Very slow, often annoying, this book had a meandering plot, and seemed very
unfocused. Still, the joy the author feels at showing us continuity
pervades the novel, and some of the setup for The Phantom Menace actually seems
to be worth it.
I don't know if it is the author's style, but I found this
book very annoying. Not as annoying as what he wrote in
Hero's Trial or
Jedi Eclipse, but almost. It is certainly not the cerebral nature of the
book, or all the politics. Political intrigue really interests me.
Check out the Babylon 5 TV series for political intrigue. In fantasy,
The Mageborn Traitor is fantastic. In science fiction, look at
Pride by Timothy Zahn. In Star Wars itself, we have the wonderfully
political Black Fleet Crisis. Maneuverings can be subtle and still
be meaningful. Here, they were passionless, and I thought the characters kept
talking for no reason at all except to give elaborate and empty speeches.
I think one of the problems with the Prequel books, which also plagues the
New Jedi Order to a certain extent, is the idea that we have to follow a vast,
sweeping story that progresses across the galaxy, and has galactic consequences.
Instead of focusing on a small group of characters, like the Han-Luke-Leia trio,
or Wedge and Rogue Squadron, we get dozens of senators, the Chancellor, another
dozen Jedi, and a few members of the terrorist organization Nebula Front.
And I didn't really grow to care about any of them. The author didn't draw me
One problem specific to this author is that he seems to think himself quite
clever. He fits in so many references to people, characters, places,
events, and so on, that we know of from other books. The references are
not subtle, and are often jarring. I did appreciate being shown how Sate
Pestage was a member of Palpatine's entourage way before he became Emperor, but
I wonder if that is likely. It seems to me that the Emperor's trusted
aides would be periodically "refreshed" (or flushed, for lack of a better
word...), to keep them from getting the upper hand
by knowing too much. We get to meet the original Jorus C'boath (who was
cloned for Heir to the Empire), the Jedi apprentice Vergere, who would appear in
the terrible Rogue Planet and later in Luceno's other Star Wars novel,
Trial. Tarkin shows up here, and we see that he is probably already in
league with Sidious in the way he hampers investigations at the end. We
also get to see Master Bondara at work, just months before he battles Darth Maul
to the death in Shadow Hunter. Here,
Qui-Gon describes him as the best duelist among the Jedi. Judging by what
happened between him and Maul, I sincerely doubt that. I
am sure there are several other cameos, as well.
The plot of the book focuses on three items, mainly. One is the hunt by
Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan for the terrorists, led by Captain Cohl, who I take it is
supposed to be a Han Solo type of person, but misguided. He was also very
boring to read about. I never got to care about him, not when he was a
terrorist, not when he was betrayed, and not when either he or his girlfriend
were shot. Good riddance, I said, every time I thought he had been killed.
The second plot is the proposed taxation of the free trade zones in the outer
rim of the galaxy. This is where the politics come into play, and I found
my eyes glazing over whenever somebody started to make a big speech. The
third plot concerns the Jedi as a whole, as they are tricked into several traps
in order for the Nebula Front to try and pull off an assassination.
My biggest concern here is that everything happens in the space of one book!
Every single thing that is setup for The Phantom Menace occurs here. Why?
Taxation seems to have been the main motive of the book. Fine. Why
do we have to see the "baseless accusations of corruption" that plagues Valorum's office here,
too? Couldn't they have been separate issues? And Qui-Gon disobeying
a Jedi Council order comes as a result of the same plot! Thus Obi-Wan's
line in the movie that his master should have been on the Council. The
Trade Federation also gets its droid army here, and they enter into their
agreement with Darth Sidious. Then we tack on the scandal and suspicious
death of King Varuna of Naboo, who is replaced by Queen Amidala in addition to
all the rest! It would have been much more interesting if
all these things had not been interconnected. Give us half a dozen books
showing the separate deed and effects. Setting the stage does not mean
that the author has to give us the background of every single throwaway line in
the movie! Although this author seems to think so. By giving us so
much, each one was diminished. What the author is saying that if Palpatine
had not proposed the idea of taxing the trade routes, none of this would
have happened... not a single one. I have a lot of trouble with that.
In the first plot, Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan managed to follow Cohl as he
infiltrated a Trade Federation cargo vessel. They affixed a tracking
device to his ship and followed when he evacuated the ship. Cohl destroyed
the freighter, and managed to defeat the sensor. But how could the Jedi be
so stupid? If they wanted to find the hidden Nebula Front base, why did
they reveal themselves? Obi-Wan kept a fixed speed and distance relative
to Cohl's ship. As if that wouldn't seem suspicious? And when Cohl
reveals his shuttle, what does Qui-Gon do? He reveals his own shuttle!
