Review: Lords of the Sith by Paul S. Kemp

Is this a great cover or what?



Synopsis: A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. . . .


When the Emperor and his notorious apprentice, Darth Vader, find themselves stranded in the middle of insurgent action on an inhospitable planet, they must rely on each other, the Force, and their own ruthlessness to prevail. “It appears things are as you suspected, Lord Vader. We are indeed hunted.”


Anakin Skywalker, Jedi Knight, is just a memory. Darth Vader, newly anointed Sith Lord, is ascendant. The Emperor’s chosen apprentice has swiftly proven his loyalty to the dark side. Still, the history of the Sith Order is one of duplicity, betrayal, and acolytes violently usurping their Masters—and the truest measure of Vader’s allegiance has yet to be taken. Until now.


On Ryloth, a planet crucial to the growing Empire as a source of slave labor and the narcotic known as “spice,” an aggressive resistance movement has arisen, led by Cham Syndulla, an idealistic freedom fighter, and Isval, a vengeful former slave. But Emperor Palpatine means to control the embattled world and its precious resources—by political power or firepower—and he will be neither intimidated nor denied. Accompanied by his merciless disciple, Darth Vader, he sets out on a rare personal mission to ensure his will is done.


For Syndulla and Isval, it’s the opportunity to strike at the very heart of the ruthless dictatorship sweeping the galaxy. And for the Emperor and Darth Vader, Ryloth becomes more than just a matter of putting down an insurrection: When an ambush sends them crashing to the planet’s surface, where inhospitable terrain and an army of resistance fighters await them, they will find their relationship tested as never before. With only their lightsabers, the dark side of the Force, and each other to depend on, the two Sith must decide if the brutal bond they share will make them victorious allies or lethal adversaries


Set eight years after Revenge of the Sith, this one starts out hot and hits the ground running. After an intro of Vader in his meditation chambers to demonstrate his current state of mind- he’s practically a shark in the waters always smelling blood- we get treated to a space battle against Twi’lek rebels that sets the tone for the rest of the book. Sort of reminded me of Heir to the Empire and our introduction to Grand Admiral Thrawn.


As always, it’s the characters that make the story, and the reason we’re reading this one. At the core of the story is the dynamic between Vader and Palpatine. Palpatine constantly tests his prize student, or seems to, and Vader is never entirely certain where he stands. The only constants, the only sureties he has are his anger and the Force, which help him maintain his focus and find his balance. A small but important moment comes near the end of the book where a simple comment by his master turns out to be another test, but the outcome was never in doubt.


The Twi’lek rebel leader, Cham Syndulla, has some good moments and is very complex and clever. His care and concern for his fellow rebels comes through and I’d like to see more of him. Isval, his right hand woman- and possibly more- is broken from her time as a slave and often needs an outlet to release her violent impulses. Yet she even manages to turn this into something positive. Delion Mors- the Moff overseeing the Twi’lek home planet Ryloth- goes through an interesting character arc as the story progresses, as does Belkor Dray, her treacherous second in command. They’re the kinds of characters you always want to see more of.


Only thing I found kinda odd was the story’s incorporation into established canon instead of just being more Expanded Universe stuff. Not only that, the author has Vader invoking characters from the Clone Wars cartoon series- Ahsoka and some of the Clone Troopers- meaning that they’re also part of the official narrative now.


Ok, there was one other thing that felt off: Palpatine being so blasé and casual with his underlings. I get that he’s playing his underlings against Vader so they’ll never realize he’s the true threat but his interactions always felt weird to me.


Not that there aren’t a couple of stumbling blocks. Vader’s respirators are still functioning while exposed to deep space- wouldn’t have noticed if the author hadn’t called special attention to it. The rebels all seem a bit dense as well. Vader’s fearsome reputation precedes him, and he’s known for being able to do things no normal man ever could. Do they not notice the lightsaber in his hand? The impossible physical feats he performs? The supernatural abilities he possesses? The Jedi haven’t been gone that long- do they need a slide rule to figure this out?


Also all the depictions of Palpatine always presenting him as seemingly omniscient are getting annoying. It comes across as a cheap plot device to lean on; that Palpatine always knows what’s going on and nothing’s beyond his grasp. Granted he’s learned a great deal over the years with his experiences and insights through the Force, but he’s clearly not as prescient as we’re being led on. This is pretty clear in a scene towards the end of the book where Vader stops Palpatine from killing a Twi’lek villager because they’d probably need her help. The scene deliberately calls back the iconic moment in RotJ where Vader crosses blades with Luke to prevent him killing the Emperor, but here Palpatine turns to his apprentice in a rage for being thwarted only to return to his familiar sanguine, placid self mere moments later and already making more predictions. Sorry, not buying it.


And do we have to be told every single time Vader/Palpatine pull off a maneuver that they’re ‘deep into the Force’? That they’re ‘drawing on the Force’, ‘stepping into the Force’, ‘channeling the Force’- enough already. Trust me- we know how these guys operate.


Politics, intrigue, noble sacrifices, double & triple crosses, redemption, mayhem, mass destruction, betrayal, philosophy and the Force- this was the most fun I’ve had reading a book so far this year. Great stuff.