We interrupt our forward momentum within the Star Wars timeline to bring you a new release!
But first, community support! Because this book is about Padmé and her election to Queen of Naboo, I would like to spotlight the organization “Equal Voice“. This is one for my fellow Canadians. As we strive for lasting change in our country, we are in it for the long haul. If you or someone you know want to make that change from within, I encourage you to check out Equal Voice. The organization is committed to helping women get elected to government office across Canada.
As you can see by the picture, we are heading back to Naboo with our favourite Queen-turned-Senator. Only here she’s a teenager-turned-Queen. The prequel to last year’s Queen’s Shadow, it’s time for Queen’s Peril by E.K. Johnston.
*Spoilers below. Like seriously. All the spoilers. This is not a spoiler free discussion*
Queen’s Peril is, like I said, a prequel to Queen’s Shadow. It kicks off on Election Day, when Padmé is named the new Queen of Naboo. Her overzealous, paranoid chief of security Quarsh Panaka decides that for her security, she ought to have a handmaiden that looks enough like her to pass for her in a dangerous situation. That logic is then extended further – one handmaiden? why not five?
First to be recruited is Sabé (who you may know from the movies as “the one played by Keira Knightly”), followed a couple of weeks later by Rabé, Yané, Saché and Eirtaé. Though Captain Panaka expected the handmaidens would answer to him, the girls rightly know that their loyalty lies with Padmé, and symbolically demonstrate that loyalty by changing their names to mirror hers (so it’s not just a huge coincidence that their names all end in “-é”).
In true E.K. Johnston fashion, the book doesn’t really have a central antagonist. I suppose you could make the case that Captain Panaka is the antagonist for the first two-thirds of the book, where the central plot revolves around Padmé’s first few months in office. It is during this time that the girls bond as a unit, coming up with the signature hooded-robe style for the handmaidens and adapting the Queen’s traditional wardrobe into the weaponized fashion we saw so much of in Shadow. It is also during this time that they come up with the “Amidala” persona, which I mentioned a bit in the Shadow review, being a combination of all of them that they can each emulate if needed. Padmé also hosts a summit for the leaders of the other planets in the system, to resolve old trade issues, and help Naboo restore their flagging food production.
All the while, in the background, there are whispers of trouble with the Trade Federation and with Darth Sidious until finally the Trade Federation arrives on Naboo and kickstarts the plot of The Phantom Menace. Rather than becoming a straight retelling for the last third of the book, Queen’s Peril tells the story from just off camera, the scenes either directly preceding or following scenes from the movie. Most of this is from the point of view of Padmé and the handmaidens, though it does occasionally dip into other characters points of view.
5 Things I Liked (and 1 I Didn’t)
1. The prologue/epilogue
For those who read Queen’s Shadow, you might remember that the prologue and epilogue mirror each other in the first paragraph. The prologue evokes imagery of Padmé’s funeral. The epilogue IS her funeral.
Well. This book does it again. Only this time the mirroring lasts all the way through the prologue epilogue. The very first words of the book are: “The girl in the white dress had her father’s brain, her mother’s heart, and a spark that was entirely her own”.
When you think of Star Wars, and you think of a “girl in a white dress”, the first place your head (probably) goes is Princess Leia. Knowing what I did about the mirrored prologue/epilogue in Shadow, I had a feeling the epilogue in Peril would be about Leia and I was right.
Padmé’s prologue is full of hope. The hope that a young person on the verge of being able to make lasting change feels. There is also the buzz and excitement of the unknown and the potential, a feeling shared by the audience since we also don’t know how she is going to get from where she is now to the Queen we see at the start of the Phantom Menace. Leia’s epilogue is a bit more bittersweet. It is set during the final scene of A New Hope, as she waits for Luke, Han and Chewie to arrive for the medal ceremony. There is the same current of hope running through the chapter. The alliance has just struck a significant blow to the Empire, and things are finally looking up. There isn’t the same excitement at the unknown though, since we have a pretty good idea what her life is like from this point on.
This might also just be me, but there was also a tinge of sadness in both chapters, because for all the hope and excitement in each, I also know that both of their lives are about to get so much harder, and my heart breaks for the two girls in the white dresses.
2. Each handmaiden got an introduction
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Up until now I got the handmaidens mixed up A LOT.
I don’t think I gave them much thought as a kid beyond Padmé and “her decoy”. So then when Shadow came out, listing them by name, and treating them like I should already know them, I figured that I had missed something big, The names all sound the same and I didn’t know who’s who.
This is fortunately resolved here, as each handmaiden gets her own introduction chapter, showing her recruitment by Panaka, outlining what her personality is and what her special skills are. It was nice to have a little “flashcard” for each girl and definitely helped me keep track of them this time around.
3. The boy band concert
Just past the midpoint of the novel, the political plot stops dead in its tracks for one brief, glorious scene.
