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!!