Wednesday, June 6, 2012

I Reads You Review: STAR WARS: Darth Plagueis


["Star Wars Central" review page is here.]

AUTHOR: James Luceno
COVER: Torstein Nordstrand
ISBN: 978-0-345-51128-7; hardcover
394pp, B&W, $27.00 U.S., $29.00 CAN

Star Wars: Darth Plagueis is a 2012 science fiction novel written by James Luceno and is set in the Star Wars Expanded Universe. The novel belongs to the “Rise of the Empire Era,” which is the one thousand year period before the events depicted in the original Star Wars film (1977), also known as Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope.

Star Wars: Darth Plagueis also takes place over the 35-period that leads into Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace. However, of the last 30 pages of this novel, 22 pages transpire during the events depicted in The Phantom Menace and 8 pages occur immediately afterwards.

Darth Plagueis is the Sith Lord of legend mentioned by Supreme Chancellor Palpatine to Anakin Skywalker about mid-way through Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith. Now, Star Wars: Darth Plagueis tells the story of Darth Plagueis, one of the most brilliant Sith Lords ever to live. He is Hego Damask, a member of the powerful Banking Clan, and as an apprentice to the Dark Side, Damask embraced the ruthless ways of the Sith. After killing his master, Darth Tenebrous, however, Damask is determined to never suffer the same fate. He wants power over both life and death.

Using his vast financial resources, Damask plunges into wicked scientific research. He even meets the young man, Palpatine, scion of a noble family from the resource-rich planet of Naboo. Palpatine eventually becomes Plagueis’ apprentice, Darth Sidious, and the master sets his apprentice on course to one day rule the galactic government. In the meantime, Sidious is determined to learn the secrets of the Sith, the ones of which even Plagueis is unaware and also the ones his master wishes to keep from him. The ultimate goal of both Sith is the destruction of the Jedi Order, but this quest is a path fraught with peril as the traps they set for their enemies also threaten to ensnare them.

For me, Star Wars novels take the science fiction action and adventure of the films and transform that into riveting prose. That prose is supposed to help me mentally visualize something similar to what I’ve seen (countless times) in six Star Wars movies. James Luceno does not do that for me with Star Wars: Darth Plagueis; he wrote something different. I was initially disappointed, especially while reading the early chapters of the book, but like the father in that classic television series, Luceno knows best.

Star Wars: Darth Plagueis is a political novel. Call it a political thriller, a political conspiracy drama, or even a political character drama, but this novel is filled with backstage politicking, back-biting, back-stabbing, subterfuge, manipulation, political assassination, trumped-up wars, etc. In creating this kind of story, Luceno could not rely on X-Wing dogfights and space battles. He has to focus on characters, and so he fills this novel with an ensemble of engaging characters. They are the kind of sly and salty players that you will love even when you are thinking that you would like to put them to the lightsaber. Either Plagueis or Sidious alone could carry an entire novel, and despite what the title says, this novel is more about Sidious than it is about his master. To me, it is clear that Luceno loves Sidious, and it is hard not to love the man who would become Emperor of the known galaxy. Palpatine is the thinking man’s bastard: always plotting, surprisingly droll, witty and thoughtful, and always three steps ahead of everyone else.

Readers will be interested to know that we learn about the young Palpatine, which is his family’s surname, but we don’t learn his first name. The origin of Darth Maul is presented, and we see how Nute Gunray moved up the Trade Federation ladder. There are lots of other tidbits, but I leave that up to you, dear reader, to discover, because this book is worth reading. I will tell you, however, that Star Wars: Darth Plagueis is the Star Wars novel that takes you to the halls of power and to the places where secret deals are made. You’ll find blood on the floor, bodies around every corner, and a story that will grab you by the neck. Plus, there is some kind of creepy Anakin reveal that I’d rather not think about again. Go. Read.



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