One of the envoys at Padmé’s leadership summit, Harli, has a huge crush on Sabé (and Sabé has a huge crush on Harli too). In a bid to get closer to Sabé, she invites her (and the handmaidens to be polite) to a concert in the city. Specifically to see Neurotransmitter Affection, who are essentially the in-universe Backstreet Boys (going so far as to have a song called “Get Down”).
This is where the book stops feeling like a Star Wars book for a moment, and goes pure Young Adult as the 5 teenagers conspire to figure out a way to sneak out of the house, and a way to sneak back in. They even leave the youngest behind, lying in bed, masquerading as Padmé. Though I’d like to think if Saché wasn’t feeling sick and was actually up to going, they would have bunched up pillows under the blanket.
They all also change out of their usual handmaiden clothes and into something more appropriate for a concert, and I found myself wondering just what teenage boyband-concert-attending clothing looks like on Naboo. Or anywhere in Star Wars really. Like, what is their equivalent to jeans? Do they even have concert/band t-shirts? And most importantly when can I get a Neurotransmitter Affection shirt?
4. Quick asides into a larger story
Though the book is largely from the point of view of Padmé and her handmaidens, there are brief asides with other characters from The Phantom Menace, even before the plot of this book joins with the plot of that movie.
The point of these asides is to get into the headspace of the characters before and during the film. Why did they make certain choices? How did they feel leading up to the moments we remember watching onscreen?
Most frequently, these asides are focused on Darth Sidious, which makes for an interesting distinction since Palpatine is a character within the main narrative. There is one aside focused entirely on Shmi Skywalker, which I thought was great because this woman really doesn’t get the attention she deserves. I mean, without her, this entire saga doesn’t happen in the first place.
The most ominous of these asides, though, isn’t one that is told from the point of view of a character. It’s actually from the point of view of a location, specifically the droid factory on Geonosis as it starts to create the droid army that will come to represent the Separatist side of the Clone Wars, and will more immediately aid in the occupation of Naboo. The aside is so brief, and so ominous, it almost feels like a written version of “dun dun DUUUUUN”
But we haven’t even touched on my favourite aside, so let’s do that now.
5. Obi Wan is back! (Leave me alone)
And you guys thought I was off my Obi Wan bullshit because I’m currently reading through late-Empire/early-New Republic books.
Jokes on you, I’m never off my Obi Wan bullshit.
I love that my fave got an entire couple of pages as his aside. I may have actually squealed. As I sit here waiting for news on the Kenobi series (or alternatively waiting for them to hire me to be on the team in some capacity) I will literally take anything I can get.
Though most of it is about him sorting through Senate documents for Qui Gon, who suspects that something is amiss, the two of them do fall into a banter-y conversation that shows how far they’ve come since Master and Apprentice, which I thought was really sweet.
It was all well and good until they bring up the likelihood of their involvement with local disputes, and Qui Gon comments that this time maybe SOME people shouldn’t be starting romances with the local nobility.
An Obitine reference?? In a non-Obi Wan book???? Cue more squealing from me and also Obitine novel when??
6. A short intro for Sabé
Don’t get me wrong, I like that we got an introduction for Sabé. We got the same kind of introduction for the rest of the handmaidens and I loved that.
But Sabé doesn’t feel like the other handmaidens to me. She’s Padmé’s right hand. The one who decoys for her most often. She states in both this book and in Shadow that if Padmé commanded her to her death she would go. They feel like they’re supposed to have a closer bond than Padmé does with any of the other handmaidens.
So it’s with that in mind that I wish we’d had a longer introduction for Sabé. Spent more time with her, in her “point of view” as she bonds with Padmé. As she comes to terms with willingly being second fiddle to someone from now on. I know they’re close, I just wish we could have seen more of how they got there, how they fall into that easy, wordless friendship we see in Shadow. Even if that means not spending as much time as we do in the Phantom Menace timeline.
The handmaidens chose their names to be similar on purpose, so people mix them up. Well I am here to say job well done ladies because up until this book I was still getting them mixed up.
I also spend about 80% of the book getting Tonra and Typho mixed up despite having clear visual movie references for both.
This is the first Star Wars book I’ve read that makes such overt mention of periods. Saché, the youngest handmaiden gets her first period, and they mention that all the other girls take suppressants for theirs, so they don’t get them at all (while we’re here where can I get those?)
Chancellor Vallorum doesn’t like the presence of corporations within the Senate, though most feel that companies have as much right to government advocates as people do and that just hit a little close to home right now.
Anakin has 3 asides in this book. Each of them is 1 line long. I totally get that this isn’t his story, I just thought that was funny and wanted to mention it.
They mention several times that Naboo is a planet of child prodigies which makes me wonder: if they’re all prodigies, are any of them really prodigies?