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Apr 27 2015

Book Review: Lords of the Sith by Paul S. Kemp

Lords of the Sith CoverSynopsis:

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. . . .

When the Emperor and his notorious apprentice, Darth Vader, find themselves stranded in the middle of insurgent action on an inhospitable planet, they must rely on each other, the Force, and their own ruthlessness to prevail.

“It appears things are as you suspected, Lord Vader. We are indeed hunted.”

Anakin Skywalker, Jedi Knight, is just a memory. Darth Vader, newly anointed Sith Lord, is ascendant. The Emperor’s chosen apprentice has swiftly proven his loyalty to the dark side. Still, the history of the Sith Order is one of duplicity, betrayal, and acolytes violently usurping their Masters—and the truest measure of Vader’s allegiance has yet to be taken. Until now.

On Ryloth, a planet crucial to the growing Empire as a source of slave labor and the narcotic known as “spice,” an aggressive resistance movement has arisen, led by Cham Syndulla, an idealistic freedom fighter, and Isval, a vengeful former slave. But Emperor Palpatine means to control the embattled world and its precious resources—by political power or firepower—and he will be neither intimidated nor denied. Accompanied by his merciless disciple, Darth Vader, he sets out on a rare personal mission to ensure his will is done.

For Syndulla and Isval, it’s the opportunity to strike at the very heart of the ruthless dictatorship sweeping the galaxy. And for the Emperor and Darth Vader, Ryloth becomes more than just a matter of putting down an insurrection: When an ambush sends them crashing to the planet’s surface, where inhospitable terrain and an army of resistance fighters await them, they will find their relationship tested as never before. With only their lightsabers, the dark side of the Force, and each other to depend on, the two Sith must decide if the brutal bond they share will make them victorious allies or lethal adversaries.

Review (Spoilers):

We first met Cham Syndulla during “Liberty on Ryloth,” the 21st episode of season one of Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Cham fought alongside the Galactic Republic and the Jedi to free Ryloth from Separatist occupation. Cham’s vision was one of independence for his home planet, siding neither with the Separatists nor the Republic. Now, eight years have passed since the end of The Clone Wars and Cham is again at the forefront of a movement to prevent the Empire from stripping Ryloth bare of its resources.

Lords of the Sith reveals that Cham Syndulla is the father of Hera Syndulla, the leader of a rebel cell on the planet Lothal in Star Wars Rebels. Although Hera and Cham have not seen each other in a long time, you can certainly see where Hera gets her ingenuity and ability to lead a movement against the Empire in the face of overwhelming odds.

There is no doubt that Cham is a strong leader. But, like every strong leader, he needs a strong second-in-command. Isval’s strengths complement Cham nicely during his times of doubt and second-guessing of his own decisions. As a former slave, to say that she has no love for the Empire would be a massive understatement. Early in the book, a secret mission illustrates Isval’s hatred toward the empire as she sets about liberating a slave and punishing the Imperial officer who was master to the slave.

Although Cham Syndulla and the Free Ryloth movement are interesting, the true stars of Lords of the Sith are Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader. In his early years, Darth Vader was a really bad man (machine?) who was constantly fueled by rage and anger. Emperor Palpatine always knew precisely which buttons to push and when to push them in order to fuel Vader’s anger. The events of Lords of the Sith play out as if Palpatine had devised the whole predicament as a way of testing his apprentice. Through one test after another, Vader must constantly prove himself a worthy apprentice to his master.

One minor complaint that I have about Darth Vader in Lords of the Sith is how athletic and acrobatic he is depicted. At one point, he scales from the bottom of a quarry all the way to the top in mere seconds by grabbing hand-holds and foot-holds. He is depicted with catlike agility and, to me, that just isn’t the Darth Vader from the Star Wars films. He is powerful and to be feared, but the suit keeps him from having a lot of agility. During the Star Wars Rebels season two press conference, executive producer Dave Filoni had this to say about Darth Vader:

He was never acrobatic, in particular, he was never that fast. He’s just a mountain of fear and hate and power

Filoni’s description of Vader is how he should be portrayed and that’s why his depiction during the combat scenes in Lords of the Sith do not ring true to his character. During these scenes, Vader felt more like a video game character from the Legends universe. While this took me out of the story every time it happened, it was not enough of a distraction to cause me to lose interest in the book.

There were other notable characters in Lords of the Sith. Chief among them are Imperials Belkor Dray and Moff Delion Mors. Moff Mors is depicted as a Moff who is drunk on her own power; a power that has made her grow lazy and sloppy. She has delegated the running of Ryloth’s occupation to Belkor Dray. Belkor, hungry to replace Mors and obtain the title of Moff for himself, wastes no time filling several Imperial units with commanders whose first loyalty is to himself and not Mors or even the Empire. Belkor is Cham Syndulla’s primary source of Imperial intelligence. However, he soon finds himself in over his head and facing a no-win situation.

This was my first opportunity to read a novel by Paul S. Kemp and it was a pleasure. The action moved along at a rapid pace and kept me interested throughout. The detailed plot that the Free Ryloth movement hatched to bring down an Imperial Star Destroyer and kill Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine was so well written that I actually felt at times as if it would succeed.

Final Verdict:

More than a year has passed since the Expanded Universe became Legends and a new continuity was born. Since that time, the main elements that I look for in a Star Wars novel are world-building, expansion of knowledge about familiar characters and an engaging plot. Prior to Lords of the Sith, two of the previous three novels (A New Dawn, Tarkin) contained enough world and character-building elements for me to give them recommendations. Unfortunately, Heir to the Jedi had hardly any of the three elements. Thankfully, Lords of the Sith gets us back on track with its wonderful portrayal of the relationship between Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine eight years after the end of the Clone Wars. It also provides us with more information about Cham Syndulla, an early-season character from Star Wars: The Clone Wars. The plot was fast-paced, interesting and kept me engaged.

Highly recommended.

DISCLOSURE: I received a copy of this book from the publisher via Net Galley at no charge in order to provide a review. However, this did not affect the overall review content. All opinions are my own.

Cham Syndulla from Star Wars: The Clone Wars

Cham Syndulla from Star Wars: The Clone Wars

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