Saturday, 26 March 2016

'Star Wars: Lords of the Sith', by Paul S. Kemp

Title: Star Wars: Lords of the Sith
Author(s): Paul S. Kemp
Release Date: 26th January 2016
Publisher: Del Rey
Genre: Science Fiction
Source: Publisher

Synopsis:
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. . . .

When the Emperor and his notorious apprentice, Darth Vader, find themselves stranded in the middle of insurgent action on an inhospitable planet, they must rely on each other, the Force, and their own ruthlessness to prevail.

“It appears things are as you suspected, Lord Vader. We are indeed hunted.”

Anakin Skywalker, Jedi Knight, is just a memory. Darth Vader, newly anointed Sith Lord, is ascendant. The Emperor’s chosen apprentice has swiftly proven his loyalty to the dark side. Still, the history of the Sith Order is one of duplicity, betrayal, and acolytes violently usurping their Masters—and the truest measure of Vader’s allegiance has yet to be taken. Until now.

On Ryloth, a planet crucial to the growing Empire as a source of slave labor and the narcotic known as “spice,” an aggressive resistance movement has arisen, led by Cham Syndulla, an idealistic freedom fighter, and Isval, a vengeful former slave. But Emperor Palpatine means to control the embattled world and its precious resources—by political power or firepower—and he will be neither intimidated nor denied. Accompanied by his merciless disciple, Darth Vader, he sets out on a rare personal mission to ensure his will is done.

For Syndulla and Isval, it’s the opportunity to strike at the very heart of the ruthless dictatorship sweeping the galaxy. And for the Emperor and Darth Vader, Ryloth becomes more than just a matter of putting down an insurrection: When an ambush sends them crashing to the planet’s surface, where inhospitable terrain and an army of resistance fighters await them, they will find their relationship tested as never before. With only their lightsabers, the dark side of the Force, and each other to depend on, the two Sith must decide if the brutal bond they share will make them victorious allies or lethal adversaries.
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Slowly, but steadily, I have been making my way through the Star Wars canon books. Having only picked up amazing books so far, I can say the expectations for this one were on the high side; especially considering who the main characters of this story are. I jumped at the chance to learn some more about Palpatine and Darth Vader, since the little we know about them from the movies is from the perspective of others (as much as we have Anakin in the prequels, you can hardly say that they are still completely the same person).

My expectations were, however, probably too high, since having finished its reading I don't feel like I got what I wanted from it. At least not fully.

First off, the plot evolves very, very slowly. The story starts at a point when Cham Syndulla, the leader of the 'Free Ryloth' movement, organizes a mission that goes straight into Darth Vader's grasp. After witnessing just what the mysterious Vader is capable of, and finding out through his spies that both Vader and Palpatine will be visiting Ryloth, Cham decides that assassinating both of them will be the only way to finally set his people free.

Seems simple, but it takes almost 200 pages to get to that point.

Going through several points of view, I struggled to really connect and keep my interest in most of the characters introduced. Already having the knowledge that Palpatine and Darth Vader would obviously survive all their assassination attempts (this book is set between 'Revenge of the Sith' and 'A New Hope'), the build up to that moment took up an immense amount of the story and dragged along almost two thirds of the book.

That wouldn't have been as much of a problem if the points of view presented had been mostly the ones of Darth Vader and Palpatine. In fact, Palpatine never has any chapters from his point of view: anything we know of him is from the people around him. I had been looking forward to taking a peek into his head in this book, and ended up somewhat disappointed.

As much as Darth Vader does not overpower the narrative with his point of view, when it does come up it is brilliantly done. When reading his portions of the book it is very believable that this character is indeed Darth Vader, and getting to understand that the internal struggle that ends up coming to light in 'Return of the Jedi' did not go away with his erasure of the Anakin Skywalker name was incredibly interesting.

His relationship with Palpatine was my favorite aspect of this book. Every single interaction between both these men could be dissected and analyzed for hours, and I found myself re-reading quite a lot of them. The movies do not offer much in the way of how these two people got along and how close they became after Darth Vader becomes Palpatine's apprentice, so if you are looking to learn a bit more about that this book will definitely be a good starting point!

Going along with the interactions between these two characters, I found myself drawing quite a lot of parallels between them and what is believed to be the relationship between Kylo Ren and Snoke prior to 'The Force Awakens'. Turns out Kylo might have quite a lot more in common with Darth Vader than he realizes...

Something that I was not expecting to see but became a very accurate portrayal of this world after giving it some thought was how much the inhabitants of the Star Wars universe are not familiar with the Force, Jedi and Sith. As the movies are presented within the point of view of people from that environment that are not only knowledgeable but members of these groups, I hadn't realized that, for most people, these are concepts that they just simply cannot grasp. Most characters of this book can recognize that Darth Vader is something other than just a simple man, but do not know how he is so powerful, and it was not only a surprising but also refreshing perspective.

As for the remaining lead characters of this story, as I mentioned earlier I had some trouble connecting with them and really becoming interested in their goals and motivations, as I already knew they would be unsuccessful in their end game of taking down the Empire. Even so, they are very much fleshed out characters that manage to keep the chapters 'sans Sith baddies' running smoothly. Cham's dream of a free Ryloth, Isval's support of that dream (even if by only saving one woman at a time), and the surprisingly interesting Belkor, the Imperial Colonel with aspirations of his own, really came together for a compelling (even if unsurprising end-wise) story.

'Star Wars: Lords of the Sith' allows us to take a peek inside the elaborate mind of one of the most famous villains in movie history: Darth Vader. You will probably wish the whole book was narrated by him, but, being short on that, it is still a very interesting companion to the franchise. Keep your expectations under control, and you'll find it a quite enjoyable read!


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