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Sunday, 17 May 2015

AFICIONADO REVIEW: 'LORDS OF THE SITH'



STAR WARS: LORDS OF THE SITH

Written by Paul S. Kemp

Published in UK hardback by CENTURY PUBLISHING


Reviewed by Scott Weller


Though still a relative newbie to the STAR WARS printed empire, author Paul S. Kemp has nonetheless managed to make a quick impact and successful immersion into it with his original novels and new characters highlighting Jedi and Sith conflicts across generations of storytelling. Now, however, he gets to officially play with the big toys- the canon series most popular and least morally chaperoned evildoers in the Dark Side, for what must surely be his most ambitious action/adventure tale yet, LORDS OF THE SITH, out now in UK hardback from CENTURY PUBLISHING and already entering a second successful printing States-side.


Ten years after the significant events of EPISODE III and before STAR WARS REBELS and EPISODE IV, the wellspring of hope that will become the Rebel Alliance is not yet a reality, but pockets of resistance are springing up against the machinations and power lust of the First Galactic Empire. The biggest in size and most daring in disruptive endeavours being located on the perpetually troubled Ryloth, as Cham Syndulla, a veteran of the original Clone Wars, having seen his planet attacked and enslaved not once but twice, allied with his dedicated Free Ryloth guerilla fighters brazenly gain noteworthy victories against their heavyweight oppressors, victories that soon capture the attention of the Sith overlords on Coruscant when much needed spice production grinds to a halt. No longer willing to tolerate such insurrection on Ryloth, the Emperor and his Rottweiler servant in Darth Vader soon prepare the ultimate lure for the green-skinned resistance forces, as orchestrated plans are made for a “special visit” which they know will bring Syndulla out of hiding and into their destructive grip.

“There’s always a bigger fish.” So said one wise Jedi to his Padawan many years ago. And this “bigger fish” with the news of Vader and The Emperor’s imminent arrival is indeed the ultimate prize for Cham- his attack plan as equally blunt: kill them before they can kill us! Regardless of the scenario being a trap, the opportunity to rip out the very heart of the Empire is just too good an opportunity to pass up. With all their resources soon committed, though, this will be Syndulla and his band’s last stand, which they must win at all costs!

Soon enough, the technology might of the hard-as-steel Empire clashes against the equally dedicated and controlled, know your environment tactics of the Ryloth resistance. Separate and together, Vader and the Emperor know their powers within the Dark Side, but the enemy soon shows greater resources and skill than they’d previously foreseen. Will even they find themselves out of their depth in the brutal battle for survival and final control that lies ahead- not just from the humanoid enemy forces but also the planet’s diverse and hungry-for-flesh life forms?

Their Empire to keep: the black-hearted Darth's Sidious and Vader

A gritty and carnage-rife tale of war, divided loyalties and corruption, LORDS OF THE SITH has no shortage of action in its 285 pages, rallying heroism and twisted villainy side by side. By far, though, the first half of the book showcasing the Twi’leks preparing to, then executing, their plan of attack on the Sith duo in their Star Destroyer, the Perilous, proves to be the best and most exciting, with technology and weaponry involved ultimately closer to the era of EPISODE III and the Prequels than that of the Classic Trilogy. Strange then, once on Ryloth- a fine choice for a battleground after its tragic history chronicled in THE CLONE WARS three-episode Season One arc, that the second half’s hunters-as-the- hunted aspect doesn’t prove quite as exciting- the kind of epic battle we see depicted on the book’s striking front cover, with AT-AT’s behind Vader and The Emperor no less, something we don’t quite get to see. But don’t be dismayed, the deadly duo still get some well-deserved time together on the printed page, embellishing their uniquely evil and sadistic repartee, as well as unleashing their incredible, awe-inducing energies to frightened antagonists both Rebel and Imperial.

No stranger to examining the motivations and power plays of the Sith mindset, Kemp clearly enjoys the unique pairing that is Vader and The Emperor as seen in the movies, building on the intense relationship between master and apprentice, and their rivaling for power and control, and in being part of the Way of the Sith and its disciplined and deadly mentality linked to the rule of two.

