Ossus Library Index Star Wars Timeline




A novel by Michael Reaves (2001, Ballentine Books)
33 years before Star Wars: A New Hope

Darth Maul is sent to Coruscant to track down a Trade Federation traitor and those he has spoken with.



4 stars

Read February 19th to 22nd, 2002  
    I have not had this much fun reading a Star Wars book in a long time.  It did have its faults, but I actually enjoyed getting into the mind of this bad guy.

I have never been a big fan of bad guys.  I understand all the hoopla surrounding Boba Fett and Darth Vader, but I do not subscribe to them.  I like the good guys, and have never really been eager to get into the minds of their enemies.  Until now.  This book was so much fun.  It was actually written as though I was progressing in a video game.  Obstacle encountered -perform some battle move and go on to the next challenge.  Chase people, and do what we have to do to move to the next level.  For the entire time we saw the story from Darth Maul's point of view, this is how it went.

But the largest faults also came from Maul's point of view.  They actually start with the very first line: "Space is the perfect place to hide."  Whenever the author takes the present tense and a tone like that, I get worried.  With that kind of gesture, he is making a grand statement that the reader is supposed to take at face value.  "Nobody could have survived that," he tells us often enough, even though we know that our characters have survived.  I think the author is trying to show us Maul's arrogance, but it doesn't come off all that well.  He is better when he is talking about Maul's emotions, raw as they are.  I didn't think I would like getting inside Maul's head, but I did!  He is not a stock villain, as he was in the movie.  He thinks things through, remembers, and actually makes mistakes.

Maul thrives off the Dark Side of the Force.  He has just recently come off the mission of destroying Black Sun in the comics, and unbeknownst to him, there are still a few loose ends.  Actually, he never really learns about the one loose end left over from that mission.  Back in the comic, I couldn't figure out how the assistant to Black Sun's leader was killed.  But I assumed that Maul couldn't have left him alive.  And it turns out that he did.  I still maintain that someone as focused as Maul, intent on making sure that there were no survivors, would have sensed him, especially after Lex shouted several times "Oolth?" just before the confrontation.  But I guess that also shows one of Maul's weaknesses, and that he is fallible, something that would lead to his death in The Phantom Menace.

I liked the way the comics worked closely with this novel in that way, right down to his love of decapitating people, rather than killing them some other way.  I am just glad I decided to read the comics first!  There is also a small scene right before Maul meets with the Dug vigo in the comic, where the vigo throws out a Nemoidian named Hath Monchar for trying to convince him that the Sith have returned.  That character is the one Maul is sent to track down and kill in this book, because he left his colleagues and wants to sell the information about the Sith and about the Naboo blockade.  The Trade Federation viceroy doesn't tell Darth Sidious about the missing person, but the Sith Lord knows anyway.  He thinks this would be a good mission for Darth Maul...

The characters and species that we knew from the movie behaved and sounded just like they were in another movie.  The Toydarian Zippa sounded just like Watto (not to mention giving us a lure on a Sith Holocron)!  And the Nemoidians sounded just as cowardly and accented as they were in the movies.  The author did a perfect job at this.

Three storylines converge rather quickly from the beginning of the book, and it leads directly into the chase that takes up most of it.  We are introduced to Lorn Pavan, a Corellian information broker with his droid I-Five, who have business interactions with Monchar, and are now on Maul's hit list.  A bounty hunter is also hired by the Nemoidians to track down their wayward colleagues.  After a brief but gigantic battle between Darth Maul and the bounty hunter (written really well), Monchar and the bounty hunter are dead, and Lorn ends up with the holocron that Monchar recorded his information on.  The holocron ends up being the key, because the more people that know about the blockade and Sith, the more Maul has to hunt them down, because we knew right from the start that the Nemoidian couldn't survive long.

But even though Monchar and the bounty hunter (Mahwi Lihnn, for those who are keeping track) don't survive for long, it is very refreshing to get inside their heads, learn what they know, how they operate, and why they do the things they do.  

Maul goes through several bodyguards and ends up at the last remaining Black Sun vigo's hideout on Coruscant, Yanth the Hutt.  I really enjoyed the battle fought there, even though it was only a short one before Yanth gets skewered.  Lorn and I-Five escape, just barely, in the confusion, but Maul tracks them down and nearly captures them before the third storyline intervenes.

I have trouble with the idea that Lorn immediately figures out that Maul is a Sith.  As Qui-Gon points out to Anakin, he could have acquired a lightsaber from somebody else, and he didn't see the man fight until he reached the Hutt's hideout.  If it is so easy to deduce, why didn't the police recognize the lightsaber strikes?  It seems to me that between the comics and the conflagrations on Coruscant that Maul creates, that the police would come to some conclusion, and inform the Jedi, especially when Obi-Wan came snooping around?

