July 20, 2007

Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter

(Finished Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter on Monday and I'm flying through The Phantom Menace. Up next is Rogue Planet, and after that Outbound Flight by Timothy Zahn . . . be sure and find yourself a copy of that if you don't own one. Zahn is not to be missed. I'll be breaking for a few days to read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, so the Zahn book should come up in a little under 2 weeks.)

Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter was written by Michael Reaves and published in January of 2001. It was Reaves first Star Wars book, though by no means his first writing experience in the universe. Apparently he was involved in a few episodes from the Droids and Ewoks TV series. He has since collaborated with Steve Perry on three Star Wars novels (including a forthcoming book on the origins of the Death Star), and he will be responsible for a trilogy centered on Coruscant during the Jedi Purge which will be released during the next two years. Non-Star Wars writings include a long and varied career in television on such shows as Star Trek: The Next Generation and Batman: The Animated Series, as well as many novels and short stories.

The book is set during the few days before Episode I begins, and ends as Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan are en route to Naboo.

Connections: The only ongoing characters with a significant role in the book are Darth Maul and Obi-Wan. I didn't detect any cameos, but several other movie characters make incidental appearances (Darth Sidious, Yoda, Qui-Gon, Trade Federation leaders, etc.). Most of the cast is new and appears only here.

Four Nemoidians are in on Darth Sidious's plot to blockade Naboo, but just before the plan goes into effect, one of them drops out and runs for Coruscant. He is intent on selling the information about the impending blockade (and who is really behind it) to the highest bidder and using the proceeds to disappear into comfortable retirement. With time running out, Sidious dispatches Darth Maul to quickly and quietly plug the leak, but there are a number of factors neither of them have counted on.

Drawn inexorably into the midst of these events are Lorn Pavan, a small-time information broker who has been down on his luck ever since the Jedi ruined his life, Pavan's "business partner" I-Five, a wise-cracking, heavily-modified protocol droid, and Darsha Assant, an untried Jedi Padawan who has just completely flubbed her first important solo mission. These three unlikely companions will match wits with a Dark Lord of the Sith (and worse) deep in the treacherous, terrifying underbelly of the galaxy's capital planet.

This book is pretty great, as Star Wars books go: simple and straightforward, but full of excitement and flavor. Reaves writes very naturally in the lingo, and his vocabulary (Star Wars and non-Star Wars) is large and varied. The story is neatly woven together, and you never know what's going to happen next. There is a genuine tension because the heroes can (and probably will) die. The hair-breadth escapes feel like just that, reminiscent of an Indiana Jones-style "how in the heck can they get out of this?" stunt.

The characters, by the way, are really good. The banter between Pavan and his droid is classic, and Darsha (the amazing fallible Jedi) is a nice change from the usual flat, bland characterization others in her order receive. Speaking of flat, that's what Darth Maul is . . . but it's not Reaves fault (gee, whose fault could it be?). Nevertheless, he portrays the character very compellingly. Maul remains a credibly scary villain even though he fails several times to finish off his quarry because of the way Reaves displays the Sith's incredible arrogance. Sending Obi-Wan to follow in the wake of destruction Maul leaves behind is also a fun move.

There is another character in the book that Reaves does exceptionally well: Coruscant. Reaves really brings the planet to life for us, populating its underworld with strange life forms, street gangs, criminal organizations, tribes of mutant cannibals . . . and surrounding it all an atmosphere of deep-ghetto gloom and grime that exists just beneath the shining surface of the planet's upper-levels. This is not (thank goodness) George Lucas's Coruscant. All in all a bit shallow, but a cracking good read nonetheless.

Grade: A-

Posted by Jared at July 20, 2007 01:01 PM | TrackBack