Star Wars: Darth Maul Shadow Hunter

Following, to some extent, hot on the heels of the last book in the prequel timeline, Darth Maul Shadow Hunter takes place in the roughly 48 hours before The Phantom Menace begins. Darth Sidious has positioned Nute Gunray and his Neinoidian brethren at the head of the Trade Federation and, in retaliation for the Republic’s taxation of the Free Trade Zones, has told them to blockade Naboo, whose Senator Palpatine was one of the biggest supporters of taxation.

The problem that arises here is that Gunray’s deputy viceroy, Hath Monchar, has gone missing, clearly with the idea of selling the information about the impending blockade to the highest bidder, so Sidious sends his murderous apprentice to kill him. The Neimoidians, however, engage a bounty hunter to attempt to reel the wayward Monchar back in, and so we begin the manhunt.

On Coruscant, we meet down-on-his-luck information broker Lorn Pavan, and his protocol droid “business partner” I-Five. Desperate for money, the two meet with Monchar and agree to pay half a million credits for a holocron with the Neimoidian’s info. I-Five commits a bank fraud to finance the deal, but Darth Maul beats them to it and kills the Neimoidian, but fails to retrieve the holocron crystal due to the intervention of the bounty hunter Mawhi Lihnn. She blows up the domicile, forcing Maul to flee, but when Pavan arrives for the meeting, he is able to retrieve the crystal from the wreckage.

The manhunt goes up a notch then, as Maul is on the trail of Pavan. Meanwhile, Jedi padawan Darsha Assant is assigned to escort the Black Sun informant Oolth from the Crimson Corridor, a particularly rough area of the city, as her Jedi trials. She fails to do this, and Oolth is presumed dead when the two are attacked by hawk-bats. She returns to her master Anoon Bondara, who suggests they go to check before reporting it to the Council, but in the course of their investigation they discover the swirling maelstrom in the Force that is Darth Maul, and go to investigate. The two rescue Pavan and I-Five, and Anoon Bondara gives his life to allow for Darsha and the two information merchants to flee into the depths of the city.

The chase is on through the bowels of Coruscant, as the trio evade subhuman cannibals and Force-immune monsters before they arrive back in the Crimson Corridor, whereupon they are able to use a street gang’s secret method of getting up-levels and arrive in a disused power plant. Darth Maul, tired of continually chasing his quarry, hacks into the security cams to get ahead of them, and arrives at the power plant at the same time. He and Darsha duel, while I-Five uses a carbonite freezing chamber to allow for him and Pavan to survive the ensuing explosion that Darsha engineers, sacrificing herself in the process. Maul, using the Force to make sure, believes everyone to have died, and reports in to his master.

When they’ve thawed out, Pavan calls in a favour to get himself a ship to follow Maul to an orbital skyhook. He also asks for I-Five to be delivered to the Jedi Temple, but unfortunately his associate takes the opportunity to steal the droid. Meanwhile, Pavan travels to the skyhook and is able to retake the holocron due to having a Force-nullifying skin nodule from the earlier encounter in the labyrinth under the surface. Pavan flees into the public area of the skyhook, and runs straight into Senator Palpatine, who takes the holocron from him and offers him help. However, there is no escape from Darth Maul, and Pavan is killed.

I grew up with this book, more so than with Cloak of Deception as that one came out later. I used to love it so much, as it’s such an enjoyable adventure across the planet of Coruscant, being pretty much entirely set on the capital world. However, re-reading the book for the first time in years this past week, it surprised me a little just how it has slipped down in my estimation. Cloak of Deception will, I think, forever be a 5-star book, but this one has dropped to just the 3-stars now.

I still like it, don’t get me wrong, but I think that the story doesn’t feel particularly like Star Wars. I mean, sure, it makes all the right noises, but it’s like more of a noir-type detective story that’s set in New York or something, or maybe even something like a Batman story. But with Darth Maul as the villain. The mean streets of the Crimson Corridor are straight out of Gotham, or Hell’s Kitchen, and it kinda surprised me this time around just how tacked-on the GFFA is.

Something that struck me this time around was the fact we never follow up with the Neimoidians towards the end. Sidious calls them at the start, realises something is amiss with Monchar not being there, so sends Maul to look into it. The next time we see Sidious and the Neimoidians is in episode one, when they tell him about the Jedi ambassadors. I feel like we need some kind of closure there, even if it’s “your wayward colleague has been dealt with by the Sith – never lie to me again, Viceroy” or something. But I realise that this is a very minor thing!!

Lorn Pavan is an interesting protagonist, with a very interesting reason for disliking Jedi, but does suffer a bit of the Marty Sue complex – indeed, he’s even described by an alien bartender in glowing terms, which is just awkward. I-Five has always reminded me of Bender from Futurama, which I find hilarious when I think back on it. He is an interesting idea, and almost the precursor for Lando’s L3 in Solo, being free-thinking and all. I’m glad he crops up again in later stories, and I think I might actually add in the Medstar duology to my reading list as a result.

Darsha Assant is another interesting idea, a Jedi padawan failing her mission completely, but her growth along the rest of the story is really interesting to watch. I get the feeling that she passed her tests, after all. I’m not exactly annoyed with her, but what she represents. It’s fairly well-documented online and beyond how Episode I destroyed a lot of the mystique of the Force by bringing in midi-chlorians. Now, stuff like Darsha’s story here, at least how it starts, really abuse this further, as the Jedi trials become basically a final exam before graduating from university, and it’s just utterly ridiculous to me. I get that there wasn’t really anything in the established canon at this point to support my ideas of what the Jedi were, but the prequel trilogy really does a good job of making them a corporation (with Yoda as CEO), and material like this book just continue to reduce the situation down to something too worldly.

Another problem with the novel, I think, is it’s reliance on the movies. I’ve rambled about this before, but while Tatooine is a nothing dustball far away from anywhere, here it seems to be the planet in the universe where everybody plans to run away to – and while I get that he’s an information broker, Lorn Pavan’s knowledge of the geography of the planet is phenomenal indeed. We also have people surviving explosions by encasing themselves in carbonite. Hutt gangsters (because no other species will do), Gamorreans are the bodyguard species of choice, and so on. Obi-Wan Kenobi is really shoehorned into the story as being the one assigned to investigate Darsha’s disappearance, because clearly there are no other Jedi on Coruscant. It rather serves to shrink the universe, but that’s just my perspective, I guess.

All in all, it’s not a bad read. It’s not the best Star Wars story, but it’s a very straightforward book, and I don’t think it tries to be anything more than it is. It does stretch credulity a little, when the book takes place over roughly 48 hours, and the blockade is in place at the end of the story anyway, so you do finish the book wondering why Sidious was so worried about a potential leak if the timeframe was that short anyway. Surely he could adapt and just send the Federation out two days earlier than planned to blockade the planet? If there was some mention of the politics to justify that, it might have been a bit more believable.

But I do like to nit-pick here, and this is a book that I’ve read many times, so I’ve thought about these things a lot!

Up next is the big one, it’s the movie itself!!

Star Wars: Cloak of Deception

Hey everybody,
It’s that time, already! I seem to be on something of a writing streak at the moment, as WordPress tells me this is my 13-day streak for publishing blogs! I’ve already looked at some of the comics from the early prequel era during this time, but today it’s time for the big one! The prequel era has got a lot of good stuff taking place, and while many people have re-evaluated the movies recently in light of the fact that the sequel trilogy hadn’t lived up to their expectations, I have always rather enjoyed my time in this era. I suppose part of that is due to the fact that I was growing up, to some extent, with these films – I was 14 when The Phantom Menace hit theatres, so there is an element of nostalgia for me, and remembering simpler times in my life when the movies were coming out.

Among the films, the comics and the novels that litter the era of the prequel trilogy, there are many stories that stand out, for me, head and shoulders above the other stuff. Cloak of Deception is, without a doubt, the absolute forerunner here, as it is a book that is very close to my heart. Indeed, whenever I think of top-ten lists of Star Wars novels, this one is always at the number two slot, coming second only to Tim Zahn’s original Thrawn trilogy. But that’s another story.

