The novel begins on Murkhana, homeworld to the chairman of the Commerce Guild, Passel Argente. The Republic is leading an assault on the Guild, with no less than six Jedi in the fray, when suddenly the clones receive Order 66 and some of them question its validity. After a disagreement between the clones, three of the Jedi, led by Roan Shryne, are able to escape into the city, however Darth Vader is sent to investigate why the order was not carried out, during which he kills one of Roan’s companions. Roan and the padawan Olee Starstone are finally able to escape the planet thanks to one of his smuggler contacts, and they rendezvous with none other than Roan’s own mother, who became a pilot with the express purpose of one day finding her son.
Vader suffered an injury to his prosthesis during the fight on Murkhana, leading him to begin the process of upgrading his suit. He is tasked by the Emperor with retrieving the dissident senator Fang Zar, who has sought political asylum on Alderaan ahead of returning to his homeworld of Sern Prime. Roan has thrown in his lot with the smugglers while Olee is determined to find more Jedi who may have survived Order 66, and uses her master’s comm to tap into the Jedi Temple records to find the location of other Jedi at the time the order was issued. They are able to meet up with a beleaguered band of Jedi, many of whom are injured, but the activity in the Temple archive is being monitored by Armand Isard, who brings it to the Emperor’s attention.
Olee and Roan go their separate ways, Roan helping his mother and her crew to smuggle Fang Zar off Alderaan. Unfortunately for them, Vader shows up and is able to kill the senator before they can rescue him. Olee finds out that Yoda was on Kashyyyk with two other Jedi at the time of the Order, so the band of Jedi heads there to find the local population busy reclaiming the hulks of Separatist droids abandoned shortly after the abrupt end of the war. However, Vader is tipped off to their presence and joins forces with Moff Tarkin, who has an interest in taking Wookiee prisoners for his superweapon project. Roan comes back to help Olee, and he and Vader duel among the wroshyr trees as the Imperials begin to bombard the planet. Feeling Roan’s death in the Force, Olee determines that she was wrong to try to team up with other Jedi, and they must all heed the advice of the beacon and go to ground, hiding from the Empire and biding their time.
In the closing pages, Obi-Wan is watching over Luke on Tatooine when he hears of the news from Kashyyyk, and the praise lauded upon the Emperor’s enforcer, Darth Vader…
As is usual with James Luceno books, there’s a lot going on in this one, and he proves that he is as adept as ever at weaving a story around the pre-existing material at the time. In many ways, it’s quite a straightforward story really, as we see how the aftermath of Order 66 affects a couple of Jedi, and the polarizing ways in which they choose to deal with it. For Roan Shryne, who was never particularly happy with a lot of the Jedi bureaucracy, he is quite able to slip into the life of a smuggler and put his Jedi past behind him. For the “temple acolyte” Olee Starstone, who had a promising career in the archives but wanted to see the galaxy before cloistering herself up, she is completely unwilling to let go of all she has ever known, and is quite manic at times in her efforts to reunite with other members of the Jedi Order.
I was quite pleased, in a way, that all of the Jedi that we meet along the way are nobodies – we’ve never met them in any other story before, at least! It means the stakes are higher, as we just don’t know if they’re going to make it. But this isn’t just a Jedi story, of course. We also get to see how Bail Organa and Mon Mothma are dealing with the transition from Republic to Empire, and it was quite shocking, in a way, to see the death of Fang Zar. He didn’t make the final cut of Revenge of the Sith, of course, but I think the way in which it all happened seemed to be quite brutal. A member of the Senate, attempting to return to his homeworld following a period of political asylum on Alderaan, is brutally cut down by Darth Vader. Not a great deal is made of this, unfortunately. We do get a lot of rumblings about dissention and rebellion, but a lot of the political stuff seems to have been stripped away this time, which is unfortunate as I know Luceno could have quite brilliantly put something out there that dealt with the political backlash, and perhaps even incorporated more action as Vader quashes a rebellion on Sern Prime? Shame.
Of course, the book is all about Vader, and it reads quite beautifully at first, as we get to see how much Anakin is struggling to adapt to the suit etc. Well, I suppose he’s not Anakin anymore, is he? It was really well done, how we see Vader is disappointed with his prostheses at first. It still seems a bit weird to believe the fan theories about the Emperor wanting to keep Vader in his place by making the suit cumbersome and painful, because surely he’d want a strong apprentice? Indeed, in one of his many brooding monologues, we see the Emperor planning to find a stronger apprentice in the fullness of time.
One of the things I liked about this book is the fact it begins on Murkhana, as the Republic are taking the fight to the Commerce Guild. To me, the clone wars should have involved more of the Republic actively fighting the Separatist leadership on their homeworlds, and not the continual “battle of the week” style thing, where we see the clones liberating yet another random world. I’ll have more on this later in the week though, hopefully, as I plan to write up a bit of a post mortem of the prequel re-read!
All in all, though, it was a good book. Sadly not up there with Labyrinth of Evil or Cloak of Deception, probably more on a par with Darth Plagueis. Very enjoyable, and provides a very interesting window into the post-Order 66 world that the Jedi find themselves in. But with this one, my prequel re-read is now over! I hope you’ve all enjoyed my rambling thoughts on these books and comics as I’ve been wading through them all, anyway – five months of Star Wars reading has kinda done me in for now though, so I think it’ll be time for something a bit different before I return to the GFFA…