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A novel by Paul S. Kemp (2010, Del Rey)
The Old Republic, book 2
Set 3520 years before Star Wars: A New Hope

After a stunning attack on Coruscant, a Sith master feels betrayed by his leaders, while a rogue Jedi goes searching for the Sith who killed her master.



Read July 31st to August 6th, 2014, in paperback  
    A very easy read, and one of the best representations of the Dark Side point of view I've read. The evil character was unapologetic, but recognizes his own weakness, while I wondered how far the light-side character would go down the dark path. A very enjoyable character story.

Full spoiler review:

I must admit that I have not really enjoyed the stories dealing with a Sith-controlled part of the galaxy, nor stories where the main characters spiral down the dark path, usually knowing what they are doing and not caring. The only story I can recall enjoying from a Dark Side perspective is the first Darth Bane novel, Path of Destruction.

Compared with other Old Republic novels, like Knight Errant and Fatal Alliance, very little actually occurs in this book, but what does occur has great significance. There are only three main characters, who seem to know each other (either from Revan or a short story published somewhere else). Unfortunately, this makes the story seem to exist in a void, as I have not read about the Battle of Alderaan (I'll learn more if this takes place in Revan), and Darth Malgus isn't mentioned in Fatal Alliance, which doesn't take place too much later. Does this mean that he failed in his mission to rise to the top of the Empire? The story is missing some closure, if so. But maybe he's still plotting during that future story, and we'll learn more in the fourth story. This story revolves around the concept of revenge, and the existence of the Sith. As with the previous books, however, the main focus is of a Jedi who flirts with the Dark Side as well as attachment, and a Sith who recognizes that love is necessary to his existence -but he also recognizes that wanting love means also wanting a peace of sorts, and that goes counter to his beliefs as a Sith.

The other Sith don't have a problem with the dichotomy in their society. While Malgus believes the Sith must have war, in order to remain sharp and maintain their skills, the other Sith enjoy waging war, then returning to their grand palaces, hoarding their possessions, and living their luxury - without being disturbed (in other words, in peace).

So Malgus approves of what he thinks of as a ruse of a treaty, sending a delegation to Alderaan to negotiate peace with the Republic, which presumably divides the galaxy into pieces, Republic and Empire, in which Kerra Holt finds herself even 3500 years later. He thinks Coruscant is going to burn, but they only destroy the Jedi Temple and scorch a small amount of the surface, before trying to restore order. He suddenly realizes that the Empire plans to give back Coruscant, and just invaded to give themselves more leverage during the negotiations. This is where his part of the book title comes in. The opening scenes, where Malgus strides into the Temple, then has a drop ship smash into the main atrium and unleash dozens more Sith, was impressive, but it also characteristic of these books, in which the characters seem to be able to do anything at the beginning, but are more limited near the end, just to make an impression on the readers or viewers. Malgus kills Jedi Master Zallow after the Jedi makes a fatal error.

I don't think Alderaan is too far away, but Aryn Leener feels her master's death, as I guess any Padawan would. Having fought in the battle of Alderaan and taken in the pain of so many soldiers (being some sort of empath), she seems to be more likely to have trouble controlling her temper. She flies into a rage against the Sith of the peace delegation, but is fortunately stopped (by future leader of the Jedi Council, Setele) before killing anyone. The outcome of the talks will end up in the Treaty of Coruscant, referred to often in Fatal Alliance.

Aryn decides that she can't contain her rage, and thinks the only thing that can sate it is revenge for her master, by killing the Sith who killed him. So she leaves Alderaan, and makes her way to Coruscant by way of a friend she knew who had been in the Republic army years ago.

It's fortunate for her (or the will of the Force) that Zeerid is back on his home planet, or that he decided to settle there at all. When Zeerid left the army, he tried to provide for his young daughter Arra (this novel uses characters from the two ends of the alphabet), but he couldn't make ends meet, as she lost her legs in an accident that also killed her mother. So he joined The Exchange, but with the medical bills, he still couldn't make ends meet. The jobs are pretty much all illegal, and very dangerous. He is nearly killed in the opening chapter of the book, and makes his way home after that, further in debt because some of his shipment was destroyed when he was ambushed. His next shipment is engspice, engineered for addiction, and the Hutts don't want it to arrive, so they send the ex-Imperial military man Vrath to ensure it doesn't get there.

Aryn helps Zeerid get away, and they go to Coruscant together, but Vrath arrives before they do, and tells Darth Malgus of their impending arrival, so his blockade spends more time inspecting arriving vessels, and he finds them hiding as the Millennium Falcon did in The Empire Strikes Back. The ship is destroyed, but Aryn uses the Force to slow her and Zeerid's rate of descent from fifty kilometers up, so they can land safely (pretty cool, I think). They make their way to the Jedi Temple, where they view the security recordings of the attack, and Aryn recognizes the face of Darth Malgus. As Zeerid searches for a way off-planet again, Aryn returns to the Temple in a less secret way, and battles Malgus, until Zeerid realizes where she's gone, and goes back to take her away.

Malgus, in the meantime, has been frowned upon by his fellow Darths. One his own rank (Darth Adraas) and his superior (Darth Angral) don't think his philosophy is correct, and especially mock him for being lover to his slave Eleena, the Twi'lek who is very proficient with her blasters. His rage builds throughout the book, and he disobeys orders to go and fight Aryn at the Temple.

But he does realize that his love for Eleena is a weakness, and chases after Aryn when he realizes she will go search out his companion and make her suffer to get back at him. I wasn't sure how Aryn was going to get out of this, because she had that intent, at first. But when she actually encountered Eleena, stood over her with lightsaber drawn in anger, she felt pity, and started to feel the light side of the Force again within her.

Zeerid escapes on Vrath's ship, not realizing that Vrath was on board, fights him, and eventually throws him out the airlock, because he knows the secret of Zeerid's daughter, and knows Zeerid is still alive, when The Exchange must believe his ship was shot down trying to get to the surface of Coruscant.  I didn't expect this, but he is prepared to live with that murder, if it keeps his family safe.

Aryn, for her part, faces off against Darth Malgus again, in a fierce battle where she uses the Light instead of her anger. But Malgus is stronger, and knocks her down. I have trouble believing that the Dark Side is stronger, as the battles in this book seem to imply. In this case, I am content to believe that Malgus trains more, so he has sharper reflexes. But he doesn't kill Aryn, because she didn't kill Eleena, then lets her go.

I wondered what this would do to Malgus; it seemed strange, but he was in a strange mood. He realized his dependence on love, so he killed Eleena himself, both to save her from more pain at his side, and to eliminate his weakness. I really liked the way he recognized that the Dark Side has a price, but that he was willing to pay it. Then he vows to destroy the Jedi, because they present the same kind of weakness to the Sith. His last part in the book is an infiltration of Adraas' estate to kill the Sith. I would expect a follow-up story to show how he worked his way up the Darths, to become Emperor himself, but as I mentioned, the next story in the series doesn't even mention him...

And as for Aryn and Zeener, she finds him because of a comment he made about becoming a farmer on Dantooine, and she shows up on his farm. Due to the experiences they shared, or his concern for her, or both, they've been drawn to each other, and have inadvertently fallen in love. Arra, who has received new legs in the time since, likes the idea.

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