Oolth, the one person who knows what destroyed Black Sun, and who might know more about Maul than anybody alive who is willing to tell, was set to be brought to the Jedi Council, which might have aided them and made them more prepared.  Actually, because of the timeframe shown by the last chapter, I have some trouble with this in terms of the continuity.  According to the Phantom Menace novelization, the blockade had been in effect for a month before the Jedi were dispatched.  But Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan were sent at the end of the book, and I wonder how much Maul's mission really mattered, now.  And it seems to me that Oolth's information would be obsolete by the time he delivered it.

Jedi Padawan Darsha Assant is sent on her Trials to bring this man back from the Crimson Corridor on Coruscant's lower levels.  Between gangs, armored rats and hawk bats, she fails, as her lift is destroyed, and Oolth falls to his death and is eaten by the hawk-bats!  It was really refreshing to read about Assant, as she is nowhere near a "perfect specimen" of Jedi.  She is constantly questioning herself, constantly doubting herself, finally wondering if she was ever going to make it to Jedi-status.  She shows her resolve when she makes her way successfully back to the Jedi Temple, and hope flares again when her master tells her she was too impulsive when she left her charge -she should have made sure he was really dead.  So they go out and verify that Oolth actually died, back in the Crimson Corridor.  

What I still have a problem with, and it was something I could not figure out in The Rising Force, The Phantom Menace, and several other prequel stories, is why the Jedi would cast Darsha out of the order if she failed.  That would leave an almost-Jedi, potentially angry at them for rejecting her, out loose in the galaxy.  If that isn't a recipe for the Dark Side...  Better they should keep her confined to the Temple, doing research, never to have contact with the outside world. This is similar to what Tionne, a weak Jedi at Luke's Academy, does.  She fights when necessary, but her contact with non-Jedi is miniscule.  For the untrained, like Anakin, I suppose I can see that he would not be very dangerous.  But for somebody partially trained, like young Obi-Wan, or somebody with great potential and over a decade of training like Darsha, I can't figure it out.  She does mention being possibly assigned to the agricultural corps, but I am still not sure what that is, or why they would need failed Jedi to work for them...

On their way back from investigating Oolth's death, Darsha and her master come across a peak of angry, surging Dark Force energy, and stop to rescue Lorn and I-Five, and finally to battle Darth Maul.  I liked the way Darsha's master, Bondara, sacrificed himself for the escape of the others, and I also liked the way Darsha failed her master again by not making his sacrifice worthwhile. She follows the battle, intending to join in.  By blowing up Maul's speeder (I guess he needed a new one for his trip to Tatooine...), Bondara tries to kill the Sith, but Maul survives, of course.  I-Five, the only one not knocked unconscious by the blast, takes his two human charges down an access station into the bowels of Coruscant.  

And thus the real chase begins.  Maul cannot immediately follow them, but he does manage to track them through other access ports after he regains consciousness.  The video-game part of the book ended at that point, and it really became a chase.  I am not a fan of chases like this.  Any time we get down to the bowels of a planet, be it Coruscant (here or in others; I can't remember other titles where we visited these areas), Nar Shadda (in The Hutt Gambit and others), or Kasshyyk (Darkest Knight), I am never impressed.  It seems to be an excuse to give a description of the low-life that lives there, and little more.  Running through endless caverns and tunnels is not my idea of an interesting story.  But somehow, the author made the long, drawn-out chase interesting, even if it only seemed like an excuse to make the book a little longer.

The long chase gave the "good" characters an opportunity to learn more about each other.  I could have certainly done without the growing romance between Lorn and Darsha, but it was really interesting to find out Lorn's reasons for hating the Jedi so much.  They took his Force-sensitive son and fired him from a Temple job, probably because Lorn was prying and they wanted to keep any "distractions" such as family away.  In fact, this book did a good job of painting the Jedi in not so good a light, though Darsha, being such a good person, goes a long way towards mending that attitude.  I can't believe she is so naive, though, rarely leaving the Temple while Obi-Wan was taken all throughout the galaxy by his master in the Jedi Apprentice series.  

Maul is defeated once again by fate (or some would call it Corellian Luck, like the luck other Corellians we know have...), as a Force-invisible creature attacks, and he is forced to retreat until Darsha, Lorn and I-Five break the bridge and escape to the other side of a cavern too large to jump across.   They battle against a gang again as they emerge back into the Crimson Corridor, and manage to get up to a higher level of the city.  But Maul traced them and was there waiting for them.  

Between the battle with the taozin and later, with Darth Maul, Darsha really grew.  We could follow her development all through the book, actually.  Where she was always doubting at the beginning, she became more of a leader, taking charge of situations more and more, until she decided to face Maul alone.  As Lorn and I-Five encased themselves in carbonite (!) she realized how much her master's sacrifice could have meant.  She is strong and clever enough to delay Maul credibly, until she rigs an explosion from the combustibles scattered through the storeroom.  Thus Darsha is killed, but her charges survive, and Maul can't pick up any life-signs because of the carbonite casing.  This was good work all around, but I though the book should have ended there, with Lorn going off to another planet, retiring, and perhaps feeling guilty when the blockade happens.  