We begin properly with the short story Darth Maul: Saboteur. This is a bit of a throwaway tale really, which tells the story of how two lommite mining companies on the remote world of Dorvalla basically destroyed each other thanks to industrial competition getting out of hand. Darth Maul is dispatched to help tip the balance, and as you can imagine it doesn’t end well – both companies go under, and from the ruins, the Trade Federation swoops in to get shipping rights and, somehow, their seat in the Senate. I like the story, don’t get me wrong, but it kinda feels a little bit silly, somehow. It seems so inconsistent how seating in the Senate works – some star systems have seats, and others defer to the sector of space. Naboo, for instance, is a seat for the entire Chommell Sector, whereas Dorvalla, an insignificant mining world, has a seat all of its own? The lengths that Sidious goes to in order to get the Trade Federation in his grip are also really quite something – surely, the fact that Sidious knows all of Nute Gunray’s secrets should be enough to keep him in fear. Instead, we have Sidious almost bending over backwards to make Gunray beholden to him, when in actual fact I think his fear might have been enough to get him to launch that blockade. But that’s just me.

The real meat of things comes from the main event, however – Cloak of Deception.

At Dorvalla, the Trade Federation is attacked by a mercenary band led by Captain Cohl while loading lommite ore. Cohl and his team make it to the bridge, where they rig the freighter to blow and demand a cache of aurodium ingots from the captain, Daultay Dofine. With the timer counting down, Dofine hands the aurodium over and manages to escape when another freighter arrives in-system following their distress call. Unbeknownst to Cohl, he has been tracked from the surface of Dorvalla by the Jedi Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi, who manage to continue their pursuit even when the freighter jettisons its cargo, raising the captain’s suspicions. Cohl hides in the resulting explosion, leaving the Jedi believing him to have perished.

On Coruscant, the terrorist activities of the Nebula Front, who had hired Cohl and his band, are causing the Trade Federation to petition the Senate to allow them to augment their defences. Senator Palpatine discusses the matter with Supreme Chancellor Valorum, suggesting that taxation of the Free-Trade Zones could allow them to keep the Federation somewhat under control, though the issue is a thorny one due to the notion that the Federation, who already charge their client worlds exorbitant fees for shipping, would simply pass the burden of taxation on to the outlying systems. When the issue is brought for debate in the Senate, and these problems are aired, Palpatine secretly advises Valorum to hold a trade summit on the outlying world of Eriadu, where it can be discussed further before going to a vote.

Qui-Gon is dubious about Captain Cohl’s supposed death at Dorvalla, causing the Council some concern at his seeming obsession with the mercenary. When he and Adi Gallia attempt to meet with the Chancellor to discuss the matter, the Jedi end up foiling an assassination attempt by the Nebula Front. The assassins are traced to the world of Asmeru in the sovereign Senex Sector, and so a judicial mission is approved, with seven Jedi accompanying them, in an effort to mediate the dispute between the Nebula Front and the Trade Federation.

The delegation is shot down over Asmeru, however, and it becomes clear that the Nebula Front intends to hold them as hostage while they make demands of the Republic. Valorum agrees to dispatch Jedi and judicials from the preparations on Eriadu to rescue the stranded delegation, although it further evolves that the Front has split into the moderates and a much more militant wing. From an informant within the organization, Qui-Gon learns that Cohl has survived, and is engaged on a job for someone called Havac. He and Obi-Wan travel to Karfeddion with another Front operative, where the Jedi learn that Cohl has been hiring mercenaries for an assassination job on Eriadu. The Front operative was trying to lure the Jedi away from Eriadu, and tries to kill them when they have uncovered this information, but is himself killed instead.

Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan arrive at Eriadu to find that Cohl’s plan is already well underway. However, Havac has not been pleased by the fact that Cohl has been so open about recruiting his team, and a blaster fight breaks out, during which Cohl is seriously wounded. Havac attempts to rescue the plan, getting his mercenaries in place on the rooftops of the city, as well as within the hall where the trade summit is to be held, while Valorum arrives with the Lieutenant Governor of Eriadu, Wilhuff Tarkin. The Trade Federation delegation has demanded they be allowed a personal shield for their members, in case of violence, but without knowing it, they have been given a security droid that is controlled by Havac. When Nute Gunray is called away from the hall, the violence breaks out and the Federation activates their shield, whereupon the droid opens fire on the remaining members of the Trade Federation directorate.

In the aftermath of the summit, it transpires that distant cousins of the Supreme Chancellor, who own a shipping company based on Eriadu, had received a massive injection of capital that has been traced back to an account funded by aurodium ingots, the same amount stolen from the Trade Federation above Dorvalla. While many companies had received investment in the wake of the Supreme Chancellor’s decision to tax the trade zones and allot a portion of the revenue to developing projects in the Outer Rim, he is made to look corrupt and so his position as leader of the Republic is weakened.

The droid delivered by Havac to the Trade Federation directors came on the orders of Darth Sidious, whose aim was to increase Nute Gunray’s standing within the company, drawing him further into his web. With the Trade Federation arming themselves with droids, Sidious suggests they carry out a trade blockade of Naboo, the homeworld of the Senator who was the biggest champion of taxation in the first place.

This summary does not really do the book justice at all, as there are so many wheels within wheels at work. I’ve mentioned several times now that I love this book, and I think it’s just such a good story that sets up The Phantom Menace perfectly. The object of the book was fairly clear, I think, in that it needed to explain much of the opening crawl to episode 1, such as the trade dispute and the corruption charges against the Chancellor. And in my view, it does that really well. I think we have certain expectations from Darth Sidious, that he’s going to have a very labyrinthine scheme to achieve power, and yet when we first saw The Phantom Menace, a common accusation levelled at the film was that it was boring, because Star Wars had been reduced to trade disputes and politics. But how else is Palpatine going to become Emperor? He won’t be massacring Jedi and stuff, he gets other people to do his wetwork. He’s dangerous because of his strength in the Dark Side, for sure, but it goes beyond that, because his mind is his greatest weapon. A holdover from the early drafts of the original movie is that the Emperor is too charming and too charismatic to be allowed, and he can get anybody to do anything – he can even convince a galaxy to elect him as Chancellor. And this is the Palpatine that we get here. He has all the answers, but he’s doing it all behind the scenes; he’s everybody’s friend, while committing to nothing, yet making other people do it all for him. I think it’s beautiful to see the plot with Palpatine unfold here, and every time he’s on the page, it’s just glorious.

What’s more, Luceno has a knack for writing the characters’ voices correctly – Palpatine in particular, he uses a lot of the phrases that Lucas scripted, which allows us to read the book in those voices. It’s a small point, but it becomes incredibly powerful when it comes to enjoyment of the story, I think.

I know that a lot of people dislike the politics of the prequel trilogy, and while to some extent I do think they’re a bit silly at times, and a bit over-wrought in terms of how we’re almost like in some kind of allegory or something, it’s books like Cloak of Deception, and later, Labyrinth of Evil, which really serve to flesh out what is going on in the galaxy, and make it feel a lot more “grown up”, for want of a better expression. I get it, there’s only 2 hours or so for the story to be told via the film, and people might not want to see something like this novel filmed, because it’s got a high ratio of politics to lightsabers, but Lucas himself has said that the early story of Anakin and his downfall was a bit more of a thriller rather than the action/adventure of the original trilogy. Cloak of Deception provides some very necessary backdrop for the movie to take place, and at times it does feel like required reading, which might make it sound like I’m being negative towards the film, but I’m really not. I think it’s just unfortunate that so much more story was left out of the film!

The book is not without action though, as we have the Jedi subplot as they attempt to thwart the Nebula Front’s activities, with Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan involved in a fair bit of action. On Asmeru, we get almost a repeat of Jedi Council: Acts of War – seven Jedi with lightsabers blazing, the sequence is a bit short I suppose, but even so! Once we get to Eriadu, though, the suspense is real as the pieces fall into place.

Of course, it’s not all amazing stuff. It was Luceno’s third Star Wars novel, and he was still in that habit of trying to show off, I feel, and reference as much as possible. Of course, back in 2001 there wasn’t much in the way of prequel references, so instead there’s a lot of foreshadowing (another hallmark of Star Wars literature!) Tarkin, for example, is said to look like he prefers the “antiseptic gleam of a space-worthy freighter” while Valorum is being shown around his palatial mansion. Qui-Gon will attempt to rescue / befriend any native creature he comes across. And on it goes. It’s not bad per se, but it does begin to feel a bit like these are two-dimensional characters, who will never develop or anything. Maybe Tarkin liked rococo architecture before he designed the Death Star? Who knows.

