The Legendary Rule of Two is enacted as Darth Bane encounters ancient Sith, Zannah’s family, and the demons of his own mind!
Half-way through the trilogy focusing on Darth Bane, I was surprised to still see that I was not tired of villains yet. This is a real testament to Drew Karpyshyn’s excellent writing that even someone with whom I disagreed with on fundamental levels was exciting to me. Darth Bane continues to be a well rounded character, serving as an excellent springboard for Zannah to grow and fight with. The further I get into the Legendary Adventures, the more I find that three-dimensional characters are few and far between. Thankfully, since Karpyshyn did a lot of work on Bane in Path of Destruction, he can spend time developing the side cast. Darth Zannah, Jedi Knight Johun, and Darovit mostly shine with the extra time in the spotlight.
The novel opens on a new character, Darovit. Rather than flashing forward in time, Rule of Two opens at the end of the Jedi and Sith conflict on Ruusan. After the Thought Bomb was detonated, taking the lives of both Sith and Jedi, Darovit struggles with how he survived. He finds the cavern in which the bomb was housed, exposing himself to the darkness. He is radiated with the thoughts of fallen Jedi and Sith, overwhelmed under the pressure. Considering himself the only survivor, he is shocked to learn that his cousin Zannah survived the war. He tries to “save” her from Bane, but Zannah takes his hand in an effort to save his life. Darovit later becomes a recluse, hindering efforts at memorializing the battles on Ruusan enacted by the Republic. Darovit later tries to force Zannah to recant her Sith allegiance, but he is taken out of commission.
Darovit may not be the most developed character in the novel, because that honor belongs to Zannah, but he serves an interesting purpose, so it is easy to overlook this. Especially in Legends, I feel like we didn’t have too many people who survived a war to tell us about it. Darovit’s perspective allows for an interesting take on the Dark Side. We learn about how it corrupts people, through both his interactions with Zannah and his glimpse into the minds of fallen Sith. He also allows us a glimpse of the horrors of dark side use, such as the torturous use of the Thought Bomb. He is even broken completely by Zannah’s dark side magic, making him the most tragic character in the novel. I loved hearing from Darovit, though I wish he had more time in the spotlight.
Part of the problem is that he had to share the spotlight with Jedi Knight Johun Othone. Johun is easily the least developed, and least interesting character in the novel (Yes, the hero is the least interesting character! I am a man of contradictions, I guess, seeing the hero as the problem in the novel). A former Padawan of Jedi Master Hoth, Johun is out for revenge on the Sith for the destruction as caused by the Sith Lords. He still believes one exists after hearing reports from a mercenary, so he is determined to wipe them out. His new Master, Valenthyne Farfalla, is cautious, and holds Johun back from his search. Johun is assigned to protect Supreme Chancellor Valorum (yeah, not a typo), which means he is all but disabled on his mission. While a Jedi antagonist is a surprising choice, not much comes out of it. I’m sure that, with a smaller ensemble, we could have learned more about what makes Johun tick. Unfortunately, he is like Anakin: brash, impetuous, and ready for action. Not much defines him apart from Anakin other than the differing time zones they inhabit. I would have liked to see at least one unique element to his character that stood out. This does not mean Johun was a bad character, just that he was a bit flat.
When it comes to the villains, I think the reason I really love their portrayals boils down to one aspect: their weaknesses. We never see what makes a villain weak, or what characterizes them. They never seem like real people, only caricatures. The Darth Bane trilogy is completely different in this regard. While Path of Destruction introduced us to Bane and Zannah, Rule of Two really gets into what makes them tick and fall apart. We don’t meet invincible legends, but fallible villains. We really learn what it means that the Dark Side takes a toll.
Darth Zannah’s turn in the spotlight is a lot of fun. We saw Bane struggle with his growing power in the first novel in the series, but not because he struggled with the light. Zannah, as she grows under Bane’s tutelage, struggles with how dark she is willing to go. At the beginning, Bane has to egg her on to remember the pain of losing her friend Laa to Republic forces. She has a heart for her cousin, saving him from Bane’s wrath. As she tries to get off Onderon, she has to face her own reticence to kill, even though she ends up wiping out the crew of a freighter she stows away on. I thought it was interesting to see someone struggle with the darkness they were (or aren’t!) capable of. She is a sort of precursor to Kylo in this respect.
Bane is just as strong as ever, and this middle novel concentrates on his efforts to build a holocron containing all of his knowledge. I loved this part: we rarely see anybody build a holocron, we are only told that they have one. To build a holocron, Bane relies on the knowledge of past Sith Lords, Freedon Nadd and Belia Darzu. Bane struggles with the holocron, as it needs precision and focus, which he cannot give with the orbalisk armor which he donned. While making him more powerful, it comes at a cost to his ultimate goals of a sort of immortality. I loved seeing more of a vulnerable Bane. I think too often people make their pet characters invincible; Karpyshyn does nothing of the sort. Bane’s weaknesses and vulnerabilities are drawn out and magnified for us to view, helping us see even more of what makes him tick.
There’s a lot to say about the plot, but I don’t really have the time to say much more. What time I do have left I would rather use on the extensive Force mythology introduced here. I am probably alone in this, but I wasn’t a fan of some of the concepts introduced here. I loved seeing into the making of a holocron and how exactly the maker interacted with their own holocrons. It was also interesting to see the ways that the user could interact with a holocron. The part I didn’t like focused on Belia, the second holocron. She is famous among the Sith for her ability to use the Dark Side to mold creature and machine together, outfitting aliens like rancors with cybernetic parts and weaponry. While the Dark Side is a perversion of the use of the Force, this still felt out of place. (My usual barometer? How would this concept feel in a Saga film? If it feels way too out there, it would be best to let it go. But that’s entirely subjective, so your mileage may vary.)
In the end, Darth Bane: Rule of Two is a fascinating look into Darth Bane and Darth Zannah. Even the secondary cast gets time to develop, even if some don’t go anywhere uniquely new. The plot moves at a brisk pace, making this entry the perfect middle point of a great trilogy.
Canon Novel Reviews:
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Star Wars Young Reader Reviews:
Adventures in Wild Space: The Escape (Prelude)
So You Want to be a Jedi?
Beware the Power of the Dark Side!
Poe Dameron: Flight Log
Princess Leia: Royal Rebel (Backstories)
Darth Vader: Sith Lord (Backstories)
The Force Awakens: Finn’s Story
LEGO Star Wars: The Freemaker Adventures Reviews:
“A Hero Discovered” 1×01 | “The Mines of Gabralla” 1×02 | “Zander’s Joyride” 1×03 | “The Lost Treasure of Cloud City” 1×04 | “Peril on Kashyyyk” 1×05 | “Crossing Paths” 1×06