The Legendary Adventures have never come across anything as gruesome as this: Sith Lords, foul beasts, evil Emperors…none of this compares to the shock and horrors of introducing concepts first seen in Deathtroopers into The Old Republic timeline as we enter the Red Harvest!
I remember when the first novel in the series, Deathtroopers, came out. At first, I had thought and hoped it was a joke. When the novel was released, I passed on it faster than you could blink. As much as I wanted new Star Wars, it was hard to muster up any excitement for such a radical break from traditional Star Wars storytelling. Sure, since the book’s release, we’ve seen Star Wars tackle many different genres: kaiju stories, pure science fiction, mystery, noir, even horror. But, getting to this book still did not excite me. In fact, the Legendary Adventures almost stopped right there.
When I finally pushed through to the novel, I was pleasantly surprised to find that this book was better than I expected. As a pure horror novel, this wouldn’t have been a bad book at all. There’s plenty of tropes familiar to every fan of horror here: a spunky hero, a hardened warrior, a mad scientist, blood, gore, crazy sciences, and talking plants. Okay, well, no one may have expected the last item. Before this book, the only horror novels I had read were Dracula and Frankenstein. Take out any references to the galaxy far, far away and this would have fit into the genre perfectly.
But as a Star Wars novel? It doesn’t work quite as well. The plot focuses on Hestizo Trace, a Jedi botanist. Her Force sensitivity manifests itself in her green thumb, or, specifically, green tongue. Trace uses the Force to communicate with a Murakami orchid. The orchid, linked to Trace, cannot survive apart from Trace. Unbeknownst to the Jedi, a Whipid bounty hunter named Tulkh is hired to capture the orchid as the final ingredient in a mad Sith’s science experiment. The connection between the orchid and Trace necessitates the capture of both. In response to the intrusion, Rojo, Trace’s brother and Jedi Knight, is called to rescue Trace from the Sith.
The Sith Lord who hired Tulkh, Darth Scarborous, is a Sith alchemist, obsessed with extending his life indefinitely. The experiments are ancient Sith rituals designed to extend life learned from an ancient Sith Lord. He conducts his experiments in a tower outside of a Sith Academy on Odacer-Faustin. In the Academy, exceptional students are rumored to be sent to the tower to serve under Scarborous. These students, rather than becoming Masters, are used in Scarborous’s experiments. Wim Nickter, an apprentice who shows himself as a capable fighter, is the first victim of these experiments that we get to know in the novel. Scarborous’s experiments are not yet successful, as victims become mindless eating machines; Nickter’s fate is no different, he escapes into the wild, and starts infecting the entire school.
As the infestation grows, we follow another group of Sith students, Trace and Tulkh, and a third subplot focusing on Rojo as he finds his way into Scarborous’s lair. Rojo’s plot remains small in the book, but his scenes may be some of the most interesting. It combines good detective work with traditional Jedi flair, reminding us a bit of the universe at large in which the book is set.
I’ll start with some of the good aspects. Again, if this were a horror novel, this story would work. A whole chapter is dedicated to a lunch room brawl, wherein students are pinned by zombie students and scramble for survival. One haughty student rushes in to fight the zombies, and loses, of course. More imaginative readers can imagine a fight between zombies and lightsaber wielders on a big screen, leading to a nice pay off. Another interesting scene from the novel showcases Sith students scared for their lives, hidden in a dorm room. They fight over who gets to use the lightsaber they have in their possession, who gets other weapons, and the best methods for escaping. These scenes capture the heart of a zombie story well, and serve to draw us in to connect with the characters.
As a Star Wars novel, there wasn’t much that connected to the heart of the films. The heroes of the novel were less like the heroes from the films and more like the main character in Taken; If you think that’s an unfair comparison, your opinion might change when you read the dialogue lifted directly from the first Taken movie. Even though this becomes characteristic of Legends novels, the Force powers imbued to the Jedi become stranger and stranger. As far as I remember, there are no other stories wherein the Force allows for literal communication with plants. This is far beyond the telekinesis and augmented physical abilities we’ve seen on screen. As we approach The Screaming Citadel, it will be interesting to see another take on horror from authors who have proved themselves as capable of capturing the heart of Star Wars.
For what it’s worth, setting this zombie story in the Star Wars universe allows for some interesting twists. No matter how much fun it is to seee Michonne make extensive use of a katana in The Walking Dead, this story offers a new twist on chopping up zombies. Trust me, it’s a different thing entirely to read about students using lightsabers to cut up a zombie. Another awesome scene is when a Neti librarian is so tied to her library that she when she becomes a zombie, the whole library is zombified. In this, we see a bit of the advantages of setting the novel in the Star Wars galaxy. It’s just too bad these SW-imbued moments become set decoration rather than the heart of the novel.
Unfortunately, there isn’t much else that connects us to the characters. At times, it was hard to remember which characters were which. Sith characters were defined by a single characteristic, and some were so similar it was hard to remember which was a swordsman and which was the really good swordsman. When these characters died, there wasn’t much connection lost. The story really focused on Rojo and Trace, but neither of those characters were very interesting, either. It doesn’t seem like many characters were developed, and only existed to move the story forward.
But, there may be an upside to reading this in the Legendary Adventures. Reading this novel by itself might not be, for most, worth your time. But it gains extra dimensions when it is set right in the middle of the subseries written for The Old Republic. In this time period, Darth Vitiate is the Emperor of the Sith Empire, at war with the Republic. The Sith Empire had already sacked the Jedi Temple, and the Treaty between the Sith and Republic had already been drafted. Even without the Story Group, it’s fun to imagine this story was always written in the context of the Sith Empire. We might imagine that the Emperor is drafting his Sith Academies, even his alchemists and his scientists, to come up with a new plan for the take over of the universe. Unfortunately, for the Sith, at least, the plan fails.
All in all, the story doesn’t contain a lot of the heart of Star Wars. Fans of horror may find a lot to find in this book. It’s a gory adventure imbued with the Force. Fans of Star Wars but not horror might be best advised to stay away.
Canon Novel Reviews:
Rogue One: A Star Wars 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