When it came out, Cloak of Deception had something of the USP that it would feature clues to the plot of episode 2. Now, a few references to the Techno Union and Commerce Guild were really all that this amounted to, but there is also a line about taxation of the trade routes leading to potential secession for the Outer Rim, which I don’t think I’d noticed until this read-through. Or, I should say, I don’t think I had really taken on board until this read-through. I wonder if the events of episode 1 had proceeded differently, and Maul had survived and the blockade had not been lifted by Queen Amidala leading a successful resistance, whether Sidious’ end goal was to cause this rift between the Core and the Outer Rim to engineer the Separatist crisis? Of course, things still worked out pretty well, with Count Dooku being the charismatic front man for his Separatist Alliance, but I do find it interesting to explore these what if moments.

It’s also worth noting that Luminara Unduli makes a speaking appearance here, as she is the same near-human species as Captain Cohl. I mentioned Zahn’s Thrawn trilogy at the top – well, Jorus C’baoth (the original, not the clone) also has a small speaking part to play. Every member of the episode 1 Jedi Council has a speaking part, actually, which is interesting, and Adi Gallia has quite a significant role to play as something of a liaison between Valorum and the Council. There is a throwaway reference to how Yaddle became a Jedi Master, which I believe is made in reference to one of the Jedi Apprentice books published at this time. There are still some wide-ranging layers within the book, and fans of the literature like myself will invariably find stuff to enjoy here.

Sate Pestage and Kinman Doriana both have repeated appearances, and we get Bail Antilles and Orn Free Taa in fairly large roles for the political storyline. Having now seen the deleted composite scenes of Adrian Dunbar as Bail Antilles, I couldn’t help but smile to myself as I read the scene where he indicts Valorum at the court, as I kept imagining Dunbar in his role as Hastings in Line of Duty – “there’s nothing I hate more than a bent Supreme Chancellor” and so on. At any rate, much like the Jedi Council, we have a lot of speaking roles from among senators, and this is fairly interesting, because there are a number of references to both episode 1 and episode 2 politicians, the latter group including those senators who joined the Confederacy. It really gives the setting that kind of homogenous feel, like this is a real place, and so on.

Unfortunately, while Luceno is excellent at providing these kinds of rich tapestries in terms of the large cast, he still falls into the trap of having Tatooine as the only remote planet that anybody talks about. Tatooine is meant to be the planet farthest away from the core, and even allowing for Luke’s hyperbole, it’s still going to be pretty obscure and overlooked. Yet everybody knows about it, everybody makes reference to it… I mean, Luceno should be better than that. How about gardening on Ithor? Or crop farming on Uyter, if he wants to stay firmly in the prequel era? That’d show off some knowledge, right there. But no, we have Tatooine as the only planet worth mentioning…

I do like the fact that the Stark Hyperspace War is mentioned though, and later on becomes something of a plot point as Cohl gains access to the summit hall. We’ll get to that later on in the Republic comics series, though, but it’s nice to see this kind of recent history to the story added in. It’s also nice to get Vergere as a character in here, as well – Luceno introduced Vergere to the New Jedi Order with his novel Agents of Chaos – Hero’s Trial, and it eventually came out that she was a Jedi of the Old Republic. To see her in the prequel era is slightly complicated, because it opens up questions about when she attached herself to the Yuuzhan Vong, but with all of this being Legends now, I suppose the point becomes moot!

I’ve read this book so often, I can’t begin to say how many times. I’ve read it in a day before now. It used to be something of a cornerstone of my Christmas reading, as I’d read a few of the prequel-era stories over the festive period. Cloak of Deception really became almost like a signal that Christmas had begun for me, which is always nice! I know it’s got politics, and I know it’s not going to be to everybody’s taste because of it, but I think overall it’s really amazing, and I would recommend it to anybody who stands still long enough!

Next on the list is Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter. A pretty good adventure in the depths of Coruscant, and one that I do enjoy quite a lot!

Star Wars: Darth Plagueis

The Summer of Star Wars has begun!!

The novel begins 35 years before the events of The Phantom Menace, when we see Darth Plagueis and his master, the Bith Darth Tenebrous on the world of Bal’demnic, examining a deposit of cortosis ore. Keen to exploit the natural resistance to lightsabers in the ore, as another step in the plan of the Sith to overthrow the Jedi, they are nevertheless forced to flee when an underground explosion is triggered. Plagueis uses the event to his advantage, and kills Tenebrous by hurling debris from the blast upon his master.

Plagueis escapes the planet by stowing away aboard a ship, killing the crew but taking a droid 11-4D back with him to his home planet of Muunilinst, where he goes about as Hego Damask, CEO of Damask Holdings. As Damask, he holds annual gatherings on the moon Sojourn, where he plays power-broker among the galaxy’s most powerful beings. On Sojourn, he learns that the company who provided Tenebrous with the information on the cortosis deposit, Subtext Mining, has links with Pax Teem, the Senator for Malastare. Representatives of Subtext tell him of a massive lode of plasma on the planet Naboo, which will prove particularly lucrative, in exchange for their lives.

Also on Sojourn, Plagueis is attacked by a dark acolyte known as Darth Venamis, who claims to have been sent by Tenebrous. Plagueis overpowers Venamis, and forces the other to poison himself. Plagueis then takes his comatose body for further experimentation into midi-chlorians and prolonging life. Learning of more potential acolytes, he hunts down each one and kills them.

On Naboo, Damask and the Trade Federation enter into a deal with Bon Tapalo to gain control over the plasma reserves in exchange for support with Tapalo’s election as King of Naboo. Plagueis learns of the potential for an ally in Palpatine, the son of one of the noble families who has defied his father and the isolationist politics of many on Naboo. Plagueis begins to court Palpatine as a potential apprentice, when he senses a great deal of ability in the way the young man is able to shield himself in the Force. Plagueis manipulates Palpatine into killing his entire family with the Force, and promptly takes him as his apprentice, naming him Darth Sidious.

Eleven years later, Palpatine has elevated himself to the position of ambassador for Naboo, and with the help of new allies Sate Pestage and Kinman Doriana, he is able to instigate the assassination of Naboo’s current senator, Vidar Kim. Meanwhile, Plagueis continues his experimentation in the Force, and makes contact with the clonemasters of Kamino, with the possibility of creating a cloned army of Yinchorr warriors. Attempting to increase his own knowledge of the Dark Side, Sidious visits Dathomir and there is given a Zabrak child as a gift – he sends the child to Mustafar to be trained as a weapon of the Dark Side.

At a secret ceremony to initiate Damask’s colleague Larsh Hill into the Order of the Canted Circle, Plagueis is ambushed by Maladian assassins and almost killed – only the arrival of Sate Pestage and Sidious allows the Muun to escape with his life. The assassination was orchestrated by Pax Teem, and so Sidious unleashes his fury on the Gran Senator, killing his entire entourage. Plagueis goes into a sort of retirement on Sojourn, forced to use a transpiratory mask in order to assist with his breathing. His escape makes him even more determined to conquer death, however. In his absence, it falls to Sidious to further the plans of the Sith.

Twenty years pass, and Palpatine is a well-respected Senator, remarkable for having never been involved in scandal or corruption. He continues to court the great and the good, and in secret he makes contact with Nute Gunray of the Trade Federation, promising him wealth and power in exchange for an alliance. When Sidious is able to elevate Gunray to the post of Viceroy in the Trade Federation, the Neimoidian becomes indebted to Sidious and so is easily persuaded to order the blockade and invasion of Naboo.

For years, Palpatine and Jedi Master Dooku had something of an acquaintance, which grows further when the latter’s disaffection with the Jedi Order increases. From Dooku, Palpatine learns of the existence of Anakin Skywalker, a child seemingly born from the Force itself, and both he and Plagueis become obsessed with learning more about him. Years previously, at roughly the same time Anakin was born, Sidious and Plagueis had performed a Sith ritual in an attempt to truly become masters over the Force, and Plagueis had sensed the Force acquiesce before his might – now, however, it seems that the Force has in fact fought back, producing the long-prophesied Chosen One who will restore balance to the Force.