I suppose it would have been much too simple to remain hidden, thereby not
tipping off Cohl. Cohl would have followed his original plan, rendezvoused
with his ship and gone home to the base. The Jedi would have followed, and
the book would have been mercifully shorter. The whole sequence didn't
make sense. Instead, they see Cohl's ship destroyed in the explosion of
the Trade Federation freighter. Qui-Gon knows that the man is not dead,
though, and the Jedi Council mocks him about it for half the book.
In the political arena, the Trade Federation is complaining about the
depredations of the Nebula Front, and wants more protection. Palpatine
argues that the Trade Federation be allowed to expand its defence forces in
compensation for an increased taxation scheme that they plan to apply in order
to weaken the Trade Federation. Huh? Anyway, Valorum faces a large
challenge in passing the taxation bill, and the senators argue over the merits
and downsides to everything.
I didn't like the way we got inside Palpatine's head here. The way the
author presents everything is completely misleading. We only get half of Palpatine's thoughts, and that is not fair, when we get the full thoughts of
everybody else. Obviously, while we get to share his pleasant thoughts,
regarding Valorum and the fate of the Republic, we never get his darker
thoughts. For the couple of individuals who don't know that Palpatine
becomes the Emperor, I suppose this saves the revelation for later. But
since we do know who this person is, we also know that he is reveling in the things
that are happening. All of his discussions are pure babble. He goes
on and on, talking about how the taxation of the free trade zones would affect
and not affect the galaxy. The author is trying to show us how he is
playing everybody as puppets, but it is not successful.
Valorum agrees to hold a summit on the planet Eriadu, at Palpatine's
suggestion. He is the victim of an attempted assassination. The
assassins are traced back to the planet Asmeru, where seven Jedi are sent to
deal with the militant wing of the Nebula Front. It is, of course, a trap,
since I am sure Sidious/Palpatine alerted the terrorist group. The Jedi are
captured, but escape with the help of a native population. The action
scenes where they battle the terrorists are so monotonously written that the
whole chapter was boring. The narrative is typical of the way most of this
book is written, with lines like "seven lightsabers were extinguished".
Shortly after that, "seven lightsabers were relit." The author could not
have been more dispassionate than that! In any case, the Jedi win the
fight, with help from the uprising of the natives and a Jedi star fighter that
was dispatched from Eriadu for the rescue.
For some reason, though, the Jedi who were pulled from Eriadu go back to the
Jedi temple instead of returning to the site of the summit! The Nebula
Front hoped to keep the Jedi distracted, but only half the force was lured away.
Even Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan managed to get back to Eriadu before the start of the
summit, and they went hopping across the sector in search of Cohl. What
did the Nebula Front gain? The entire timeline of events is screwed up
here. Yoda hears of the capture of the Jedi at Asmeru, including video
feed from their escorts, and by the time the captives have escaped -overnight-
and nearly finished the battle, the Jedi have had time to get to a ship, leave
Eriadu, travel to Asmeru, navigate the minefield and perform the rescue.
There are also so many contradictions in this book. They are small
enough that they appear minor, but they also occur often enough to prove very
annoying! For example, the Jedi Council met with 11 members, explicitly
stated, Adi Gallia
being away on Eriadu. Ki Adi Mundi, Council member, then walks into the
meeting. That would give the Council 13 members, but we know they only
have 12. There are many, many such instances scattered through the book.
On Eriadu, Cohl and his girlfriend, reluctant member of the mission, are
killed. Or so it seemed. Cohl takes a blaster shot to the chest,
shoulder and forehead, and only ends up with a headache. If stormtrooper
armor can't deflect blaster shots, why did Cohl's "armored" underwear?
Rella is killed, but Boiny, the Rodian, also survives a blaster wound.
They go after the head of Nebula Front, Havac. They know he has smuggled a
battle droid into the Trade Federation honor guard, and plans to use it to kill Valorum. Through Havac's treachery, the Jedi find Cohl's ship, and
discover what his hired help was sent to do. They were meant to watch the
four roadways leading to the convention center, and tell Havac which entrance
was being used. The logic in this escapes me, even if was a setup.
Even mindless thugs should have figured out the meaningless act of watching the
approach-ways, when they were told that nothing would happen until Valorum was
seat, not on the approach-way. And even that "distraction" for the Jedi and police didn't last long
enough to do any good. Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan quelled the disturbance, got
inside the convention center, and were able to kill the terrorists before first
signal was even sent.
Since Cohl survived the attack on his life at point blank range, he is after
Havac for revenge now. He seems to make the ultimate sacrifice in killing
Havac after Havac dealt him a fatal blow. But when did he grow that
conscience? At one point, he argues against alerting the authorities and
the Jedi, but when it comes down to Havac turning on the transmitter, Cohl is
interested in saving the Trade Federation delegates? Why?
Qui-Gon and the other Jedi had to be pretty pretty sloppy -or very naive-
for the events in this book to work. Every time somebody tells the truth,
the Jedi can sense it. However, every time they are lied to, they don't
notice! The man who tried to lead the Jedi on a wild-goose-chase after Asmeru got away with it for a short time, and it was only because of luck that
he was caught. Cohl's thugs lied to the Jedi about not knowing anything
about the attack on Valorum, and nobody tried to use a mind trick on them?
