set in the Old Republic era as I’m on a bit of an Old Republic kick right now.

Final Rating: 9/10

Star Wars: Heir to the Jedi

Overview

Heir to the Jedi is a canon Star Wars novel by Kevin Hearne. It takes place after Star Wars: A New Hope and follows Luke Skywalker as he goes on two missions: meeting with Rodian arms dealers and smuggling an Imperial code-breaker out of Imperial employ. Joining him on this mission is Nakari Kelen, a pilot who is the daughter of the founder of Kelen Biolab and a liaison between her father and the Rebel Alliance. She is also Luke’s love interest in this book.

From what I read in my extremely brief research on this novel, it was originally part of the Empire & Rebellion series of novels that is now part of the Legends line. I guess Hearne lucked out.

Also, the novel is in first person, told from Luke’s point of view.

Heir to the Jedi cover

Character: 5

Okay, let’s get this out of the way. I think the first-person perspective hurts the book a bit because I never quite felt Hearne captured Luke’s voice. This is the risk an author takes when using an established and popular character from a franchise and writing from his or her perspective. Maybe if the narrative was third person, Luke would have come across as plausible, but since we spend the entire novel in his head, it never quite worked for me. I realize that the Luke of this novel is the wide-eyed idealist of A New Hope, but the characterization just felt off for most of the novel.

The new characters of Nakari Kelen and Drusil were interesting and distinct. Nakari, however, had a major flaw in that she had never appeared in another Star Wars story, yet it was clear that she was influential to Luke’s journey. Teachers in Star Wars don’t fare well. From the moment she became important (well, from the moment she was introduced) I figured she would either die or be outed as a traitor, thus leaving Luke with the baggage of betrayal. The latter option would have been the more interesting one, and could have been explored in more stories set between Hope and Empire. Unfortunately, this was not the option the story took.

Story: 6

Similar to Tarkin, the story is a bit light. There are two distinct parts to the novel: the arms deal and the smuggling. I thought the arms deal was interesting in that is showed an aspect of the Rebellion that would have been a real need: supplies. It’s a strange Star Wars novel where the administration and organization of the Rebel Alliance is the more ground-breaking material. But along with that, the arms deal led Luke to investigate a shrine to a long-dead Jedi master on Rodia. I guess I’m just a sucker for pilgrimage in any form because I enjoyed Luke’s brief interlude to the gravesite and his internal uncertainty of what it means to be a Jedi and use the Force, questions for which he has precious few answers with Obi-Wan’s too-short tutelage. While these ideas recurred throughout the novel, most of the time they were addressed with Nakari being generally encouraging. While this wasn’t particularly satisfying to me, I guess it emphasizes the degree to which the Empire had purged access to information on the Jedi.

Vision: 4/10

What was it trying to do?

Apart from showing how Luke started to develop his skills in the Force without a teacher, I’m not sure.

Was it successful in doing it?

If I’m not sure about what it was going for, then it didn’t succeed for me.

Relevance to New Canon?

This story is the most disposable story of the few I’ve read. If I’m correct in my assessment of the main point of the story, I don’t think it was needed. It doesn’t add to or take away from my experience of Star Wars. This is mildly annoying because when the word “canon” is invoked, an authenticity and importance is imparted on the work. Perhaps unfairly, “canon” causes my expectations to rise. Given how many amazing novels are in the Legends line, anything that isn’t significantly above average feels like a letdown. It’s unfair to Hearne that his novel could be held up to any of Timothy Zahn’s novels as an argument for the superiority of the Legends line. This is unfair because, first of all, Hearne isn’t Zahn and no one should expect him to be, and, second, there are some Legends novels that I think rank well below Heir to the Jedi. Unfortunately, Heir to the Jedi is placed early in the Canon line (from a publication standpoint) when many people are ravenous for Star Wars content in the lead-up to The Force Awakens. I read Heir to the Jedi after TFA, so I wasn’t particularly disappointed in my search for clues. But I also wonder what in this novel might have important in the new canon:

  • A New Dawn was obvious in is telling of the Kanan and Hera’s first adventure.
  • Tarkin told us how Vader and Tarkin first worked together and reintroduced Tarkin to set up for his appearance in Rebels. It also showed us that the Rebel Alliance was still a long way off.
  • Heir to the Jedi showed us that Luke could use the Force to move a noodle.

Personal Enjoyment: 6

Ok, even though I think I’ve been a bit hard on the novel, I never actually came around to disliking it. Much like Tarkin, I never got tired of reading it. Unlike Tarkin, however, I rarely had moments of, “That was good.”

Style/Craft: 7

Very easy to follow, but again, I never really felt like I was reading the words and thoughts of Luke Skywalker. I’m not sure the first person perspective worked for this story since the voice didn’t feel right to me.

Final Rating: 5.6/10