Palpatine is able to manipulate Queen Amidala of Naboo to call for a vote of no confidence in Chancellor Valorum, precipitating the election of Palpatine and, as they had planned, the subsequent naming of Hego Damask as co-chancellor. On the eve of the vote, the two Sith celebrate their coming victory even as Amidala returns to Naboo in an unexpected move. Sidious is able to catch his master off-guard, however, and savagely uses the Force to cripple and then kill Plagueis. Despite his victory over his old master, however, Sidious feels oddly hollow – he later discovers that at the same time, Darth Maul had been killed on Naboo.

Soon after his election, Palpatine meets Dooku, who had left the Order following the death of his old apprentice, Qui-Gon Jinn. The two discuss a potential alliance in broad terms, as they both wish to tear down the Republic and replace it with something far greater. The book ends with Supreme Chancellor Palpatine meeting with Obi-Wan and Anakin in his office on Coruscant, thanking them personally once more for their involvement in liberating Naboo.

I love this book. It is so huge in terms of its scope, that despite that almost thousand word summary, I have barely done any justice to it at all. I’ve read this one before, of course, around the time my eldest daughter was born, and while the opportunities for reading were scarce back then, I remember being wholly drawn into the story. It succeeds in bringing together the story of Palpatine’s rise to the post of Supreme Chancellor, as well as covering his training as a Sith, while along the way hitting almost every single beat from the established lore around the Prequels. I think I was a bit disappointed when I first read it, when the story started to dance in and out of the plethora of other books that take place at this time – there’s plenty of “oh, you just missed him!” and “Plagueis was just out of shot in the Senate” etc, which does wear thin after a while. But there is equally a lot of “cut scenes” from, in particular, The Phantom Menace, where we see stuff that was taking place behind the scenes. As such, I think things are balanced out fairly well, so I can’t really complain. Plus the worst offender, as I seemed to recall it, wasn’t as bad as I’d remembered – the moment where Lorn Pavan delivers the holocron to Palpatine.

Of course, for all that the novel is a huge monster, I was still left wanting more. While the novel shows us the rise of both Sidious the Sith Lord and Palpatine the politician, most of the book is spent on the political side, with not a great deal spent with Sidious. There’s enough, for sure, but I think I would have preferred to get more of the lore of Sith training.

The famous “creation of Anakin” also happens off-screen, during one of the time jumps. That was a bit jarring, to me, as it was surely an event worth depicting? As it is, it is referenced a few times and the dots are joined when Anakin is brought to Coruscant. I did like that bit, at least – the frenzy of both Sith Lords amid all of their political manoeuvring as they discover the Force has created a being to potentially counteract their plans.

However, we do get a lot of Darth Plagueis, and a lot of Hego Damask – the first two-thirds of the book are just a delight, as we see the depth of the plans the Muun has hatched. His experiments with Yinchorri as a perfect army going awry, his courting Sifo-Dyas and the Kaminoans, the way that his plots almost cannibalise each other as he uses his position to back so many different beings, including Gardulla and Jabba, at times it can be difficult – and I think, reading it the first time when I was juggling new parent duties, a lot of this either didn’t sink in, or I wasn’t able to retain it in the same way, and so ended up missing out on some bits. With the full extent of the web laid out, though, it was just a joy to read through.

Throughout the book, Luceno is able to not only hit the necessary story beats that are perhaps required from a story in this time period, telling the story of the rise of Palpatine, but he also weaves so many references into the plot that it’s quite a joy, really. The political landscape is developed really quite beautifully as the story moves along, and we see how the impact of things like the growing presence of the Trade Federation, and the dominance of commercial interests achieved in the Senate through seating their client worlds. The way Luceno is able to take something like the line from the opening crawl of episode 1 about taxation of the Free Trade Zones, and spin it into an intelligent story that actually helps to set up the movie so perfectly – it’s something he’d done previously with Cloak of Deception, but I’ll never grow tired of reading this man’s work, as it all just dovetails so beautifully.

There is also the short story The Tenebrous Way that takes place between the first couple of chapters of the book. We see the death of Darth Tenebrous from his own point of view, and learn that he had in fact mastered the Sith technique of essence transfer, creating maxi-chlorians as a kind of retrovirus to contain his essence, and would use these to infect a nearby host. The idea being that he would infect the Chosen One, and become an immortal Sith, with the loss of any power of foresight as the price. However, he is forced to infect Plagueis to wait for the Chosen One, but soon realises that Plagueis never met the Chosen One before his own death, so removes his maxi-chlorians from Plagueis’ body and discovers his own mummified corpse – and realises that he has doomed himself to an eternal life of repetition.

It’s a cute little story that gives us perhaps more background than we ever needed. Darth Tenebrous and his maxi-chlorians are almost comical, although there is a moment of almost-pathos when he realises that he has actually failed, because Plagueis never met Anakin. One of those throwaway stories that doesn’t really add anything (although we do get a bit more of Plagueis’ master, and when are we otherwise going to learn more about him?) But it’s kinda fun, regardless.

Finally, we have the short story Restraint, also by Luceno. It’s a Darth Maul story that shows some of his time as a trainee on the planet Orsis, which is alluded to during the novel but never really fleshed-out. While one would hardly be missing much by not reading this, it’s always good to get a Maul story because they seem pretty scant, really. Maul is training with the Faleen combat expert Trezza, but others at the academy on Orsis grow sceptical of his abilities, even though Sidious has commanded his pupil to show restraint, particularly in his use of the dark side.

The Mandalorian mercenary Meltch has deduced Maul has a connection to Dathomir, and so tells Mother Talzin about him. The Nightsisters then attempt to abduct Maul, but the Zabrak simply believes this to be a test devised by Sidious. Meltch has double crossed the Nightsisters by then telling the Rattataki mercenary Kirske about it, and so he shows up hoping to capture some Nightsisters for the arena on his home world. It all ends with a bloodbath, as Sidious shows up to reclaim Maul, whom he then orders to kill everybody at the academy.

I think the story is most interesting for building up more of Maul’s character in the pre-Phantom Menace timeline. We get hints of it during the novel, but Maul is somewhat dissatisfied with his position, being kept in the dark by Sidious and unsure of why he is being trained, etc. In this short story, he outright asks his master “what am I to you?”, which I think is a great way of showing how different the nature of Sith apprenticeship is. Of course, part of this does seem to have stemmed also from the curious decision to have Darth Plagueis survive for so long – I guess it would be a different relationship if Sidious were the Master when training Maul, but as it stands, we find ourselves with a surfeit of Sith.

Not essential, of course, but it’s still nice to have these kinds of side-stories that add in just a little bit more to the overall story. I’d not read Restraint previously, and in fact was not aware of it until quite recently. There’s another Maul short story that I’ve recently discovered, also by Luceno, set during the events of Episode I, and I’m looking forward to seeing what that’s about.

Next up, however, we’ve got some graphic novels on the horizon!

Star Wars: The Fallen Star (a review)

The final book in the first phase of The High Republic, The Fallen Star picks up with Marchion Ro’s plan to completely wipe out the Jedi, and undermine the Republic throughout the Outer Rim. Synchronous raids across seemingly insignificant planets drive a host of injured refugees to Starlight Beacon, which is currently in orbit at Eiram assisting with a relief project there. A further Nihil attack against a remote Jedi temple is seen as proof of the uncoordinated death throes of the Nihil organisation, which was believed destroyed following the Republic Fair.

However, Marchion Ro has secretly dispatched a team of saboteurs to Starlight Beacon, and soon the full extent of the Nihil is shown as the space station is blasted in two, with catastrophic results. While Avar Kriss had pursued the Nihil and believed herself to have found The Eye, Lourna Dee, Stellan Gios took over the mantle of Marshal of Starlight Beacon. However, he is almost entirely unprepared for the catastrophe that befalls them all, even when Elzar Mann returns from his exile to help with the relief effort.

