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A novel by Jude Watson (2001, Scholastic Paperbacks)
Book 15 of the Jedi Apprentice
42 years before and Star Wars: A New Hope

Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan follow the trail of a kidnapped Jedi, learning how close this world is to another revolution.



3 stars

Read January 12th to 13th, 2004  
    Rather unexciting until the end, but with enough good characterization that it was fairly enjoyable, nonetheless.

This was a chase story, plain and simple. There were no big plot twists, and at least one that I had expected. I still wonder if there is another twist concerning the twins in this "trilogy", because of the way the "bad" twin helps them out, offering a way for Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan to track Balog, the kidnapper.

Of course, Eritha comes right out and says that her sister is behind the kidnapping, and the power grab, but I don't know if I entirely believe her. She seemed pretty sincere in her emotions, especially about Tahl, yet she did manage to track them very easily (possibly knowing their destination), and to escape from the Absolutes at the end without reason. I can't see a motivation for her to do any of that, though. Perhaps her loyalties are torn, because she really does like Tahl.

The plot was rather simplistic, and the only way it became substantial in any way was to diverge from its stated premise. I find it unlikely that Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan could find a few slightly burned rocks in a trail that could be hundreds of meters wide, or more. However, they do it several times over the course of the book. One reason that I am suspicious of Eritha is because she managed to track the Jedi more easily than they tracked Balog.

Every delay that they create, whether to rest, wait for the tracking droid, circle around to find their pursuer, or tend to Obi-Wan's broken leg, means that Tahl might have less chance to live, but it also makes the story better. Qui-Gon knows that any delay could cost Tahl's life, but he is torn between his heart and his duty as a Jedi. I suppose this is the type of conflict that George Lucas wanted to avoid by revealing the forbidden nature of love among Jedi during Attack of the Clones. The Jedi might get a poor reputation of taking care of their loves before the public. By the time of Attack of the Clones, however, that reputation must already be sorely tarnished, as they risked a fifth of their order to save two Jedi and a Senator. In fact, a lot of Jedi were killed in that battle, and as Mace Windu says in Shatterpoint, I hope Anakin was worth it. My point is that they took care of their own before their responsibility to the rest of the galaxy.

That's beside the point here, though, because Qui-Gon is a very good Jedi, and he honors his duty above his heart. After abandoning Obi-Wan and the miners to the raid by the Absolutes, he circles back to help them. The best part of the book, as far as I'm concerned, was that moment, and the discussion that preceded it. Obi-Wan takes on the role of the responsible adult here, pointing out to his Master that their duty to the public is first and foremost to their very essence as Jedi.

Obi-Wan gets in a lot of good moments in this book, because Qui-Gon is so very distracted by his love for Tahl. Even during the otherwise monotonous tracking through an endless desert, Obi-Wan's thoughts go to his master. At one point the author mentions specifically that the two have changed roles, which I didn't find necessary, but it is true, and I like it a lot.

Obi-Wan is using his master's lessons against him, forcing Qui-Gon to focus. When Qui-Gon is finally brought back to the present, time and again, he manages to teach Obi-Wan some more, different lessons of skill and compassion. But Obi-Wan gets to take on the role of caretaker and concerned friend to Qui-Gon, worrying that his master isn't taking care of himself, not sleeping, and so on.

For Qui-Gon's part, some of my favorite parts of the book dealt with his past relationship with Tahl, through flashbacks. Each flashback goes father back in time, and in each one, we see how they can pick up where they left off, how good friends they were, even when they hadn't seen each other for years. We get a discussion where Tahl doesn't think Xanatos is the right Padawan for Qui-Gon, or a battle before the masters when they were still too young to be Padawans (like the one that Obi-Wan fought way back in The Rising Force), and finally the day they became friends, over a competition that Tahl won climbing a sheer rock face (and I'm sure that Yoda knew they were there, even if they thought they avoided him!).

So it is aching for Qui-Gon to delay, even for the duty of a Jedi, even to mend his Padawan's injured leg. They spent the night with the miners, and then came back to it after a slaughter when one of the miners comes looking for their help. This is probably the most gruesome scene in this series to date, as the Absolutes left nobody alive, not even the helpless children. I don't see any reason for this, except to make them even meaner than they were already.

Qui-Gon's decision to return to help the miners was fortuitous, though, because he finds traces of soil from boot prints, which leads them directly to the caves where the Absolutes were headquartered. Who knows how long it would have taken, otherwise.

Infiltrating the caves, they set up a distraction by blowing up a bunch of corridors, and watch as Balog shows up and races to Tahl. She is near death as they rescue her, but Balog escapes. Once again, I must complain that Obi-Wan could have dealt with the situation better if Qui-Gon hadn't called him away. We could have made this Obi-Wan's first kill, and it could have led to many more stories, where Qui-Gon, bent as he is on revenge at the end of the book, wanted Balog brought to justice himself. It also would have prevented the flooding of the caves, as the escape door never would have been opened.

However, they manage to escape, as the caves had been evacuated after the explosions, and after Balog set off the rest of the explosives, effectively destroying the caves. It turns out that Balog was looking for a list of informers, of which he had been a part, before the Absolutes were abolished. He thought Tahl had it.

As I mentioned in The Ties that Bind, I find it strange that the governing Assembly could name successors to the leaders unilaterally. As leadership changed, the people should have been given a voice to decide if they approved, even if they didn't vote for an entirely new government. This planet appears to have a throne, instead of an assembly. To have one of the twins, Alani, not even an elected official, try to wriggle her way into the role of leader doesn't make sense.

This is another reason I think Eritha is lying. I believe she is the bad sister, and that Alani is the good one. Tahl even says that Alani is the one who found her a way to infiltrate the Absolutes. Alani was also the one who had connections with the Worker underground. I see a pattern here...

The ending of the book was quite tender, as Tahl dies on the hospital bed. Qui-Gon's anguish is clear, and Obi-Wan, I think, finally realizes what has driven his master for the last few days. I think there is a parallel at this point to a moment earlier in the book, when one of the miners found her lover dead on the road, killed by the attack of the Absolutes, while she was away trying to get help from the Jedi. She was too late to help him, just as Qui-Gon was too late to help Tahl. I hope he doesn't blame Obi-Wan or the miners, because I don't think the delays are what caused Tahl's death. Even if they had caught up with Balog in the desert, I don't think she would have survived, because of the inhibitors injected into her system, and the isolation suit she was wearing.

On an unrelated note, I can't figure out where the artist was inspired to draw the cover for this book. At no point do we see Tahl standing up on her own (and I'm pretty sure that's Tahl in the distance). Nor do we encounter a tunnel such as that one.

Regardless, the book was once again well written, and I enjoyed the character moments, but it barely moved the plot forward. The next book should be interesting, as we see how the Jedi deal with revenge, from an individual perspective (Qui-Gon's), and from the outside. I just hope Qui-Gon's brush with the Dark Side can be resolved in the books that we have left in this series. 


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