Unfortunately, but true to character and the story, Lorn goes after Maul after "defrosting".  They contact somebody who owes him a favor, Tuden Sal, who gets them access to a vehicle.  He deactivates I-Five and tells his Sal to deliver the droid to the Jedi Temple, so that they could be warned about the Sith.  But, in a truly brave move by the author, Sal takes off with I-Five and has his memory wiped!  Lorn chases after Maul, docking with a space station and managing to stun Maul long enough to retrieve the holocron.  Of course, if Maul had destroyed the holocron in the first place, there would have been no reason for the story to progress further.  Lorn was carrying a scale of the Force-invisible taozin, and was able to surprise Maul in that way.  He escapes, missing a hand, and makes his way into a chamber with Senator Palpatine, handing him the holocron...  

The end of the book is done in such a way that it is certainly possible that the secret of Palpatine's identity is kept for those few who don't realize that he is the Emperor (and Sidious).  Lorn thinks that Maul escaped custody of the Jedi when the Sith turns up to kill him, and there is no reason that the readers must know that Palpatine told him all lies, except that the Jedi don't actually know about the Sith in The Phantom Menace.  Very interesting...

Obi-Wan Kenobi gets a small part in this book searching for Darsha and her master.  That he doesn't recognize (or believe) the lightsaber strikes he sees (especially the headless ones) doesn't speak well for his observation skills.  But after hearing about a cowled figure so often in this story, he must have felt a wave of recognition on Tatooine and Naboo when he finally saw Maul.  He and Qui-Gon must have had some interesting conversations after that.  

I also enjoyed the brief journey inside the head of Darth Sidious.  When notified of Maul's failure, Sidious actually begins to doubt his apprentice!  He knows Maul is too proud, thinking tasks are below his stature, and is very impatient.  I wonder how long it takes to train a Sith apprentice.  Here, we are told about Maul's lifelong training, the building of his lightsaber, and his indoctrination.  But Sidious doesn't have long to train Maul's replacement after The Phantom Menace.  Count Dooku (if, in fact, he is a Sith; it's still unclear about that) is quite a bit older by the time he was apprenticed for Attack of the Clones.  

The author seemed to know exactly what the force allows its user to do.  He makes the story much more believable, simply by getting the characters to think about what is appropriate.  Here is use of the Force, I think, that is unparalleled in the recent expanded universe.  The characters even contemplate and reject possibilities, and tell themselves (and thus the readers) their limitations.  I appreciated Maul thinking about his martial moves, in the Teras Kasi style (from the video game).  I thought they were a little too technical, but it was a nice acknowledgement, since he tones it down after the first chapter.  However, I do have to wonder, like I did in the comics, why the training robots attacked him one at a time, instead of as a group; I'm sure he would have become a better fighter that way.

I found the book to be very easy to read.  In no time, I was halfway through.  It was exciting and interesting.  Although the sentence and paragraph structure was somewhat simplistic, it was written with a passion that was contagious!  And even though many sentences were simple, I learned some new words and needed a dictionary by my side!  

As each character leaned about the Sith or the blockade of Naboo, I found myself wondering how Maul would dispatch them.  One of the commonly quoted problems with this book is the fact that we know the ending.  I would beg to differ, because the fun of the book is figuring out how they would get to the end.  As in some other great stories, things are not as simple as they seem to be.  Bablyon 5's time travel episode War Without End comes to mind, where we know that G'Kar will kill Londo, but not the details and the "why".  For instance, one of the most impressive parts of the book was Darsha becoming a Jedi Master -one with the Force- even though nobody was there to witness it and promote her.  She almost defeated Maul, too.

I did find myself hoping that I wasn't investing in characters who would end up dead at the end, though.  My thoughts were that by the end, the invasion would have occurred (which it did), the Sith apprentice revealed, and Darsha's mission would be obsolete.  So they would get to live, simply because of timing.  But unfortunately, the book didn't overlap the movie enough for that to happen.  

Yes, the book went on for far too long, with circumstances that even stretch the term "Corellian Luck", and that border on ridiculous, but it was really fun.  Maul even gives us the exasperated attitude that shows he knows the universe is mocking him!  We the readers know it, too.  But the writing is so good, and the story so passionate, that we don't care!  Plus, the cover of this book is amazingly awesome!

Like Balance Point, this book looks good because of the really poor stuff that came before it.  Shadow Hunter was definitely better than Balance Point, and both of those books probably deserved lower scores than I give them.  But considering the poor quality of earlier books, and the creativity and passion that the authors show, without hitting the readers over the head with nonsense, I think they deserve it.  This author was particularly good at giving us Star Wars trivia, but keeping it subtle.  That's not an easy thing to do, and it makes the novel much better.


Back to Top

All Star Wars material and covers are Copyright Lucasfilm Ltd and the publishers.
All reviews and page designs at this site Copyright (c)  by Warren Dunn, all rights reserved.