Friday, November 18, 2011

Book Review: Star Wars – The Old Republic: Revan by Drew Karpyshyn

Prior to Revenge of the Sith, it was rare to see anything resembling a tragedy in a Star Wars book, and even since then when it occurs it is usually in terms of a secondary character – not the one who the book is named after. I’m not complaining about this move, it makes for a very different reading experience than what you’ll most often find in a Star Wars story – but I also felt it was important to note in a review that might be read by fans who only occasionally check out a Star Wars book.

 If you’re looking for your standard Star Wars action adventure, you’ll find some of that herein (just as you might in Revenge of the Sith) but mostly the sense of foreboding that you might feel when reading it is justified – things are not going to go well for Revan. Revan is a Jedi who turned to the dark side, was mind-wiped by the Jedi Council and ultimately came back to the light to defeat his own apprentice. But he’s a hero that can’t be trusted, because no one knows why he turned to the Dark Side in the first place – a question even he doesn’t know the answer to. He is having visions of a storm covered planet, where he believes a threat exists which may hold those answers.

 Leaving his pregnant wife behind, Revan along with the Mandalorian named Canderous and his loyal astromech droid T3, will head into the unknown regions of space. The first clue lay on the planet hiding the mask of the leader of the Mandalorian people when he was defeated in single combat by Revan. Here Canderous will face his own demons. His people are in search of the mask in order to unite again and wage war against the Republic, a war they lost and one which would only result in more bloodshed on both sides. Canderous might be the leader his people need having worked with a Jedi, but it’s just one more betrayal to add to his having abandoned them in their time of need.

 Meanwhile, an unknown Sith Empire has slowly been amassing power in the unknown regions of space – but threats to one of the inner circle of advisors to the Emporer, and suspicions of a greater rebellion brewing have forced them to call upon a relative outsider, Darth Scourge, to investigate. Because he has not been a part of the machinations of the various Sith Lords, he may be able to unravel the plot against Darth Nyriss – if her own advisors and security officers don’t destroy him first. It’s seen as a betrayal of their trust that an outsider should be brought in to do their jobs, and they’ll stop at nothing to keep him from succeeding – or is that because they are a part of the conspiracy themselves. The answers to these questions will give Scourge cause to question his own understanding of the Force as well as his loyalty to the Emperor.

 As years pass and Revan’s wife Bastilla raises their child alone, a message finally comes in the form of the returning droid T3, who was found by the Jedi Exile Meetra. Revan’s last known whereabouts were on a world in the unknown regions, where it appears two Sith took him into custody. Bastilla cannot leave her young child to go in search of her missing husband, but Meetra was his most trusted general during the Mandalorian War and she is more than willing to take up the quest. Her journey will take her into the heart of the secret Sith Empire, and into a final confrontation that may secure a peace for generations to come – but at a heavy price.

 Revan is a character introduced in the original Knights of the Old Republic videogame for the X-Box and PC, in fact he’s the character you play as while you become the redeemed hero described above. Likewise Meetra is the main character from the sequel to that game, and though you need not have played either to enjoy this book it is helpful as a reader already familiar with these characters will feel more strongly attached to them. Because Drew Karpyshyn was one of the writers of the original game, and a writer of the new The Old Republic MMO, Revan comes off as the strongest character in the narrative. He is driven to uncover his memories – convinced it is the only way he can keep his child from knowing the horrors of war. He’s a powerful Jedi, far more like those of Luke Skywalker’s era where to have a better understanding of the Force, they must not fear the Dark Side. Meetra comes off a little weaker in characterization, only driven by her desire to help Revan whatever the cost to herself – but without any real reason other than loyalty to him. Drew Karpyshyn has a tendency to turn Star Wars stories slightly on their ear, like in making the Sith the more relatable characters in the Darth Bane series, and he does so again here with the Sith Empire.

This is the most complete picture readers of The Old Republic novels have gotten yet of this side of the conflict, and I’m always intrigued by how differently the people who live by that set of rules thinks. There are multiple layers of plots, turning villains into unknown agents who may hold the key to victory or defeat. I enjoyed Revan, but ultimately I have some mixed feelings on it as well. I love Drew Karpyshyn’s Bane novels, and while Revan is a good book, I don’t think it’s quite at the level of those novels. Perhaps it’s the nature of it being a tragedy – which isn’t necessarily to my taste in a novel. Maybe it’s because, more than the prior The Old Republic books, this actually feels like a prequel or “set-up” to the game. It seems obvious to me that a number of the plots left dangling at the end of this book will be picked up by players once the game is released. That’s not to say that the book does not tell a complete story, it does – it just isn’t resolved in a way that was very satisfying for me.

At the same time, I loved visiting again with these characters (as I’m one who actually got to play the Knights of the Old Republic games) – though I did wish that more of the characters had made appearances instead of just being name dropped. Honestly though the author made the right choice with regards to that, as it would have just been catering more to the hardcore fan than serving a purpose in the story. I love The Old Republic setting for this new series of novels associated with the videogame, it tends to be very accessible to new fans and has resulted in some nice surprising twists on what I’d normally expect from a Star Wars story – and Revan continues to live up to that expectation. It’s not necessarily the best book to begin a journey into The Old Republic era (I’d still recommend Fatal Alliance as the best place to start, even though Revan is chronologically first) but it’s a welcome addition to the series and I look forward to Drew Karpyshyn’s recently announced next book in the series.

1 comment:

The Man in Black said...

Good review, Jim. As usual, no connection to the other 3 TOR novels, then?