Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Novel Review: Paul S. Kemp’s Lords of the Sith

Lords of the SithFresh off the release, take a look at my spoiler-free review of the latest Star Wars novel!

It wasn't hard to market Lords of the Sith. Give it a title like that, give it a cover with Darths Vader and Sidious working together, and just to top it off, set it between The Clone Wars and Rebels and give it a protagonist that ties into both. There's no reason for this book not to sell, regardless of its quality.

And there was reason to be concerned for the quality. It wasn't too long ago that Lords of the Sith author Paul S. Kemp brought himself under the very uncomfortable scrutiny of the blogosphere with an article about the virtue of hypermasculinity of the sort that had many of us expecting his next Star Wars publication to be a “hero tries to keep the damsel out of the refrigerator” story of the sort that Star Wars stopped being the moment when Leia shot open a garbage chute.

Thankfully, Lords of the Sith is not that story. At least, it avoids being that story as much as a “boys' club” novel with a cover featuring two men whose interpersonal skills are known to consist entirely of “do as I say or die” can be. Nobody expected a groundbreaking work of emotional depth here, but this story holds the line. For one thing (though I wasn't going to begrudge it if it couldn't, considering the premise), Lords passes the Bechdel test, if only barely. For another thing, this is a groundbreaking work in that it features the first definitely LGBT individual of the new canon. Considering that the Legends universe gave us one gay couple, one lesbian (or bi woman; there is shockingly little on Juhani that I can find without simply Knights of the Old Republic in as many ways as possible before finally reviewing it) and a few questionable but unstated individuals in 35 years, this is an accomplishment. There is some damseling, but the fact that it is resolved by a troubled woman suffering from mental illness goes a long way toward showing that either Kemp thought better of his attitude, or his editors put a few words in on behalf of the 21st century. Whatever the case, I applaud the diversity in this novel – again, under the constraints of what it is.

Let's take a look at the main feature, then. I did find myself a bit disappointed with the scene on the cover once I got to it in the novel. From the blurb and the cover, I expected a lot more Sidious action than we got here. In Darth Plagueis, James Luceno set the gold standard for what an action scene including Darth Sidious consists of, and Lords of the Sith did not hit that mark. Part, but not all, of that is because of the emphasis that is placed on Darth Vader. Another one of my hopes going into this novel was that it would be the first entry of the new canon to establish Darth Vader as being as much of a badass as he was in Legends entries such as The Force Unleashed. Lords does this in several ways, starting with giving us a look at Vader we've never gotten before: through the eyes of someone who has never seen him and has no idea what he can do yet has earned his full attention.

I heavily enjoyed Lords of the Sith. The novel included plenty of glorious moments, giving us Darth Vader in his true prime. Despite the minor disappointment of less Sidious action then I expected, it was a joy to see Palpatine working alongside Vader for once, and the supporting cast on Ryloth definitely earned my attention due to the diversity of the cast. Lords of the Sith gets my approval, but if you need more details, keep an eye out for this review to continue in the next few days on my personal blog, Insomniatic!

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