Today’s review is a slight departure from form in that this is the first time I’ve ever read this book, so I haven’t had months to reflect on the plot like I have with the others. That said, let’s jump into Lords of the Sith by Paul S. Kemp.
I admit I put this one off because the idea of a novel co-starring Palpatine didn’t particularly appeal to me. I like his arc in the prequel trilogy, as a side character and a threat operating from the shadows, he really isn’t in the originals much, and the less I say about my feelings on his inclusion in Episode IX the happier we’ll all be. All this to say I prefer him as a plot device or a means to an end rather than a point of view character. Fortunately, I was worried for nothing, and he isn’t really a POV character here either.
On the planet Ryloth, Cham Syndulla and his liberation movement continue to throw a wrench in the Empire’s operations on their homeworld. The Free Ryloth movement, as they’re called, are assisted in their endeavour by Belkor Dray, an Imperial colonel and second in command to the increasingly hands-off and disinterested Moff Mors, the governor of Ryloth. Belkor plays double agent, keen to destabilize Ryloth and place the blame squarely with Mors, enabling him to succeed her as Moff.
Palpatine and Vader are made aware of the unrest on Ryloth, specifically of the impact said unrest has on the spice trade, and head there to investigate personally. When word of their visit reaches Belkor and Syndulla, they both make it their missions to eliminate the Sith lords. Belkor to place further blame at Mors feet, Syndulla to destabilize the Empire as a whole and free his planet.
Do they succeed? You get one guess.
3 Things I Liked (and 1 I Didn’t)
There are two Vaders in this novel. There is Vader as he sees himself, and Vader as others see him.
Actually, I guess there’s also a third Vader, which is the Vader I remember from the movies.
Seeing Vader through his own eyes, we see a man at war with himself. He hasn’t fully let go of the person he used to be, as evidenced when he stops Palpatine from killing a Twi’lek bystander. But he is also trying really, really hard to shed Anakin Skywalker entirely, which we see when Palpatine later orders him to kill not only that bystander, but her entire village. And he complies. He is pushing to be a stronger Sith, he debates killing Palpatine more than once, but his internal monologue is very much a push and pull.
This version of Vader reminds me a lot of Anakin Skywalker, particularly in Revenge of the Sith. He is wrestling with his life, and his choices, and while he does the wrong thing (a lot) (like A LOT a lot) he thinks he’s doing it for the right reasons.
Vader as I remember him from Episodes IV-VI always seemed very measured and calm, yet super intimidating. He is like a big, scary shadow, full of the promise of rage and power. We never really see it to its fullest capacity, but we know it’s there. This stands in some contrast to Vader at the end of Rogue One, when he shows up on board the Rebel ship and just massacres everyone on board (I wasn’t really a fan of this scene, but I can see why others were).
THAT Vader. That scary, violent, dynamic Vader. That is the Vader that everyone else in this book sees. He is mysterious, yes, but also terrifying. In the films, even when fighting, Vader doesn’t really move all that quickly. That is to say, he doesn’t really run anywhere. Thankfully, because honestly he’s scary enough (like I saw him at Disneyland once, he took a step towards me and I fully took two steps back). In this book, he is running all over the place, and honestly fighting like a prequel-era Jedi in their prime. Something about that image is deeply chilling and freaked me out just a little.
I’m a sucker for a good flashback. Particularly if it’s accompanied with some angst.
Throughout the novel, Palpatine pushes Vader to reject and move on from his past, which Vader is struggling to do. When Vader meditates, he is visited by thoughts of Padmé, of Obi Wan, and even of Ahsoka. He reflects on the death of his mother, and is reminded of the clones he once served with when he realizes one of the guards accompanying them is a clone.
Though novels with Vader as the point of view character are rare, when we do get them, he is constantly at war with himself in his own head, and it’s heartbreaking to see him use every single person who used to bring him so much happiness now be used as instruments to fuel his rage.
3. Trainwreck in progress
Quick disclaimer: the novel itself is not a train wreck. What IS a train wreck is Belkor and Free Ryloth’s relentless determination to eliminate Vader and Palpatine, even though their actual plans are fairly straightforward.
What makes it trainwreck-esque is my total inability to look away when I know they aren’t going to succeed. The great thing about all these backstory fillers in Star Wars is that all the tension hinges on how something happens (or doesn’t). I know that the movement will fail and the Sith will escape. But HOW that happens, and what damage each side leaves in their wake is what is driving the tension.
4. Bugs. Why did it have to be bugs?
One tension-driving element on Ryloth is the presence of the lyleks, an apex predator that is essentially a giant bug.
I have nothing fancy or analytical to say about why I didn’t like this. I hate bugs. Bugs are gross. I don’t like imagining bugs for lengthy periods of time, particularly when said bugs are gigantic and the characters just wander into an entire nest of them.
Nope. No thank you.
I do think it’s funny that Vader perceives himself as ruling alongside the Emperor, but most people in the galaxy seem to think of him more as Palpatine’s enforcer than anything else
So we’ve got a traitor double agent named Belkor, and halfway through we meet a diehard loyalist named Borkas, and no this was not confusing in the slightest
I knew from watching Rebels that Hera Syndulla wasn’t on Ryloth during this time period but that didn’t stop me from hoping she’d pop up (she did not)
At one point, a minute is referred to as “a sixty count”, which is somehow both more awkward and less awkward than just saying “a minute”.