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ALL TIMELINES

THE UNCERTAIN PATH

A novel by Jude Watson (2000, Scholastic Paperbacks)
Book 6 of the Jedi Apprentice
44 years before Star Wars: A New Hope

Obi-Wan learns what it is like to form a new government, while Qui-Gon investigates theft in the Jedi Temple.

 

 

4 stars

Read May 14th to 15th, 2002  
    Superbly written, this book still has some large flaws. But I have to give it one of my strongest recommendations simply because it was so well written, and had me turning pages faster than I could actually read (don't ask how this works)!

If the author hit her stride with the last book, Defenders of the Dead, she surpassed it with this installment. Yes, there were flaws, which I will get to in a moment, but for the most part, both stories were written with such maturity, such conviction, and with such emotion, that it was truly difficult to put down. I don't think I've read a book like that in a long while. I know the fact that this book is so short undermines that statement, but still, I try to read these books over two days, just to keep them going longer -and that was very difficult this time!

The story is divided into two parts, split between out two main characters. Obi-Wan is still on the planet Melida/Daan, where he helps the Young win the battle against the Elders, and take control of the city. Nield and Cerasi are still giving him all that he needs to feel like he's making a difference. He gets high praise, and is the leader of the security division.

As foreshadowed in Defenders of the Dead, Nield is unstable, though. His primary issue is with the Halls of Evidence, which house memorials to past generations, which are also memorials of hate. The Elders don't recognize the new authority, and after being humiliated too many times, they stage a revolt, preventing Nield from destroying any more Halls. This issue divides the Young, as it was partially meant to do. Cerasi realizes that they need a link to their past, that burying it won't do the future any good. Obi-Wan agrees with her, partly because she is right, but mostly, I think, because he loves her. When his two best friends oppose his decision, Nield turns on them.

Nield's transition from Young leader to governor did not go as smoothly as he thought it did. He never had formal opposition when he led the revolutionary group. Now he has to wade his way through a democracy, and a very young one (in more than one sense of the word). This is something he is not used to, and he is not prepared to be defeated in a political spectrum. Nield obviously wanted to be a dictator, but had to put up with the democratic process, which he thought he could dominate. Not that he is a nefarious person; he didn't set out to dominate the Council. I am sure he thought he would make decisions, and the Council would ratify them. This is what happens when a government is made from people who have no experience in governing. They need the wisdom of their Elders, not because the Elders are older, but because they know how to govern, even if it is poorly. They need to get to know the will of the people, and do what the people want, especially in the case of food and shelter, since winter approaches.

But when Obi-Wan casts the deciding vote against him, Nield starts painting him as an outsider, somebody who doesn't deserve to be on the Council. Being young, the Young are immediately impressed by their charismatic leader. Obi-Wan is not charismatic, in any way! He doesn't even defend himself, he's so shocked. And tensions rise quickly after that, to the point where an armed confrontation takes place outside one Hall of Evidence. Obi-Wan tries to diffuse the situation, but fails to do so.

And into the fray steps Cerasi, not realizing how volatile the situation is. In a heartbreaking moment, Cerasi is shot! Everybody is shocked. Cerasi was the most outspoken proponent for peace. She knew Nield had gone too far, but was unable to convince him to back down. This is because he was being manipulated himself. Both sides leave the area in dismay and shock. Neither side knows who shot her. Was it her father, Wehutti? He doesn't think so, but he can't rule it out, tensions were so high. Was it Nield? His gun was raised, but he doesn't think he fired the weapon. But he doesn't know for sure!

And so the conflict between the two sides is diffused for a short while, as both sides try to comprehend what happened. Obi-Wan is an outsider now, for sure. He has few friends. Nield is livid with rage towards him, but also towards himself. The people are preparing for war, using Cerasi's death as a rallying point. All of this is written so well that it is extremely exciting. I didn't know these characters before the last book, and here I am, caring deeply for them now. That is the sign of a strong author!

Obi-Wan wanders around for a while, not knowing what to do, when he finally makes up his mind to do what we've been screaming at him to do for a long time now: call for help.

Qui-Gon's side of the story takes place every second chapter, from the Jedi Temple. He and Tahl investigate petty thefts, which escalate into something larger. The mystery was probably obvious to long-time readers of this series, but was so well presented, I couldn't help but be hooked. I still haven't figured out why the thefts were happening, even though I am pretty sure I know who did it. Qui-Gon and Tahl, fully recovered except for her eyesight from the last book, interview several students, and get more desperate as time goes by, as the thefts become less petty and more grand. Eventually, lightsabers are stolen, as well as the healing crystals of fire, which is obviously meant to demoralize the students.

It was nice to see Bant again, Obi-Wan's Calamarian friend. I even liked the way she accused Qui-Gon of doing something to alienate Obi-Wan and make him leave the Jedi Order. It really makes Qui-Gon think about his relationship with Obi-Wan, even though that's the last thing the Jedi wants to do.  She proves to be the key to part of the mystery: she smells like the Jedi lake, a grand chamber in the Temple that she uses to keep her skin moist and healthy, and enjoyed by many students. The intruder into the Temple also smelled like the lake, when Qui-Gon and Tahl discovered that somebody had broken into his quarters. Bant helps Qui-Gon find a large box under water, where some of the stolen supplies were hidden.

