A Guest Review by John Abraham
Wow! I just put down the best science fiction book I’ve read in a long time, and certainly the best Star Wars book I’ve ever read. Just like Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones have made fantasy stories hip, the rebooted Star Wars franchise is making science fiction cool again for audiences of all ages.
The new book, which goes on sale today (July 7th), is called Star Wars: Dark Disciple (written by Christie Golden). It is part of a new series of stories that are part of the Star Wars canon and it involves nearly all of the characters we’ve come to cherish. It is a story about friends and enemies, good and evil, and relationships that evolve as we turn the pages. This book transforms how we view the Star Wars characters.
But let’s take a step back. For those of you not fully integrated into the Star Wars universe, all you need to know is that there are the six movies and two animated television series (Clone Wars and Rebels). And of course, there are new movies in the works now, with Episode 7 to be released December 2016.
Dark Disciple takes place between movie episodes 2 and 3, just before the conversion of Anakin Skywalker to Darth Vader. It is set during the infamous Clone Wars which was a multi-year battle between Jedi-led Republic and the Sith-led Separatists. The Clone Wars is devastating the galaxy, resulting in uncountable deaths of innocents. The Jedi leaders are desperate to try anything to bring the war to an end; this desperation led them to initiate a very un-Jedi-like assassination attempt. Perhaps removing the Sith leader (Count Dooku) would spare future bloodshed?
And it is here that this story gets into high gear. A very fast-passed story, it leaves the reader holding and then gasping for breath as events unfold rapidly. We witness many of the Jedi we’ve come to know over the years, Yoda, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Mace Windu, Plo Koon, and others deliberating whether and how to accomplish this assassination. Their decision requires the selection of a Jedi who is skilled enough to penetrate the evil circle around Dooku; someone with a history of subterfuge and clandestine skill; someone named Quinlan Vos.
For serious Star Wars fans, Quinlan Vos is a favorite. He is a Kiffar male (very much human like with a unique facial tattoo and dark skin) with a special skill. He can “read” objects by touching them, seeing, hearing and feeling the history of the object, witnessing scenes that have long since faded into history.
But the Jedi leaders are not convinced that Quinlan can complete this task himself so they launch a plan to obtain the help of a former student of Dooku, Asajj Ventress. Asajj was trained in the Dark Side by Dooku but then later was betrayed by her master. Because of the betrayal, she holds a bitter resentment and has twice before attempted to kill Dooku herself. Asajj Ventress is a major character in the Clone Wars animated series and she too is a fan favorite. Cunning and conflicted, physically powerful yet lithe, she presents contradictions that we see in the real world. She has carried out horrific acts in her past and is supremely ruthless to accomplish her tasks. However, she also has a strange code of ethics and a sense of fairness which is informed by her troubled past as a child. Asajj was born on a planet called Dathomir which is inhabited by only the female gender of her species. The Dathomir females are known for their warrior-like nature, ability to use magic, and their connection to nature and the force. Her entire clan was wiped out by Count Dooku; a fact which has formed and shaped Asajj’s hatred toward her former master. Finding herself alone in the galaxy, Asajj has become completely self-reliant and shuns alliances and relationships which have only led to pain and suffering.
So we see Quinlan has great hurdles to overcome if he wants to complete his task. The plot setup puts Quinlan and Asajj in the center of an “ends justify the means” pathway of the Jedi – a pathway that threatens the very nature of the force users. It is also a pathway the puts the two main characters in situations that try their inner person. A crucible from which the real Quinlan and Asajj emerge.
For an audience that reads star wars novels, this book is unique for a number of reasons. First, many stories are told in three-book trilogies. This single book is necessarily packed with action. There are very few slow moments, but at the same time, the author does a fantastic job of developing the story and the characters in an engaging way. She also balances telegraphing with surprise. Throughout the book, I found myself saying, “oh no, she is not going to do this… this can’t happen…. It did!” Other times, quick twists and turns occurred in the story that kept me guessing.
What was particularly nice to a Star Wars fan is that this book fills in important gaps for some of our favorite characters. Because this book is considered canon, the plot line may interfere with other story lines from other books or comics. Initially I was concerned about this; would my other favorite stories and characters be written out of history with Dark Disciple? It turns out not really; Dark Disciple may introduce only small changes to our favorite characters and their past.
For people who aren’t as devoted to Star Wars as I am, this book is a great way to get acquainted (or reacquainted) with characters in advance of the new movies. Since this book is largely self-contained, readers won’t have to worry about learning the backstory of its main characters. Finally, because the story is contained in a single book, readers can get through its entirety quickly (I read it in one sitting); you don’t have to commit to a more typical three-book trilogy.
So, for those of you who want to try something new, revisit past stories, or prepare for the next generation of a great science fiction story line, this is where you want to begin.
Dr. John Abraham
University of St. Thomas