Novel Review: Paul S. Kemp’s Lords of the Sith

The cover of Lords of the Sith features Darth Vader and the Emperor, each employing their signature form of aggression. Vader is rushing forward with his lightsaber while his Master stands off to the side, unleashing bolts of Force lightning. The blurb speaks of a dire mission the two must undertake together.

Fans have seen Sheev Palpatine on a mission twice before. The first was in the novel Darth Plagueis, a novel removed by the walls of the universe but that one can surmise from other references may have occurred the same way in this one. In Darth Plagueis, Sidious must take up his lightsaber and his command of the Dark Side to defend his titular Master from assassins. The second time was in the final season of The Clone Wars, when he took it upon himself to wield a paid of lightsabers against wayward apprentice Darth Maul and his brother. Each of these capitalized on the ferocity the Emperor showed in Revenge of the Sith, focusing on him as a deadly force overpowering anything that comes into conflict with him.

The implication this marketing would give is that we would see similar action in Lors of the Sith. Similar to Starkiller in the Force Unelashed series, the Emperor would hide his power until entering a no-witnesses scenario (though he does not consider his guards as witnesses!) and then let loose a flurry of rage, light and power. Instead, we see the Emperor and Vader chased around the field of battle, never fearing for their lives but never taking the offensive. This gives Vader ample opportunity to demonstrate that he can survive virtually anything, but the one and only scene in which the Emperor lets loose is against a horde of Rylothan predators akin to the laigrek nest on either Knights of the Old Republic game and over almost as quickly.

Vader, on the other hand, has moments to shine. The prologue to the story features him ejecting from a TIE in open space to board a stolen shuttle and slaughter Cham Syndulla’s allies while the stricken protagonists listen via comlink. From these Vader uses his telekinetic powers as a weapon in a space battle and Force chokes another pilot through the viewport.

Syndulla, like in The Clone Wars, is not particularly impressive or memorable. He is pretty much at the end of his character arc already, and his arc throughout the novel is about realizing that. There are a few moments where you may see what inspired Hera (Cham’s daughter and leader of the cell in Rebels) and her existence is alluded to, but fans of Hera picking this book up for only that reason are likely to be disappointed.

Isval is the stand-out role of the Twi’lek cast. Isval is a combination Dexter and Super Mario. To let off stress, the former slave beats and kills Imperials who have Twi’lek slave girls, before setting the girls up with an independent life. She is an interesting blend of good and evil, a woman who considers herself broken and beyond redemption. The George Lucas school of light and dark would probably end up with Isval fire-bombing an orphanage, but she is as devoted to the cause as Syndulla, although in her mind the two are synonymous.

Another feature – albeit a minor one – of Lords of the Sith is Moff Mors. Delian Mors is like many Moffs, Commanders, and other characters big enough to get a name but small enough to be destined to fade into obscurity. Her claim to fame is a small one, uncelebrated in the context of the novel and remarkable only due to the folly of our own world. Mors is the first woman in the reboot canon to be married to another woman. This informs her character – the death of her spouse causing her to spiral into decadence and self-pity as one might expect from a planetary ruler in a corrupt regime – but she is otherwise no different from any heteronormative Star Wars character of her type. This still means that she is a solo lesbian amid a sea of seemingly hetero characters, but the universe is young. As long as her physical description once it comes, does not rely on “butch” stereotypes, I’ll consider this a woman.

Lords of the Sith continues the trend of novels that function equally in either the Legends of reboot context. As a sequel only to The Clone Wars and Revenge of the Sith, there is nothing to contradict any established information, something that I expect to be the standard until the September 4 release of Aftermath.

Like Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor or Hard Contact, Lords of the Sith predominantly focuses on a single space battle, a short slice of life with disastrous consequences. Unlike Mindor, the story focuses on a small cast – primarily 3 characters and their supporting cast (with Palpatine in the latter category). The end result, while enjoyable, feels like a comic story arc or a level of a video game rather than a complete novel. This would be the climax of the story – the second half of Avengers or the Battle of Naboo – but it still lacks the depth of most complete novels. That makes this a fitting paperback, but leaves the hardcover price a bit hefty.

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