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A novel by John Jackson Miller (2011, Del Rey)
1032 years before Star Wars: A New Hope

Stuck alone in Sith-controlled space, one young Jedi tries to destabilize the local warlords.



3+ stars

Read February 18th to 27th, 2012  
    This novel reads like three short stories put together. They are linked by the three main characters, but the plots are either too easily resolved or left hanging for too long. It might have been the writing style, but I had a lot of trouble getting into this one. By the time I was interested in the story, the action and the characters, the book was suddenly over.

Spoiler review:

This novel is set during a time of a Sith resurgence, when they controlled a large part of the outer rim of the galaxy and the Republic had been forced to abandon that area. It take place only a few decades before Jedi vs. Sith, and Darth Bane, when Sith lords were plentiful. Fortunately, they could never get their acts together to destroy the republic, since by definition, each Sith lord wants to be top dog.

Kerra Holt has been in Sith space for a while, judging by the fact that she's sent over 60000 people to safety, a number I find hard to believe. The digital edition of this book also contains the first installment of the Knight Errant comic, which apparently chronicles her first mission into Sith space -her first mission as a Jedi Knight. This mission ended in a complete failure, as all of her fellow Jedi perished, and she was somehow left alone, with no way to get out.

The Republic has severed its communications network in the outer rim, so very few people even know the hyperspace routes to get from Sith space back to the Republic -Kerra doesn't, which makes me wonder how she sent so many people to safety, when the only real safety that exists is back in the Republic.

The first short story takes place in Lord Daiman's space, a Sith Lord who thinks he created everything, even the memories people have from before he was born. Kerra is tutoring a young Sullustan girl while she goes about destroying Daiman's regime, piece by piece. Only we are not privy to what exactly she's done before this story, and she doesn't actually do anything throughout the story. The lives she sees in Sith space are of people who do what they can, and try to make things better for their children. That's why, when an academy from another Sith Lord comes calling, the Sullustan father is sad but thrilled that his child might get away, and live a life not as hard as his, even if she will be optimized (and bored) by doing one single task for the rest of her life.

Kerra has many chances to try and kill Daiman, but never quite does so. Something is always in the way or happens. She breaks into his huge palace, and even finds him, but does more reconnaissance than attacking. And then she doesn't attack. Finding out his plans to lure his brother Odion, she stows away on board his ship, but never finds him there. Finally, on the planet where Daiman has brought his mercenaries and his newly-purchases academy, and over a thousand students to populate that academy, she sees Odion attack. She has the chance on that planet to kill Daiman, too, but inexplicably doesn't even go inside his tent. She sees her young student among the academy crowd, being used as bait, and rushes to the rescue. As a giant machine of destruction devours the mobile academy and many people, including hundreds of mercenaries, Kerra guides all the student refugees to one of the mercenary ships.

This mercenary, Rusher, is another character whose point of view we get to witness. He works often for various Sith Lords, quoting some precedent some other mercenary set among the Sith Lords. He also gets to witness Daiman's plans for the university, and is on the verge of death when he questions Daiman, Lord of Creation's plans. But he does take the job (not that he has a choice), and sets up along the crater rim on the planet where the trap will be sprung. He loses enough people that he actually has room for the refugees at the end of this story.

The third point-of-view character is Narsk, a Bothan spy whose true loyalty is unknown until the end of the book. He claims to work for Odion, then Arkadia, but only later we learn that he actually works for the matriarch, grandmother of so many of these Sith Lords. He destroys an advanced fighter prototype of Daiman's, but is then chased halfway across the city by Kerra, which is actually our introduction to her character. She takes his stealth suit, and uses it to some effect when stowing away on Daiman's ship. Narsk, for his part, is captured, and brought to Daiman himself, who searches through the Bothan's mind for the reasons why he was here -and learns about Odion's involvement, of course. Narsk is strapped to a cage after being tortured, witnessing also Daiman's plans for the academy. He then arrives with Odion and is sent to the surface, but gets a message from the matriarch to the brothers, who abandon their attack on each other to pursue a third Sith Lord, unrelated to them, who sold Daiman the mobile academy in the first place.