As if the physical damage to the station wasn’t enough, the Nihil have also released at least one of the leveler creatures aboard, which causes significant problems for the Jedi as they find themselves unable to concentrate and growing in fear. The creature kills three Jedi Knights, and the disaster continues to take its toll on our heroes, with Stellan paying the ultimate price when the Beacon crashes on the surface.

I have been enjoying the High Republic series so far, but I did feel as though this book fell a bit flat. It is almost exclusively set on Starlight Beacon, which feels less like the plush advert for Republic splendour that it seemed to be in Light of the Jedi, and instead more like the Death Star, only somehow less exciting. The disaster-movie atmosphere, though, was great –just when we think our heroes are going to pull through, something else goes horribly wrong and stuff. I’m not a sadist, but I did like the fact that it really came across like a huge disaster, much more so than the Hyperspace Disaster that kicked off the series, actually.

Of course, this hyper-focus on the Beacon really felt like it worked to the novel’s detriment, as it felt quite claustrophobic, and I did feel the same as those trapped aboard in the cargo bay, trying to get off. Stellan, the man of action from the second book, is now struck down with the weight of responsibility and, when he does encounter the leveler briefly, it sends him catatonic for a portion of the book. I was surprised by that decision, although it did give Elzar the nudge he needed to take on some responsibility. That all being said, however, I did find myself wishing that Avar was back – she headlined the first book, and then seemed to just disappear in the subsequent instalments. Maybe she has been featured in other books, as I haven’t yet taken the time to discover those, but I thought it a bit strange that she wasn’t more heavily featured, as I really liked her character.

There’s a navigator called Geode, who is basically a rock. Weird, but it’s a huge and weird galaxy, so fair enough. I was surprised at how far this was taken, though, given that it seems everybody except Elzar accepts him as being a sentient being, who gives “a stony expression” or whose “silence said it all” and stuff. It was bordering on silly, though I guess on the whole it was kinda funny. Among those pilots trapped in the cargo bay, there’s a petty and venal guy who tries to rile his fellows up against the Jedi, intending to blast their way through the cargo bay doors etc. I hated him, and it took me a while to realise that actually, I hated him because the situation was written so well – of course, there’s always that one guy who thinks they know what’s best and ends up getting the group in trouble. It’s classic disaster movie stuff.

However, we get very little else besides the goings on on board the space station, and it does get a bit boring after a while. I read half of this book in one day when I was on the train to London and back, but then took a week to finish it as it just felt like a bit of a chore. I think we could have done with getting a bit more variety, even if it was from following some of the people in the top half of the station with Avar. It all just seems to get a bit boring after a while, for all that it’s a disaster book and should be exciting as we root for the heroes to pull through.

I also wasn’t a fan of the ending. We only followed three saboteurs aboard the Beacon, yet Marchion Ro sent seven? And the final pages that feature his address to the galaxy… I’m struggling to keep up, but I just don’t understand why he wants to eliminate the Jedi. I don’t get it, as the Nihil are a raiding force – is he trying to keep the Republic out of the Rim to ensure free raiding forever? He seems to want to rule the galaxy, but that seemed to come out of nowhere. I don’t understand him, he seems to be doing all this for the sake of being the antagonist – we haven’t yet got the twirl of the moustache with an evil sneer, but it’s not far off.

Now, I seem to be falling into something of a hater on Claudia Gray, which I’m not actively trying to do, but I’ve not really been a big fan of a lot of her books now. I mean, Bloodline is still one of my all-time favourite Star Wars books, and so whenever I read a book by her, I’m always that little bit disappointed that it doesn’t match up. I think it might be in part due to the hype she gets in the Facebook group that I’m in, though I think I have seen more general disinterest in this book, to be fair.

I think a lot of my complaints aren’t necessarily to be aimed at Claudia though, as it strikes me this is how LFL wants to tell stories right now – minimal exposition, maximum action. Who cares why anybody does anything, so long as what they are doing is exciting to watch/read?! Marchion Ro might be a cardboard villain because he isn’t allowed to be developed this early, given that we’ve been told of two more phases of the High Republic still to come.

I went into this one expecting it to be the conclusion to the trilogy, but it ended up more like the start of something. If we’d had maybe a hundred more pages of exposition at the start, then kicked off the series with this, it might have landed better. It’s not terrible, it’s just a bit unsatisfying.

Okay, so maybe I’m getting a bit too harsh here… I know that I’ve only read the three main novels in this series so far, and there are still the three YA novels, and three middle-grade novels, before we even start on the comic books. Maybe I’m missing out on something that would actually link things together… we shall see, I guess!!

Star Wars: Thrawn – Ascendancy: Lesser Evil (a review)

Hey everybody,

At the end of February, I finished the third book in the Ascendancy trilogy, Lesser Evil. What a monster of a book that was! I thought the second book was a sprawling epic, but this one really took that idea and ran with it!

The book picks up almost immediately after the end of Greater Good, and we see Jixtus almost come out into the open this time, as he brings news of a dangerous alliance between some of the Chiss families, first to the Mitth, and then to the Clarr – a calculated move, as one of those families purported to be in alliance is the Dasklo family, deadly rivals of the Clarr, and so the wedge is driven further as internecine family politics begin to take over everywhere, including the navy.

Thrawn, always above family politics and forever putting his service to the Chiss Ascendancy first, does what he thinks he needs to do in order to end what he clearly sees is an attempt to drive his species to a disastrous civil war.

I’m finding it almost impossible to adequately provide a summary of the plot here, because there’s just so much of it, so let’s cut to the chase – spoilers ahead! Thrawn gathers his allies, Ar’alani etc, to Sunrise for a final showdown against Jixtus, and initially it seems the Chiss have indeed defeated themselves. However, Thrawn uses a gravity well projector to keep the Grysk ships in-system and trap them, which allows the comparatively lighter Chiss warships to virtually destroy the aliens. The Grysks self-destruct before being caught, as they are paranoid about anybody finding out about them. However, despite the fact that Thrawn was able to devise a plan to thwart this attempt on Chiss supremacy, it is decided that he is to be exiled, and draw all of the political heat from his colleagues.

Of course, the exile is a ruse for a fact-finding mission, as Thrawn has discovered a group of Neimoidians who have entered this region of space, fleeing the fallout of the Clone Wars and the emergence of the Empire. Thrawn determines to find out more about the Empire, and on it goes, roll credits.

This was a hell of a book, and the level of political in-fighting and back-and-forth was off the charts at times, as I was trying to keep up with which families were represented on which ships, etc! Sometimes, the level of selfish idiocy in the upper echelons of the Chiss did begin to astound me, particularly the actions of the Clarr patriarch! Thurfian seems to have moderated himself a little, now that he’s the Mitth patriarch, although I have read the entire trilogy and still don’t buy the reasoning for his wanting to bring down Thrawn.

There was a whole side quest with Thalias and gaining more understanding of the sky-walker program that I found really interesting, although some of it did seem a little bit like an info-dump just before the end, like it had been planned to be peppered more throughout the trilogy as a whole, but got forgotten and had to be wedged in somewhere. It was interesting, though, and while there was a part of me that felt it an unnecessary inclusion, the fact that Thalias meets Thrawn’s sister, and she has no desire to meet him because it would be pointless as she doesn’t know who he is, I did find quite emotional. Like, that’s a genuine reaction that I could imagine someone in her position having.

On a side note, the fact that Chiss core names appear to begin with the ending of their family name, so Thurfian from Mitth, for example, I did find quite silly at times. It was more pronounced in the last book, with the Xodlak family, I suppose, but I found it interesting that, if you’re at a family gathering, everybody’s name will begin the same way. Starting with a Th- might not be so distracting as starting with a Lak- of course, but it did make me wonder if a family could ever grow so large that they might conceivably run out of names?

I loved the inclusion of the Neimoidians at the end – a throwaway mention only, but it opened up a whole vista of possibility for me! I love the idea that other species who were caught up as perpetrators of the Clone Wars, like the Muun and the Koorivar, might also be going into exile at this time, and what that might mean.

Thrawn’s exile tiles very nicely into the next Thrawn trilogy, of course, which I’ve previously read (here, here and here!) It’s also worth mentioning that the plotline of Admiral Ar’alani pursuing any possible Grysk hideouts isn’t wrapped up until this trilogy, which I thought was quite interesting, especially as I’d forgotten about it until I’d finished reading this book!