It was also nice to see Bruck again, even though he was not very well written in The Rising Force. An old rival of Obi-Wan's, he was always destined for the Dark Side. But it was nice to see how he seemed to have changed, dueling with Qui-Gon, and during his interview. He has obviously learned Palpatine's art of disguising himself and his lies! Qui-Gon discovers that Bruck was behind the thefts when they set a trap for him, but there was some other mysterious character nearby, watching it all. Pretty obviously, this has to be Xanatos. But Qui-Gon is so preoccupied with thoughts of Obi-Wan, that he doesn't realize this. The two intruders escape because of Tahl's bumbling droid, the one very annoying point to this book.

The droid was really without a purpose. Tahl received the droid to help her navigate until she could do so on her own -a point she surpassed only days after getting out of the hospital. It also seems to be out of character for Yoda to force a droid on her like that. It was more annoying than C-3PO, and very much less amusing. I think it could have been eliminated from the story without any loss whatsoever. Even so, Tahl could have easily refused it, or reprogrammed it, I'm sure.

In any case, the resolution for this plotline is kept for the next book, because Qui-Gon and Yoda receive Obi-Wan's call. Qui-Gon drops the investigation and rushes to Melida/Daan (shouldn't the planet have a single, new name, by now?). The meeting between him and Obi-Wan is cool, but I can see that the words of mentors and friends are having an effect. Yoda and Tahl urged Qui-Gon to remember that Obi-Wan is still a young man, and perhaps Qui-Gon's anger is not because of his Padawan's impulsive decision but something in the Master's personality. After all, Yoda reminds him, echoing Obi-Wan's words in the last book, Qui-Gon has done the same thing before, and has disregarded Yoda's advice in the past. And Cerasi councils Obi-Wan that perhaps he wasn't made for helping to rule a planet, that he misses the Jedi life, and the legacy he discovered on Gala, that he could help resolve many disputes, instead of confining himself to a single planet.

Qui-Gon reminds Obi-Wan of how to be a Jedi. Using the talent he displayed in The Hidden Past, Obi-Wan recreates the moment of Cerasi's death in his mind, and discovers that a sniper must have killed her. Further investigation reveals that Mawat, the leader of the Young from outside the city, had decided he wanted to be leader, instead of Nield, so he wanted to start another war to do it. That shows how little the people of Melida/Daan have learned since the last battle!

Obi-Wan goes to Nield and convinces him of the truth, just in time to hear Mawat's people setting up explosives around the Hall of Evidence, ready to discredit Nield. A battle ensues, but it is stopped by the sound of Cerasi's voice. Qui-Gon had found a recording that the young girl had made, urging people to stop war and not use any death she might suffer to further its cause. She had decided never to carry a weapon again, and that inspires others to drop theirs.

The last chapter is a little short, but probably wouldn't have added much if it had been longer. Setting up a new government didn't require much dialog, and the two Jedi leave Melida/Daan in a much more stable position than it was when they arrived, with a coalition government with Young and Elders on the Council.

Qui-Gon will return Obi-Wan to the temple, where he will surely be accepted back into the Jedi Order. But Qui-Gon doubts that he will take his Padawan back to his side. We all know he will change his mind, but we must wonder how, and how long it will take!

Aside from the annoying droid, the major problem I have in this book is that the Force is barely used at all. Qui-Gon and Tahl didn't use it to figure out who was telling the truth or lying, or to discover the identity of Bruck, who he was following in the gardens, or the mysterious person who was following him -or even to note that he was being followed. Obi-Wan was constantly being surprised by bumping into people or searching for them. The author has fallen into the same trap that many Star Wars authors do in using the Force when the plot requires it, but conveniently neglecting it when it gets in the way. At least in Obi-Wan's case, she described that his abandoning the Force left it slippery when he wanted it, and he was only able to gather it into him in great need. The symbol of his lightsaber was what focused the Force in him, and made him realize that his way was the Jedi way.

There was also a little too much narrative exposition, giving us a history of what came before; I wish the author would do it from a character point of view, instead. Some of the dialog could have been a little better, too. I cringed at the "luck" slogan, but I really liked the way Cerasi defended Obi-Wan with the previous slogan, "we are everyone". What does this mean if they treat Obi-Wan as an outcast? Too bad she didn't use that argument with the Council.

Still, these "large faults" strangely don't detract from the story, because it so tightly written. So well written. I have to reiterate my thoughts that she can write a youth novel that is more mature and more complex, with such character depth, even when compared to so many Star Wars adult novels. I had lost faith in the youth novels after the Young Jedi Knights and the end of the Uldir Junior Jedi Trilogy, but no longer. Even the books which have light plots are so well written that it is difficult to dislike them. And this book has a plot that is far from light. This one is well worth reading, but the next one must be close at hand, because the last sentence reveals a startling development in the hunt for the thieves at the Temple...
 
   

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