Welcome to Book Reviews. In this series I will look to review any canon books that come out in the Star Wars galaxy. I am no expert in book critic or expert in writing (as you may be able to tell from this blog), so this is very much from a fan’s point of view. I will generally try to give a quick idea of what the story is about but avoid any spoilers. In each review, I will also try to point out a few “Moments in Canon” – moments that link into the wider canon and references to other canon stories – and also give my opinion if it is worth reading. Today I will be looking at Paul S. Kemp’s Lords of the Sith
Set approximately 5 years after Revenge of the Sith, this tells the story of the Free Ryloth movement’s attempt to assassinate Darth Vader and the Emperor when they visit the planet. Meanwhile, Palpatine uses the assassination attempt as a chance to test his apprentice and separate him from his past identity as Anakin Skywalker.
“What’s happening over there?” Isval asked. “What’s that sound?”
The rising thrum dredged memories from the back of Cham’s mind.
“It’s a lightsaber,” he said.
The story follows 5 main viewpoints: The Free Ryloth movement’s point of view is shown by Cham Syndulla and his lieutenant, Isval. Darth Vader and Moff Delian Mors provide the main Imperial viewpoints, while Belkor Dray provides a different viewpoint as an Imperial who has been providing Syndulla with targets.
As you may have guessed from reading my previous reviews, I generally prefer stories with a bit more action. As such, Lords of the Sith does not disappoint. The story has a number of gripping action sequences but still finds the time to develop the main characters so that you can clearly see their thoughts and motivations of the individuals as the mission develops. It also brings up a valid question of the morality of what the Free Ryloth movement are doing by having Cham repeat the same mantra in his mind throughout the novel:
Not a terrorist. But a freedom fighter.
The main characters are all well developed and have their own individual personalities. Cham comes across as the noble leader looking to help free his homeworld and, by extension, the galaxy. He will do what is necessary to complete his goal but the sacrifice of so many of his people hurts him and forces him to make difficult decisions. The only problem I have with his personality is that it does not tie into his first appearance in Rebels, where he appears to care only for Ryloth and no the greater picture, however he ties in with his representation in other episodes and with such a large time gap between this story and the TV show there is always the chance to tell more stories about how he came to focus on Ryloth again. Isval’s hate of the Empire runs deep and she has no qualms about sacrificing innocent lives to complete the mission. But she is not just a brute, she knows the importance of Cham to the movement and this, combined with their unspoken feelings for each other, means she will do everything she can to keep him alive. Moff Mors is shown to be lazy and nothing like the successful officers we are used to, but when matters get more serious we see the leader in her come to the fore. Belkor also changes throughout the novel as he realises that rather than him controlling Syndulla, it has actually been the other way around and we see him begin to struggle more and more as the situation gets further out of his control. I do however think that his eventual descent into madness appears to happen a little quick towards the end of the story. Vader is arguably one of the most interesting characters in the book as we see him consider trying to defeat his master, but knowing that he has not yet learned enough from him choosing to bide his time. Perhaps more interesting is the way that he frequently has reminders of his past life as Anakin Skywalker, with him thinking back to a number of events Anakin was involved in and a number of people who were close to his former self.
I really like the plot of this story and feel that the Free Ryloth movement’s goals are realistic especially given their lack of knowledge towards Vader and the Emperor’s true power. The actions taken generally make sense throughout the story and I like the way that the Emperor is careful to show his abilities with the Force in front of anyone other than Vader and his royal guards unless he knows that everyone who sees will die. I think the story is paced well, both in the planning and the initial execution, then the adapting after things don’t go according to plan. The way that Vader is set up through the eyes of the Twi’leks is great as they are constantly surprised by what he is able to do and everything they see or imagine him doing just helps them realise how dangerous and terrifying he is.
A free Ryloth.
The phrase, the concept, was the polestar around which his existence would forever turn.
I do however feel that the story could have done with one more run through, as I get the feeling that things were altered at one point in the writing of the story and were not completely amended in what had been written. The story initially places Vader and the Emperor in a shuttle crashing down onto Ryloth with 2 crew and 4 royal guards, but all but 2 of the guards are dead by the time they leave the shuttle. When the survivors are attacked by the Free Ryloth movement, it mentions that one of the guards is vaporised, yet the next stage of the story continues with 2 guards accompanying Vader and the Emperor. There were also a couple of other mentions that also have this issue in changing number of royal guards all tying back to this section of the story. While it doesn’t ruin the story by any means, the first time I read the novel I did find myself confused and having to read an earlier section again in the thought that I had misread it.
Should I read it?
If you are a fan of Palpatine, Syndulla or especially Vader, then this is definitely worth a read. There are a number of sections in the novel that give us the unstoppable Vader we see in the end of Rogue One while also being able to see the mental struggle as he banishes Anakin Skywalker from his mind.
The editing issue aside, it is a relatively easy story to read, though it may not be the best for younger readers as it is definitely one of the darker stories I’ve read.
Moments in canon
- The Imperial tech matches up with other material set around the same time, with V-wings still being used rather than TIE fighters and Vader using his ETA-2 Actis-class interceptor
- Near the start of the story, Vader ejects himself into space and uses the Force to pull himself onto a nearby ship, this sounds very similar to a moment with Leia in The Last Jedi, which came out after this novel
- Gobi, a member of the Free Ryloth movement, appears in this novel. He also featured alongside Cham in both The Clone Wars and Rebels. Hera also gets a mention in this novel
- Infighting between Imperial officers is common during stories in this era, with Thrawn and Catalyst both showing examples of this. Much like how Krennic uses Has Obitt to cause Tarkin issues in the Salient system, Belkor Dray uses the Free Ryloth movement to undermine Moff Mors, not realising that he is actually a pawn in Cham’s game
- Palpatine gives Vader a lesson about how the body can’t survive without the head. This may be a reference to the Contingency, Palpatine’s plan to ensure the Empire would fall following his death. The story of the Contingency is told in the Aftermath trilogy of novels
Have you read Lords of the Sith? What were your thoughts on it? Thanks for reading and May the Force be with you…