Overall, I really enjoyed this trilogy, and I think I benefited a great deal by reading them back to back as I have. If I had tried to read them when they came out, I would most likely have forgotten a lot of details, because these books are literally dripping in the small stuff. It all very much needs a close reading to get the most out of it, I would say.

Star Wars: Thrawn – Ascendancy: Greater Good (a review)

Hey everybody,
Earlier this week, I finished reading the second novel in the Thrawn Ascendancy series. You can check out my thoughts on the first book here. The second book in the Ascendancy trilogy is quite the sprawling epic, I have to say! It definitely takes a more leisurely pace than the first book, and I think it does seem to suffer a little bit under its own weight.

We start the novel with Admiral Ar’alani in charge of the task force clearing out remaining Nikardun bases, alongside Senior Captains Thrawn and Lakinda. Thrawn has been tasked with a separate mission though, involving refugees on Rapacc, which brings us back to some elements from the first novel, although it seems that this is all tangled up in Thurfian’s plot to take Thrawn down. The refugees are led by the Magys, who has demanded her people join her in some ritual mass-suicide as a result of the attack on their world, but Thrawn tries to convince her otherwise, taking her to her home planet to see if the world really is beyond saving. Lakinda is asked to find Thrawn and help, but both ships come under attack at the planet, although of course Thrawn is able to ensure both Chiss ships escape unharmed. Without a clear idea of what was going on, Admiral Ar’alani takes over mapping the planet to assess the devastation while Thrawn continues his mission, which involves the Vagaari pirates.

There is a whole other plot that involves the alien Haplif and his attempts to bring down the Chiss Ascendancy for Jixtus, which is a really slow burn and is built through both present-day and Memory chapters. Haplif and his crew convince the Xodlak family they have control of a nyix mine, the metal from which the Chiss make their warship hulls. The Xodlak see this as their chance to gain more political power, and so declare a family emergency, recalling all of their personnel – including Lakinda – for the task. Things come to a head with two other families that have also had the aliens playing their con game, but Thrawn has naturally discovered the ruse and is trying to diffuse the situation. He is able to destroy the mine without the families losing face.

As I said, it was a very sprawling book, and I think it could have used a bit more space, particularly towards the end. The story seems to be fairly well balanced between the various elements, even if there seems to have been a lot of time spent with Haplif and his scheme. However, there is a significant lack of Thrawn for the middle act, and when he does re-appear, things seemed a little bit rushed, to me, to get to the end. Though interestingly, it was around the 350-page mark (the book is 410 pages long) where suddenly the light is seen at the end of the tunnel, when it all seems to coalesce and I finally understood how all the elements fit together, so maybe the crashing realisation that I came to at that point led to me feeling that!

As I said, a lot of the story seemed to involve Haplif and the Agbui scheme, including the Memories, and it did strike me as being a bit odd how the pace really seemed to slacken when compared with the first book. This shadow war is in direct contrast to the plotline with General Yiv in the first book, though, and I suppose it will by necessity feel different. It was an interesting book, I have to say, but I think there is a very different feel to the first one, and if you go into this thinking it’s going to continue the story of the first, it will feel very different.

I mentioned last time how this didn’t feel like Star Wars, and the fact this time we don’t even have a minor appearance from Anakin Skywalker to anchor it into the GFFA does seem to cut this book adrift. It feels so divorced from Star Wars as we know it, and yet it’s still a very compelling story. I find this quite fascinating, because I’m reading this as a Star Wars novel, but it hardly feels like a Star Wars novel. Does that make sense?

There is also the continuation of the plotlines about trying to take Thrawn down. Thurfian’s plot against him still feels a bit daft, but Samakro, his first officer, has more of a legitimate grievance as he was removed from command of the Springhawk to place Thrawn there. Samakro also seems to have it in for Thalias, thinking her a spy for Thurfian and he is convinced she’s going to confuse the command structure in favour of family politics, despite so much evidence to the contrary. It definitely feels like it’s there simply to provide conflict, and doesn’t really have a believable basis. But it’s a minor complaint in an otherwise really good series.

Star Wars: The Rising Storm (a review)

The second novel* in The High Republic series, The Rising Storm picks up pretty much straight after the first book, as we follow the preparations for The Republic Fair on Valo, in the Outer Rim. Another of Chancellor Lina Soh’s “Great Works”, the Fair is intended to showcase the very best of the Republic, acting as something of an expo I guess, with the added benefit of bringing the Togruta species into the Republic fold.

The early part of the novel has a lot of shuffling-of-pieces, as we see the Nihil leadership move forward and posture among themselves, Marchion Ro in particular taking further steps for a grand plan to attack the Republic. We also see the Cyclor Shipyards, and the research vessel Innovator is going through various tests prior to the Fair when a rogue tempest of the Nihil attack, to be fought off by the Jedi.

For the most part of the book, we then get an extended view of preparations for the Fair, including the arrival of the Togruta monarch and so on. Everything is rather wonderful, and we get to really delve into some of the returning characters from the first book, such as Elzar Mann and Stellan Gios, before suddenly the Nihil attack! It is quite dramatic as well, and the manner of the attack, with an orbital element and reaver-like ground assault (including smoke clouds and sonic disruptions) feels like an utterly ferocious strike at the Republic and the Jedi.

While the Nihil are eventually repelled, they still claim a victory and rogue elements decide to press the advantage by planning another attack, but fall prey to a disinformation campaign and are routed. The Jedi learn that the Nihil are basing themselves on Grizal, and mount their own attack, at which point the Nihil organisation seems to be tearing itself apart. In order to escape, Marchion Ro releases a beast known as “the Leveler” which can turn people into husks, and flees on his ship.

I really enjoyed this book – perhaps not as much as I enjoyed the first one, for sure, but nevertheless it felt like a really great second act. So many trilogies seem to go a bit dead in the middle, but I think here we’ve broadened out just enough to allow more character to appear from the established cast, while maintaining the momentum in the Republic vs Nihil war. Actually, the whole war is an interesting one, because it often seems like nothing more than marauders and pirates testing the fringes, and not a really large-scale military threat. That’s why the attack on the Fair worked, because it wasn’t a case of the Nihil going up against a Republic fleet or somesuch. The scale is different to, say, the Clone Wars, and I really like it.

The Jedi are developed a lot in this book, and I like how different they feel to their counterparts in the Prequels. They don’t quite seem to be the cloistered monks, but rather the type of official mediators and security services of the Republic, and have a much more public face. You definitely get the impression that the Jedi are off-limits when the time of the Prequels comes about. It’ll be interesting to see how, if at all, that change comes about. There are perhaps glimpses here, as Elzar Mann uses Dark Side power to stop the Nihil attack at one point – maybe they decide to retreat to avoid any kind of fall?

Some of the criticisms of this book that I’ve seen online (mainly on the SW book club Facebook group) come leveled at the fact that nothing seems to happen in the book, that it is boring, etc. I think, on the contrary, so much happens that it’s difficult to provide a satisfying synopsis of it without going on for days! We get a lot of minutiae when it comes to the Fair, which I think works quite well because after a number of chapters where the action moves around a bit, we’re almost lulled into a sense of security before BOOM – the Nihil attack and all hell breaks loose! The subsequent attack takes place over several chapters, though purportedly only takes place over the course of maybe an afternoon. So much is going on, that it’s difficult to cover it all quickly, but the pacing is really quite good and no single aspect of the attack feels like it has been short-changed. I was then surprised that the end was still a long way off, because a lot more action then follows!

Bell Zettifar has his reunion with Loden Greatstorm, who has been testing his bonds in the Nihil prison, and manages to escape, only for their reunion to be short-lived as he falls victim to the Leveler. That was a genuinely emotional moment for me, and I felt almost like I’d been punched. That’s some good storytelling, right there – it really got me!