The story continues in the second part, but it feels like we are left hanging too much. In The Dyarchy, Rusher tries to dump the student refugees on what seems like an idyllic planet, but in which all the people are slaves controlled by a brother and sister Sith Lord team, and have been for quite some time. Kerra has doubts about the planet (her "bad feeling" moment), and goes out to scout on her own. Her protégé Tan follows her out, as does another secondary character, a gangly Duros teen who is the clumsy new recruit on Rusher's crew.

Kerra encounters the mind-dead people on the planet, then the Force-sensitive police who make sure everyone remains enslaved. They chase Kerra around the city, in a pretty good fight sequence, until she comes to the citadel where the twins are located. The twins are being used by another being, as they are quite unaware of the outside world. But they use aliens, who seem to be little more than brains in giant tubes, to help them project their thoughts across the populace. I guess, like in most Star Wars worlds, people don't live in any other area of the planet. The network of Force-enhancers didn't appear to go much farther than the city, and they would have needed billions of this "rare" species to go around the planet.

Kerra doesn't actually kill any of those responsible for the mind-slavery. That task is left to the slaves themselves, once Kerra disrupts the powers of the twins and they are released. She takes the boy Quillan on board Rusher's ship, leaving the girl, Dromika on the planet.

When they escape into orbit, they are intercepted by a space fleet, which promptly takes control of the Dyarchy. Narsk alerted Arkadia to the fleet the twins were having their slaves build, and she invades when the ships are in orbit. She also forces Rusher to follow her to her ice world, where she has built a city under a dome. The algae that they mine there give off light and produce food (and we learn later produce toxic fumes).

Arkadia's method of ruling is different from the other Sith Lords we've encountered. She treats everybody equally, and gives them some freedom, and sends them to school. But it is Arkadia who decides what job they will have, and whenever somebody gets good at something, she changes their job, sends them to work somewhere else, even if they have no experience. It might be inefficient, but she believes everybody should become good at everything. As Kerra notes, it is also a way to keep everybody off balance, so they don't get too good at something and challenge her.

Arkadia asks Kerra to murder the matriarch, after having the Jedi watch a family reunion of sorts, including Daiman and Odion. Only then does she believe she can take control of the galaxy. But Kerra refuses, so Arkadia tells Narsk to do it, and she imprisons Kerra. Arkadia also gives Rusher coordinates to a safe hyperspace route, which is actually the middle of a star. Narsk rescues Kerra (using the stealth suit he got back from her), and has she and Rusher form a diversion, so he can escape with Quillan to deliver him to the matriarch without the poison gas.

This was probably the best part of the book. The complexity of the diversion, and the fight between Kerra and Arkadia was a lot of fun. Rusher's use of the big guns (transported on the crawler designed to take all 1000 student refugees into Arkadia's realm) to destroy entire sections of the palace, and the way his crew dropped the loaded transport sections of their ship, was great fun. It does seem to me that Kerra should know how to predict the Force lightning, though, after all her experience with Sith Lords (kind of like Yoda's unlikely surprise in Revenge of the Sith).

Narsk gave Rusher and Kerra motivation to produce good distractions -each of them got half a coordinate to the safe hyperspace route that goes to the Republic. Narsk knows that Kerra is too much a vigilante Jedi, thinking that everybody is depending on her, that she will never leave this sector of space. But Rusher takes the students and the information on the matriarch and her kin.

The novel gives us a sampling of the various Sith lords in this sector of space. We go from Daiman, who seems to actually believe he created the universe, to Odion, who worships death and urges his followers to do the same, to the Dyarchy, who control their world with their minds, and finally to Arkadia, who allows freedom of a sort, and the matriarch, who seems to enjoy breeding chaos out of her kin to make them stronger. But they never get strong enough to get organized and continue the conquest of the galaxy because of this, so I find it a strange philosophy. But presumably there will be sequels, and we'll see more of Kerra Holt.

This review has ended up being more of a summary, but that's pretty much how I felt about it. It was missing something, the essence of a Star Wars story that mixes in all the good things. I'm afraid I feel this way about many of the non-Luke/Han/Leia stories, and I wonder why. Is it because the times depicted here are so dark? The story itself had moments of humor, action, thought, and dialog, all the elements. But it wasn't really put together right, and I had a lot of trouble getting into it. Thankfully by the end, I was growing used to the characters, I guess, and the big finale made up for some of it.


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