by James Luceno
Published in January 2012
Thibault’s Score: 1/5
After reading Cloak of Deception, also written by James Luceno, I had high hopes for Darth Plagueis. Cloak of Deception was a fantastic book which explored the deep geopolitics and economics of the Star Wars universe. Darth Plagueis was a (bad) attempt at creating a history research book set in the Star Wars universe.
Because I don’t recommend the book, I will include many spoilers.
The book started off very strong. It begins with Palpatine who has just murdered Darth Plagueis. The first chapter had me hooked - Palpatine briefly recalls Darth Plagueis’ pursuit of immortality, and wonders if he has really succeeded in murdering Plagueis. He reveals that he senses something powerful in the force, and worries that Plagueis’ spirit may have survived and remained to haunt him. The story then cuts to Plagueis murdering how own master decades earlier.
What followed was a clunky mess.
The biggest problem was that the book tells rather than shows the story. It also assumes readers are completely familiar with the surrounding background story / Star Wars lore. There are too many awkward references to plots from comic books, other novels, and video games. The plot relies on confusing side narratives that aren’t very well explained.
Furthermore, the characters aren’t part of the action, and are usually just hearing about it. This shouldn’t have been a problem, however in this case, it was. Instead of hearing about how characters learn something, more often than not we hear that a character has done something.
In Luceno’s older novel, Cloak of Deception, the off-screen action is handled really well. You learn about events in real time as the characters learn them. For example, chancellor Valorum is told by an aide that he has been involved in a corruption scandal. Valorum’s reaction highlights his anxious and weak personality. You then hear Valorum ask advice from other characters, and debate possible ways of dealing with the situation. Although the audience knows how the debacle will end because they have watched the movie, learning about how things unravel is really fun and exciting.
Valorum looked pale and grim, but he was sitting up in bed, his right arm, from wrist to shoulder, encased in a soft tube filled with bacta. A transparent, gelatinous fluid produced by an insectoid alien species, bacta had the ability to promote rapid cell rejuvenation and healing, usually without scarring. Palpatine often felt that the wondrous substance was as key to the survival of the Republic as were the Jedi.
“Supreme Chancellor,” he said, approaching the bed, “I came as soon as I heard.”
Valorum made a gesture of dismissal with his left hand. “You shouldn’t have bothered. They’re releasing me later today.” He motioned Palpatine to a chair. “Do you know what the guards did when they brought me in here? They cleared every patient from the emergency room, then emptied this entire floor, with scarcely a concern for the condition of the patients.”
“The security was warranted,” Palpatine said. “Knowing you would be brought here if they failed, the assassins could have stationed a second team in the admitting area.”
“Perhaps,” Valorum granted.
In Darth Plagueis, this is handled very differently. Because the novel spans more time, you are often told about past events. For example, one character is described like this:
Notorious for his gambling, Treblanc owned the Galaxies Opera House on Coruscant. Why Jabba chose to associate with gamblers and other lowlifes was a mystery to Plagueis. In some ways the Hutt’s illicit empire was the inverse of Hego Damask’s, where, if nothing else, the criminals were at least politicians, corporate honchos, and financiers. His coming to Sojourn was both uncharacteristic and unexpected.
This book could have been really good, but it failed. I do not recommend its even to Star Wars fans.
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