We’re getting what now appears to be the Disney trope of adding in more gay characters to the books, with a fairly significant plot thread involving the Chancellor’s son, and a more throwaway element involving the former Jedi padawan Ty Yorrick and the daughter of her client, who ends up as a bit of a catalyst for the final confrontation on Grizal. As far as Kitrep Soh’s awkward relationship with Jom Lariin goes, I thought it seemed a bit rushed at first, but turned out to be very satisfying and worked really well within the wider story without feeling shoehorned in. It’s great to have these kinds of plot threads, where two guys can be attracted to each other and have an arc which forms a strong part of the actual story, rather than it being a case of LOOK EVERYBODY, THIS GUY’S GAY! as it often felt in the Aftermath books. Ty Yorrick is a much more complicated character, who didn’t really get much airtime to properly see develop. Maybe she’ll form a large part of the third novel, coming out in January? There’s a suggestion of something there, which feels much more how we’re used to seeing this kind of stuff in years gone by. We’re definitely getting there, which is the main thing!

Of all the new canon books that I’ve read so far, I think this is up there with the small clutch of novels that I think would benefit from a second reading. Indeed, I think I would enjoy a second reading, though I think I’d probably do so as part of a general High Republic re-read. Very good development, but I definitely want to go wider with this time frame, and see more of the galaxy.

The third book, The Fallen Star, is written by Claudia Gray, who I’ve definitely had some ups and downs with! Let’s hope we get something along the lines of Bloodline, and less Lost Stars! It’s coming out in January, and I hope to pick it up pretty much as soon as possible and get reading.

* I know there are a bunch of other YA novels etc, but this is the second in what I’m thinking of as the main storyline, based on purely the adult novels. Not “adult” in that sense, though…

What a weekend!

Kill Team: Octarius has gone up for preorder, and it looks pretty sexy, I have to say. I’ve put my order in at my local store, so I’m hoping I won’t be in for any disappointment in a couple of weeks. I do like the look of the box – even though I’m not an Ork fan, I think it looks like a cracking game and I’m very excited to get my hands on it!

It’s also been really interesting to see the news that Kill Team will be supported, going forward, with new ‘seasons’, for want of a better word, every three months. That feels almost too much, if they’re all going to be launched with a big box like this, but maybe the big box route is how GW is modelling their business now. Seems like they’re getting to grips more with the idea of actual pre-orders rather than adding a week on to your delivery time, with how they’re doing this made-to-order thing if they sell out. In my opinion, that’s how they should be producing every “event box” from now on.

However, there’s nothing to say that some of these ‘new season’ boxes won’t be strict repackages of existing stuff. Will they be able to produce so much new stuff to such a schedule? Why not just stick some Sector Imperialis terrain in with some Battle Sisters and some Tau Pathfinders, and job done! No massive design outlay, there!

Word on the street, of course, is that the release model will mimic Warcry and give us fairly unique, new teams that will have normal 40k rules, but will be primarily for Kill Team. Furthermore, the next box is already rumoured to be Sisters vs Tau. Given that Sisters have had a lot of releases recently, something just tells me that the release model just isn’t going to be purely new teams, but there will be those elements ported over from 40k where it makes sense. I guess we’ll see, of course, but yeah, it feels a bit off to say that we’re getting yet more plastic Sisters good stuff.

I would love to get the odd special box every once in a while, though – perhaps along the lines of Pariah Nexus, where the KT box is used to launch a new plastic unit from an existing army? Eldar, maybe your time is coming?

Speaking of what’s coming, the new codex road map for the rest of the year has been revealed, showing Black Templars as coming up, with a new Primaris Emperor’s Champion being shown off as well. Tyranids seem to be a strong option for their book coming, with a lot of people expecting Imperial Guard as well, though a persistent rumour of an Imperial Agents book has got me quite intrigued!

I guess time will tell! I’m looking forward to getting some of this good stuff – September seems to have become my traditional time of the year for really reconnecting with 40k, so after a lot of time spent with Warcry and Necromunda, I’m sort of hoping to have the hobby time to devote to maybe getting some Necrons painted!

Oh, and apparently this is a thing! I’ve been tentatively getting interested in Magic for a while now, and this weekend was watching a few of the Professor’s videos when I came across this – Commander decks themed for 40k, apparently coming out with a full set themed around Lord of the Rings. Weird! In his video, the Professor talks about diluting the world of MtG, and I have to say that I agree. I love 40k, of course, and while I don’t really play much these days, I still love Magic. But I love them as separate entities, and have no wish to see them mixed together. I’m sure it might be fun to get Primarchs as Legendary Creatures, or whatever, but ultimately I feel like this is going to be detrimental to the game. Sure, collectors will probably buy them, I may even be tempted myself, but I wouldn’t want to mix them into my collection of Magic cards. Worlds don’t need to collide!

Finally, this arrived today! Very much looking forward to getting my teeth into it!

June Retrospective

Hey everybody,
It’s already time for another retrospective, and we’re suddenly already halfway through 2021! That soon happened. June has been something of a slow month for my blog, because I had the fairly huge event of my second daughter being born on the 18th of the month! Freya came into the world only a couple of days early, although completely unplanned as she couldn’t wait to join the world, so was delivered on the bathroom floor 😳 She’s been doing great though, and her big sister Phoebe is hopefully going to be a big help to us all, despite being only 21 months old, herself 🤣

I’ve been reading quite a bit, and was able to schedule a couple of book reviews to make sure that my blog didn’t just shut down for a few months as happened with the birth of the Firstborn. Master and Apprentice was a little disappointing, but I’m aware that I seem to be almost routinely bashing the new canon stuff, so I need to try to be better and approach these books a little more positively. Hopefully when I get round to stuff like the Alphabet Squadron series, I’ll enjoy them as much as I did Alexander Freed’s Battlefront novel.

I’ve really been on a bit of a Horus Heresy bender, though, partly because I’ve grown tired of continually making statements here along the lines of “I just want to read five more books in the series this year” and “I just want to make it to x, that’s only 4 books to get through”. I’ve been going back to read some of those anthologies that I skipped over back in the day, thinking I just want to read the actual story, and I’ve also been progressing forwards, getting to book 32, Legacies of Betrayal.

This is a bit of an odd duck, to me, being a collection of lots of short stories that previously saw release as audio books, or as part of the BL Advent Calendar that usually has shorter-than-normal stories. It kicks off with Brotherhood of the Storm, which is a novella prequel to the excellent Scars, and one story that I enjoyed quite a bit, even if at times it felt a bit superfluous. There are some interesting shorts in here that give us a tiny insight into how the war is going, such as Strike and Fade showing a group of Salamanders ambushing some Night Lords on Isstvan V while the dust settles. Veritas Ferrum is a short prequel to Damnation of Pythos, and shows the Iron Hands rescuing the Salamanders before they escape the Isstvan system – the sort of story could (should?) have been included as a prologue to the parent novel, but anyway. There are a couple of World Eaters stories by ADB that were quite good – I particularly enjoyed Heart of the Conqueror, which showed the internal conflict experienced by the ship’s Navigator – aware of the fact the Legion has turned against the Emperor, who she sees as a kind of saviour/patron figure, she kills herself and thus pulls the flagship out of the Warp. The stand-outs though, were Censure, which showed us the Ultramarines vs Word Bearers on the irradiated world of Calth (I had no idea that Kurtha Sedd was a character before the box set!) and Kryptos, which featured the Raven Guard/Iron Hands stealth assassin team from Angel Exterminatus. These stories were of a more traditional length, and were able to give a more proper development to the actual storyline they had.

So it was a curious book, overall, having a lot of short, forgettable, dare I say pointless little side stories, but at least I’m ploughing through – only another 23 books to go! 😳

There was some very exciting news about Arkham Horror LCG at the start of the month, with the change to how they’re going to publish cycles from now on, and last week we had the news that there’ll be a revised core set doing the rounds, which will feature a complete playset of the player cards, as well as some of those cards from later expansions to give new folks a better experience right out of the box. Otherwise, it’s still the same 5 investigators (albeit with new art) and they’re going up against the Night of the Zealot as before. I find it interesting that they’re choosing to do this, full playset of cards etc, as it seems to be indicating the shift of the LCG model away from what it has been, and instead making it more like the board game that it pretty much was anyway. I think it’s really exciting, especially if they can pepper the year with stand-alone scenarios to keep the attention on the game, rather than just relying on one, potentially two release events in a year.

