– Light Spoiler Review –
Lords of the Sith (LotS), written by Paul S. Kemp, is the latest of the canon novels and the third to focus on the timeframe between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope. Whereas the others focused on Tarkin and a meeting between eventual rebels-in-arms, LotS centers on the Master and apprentice relationship of Vader and Palpatine, as they fight off a proto-rebel group without backup on a foreign planet. Overall, it’s a thoroughly enjoyable book thanks to its well-written and sometimes surprising characters and an engaging motif, though its action sequences drag on a little too long.
LotS is set roughly 8 years after the Clone Wars have ended, where the Empire is firmly entrenched throughout the systems and the idea of a galaxy-wide rebellion is just a dream in many a revolutionary’s eyes. But for Cham Syndulla, leader of the Free Ryloth movement, it might be much closer for him than he ever dared dreamed, as he gets word that his latest strike has caused Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader to make a special trip right to his door step, Ryloth. Unable to pass up the opportunity, Cham spends everything he has in an attempt to take their lives, hoping to ignite a fire to spread across the galaxy. To Vader this feels like a perfect opportunity to funnel his fury and possibly drown away the thoughts of his past, least he suffer the wrath of his Master, Palpatine, who is there every step of the way to measure his apprentice’s devotion to their cause. Their fight against both Cham and traitors within the Empire itself puts their relationship through quite the test, changing their dynamics, for better or worse.
As with any book with original characters or only side characters seen in a TV show, it’s easy to assume they’ll all die by the end, especially when facing such big threats like Vader and Palpatine. And while those two do leave a large swath of bodies in their wake, it’s not all of the characters you’d think, making for a nice little surprise. For a book so heavy on the action and the visceral gore, it’s light on deaths, but I’m not complaining. That leaves a lot of these well-fleshed out characters a chance to appear again, somewhere (and there are rumors one of them could even get their own TV show). And by no way does a lack of deaths dial down the tension or ruin the stakes involved with the action, as most of them are affected in other more subtle ways by the events within LotS to the point where death might have been the easier outcome for them.
Out of all the things I enjoyed about LotS, the most surprising and welcomed one was the motif/theme of masks prevalent throughout. Whether it’s the obvious, like Vader’s literal mask, or the subtle, the mask Cham sports to hide his growing feelings for Isval or Belkor Dray not letting his ambitions show to Moff Mors (his superior), everyone in the novel has a mask whether you notice it right away or not. My favorite mask(s) had to be Isval’s, as she has one for several occasions: her anger covering her desire to hunt Imperials, which she does to make herself feel like she’s making a difference; and the mask she wears on the hunt itself, turning the Twi’lek courtesan trope on its head. The motif also manages to connect all these characters on a rather basic but instinctual level, and in a way, makes it more likely the reader will find a way to relate to each character because we all wear masks around others too. For me, the motif was pretty subtle and I almost didn’t catch it on my first read-through, but it feels like a reward for reading LotS a second time.
Kemp compliments his mask motif by connecting the characters in pairs: Cham/Isval, Belkor/Mors, and of course Vader/Emperor. They each wear one of their masks around the other, never able to unveil their true feelings to one another, keeping everyone flawed in their own little ways but evening each other out. Cham is highly principled, while Isval is rash; Belkor is overly ambitious, while Mors let her job slip her by for now; Vader is full of fury which is interrupted by memories of his past, while the Emperor is overly confident. These pairings offer opportunities that Kemp mostly uses throughout the novel, covering engaging ground with both the characters we’ve known and have just met.
Even though the action sequences are well-written, intense, and visceral, in the end they can feel a little exhaustive to read. Most of them felt like they could’ve been one chapter less or one POV character switch less, as the battle above Ryloth to take down the Perilous goes on for nearly 6 chapters while the fauna attacks on both groups in the Ryloth forests pick up a few chapters later and basically brings us to the end of the novel. It wouldn’t be crazy to say the book is almost evenly split between both action and non-action sequences, though it leans more towards action, which might not be a problem for some readers. But for me I tend to end reading for a bit after an action scene and since they were all very prolonged sequences, I found myself reading a lot more at a time than I normally like to.
Here are a few other things:
- Throughout LotS, I would honestly say Emperor Palpatine considers the whole trip to Ryloth a nice little vacation. He’s constantly snickering and never worried, as if his considerable foresight has already foreseen every single event and watching it play out as expected gives him the only joy he has left in life. Kemp, just like with Vader, writes a good Palpatine, even though he never has him as a POV character. This is Palpatine at the height of his power and it shows, as his over confidence is certainly not his weakness during LotS.
- There were some understandable concerns about the first canon LQBT character being handled by Kemp and at first I was totally worried those concerns were to be valid. Moff Delian Mors certainly starts off LotS in a bad way: a lazy, spice-addled, lesbian who has a bunch of Twi’lek girls surrounding her. Thankfully as LotS progresses, so too does Moff Mors, to the point where she easily becomes one of my favorite characters in the novel. It’s rather refreshing, as Mors goes through the most changes of all the characters (at least that’s how I felt) and in a way I could almost start rooting for her by the end.
- The Royal Guards. Love to have more about their training and how they got to be so trustworthy as to be able to see Palpatine whip out his saber and not have to be sacrificed for seeing it.
- Having Vader name-drop some characters as his old memories dredge up to the surface made me smile.
- If you’ve been watching Star Wars Rebels, you can tell where Hera learned her rebellious nature and what not to do through Cham’s actions and words in the novel.
- It is nice to have Cham mention Hera, but it was only once (the other by Isval at the tail end of the book), and I have to wonder why he didn’t turn his thoughts to his daughter as he realized the repercussions of his actions and how their Free Ryloth movement would be over once the day was through. I do have one theory….
- …As far as I can tell, Cham’s inside source (outside of Belkor) is never revealed in the novel, which is slightly weird. It’s not an important detail, but it seems like an odd one to keep under wraps. However, my theory is that his source inside Mors’ retinue was Hera, seeing as she kept Twi’leks around her all the time and he’d not worry about her since she’d be protected up on Mors’ moon base during everything. However, he does identify the source as male so that throws my theory into question mostly out the window, unless he’s trying to misdirect when speaking with Isval. Either way, why keep the identity secret?
What you’ll find amongst the pages of Kemp’s Lords of the Sith is certainly two Sith Lords kicking ass, but also a book where revolutionaries learn a hard lesson about how to properly ignite a galaxy-wide rebellion, peppered with a motif about masks which make even Vader a relatable character. As long as you can put up with some extended action sequences, Lords of the Sith is well-worth a read.
+ Vader and Palpatine
+ Mask motif and pairings
+ Intense action
– But action sequences are overextended….
– ….which make it read short
DISCLOSURE: I received a copy of this book, through NetGalley, from the publisher at no charge in order to provide an early review. However, this did not affect the overall review content. All opinions are my own.
CANON NOVEL REVIEWS:
Aftermath | Aftermath: Life Debt
Battlefront: Twilight Company
A New Dawn
Heir to the Jedi
CANON YOUNG ADULT NOVEL REVIEWS:
Moving Target: A Princess Leia Adventure
Smuggler’s Run: A Han Solo & Chewbacca Adventure
The Weapon of a Jedi: A Luke Skywalker Adventure
Before the Awakening