Star Wars: Lords of the Sith. Paul S. Kemp. April 28, 2015. Random House Publishing Group. 320 pages. [Source: NetGalley Review Copy]
The canon lineup of books from Del Rey continues with Lords of the Sith, a novel written by Paul S. Kemp, set eight years after Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. The freedom fighters of the Twi’lek planet Ryloth endeavor to strike a debilitating blow to the Empire, with Darth Vader and the Emperor as their main targets. Fast-paced, action-packed, and filled with diverse and familiar characters, Lords of the Sith is an entertaining–yet safe–read.
There’s nothing wrong with being safe. In fact, in major reality television competition shows, like Project Runway and Face Off, being “safe” can get you through to the next round. Lords of the Sith is a safe novel with a simple plot, but it did have its flaws as well as its highlights.
Starting off with the latter, the novel introduced a handful of intriguing characters. There is Cham Syndulla, a character previously seen in the Emmy Award winning animated series Star Wars: The Clone Wars. He continues to portray the image of a fearless and wise leader. Joining him is Isval, a bloodthirsty Twi’lek woman with an ire towards the Empire that makes her downright cold at times. On the opposite side stood Colonel Belkor Dray, an Imperial officer with his own private goals that make him almost Sith-like as he attempts to climb up the Imperial ladder. Finally, there’s Moff Delian Mors, another individual in the Imperial ranks who isn’t always on top of her game when it comes to her responsibilities. They are characters with real-world traits and ambitions, despite some of them only having a few sentences worth of background.
The facts still remain, though. We know Cham is a leader and fighter. We know the Emperor constantly tests Vader. We know Vader is this angry, imposing lord of the Sith. We also know nothing happens to Vader and the Emperor and that there will never be a legitimate threat on their lives. This automatically puts a strain on the story and how far it can go. As a result, I’m not exactly sure what to take away from this novel other than the fact that it had great tension and build-up of action as well as a few memorable characters (or forgettable, depending on your tastes). Briefly, though, I am thankful for the strongly written women characters with varying strengths and weaknesses. Though not my favorites at the start, Isval and Mors proved to be more interesting as the story progressed, each for different reasons.
The major flaw isn’t really one that’s found in the book–it’s actually a flaw in my expectation of the book. If you’re expecting to learn more about Cham Syndulla as a way to extract more information about Hera Syndulla from Star Wars Rebels, then it’s best for me to point out to the title of the novel again: Lords of the Sith. The story is in the title. The story is seen on the cover, as well. Well, for the most part. There weren’t any AT-ATs or Rebel Alliance soldiers fighting stormtroopers. The story is more about Darth Vader and the Emperor, obviously. Actually, it’s more about Darth Vader “sinking into the Force” several, several times and ridding the ghosts of his past. In many ways, I wish the title of this book was Freedom Fighters and that it expanded more upon that side of the story.
Fans of Star Wars: The Clone Wars will definitely enjoy some of the Clone Wars references tossed here and there, since those moments really piqued my interest. Otherwise, it was–again–a safe story.
A story that actually got repetitive at certain points, especially in the second half of the book (specifically, the dangerous encounters with the fauna of Ryloth’s forests). Some aspects really stood out, however, such as the good guys walking the thin line between freedom fighters and terrorists. From the point of view of Imperial engineers and technicians going about their daily jobs and routines, the actions of certain “freedom fighters” truly paint the good guys as bad guys. Things aren’t necessarily black and white as portrayed throughout the rest of the saga (light vs. dark, rebels vs. Imperials). Both sides to the war have drawn blood, so this book really puts that into perspective.
Finally, although the story kicked off with a strong start, it sort of just…ended abruptly, leaving the reader with more questions and open storylines. The book is only eighteen chapters, but again, I expected more with the story, especially on the part of Cham Syndulla. You’re left with the urge to turn the page and read what will happen next to the characters, but that’s it. Obviously, some of these characters play bigger roles outside of this specific frame in time, but the question now is when and where will we see those stories? Lords of the Sith felt as if it was setting the stage for something bigger, but I came away with a big “to be continued” and no follow-up in sight.
Though I found some parts of the story lacking, TWG contributor Elisa saw Lords of the Sith in a different light:
Getting it out of the way, I highly enjoyed this book. Going in, I was expecting a Sith version of a buddy cop movie, and while the wacky hijinks weren’t exactly present, the interactions and the story revolving around the title characters and other storylines present in this book were solid. The story involving Cham Syndulla and Isval, two Twi’leks trying to expel the Empire from their home planet, was very well-developed and explored, even to the point where not only their cause but also the people they interacted with drew genuine fret. Lastly, we have the Imperials, mostly centered on a female Moff and an officer who’d bitten off way too much in another storyline that only aids in fleshing out the story as a whole.
This book doesn’t pull its punches, and it’s the one thing I love most about it. The fact that the sides of good and evil (excluding Palpatine and Vader) in this book can fall into shades of grey is something that I really appreciate and loved reading. Having moral ambiguity and adding difficult layers to characters, who previously would have been written off as only good and only evil, is great to see.
Strong storytelling, compelling characters, multiple storylines that never felt clunky with one another is why I feel Lords of the Sith is another great entry into the expanding Star Wars continuity.
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