Of course, there’s a part of me thinking perhaps this could be signalling the end of the game, as Call of Cthulhu went to a similarly concentrated release schedule of deluxe boxes only before it folded. But even if that were to happen, I think I’m pretty confident that this game has got enough content and playability in the existing cycles that I’ll be playing it for years to come!

Speaking of playing with old stuff, I suppose Lord of the Rings can now be counted as an older game that has finished! I’ve recently had some time to have a few games with this old favourite, playing the first three scenarios in the Angmar Awakened cycle. I was initially planning this for Christmastime, of course, but better late than never, I suppose!! I’ll post something next month going over these, anyway!

June has been pretty much all about rediscovering Magic the Gathering, after I’d found some cards in the attic that I have no real memory of buying! I’ve written a couple of posts where I’ve caught up with the recent sets, here and here, though I’m still trying to be a little circumspect with it, not flying off the deep end with buying cards left and right! I’ve got a couple of deck ideas that I want to share, too, so stay tuned for more on that front!!

However, the biggest game news from June came from Necromunda, when I was finally able to play a real game with James, my Delaque vs his Orlocks. That was a lot of fun – I knew I’d enjoy it, having previously solo played the game at the back end of 2020, but it was a whole load of fun with another person, and we’re planning to get more games and hopefully a campaign in once Freya is settled and the kids are sleeping through the night!

As a consequence, I’ve picked up the new Hive War box set! I knew I wanted more Delaque models anyway, and after playing with the zone mortalis stuff, I think it was clear that the Dark Uprising stuff, while excellent, wasn’t going to be enough for a 3×2 board. The cost of more Delaque and more terrain would be around the £58 mark at my local store, where I could also pick up Hive War for £71, netting me more Escher for just £13, as well as the new book and stuff. So that was pretty much a no-brainer, I thought!

The set is actually quite nice as a starting set, coming with enough terrain to play some games, but I’m pretty sure that even GW themselves tell you it’s only intended as a starting point, and you will get more out of it with more terrain. Which is fine, after all! The rule book, specific to this box, has got the basic rules in it, as well as some “starter” gang rules for all six House gangs, allowing you to build a gang using the box only and these rules. It feels pared-back, but this is the point of this box, remember!

When the Hive War box came out, we also had plastic weapon upgrades for Escher and Goliath (the original two gangs, remember), which seem to be a blend of weapons from the Forge World weapons kits for both gangs. I’m really hoping that, when House of Shadows comes out soon, we’ll also have plastic upgrades for Delaque, so I’m holding off from building too many more gangers for the time being! As I mentioned at the start of the week, though, I’ve started to poke my nose into House Escher, so I could well be making a move there in the coming weeks!

I feel like Necromunda is in a very exciting place right now, as we’re poised on that brink of “what’s next?” once the Delaque get their book.

That pretty much sums things up for now, anyway! I’m hoping that I can do a proper catch-up of the hobby goals sometime in early July – I had planned a mid-point check in for this blog, but I think I’m running a bit long here already. But stay tuned for that!

Star Wars: Master & Apprentice (a review)

Hey everybody,
It’s time to catch up with some book reviews! It’s been a few weeks now since I finished reading Claudia Gray’s prequel-era novel, Master & Apprentice, so let’s take a look between the covers and see what it’s all about!

The book is set roughly eight years prior to The Phantom Menace, based on Obi-Wan’s age of 17 when the novel begins. The book is very much an Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon adventure, borne out of Claudia Gray’s wish to write about the Jedi Master, although we do get quite a few flashbacks into Qui-Gon’s youth at the Jedi Temple, and so we also get to see Dooku in his Jedi prime!

It all starts on Teth, where Qui-Gon is investigating some criminal activity involving the Hutts. Along the way, we see that he has a fairly difficult relationship with his padawan, Obi-Wan. Upon returning to Coruscant, Qui-Gon is offered a post on the Jedi Council, and decides to take some time to deliberate upon it. Meanwhile, he is dispatched to Pijal at the express request of another of Dooku’s former padawans, Rael Averross.

Averross has been acting as regent of Pijal while the crown princess comes of age, and with the announcement of a new hyperspace corridor running through the system that would increase trade, things on the planet are becoming heated. The Czerka Corporation has a significant presence there, also, meaning that corporate greed is playing a healthy part in the political situation. Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan investigate some terrorist activity that is threatening the upcoming coronation of Princess Fanry, during which time Qui-Gon receives troubling visions of a possible future. At the coronation, Fanry is expected to sign over much of her sovereign power to Czerka, in a treaty that was partly negotiated by Averross in an effort to bring Pijal into the wider galactic community. Fanry, it turns out, has other ideas, and leads something of a revolution against Czerka’s authority. She is only brought to justice when her confidance later rebel against her, too, allowing the Jedi to bring the conflict to a somewhat peaceful conclusion.

Qui-Gon turns down the offer to join the Council, choosing instead to continue his tutelage of Obi-Wan.

Where to begin.

I really wanted to enjoy this book. Disney hasn’t really spent a lot of time or effort on the prequel era, so I thought it was interesting to get a book featuring such a prominent character as Qui-Gon. I had also seen some comment on the SW facebook group I’m in that mentioned how the book delves into the whole issue of Jedi prophecy. So I was excited!

We do get to learn something of Qui-Gon’s history with the prophecies, which goes some way to explaining his belief in Anakin in Episode I. I wouldn’t say that it felt shoe-horned into the book, but it didn’t seem to feel quite in the right place, unfortunately – seeing so much of the book in flashback felt a bit jarring, to me, and I found myself wishing that it had been handled a little differently.

Something else that I wish has been handled differently was the relationship between Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan. Some of it seems to be put down to the fact that Dooku was a little stand-offish as a Master, and I thought it was an interesting point that Jedi apprentices have something like regular school, and come “home” to their Masters. I suppose I just thought the Master/Apprentice relationship was firmly exclusive once a padawan was placed. But no!

Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan seem to have the kind of relationship that a father has with a child whom he does not properly understand. Qui-Gon was forever worrying that he wasn’t doing right by Obi-Wan, while Obi-Wan was forever worrying that Qui-Gon meant to abandon him and felt like he had been held back in some aspects of his training. It all felt a little bit too much – like, this wasn’t the relationship that I wanted to see them have! So that was a bit sad. I did understand where a lot of those emotions were coming from, and it was well-written in that I could really imagine this would be how two humans in this situation would react. It all seemed to stem from Qui-Gon’s offer of a place on the Council, and I was a bit flummoxed as to why that would even come to pass. Was it meant solely to pay service to Obi-Wan’s line in Episode I? Hm.

At least there are eight more years’ worth of stories that can be told with the two of them improving their relationship and working more on the same team.

I thought it was weird that the sort of major plot point was all about opening up a hyperspace corridor, like the galaxy is still being explored. I mean, Light of the Jedi is only about 200 years before this book, and that novel seemed to show the galaxy as a big fumble in the dark. But by the time of TPM, people are merrily jetting about like it’s no big deal? Odd.

Rael Averross is depicted as a Jedi Knight who has gone native, and is depicted as a fairly interesting opposite to Qui-Gon. The fact that he sleeps around and takes drugs aside, I did find him irritating after a while – if he weren’t meant to be a Jedi, I think I’d be fine with him. But he is, and has been wallowing in self-pity after blaming himself for getting his padawan killed. His assignment to Pijal is seen as something of a remedy for that self-pity, in that he is given Fanry to replace Nim Pianna. That whole situation seemed to contrived and far too weird, but the fact that it served as a significant plot hook did begin to grate after a while.

Oh yeah, and Dooku has already left the Order? I thought it was canon that he had left when Qui-Gon was killed, but maybe I’m getting confused.

The book is definitely interesting, and definitely worth a read. I think I found it far too disappointing that Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan were constantly either treading on eggshells or else being passive-aggressive to each other, and Rael Averross was far too irritating and unsympathetic as a character – two points that eventually pulled my enjoyment of the book down. A somewhat minor point, but it also read a bit more like the sort of YA fiction along the lines of Lost Stars, rather than the more regular adult fiction such as Bloodline. Which is a shame, though I suppose I could be taking this far too seriously!

It’s okay, I guess, but it’s not brilliant. I think it possibly suffers quite a bit from being the next book that I read after Light of the Jedi, though. That book was really good…