Friday, March 25, 2011

Book Review: "Deceived" by Paul Kemp

The moments of betrayal are the pivotal points about which Deceived, the latest of The Old Republic novels, revolves around. The first is of course the biggest, as the author Paul Kemp captures in prose what many gamers have probably seen in the videogame trailer – the moment when the Sith Empire strikes the Jedi Temple on Coruscant, just as on Alderaan the two sides are hammering out a truce. But the nice part for anyone who has not been following the developing videogame, or who has not been interested in keeping up with all the Star Wars books – this is set thousands of years before the movies, it makes for a similar setting without needing to know the specific histories of any characters. One of the first characters we’re introduced to is Zeerid, a reluctant smuggler who’s just trying to earn enough money to get out of debt to the Exchange and pay for his handicapped child to get either a hover-chair or prosthetics. Early in the story we learn plenty about his past with the Republic as well as how his wife died and his daughter wound up handicapped in the same accident. It’s because he had to leave the Republic service to take care of her that he wound up smuggling – a job he is embarrassed about and tries to hide from what’s left of his family. But he’s given an opportunity by his employers to get out of debt forever by doing “one last job” – delivering a very valuable spice (drug) to Coruscant, which has just fallen to the Sith. Of course, getting past the Sith blockade of the planet makes it a near suicide mission – not to mention the rival cartels that will no doubt be gunning for him. Fortunately, on his side will be Jedi Knight Aryn, whom he knows from his time as a Republic soldier. She comes looking for him just as he’s getting ready to leave for Coruscant – looking for a ride there herself. She knows that her former master, Ven, was at the Jedi Temple when it fell. She felt him die – and now she has decided to take matters into her own hands to avenge him, when the Jedi Council believes they cannot reciprocate lest the peace process break down. But first she needs to get to the Jedi temple and pull the video records so she can see which Sith is responsible. Should they be able to sneak past the Sith blockade (they don’t quite), it’s likely to be a high speed race to the surface or worse (much worse, how about high atmospheric skydiving without a parachute), so that they can to wander through the underground air circulation systems of the city-planet where all sorts of creatures and machines might want to tear them to pieces – only to find out that the powerful Sith Lord Dath Malgus is the one Aryn seeks, though facing him would be a sure death-wish on her part. I loved Malgus - he believes the Sith are serving the will of the Force, and that it is the Jedi who are the ones that do not understand the true nature of the Force. He is a man at odds with himself, because he loves Eleena, the Twi’lek girl who is also his slave – so they both must be mindful of her proper position in front of any other Sith or he risks losing not just their respect, but possibly his life. And like many Sith of this era, his position is precarious - there are other Lords looking to see him fail, looking to raise their own profile above his. The reader is given a very deep look into the mind of a Sith Lord in this book, which can always be an interesting experience. But Aryn is probably the most fascinating character explored in this book. Even though she is constantly making questionable choices, you really do feel for her and wonder what she’s going to do next. Her betrayal of self is near complete as the story comes to its end; after giving up everything she’s ever believed (and was taught by her master), used her friend and is ready to use another being to torture a Sith – we see how far a Jedi really can fall. There was also some nice thought put into her arguments early in the novel with other Jedi who want to follow her example. She makes it clear that they are not to follow her example, that it would cause a civil war within the order if the Jedi were to rebel against their leaders and strike back against the Sith in retaliation for the attack on Coruscant. I liked that she took the time to reason it out with them; it was certainly a realistic scenario that the author brought up, that there would be more Jedi who are unhappy that the peace talks continue after this betrayal has happened to them. I enjoyed the heck out of Deceived, Paul Kemp knows how to write both an entertaining story as well as an emotionally involved one. There were a couple of stand-out moments for me, like the scene out of a noir film, where Zeerid knows he's been followed. One person is coming up the stairs of the building where his daughter stays with her aunt, and one person is coming up the elevator – either could be out to kill him, and he can only choose to face one of them without giving away his position to the other. It’s a well written tense moment, and like many others in the book, kept me guessing until the resolution. Likewise there was another moment that I thought was just really fantastic – something that surprisingly no other Star Wars author has ever really brought up before (that I can remember). When Aryn meets up with Zeerid before they head off to Coruscant together, she calls it the will of the Force. I was struck by this - it's something that we as readers of Star Wars should think about more often when we ask "why is such-and-such always involved" or "how did these characters just happen to be at the right place at the right time". While yes, it's because it serves the story, it's also a nice in-universe way of explaining such phenomena. But there were also a couple of moments that nearly derailed the story for me as well. When Aryn convinces Zeerid that he doesn't need to leave Coruscant because the guy who knows about Zeerid’s family and has been actively pursuing them is such an upstanding guy that he obviously hasn't told anyone yet and so his family is in no danger - it was far fetched. And Zeerid bought it completely, which was even more far fetched (at that point, I’d have accepted some Force persuasion on Aryn’s part – but then he’d have never trusted her again which doesn’t make for a good start to a romance at the end). The other time is when Vrath is first introduced (Zeerid’s rival); he uses an overly complicated tracking method of pouring a liquid on the ground in front of Zeerid, which Zeerid steps in and then deposits nano-bot tracers on the bottom of his shoe. It's also noted that other beings step in this liquid, but that doesn't seem to be a problem for Vrath. He just tracks Zeerid - don't ask how, because there's no explanation and you just have to go with it. Really? You couldn't come up with anything more than that? Just tell me that the nanobots only activate for the first person to walk through them, or that the rest could be deactivated, or something. Even another method of tracking would have been preferred. But I pushed past both of those issues, and with just those few minor blips, I felt Deceived was a well written book. The characters were all well formed with very individual motivations and strong personalities that made them all stand out. Malgus isn't just another Sith Lord, he has his own desires and faults, but even damaged as he is he is a formidable fighter. I thought this was another strong book in The Old Republic series; it feels to me like the authors are able to succeed at making things a little more unpredictable by not being hampered by "known" characters and existing events that must be adhered to. Either way, I'll be looking forward to reading more in this era, and from this author.

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