June 28, 2007

Darth Bane: Path of Destruction

(I actually finished Darth Bane last Thursday, but I forgot to post about it, and now I'm well over halfway through the next book, Cloak of Deception by James Luceno.)

Darth Bane: Path of Destruction was written by Drew Karpyshyn and released in September of 2006. This is his first (and only) Star Wars book, and almost all of his other work seems to have been in scripting video games. His most prestigious credits to date are Baldur's Gate II and Knights of the Old Republic, both well-liked by RPG fans, as far as I've heard. As of this month, a sequel to Path of Destruction (which was quite well received, apparently) is slated for release in December 2007. It will replace a previously-planned novel by Luceno about Darth Plagueis (master of Darth Sidious). The tentative title is Darth Bane: Rule of Two.

As you might guess from the title of the latter game (and the fact that I'm moving chronologically), this book is set during the days of the Old Republic. You know that whole "A long time ago . . ." schtick? Well, think longer. Path of Destruction is set 1000 years before the events of Star Wars during the earliest of the 6 Star Wars eras: the Old Republic Era (obviously), which covers events from 5,000 to 1,000 years before Star Wars. Path of Destruction is currently the only novel set during this era . . . the remaining 4 millenia being covered by a whole bunch of comic books and a few computer games. Sparse.

Oh, incidentally, the climactic conclusion of Path of Destruction takes place amidst the massive Seventh Battle of Ruusan, the pivotal event that brings the Old Republic Era to an end and ushers in the Rise of the Empire Era. As a result, the planned sequel would not join Path of Destruction in the earlier era and it is likely to remain the lone Old Republic novel for some time to come.

Connections: Jedi Master General Hoth plays a key role in the novel as a hero of the Republic. While not stated explicitly, it is reasonable to assume that the ice planet from The Empire Strikes Back is named after him. The book makes numerous references to the events and characters of the comic books which chronicle the Jedi/Sith conflicts of three and four millenia before. Darth Revan makes an appearance in a Sith Holocron. The aftermath of the aforementioned Battle of Ruusan will eventually lead to the creation of a monument that would later be known as the Valley of the Jedi and play a crucial role in the Jedi Knight computer games.

Darth Bane: Path of Destruction tells the story of Dessel, a dirt-poor miner enslaved in all but name by a huge corporation on a backwater world, and his transformation into Darth Bane, Dark Lord of the Sith and originator of the "1 master, 1 apprentice" rule of the Sith order. Forced to flee his homeworld, Apatros, he joins the army of the Sith in the epic ongoing conflict against the Republic and the Jedi. After repeatedly leading his unit to glorious victories, he is plucked from the ranks and taken to train at the Sith Academy on Korriban before following his own path to Lehon and Ruusan.

Meanwhile, Lords Kaan, Kopecz, and Qordis lead the Sith forces in their galaxy-wide campaign against the Jedi. Ruusan becomes the focus of the conflict, and General Hoth gathers all of the Jedi padawans, knights, and masters into an "Army of Light" to counter the Sith berserkers, assassins, and lords on the other side. The victories, defeats, strategies, and intrigues on both sides make up the other half of the story, periodically breaking up the rise of Bane before the two plotlines converge at the end.

I liked this book a good deal more than I thought I would. It lacked recognizable characters (even Yoda isn't born yet), starred a villain, had rather lousy cover art, and was written by an unknown . . . not a good confluence, generally, but the result isn't half-bad. Karpyshyn does a fantastic job of developing a sympathetic main character whose descent into evil is both natural and understandable because of his personality and the events around him.

And those events certainly aren't boring: intense games of Sabacc (Star Wars poker), space battles, ground battles, commando missions, saber duels . . . all the usual stuff in a well-paced mix. The main character is solid and well-developed, and there is a pretty good cast of supporting characters. Karphyshyn is wise not to attempt too many clever connections with later events; the 1,000-year distance between events would really stretch internal credibility. He stays focused on the subject at hand, and provides some excellent insights into the nature of the Dark Side of the Force (which we rarely see examined in such detail).

Another element that I enjoyed, just as a change of pace from most Star Wars novels, was the large-scale, very literal good-against-evil conflict. There is an archetypal fantasy feel to it all. You've got the Army of Light taking on the Brotherhood of Darkness in what is essentially a very violent philosophical disagreement. The Jedi believe that strength exists to defend the weak. The Sith believe strength exists to acquire power and subjugate the weak. It is a very simplistic duality, but it raises interesting thoughts about what motivates the conflicts and forces at the heart of Lucas's movie trilogies.

So, good story, good main character, competently written, plenty of action . . . a bit simplistic and not hugely memorable, probably not a good entry point for anyone whose only previous experience is with the movies.

Grade: B

Posted by Jared at June 28, 2007 05:32 PM | TrackBack