And Havac tells Qui-Gon that the droid transmitter is on the sniper and is
believed, when the transmitter was actually in the same room with them?
Very sloppy work.
The part where Cohl and the others were able to sneak down onto the planet
also felt false. Rella commandeered an entire customs ship without anybody
else knowing about it? Surely the customs agents knew that Valorum's life
was at stake, and that the Nebula Front would try to sneak into the conference
area. Cohl's group would have failed if the customs agent had sacrificed
herself, like she was supposed to do as part of her job of protecting the
planet. But I guess she was just a flawed person, and I can't fault her
for that. It just seemed like she didn't do anything a proper customs
But the thing that gets me the most is the fact that if Havac hadn't hired
Cohl for that job, he could have succeeded and survived, without anybody being
the wiser. All he needed was a sniper on the upper level. The sniper
didn't attract any attention at all until Qui-Gon arrived (and the Rodian died a
silly death). The others, from Cohl himself to the spotters around the
conference center, all attracted attention to the fact that something was going
on, and made the Jedi more suspicious. If he had simply hired the sniper,
the Jedi wouldn't even have been present.
The big twist, which is supposed to make us think this book is a work of genius, is
that Havac and Sidious were not after Valorum after all! They wanted the
Trade Federation to raise their force field so that the modified battle droid
could turn around and slaughter the Trade Federation directorate, which it did.
A message from Darth Sidious pulled Nute Gunray from the area just
moments before the shooting started, however. The ironic thing about this
is that it was Qui-Gon's assault on the sniper that caused the events to be set
in motion. Thus the Jedi are now forbidden to intervene in trade disputes
in the future. Huh? I can see the reasoning, but exactly what kind
of relationship does the Jedi Council have with the Senate? What do the
Jedi do? It seems that they only act when asked by the Senate, and the
rest of the time, they sit around and meditate. Sounds like a dull
The final part of the book seems tacked on in hindsight. Valorum has to
be enmeshed in scandal by the time the movie opens, so some physical money that
was taken from the Trade Federation freighter at the beginning by Cohl ends up
in a blind account which invests in Valorum shipping, owned by some of his
relatives. The courts find him not guilty, I think, but the appearance of
the conflict of interest cripples him, putting him ready for impeachment by
Queen Amidala. Yawn...
From the beginning of the book, I began to wonder why we needed an
introduction to Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan, and the others. It is as if this is
the first time we've ever met these people, and they get a very dry description
of who they are, and what they represent. Typically, even in the
Adventures, we didn't get such a description. I don't understand it.
We know these people -that's why we are reading the book in the first place.
Not because of the author (in fact, I would try to avoid him in the future), but
because the Star Wars label graces the cover. He goes on at the beginning
of every other chapter with a short introductory passage. In a movie, it
would be like seeing the planet from orbit, or cruising over the city until we
come to our characters. Here, though, it was very distracting, especially
after visiting the planet for the third time.
The book was very unfocused, weaving its way through murky plot points.
It gave us too much description of incidental things, irrelevant backgrounds,
and way too many people (along with their history). I felt like we were
stopping the story, near the beginning, every time we met with some new character,
even very minor ones. Every time a character made a speech, or was
entrenched in a dialog, it was as if the author was holding up a big sign,
saying "look! Setup for Episode I!"
I've done a lot of complaining about this book, but I found that I didn't
dislike it as much as some others, like Hero's Trial and
Rogue Planet. One
reason, I think, is the character of Obi-Wan. Even though he simply reacts
to a lot of the things that are being said, he is very much in character.
His humor is in the forefront. In The Phantom Menace, he tells his master
that "the negotiations were short!" Here, he expresses his dry wit again,
by mentioning, as they were about to crash into a lake, how he thought Qui-Gon
was being metaphorical about getting wet! I also enjoyed some of the
continuity that was shown, especially with other books. Even though Nute
Gunray had only a cameo here, combined with the appearances he has in the other
prequel stories like Shadow Hunter, it almost makes up a story of its own.
I am ready to put this author in the same category as Kevin J. Anderson, whom
I started to loathe by the time Darksaber came out. Although that author
had good stories to tell, he told them with a terrible style. In an
interview, he once said that he writes in a single draft. Unfortunately, I
can tell. Isaac Asimov said he did the same thing. He could get away
with that -Anderson could not. But at least he had good stories to tell.
This author wanders, with barely a thought to what comes next. The stories
do not seem well planned, the plots very simple, and I hate his writing style. And
that is perhaps the problem.
I found it lacking passion, written in "monotone", almost robotic. Political thrillers and machinations must be done skillfully in order to be
successful. This was certainly not the case here.
After rereading this review, I think maybe I should bring the rating down
another notch! But I think I'll let it squeak by, just barely.