[A version of this review and analysis will appear in the next episode of MakingStarWars.net‘s “Now, This Is Podcasting!”]
The first in a nine-book series, Rain of the Ghosts is Greg Weisman’s first novel. The story dates back to the mid-nineties when Weisman and his creative team first sold it to Nickelodeon. It was sadly put on hold, but he reacquired the rights about a decade ago and wrote a novel. Following the end of Young Justice, Weisman revisited the story line and finally published it with St. Martin’s Press. The novel was released earlier this December, and I went ahead and purchased it because Greg Weisman has a long list of projects I’ve supported as a fan over the years. He is also attached to Star Wars Rebels as an executive producer, and as a Star Wars fan, I was intrigued by the following tweet, which I have to admit, prompted me to grab a copy of the book.
[tweet https://twitter.com/Greg_Weisman/status/336501298440597504 width=’500′ align=’center’]
Putting Star Wars aside for a moment, I must confess that I am a big fan of the novel and its characters. In my Amazon review, I expressed that my 13-year-old self would have been excited to have this book in hand, since it is the story about a young 13-year-old girl with the ability to see ghosts, who embarks on a quest to discover the mystery of her grandfather’s past. She lives on a group of islands on the edge of the Bermuda Triangle called the Prospero Keys, but locally known as the Ghost Keys. Before I dive into the ghost theme, I first want to praise Greg Weisman on his use of diverse characters. According to statistics, 93% of 3,600 children’s books published in 2012 were written about white characters (Source). That is a very disturbing number considering our diverse society. Rain, the protagonist of Weisman’s novel, “has copper skin, long black hair and light brown eyes” and she also speaks Spanish, much to her best friend’s (Charlie Dauphin) displeasure. Her surname is Cacique and Cacique is a word that originates from the Taíno language, which was the principle language of the indigenous peoples of the Bahamas, Greater Antilles, and the northern Lesser Antilles (Caribbean islands). This used to be the title for chiefs or tribal leaders, and as a Cacique, you have the right to exercise power–a trait Rain exhibits, since she knows how to get things done and doesn’t back down from a challenge. She is a leader and so is her grandfather who plays a significant role in the novel.
Continuing along the topic of names, the name of the inn Rain’s parents own is called The Nitaino Inn (presumably named after Rain’s maternal grandmother’s maiden name, Rose Nitaino). Nitainos in the Taíno culture were the ruling class or the nobles, which were governed by the caciques. Rain’s grandfather is Sebastian Bohique, and Bohiques were the priest healers (medicine men) in Taíno society and advised the caciques. There was a structure and organization to the system and these are things that I learned when I was living in Puerto Rico. To see these titles and names being used and shown to young readers just makes me all the more grateful that Weisman put this much thought into his characters.
Charlie Dauphin (surname meaning dolphin in French and his mother owns the Royal Dolphin Rentals shop) is your ideal best friend, who is grounded in reality, constantly reasoning and predicting Rain’s wild actions. I have to admit that when Charlie was first introduced, I saw him as a white character, mainly because that’s what we consistently see in television and movies by default, a white male. My excitement shot through the roof when he was later described to have “cocoa-brown skin and a short black Afro, a wide face, open and kind, with big dark eyes, and an easygoing manner.” The reason for my elation over this character’s background is simply because there is a lack of diversity and representation in media, especially in fiction. Growing up, I never needed to see myself or my background be represented in the shows or movies I watched, but as an adult, I have realized the need for diversity and equality and why most crave for that kind of representation. Having read the novel, I’m so glad that there is another book on the shelf for children and young adults of various backgrounds to pick up and read and feel included. Additionally, I hope to see this kind of diversity in Star Wars Rebels (and Star Wars: Episode VII). Star Wars has a vast galaxy full of various characters and species. We saw that in Star Wars: The Clone Wars, so I certainly hope it expands in future Star Wars projects.
One of the first details you get to learn about the main characters is that they’re against tourists. Personally, I can identify with that sentiment because I live in one of the biggest cities in the world and my place of employment is the hub of tourism. The anti-tourism attitude in the novel, however, reminded of the Empire because the shadow of the Empire drapes over these planets and invades their industry. In Star Wars Rebels, for example, the planet Lothal becomes a center of Imperial occupation, so I can see the parallel between the locals of the Ghost Keys, specifically Rain and Charlie, being against tourism and the main characters in Star Wars Rebels being against the Empire’s intrusion and practices. Along those same lines, Rain is worried she won’t get out of the island and that she’ll be stuck there forever, catering to tourists. She wants a way out or at least know that there is a way out for her in the future. Although I can’t say for sure, I think some of the characters from Star Wars Rebels will have that same mentality. Living in the outer rim with a dead end job and nowhere to go with the Empire breathing down your back, someone may start to feel like there is more out there and that they have a larger role to play. Perhaps the rebels see the opportunity to turn against the Empire as a way out and that there’s a whole galaxy out there to explore.
Similar to Gargoyles, which was created by Greg Weisman, Rain of the Ghosts also contains various Shakespearean references. The Tempest is the one that jumps out at me the most. The following list includes some of the references I was able to pick up, but I’m sure there are a lot more that I missed. Makes you wonder if Weisman has incorporated some Shakespearean elements or themes in Star Wars Rebels…
- The Prospero Keys and Prospero, the Duke of Milan
- Miranda Guerrero, Rain and Charlie’s friend, and Miranda, Prospero’s daughter
- Sycorax, the Ghost Keys’ privately held island, and Sycorax, a powerful witch
- Ariel, Miranda’s companion, and Ariel, a mischievous spirit
- Alonso Cacique, Rain’s father, and Alonso, King of Naples
- Sebastian, Rain’s grandfather, and Sebastian, Alonso’s treacherous brother
- Iris, Rain’s mother, and Iris, a goddess
Throughout the novel, there’s also the ghost theme, and Star Wars fans are familiar with the light freighter ship in Star Wars Rebels known as The Ghost. Some of my favorite lines referring to ghosts include:
- “It had all been a dream. And the dark man, just a remnant of that dream. The ghost of a remnant.” (40)
- “No ghosts were sneaking up on Rain Cacique.” (40)
- “It was like seeing a ghost, and for Rain that wasn’t just an expression.” (100)
- Chasing ghosts, thought Rain. (118)
As you can see, we often see the mention of “ghosts sneaking” and “chasing ghosts” and “seeing a ghost,” so I think this helps reinforce my earlier suspicions that the ship in Rebels might be this thing that the Empire can’t get ahold of because it’s like trying to chase after a ghost. You might catch a glimpse of it, but it’s not within your reach. Additionally, Pablo Hidalgo at New York Comic Con said that the name “The Ghost” bears a significant meaning. Some theories could be that the captain of the ship named it after a death of a close friend or family member, or maybe the ship itself is a remnant of something from the past, making it a ghost of the past.
Needless to say, Weisman’s novel is a real treat. It’s primarily geared towards a younger audience, but personally, I think it’s a book suited for any age–just like Star Wars. Given the projects he’s worked on before, I’m excited to know that Greg Weisman is on Star Wars Rebels. He’s a creative storyteller. What also impresses me is that he could have easily written this story with a male protagonist, but he didn’t. That fact combined with the detail that there will be two females in Rebels (who he probably helped create) makes me even more ecstatic for the upcoming television series (and the rest of Weisman’s book series, of course).
All that said, please grab a copy of Greg Weisman’s Rain of the Ghosts. It’s a fun and heartfelt tale that you will want to share with the younglings and padawans in your family!
[Images are fan-made]