The Emperor shows his manipulative side from his days as Palpatine, as well as the kind of “unlimited power” not fully utilized since EPISODE III. Together with raw mental cunning and an ability to sacrifice anyone or anything to his advantage, there’s a reason why he'll always be very difficult to kill, continuing to fascinate and frustrate his apprentice servant and those around him with his seemingly all-knowing and all-seeing submersion into this most violent side of the Force - a condition he savours!

On his own, Vader is equally well brought to life in his complex aspects as warrior, Sith, and former Jedi, alongside his self-absorbed vanity and lust for the power of the Dark Side. Past memory fragments and unused skills from his time as Anakin Skywalker re-surface at important moments, reminding us of his tragic origins yet also of his unique gifts. There’s even a certain reference to a former young Padawan leaner of his, surely a reminder of what’s to come between them for REBELS Season Two.In LORDS OF THE SITH, Vader's showcased to action-packed form throughout, no holds barred battling for his and his Master’s survival once crash-landed on Ryloth- a welcome move by Kemp after years of LUCAS BOOKS having their star villain so underused in print, sometimes having made only the odd fleeting appearance here and there during the last six years or so.

Vader is the ultimate knife in the heart of peace and justice, dispensing his unique brand of cleansing right from the book’s get-go, as one of Cham’s resistance cells is swiftly destroyed in a V-wing fighter attack which the Dark Lord commands with typically ruthless efficiency, followed by an up close and personal assault on the stolen Imperial transport, massacring his enemies with precise and cruel efficiency. Vader’s ability to bring genocidal slaughter remains undiminished- first there was the Tusken Raider camp all those years back, now innocent Twi’leks unintentionally caught up in the conflict quickly enter range of his swift crimson blade swings!

Another noteworthy plus for Kemp is his fine use of, and tribute to, conceptual artist/legend Ralph McQuarrie’s original idea for Vader’s wearing of his unique breathing mask during STAR WARS early design stages– then it was to enter the airless corridor of the Rebel Starfighter, now we see the Dark Lord literally making a bold spacewalk in story form onto the stolen Imperial Transport after having dispatched his V-wing fighter into it kamikaze-style! This bit of referencing and celebration was great to read.

Ryloth rebel leader Cham Syndulla, as seen in THE CLONE WARS animated series.

With opponents like Vader, to fight a monster may mean having to become a monster yourself. Then there’s the opinion that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. Both these unsettling dichotomies constantly play in the mind of Cham Syndulla during this epic struggle, as Kemp manages to add some nuance to the angry and bitter character seen in the animated series, now trying to convince himself and his conflicted conscience that his actions, no matter how high the body count and the destruction wrought, must ultimately be worth it.

A calculating warrior with a passion for survival, Cham will need to find all his reserves and more against the Empire and the tyranny of the Ryloth oppressors, including one of his own in the overbearing and greedy form of unscrupulous Orn Free Taa, who has done so much to enslave his people and make life miserable. Such dedication and fire will ultimately continue through his family lineage, via his equally passionate daughter, Hera, in another time and another place.

Kemp also concocts additional die for the cause Twi-lek warriors, particularly Cham’s loyal to the end lieutenant, the ex-slave Isvar, who proves a capable and strong right-hand woman ready to dish out Imperial death until the last drops of her very blood have been spent.

Finally, further gray moral drama can be found on the story’s periphery, courtesy of two all-new Imperial characters soon caught on the opposite side of the battle-lines: the corrupted Moff Mors, too-long enjoying the benefits of her Imperial position from her compound on Ryloth’s moon, what with its array of pleasures and shapely Twi’lek female slaves, and the equally corrupted younger Colonel, Belkor Dray, stationed on Ryloth prime, keen to remove Mors, whom he deeply despises, and establish a powerbase of his own by aiding Cham’s resistance when it’s proves to be in his best interests. Both Mors and Belkor prove potentially interesting at the start but are sadly under-developed and seem a little lost by the story’s inevitable conclusion.

AFICIONADO RATING: So, a great first half, and some very effectively written sequences here and there, especially the memorable finale scenes involving Vader and The Emperor, yet LORDS OF THE SITH ultimately has no major landmark qualities about it, nor is it quite the thoroughly barnstorming and thrilling conflict I’d personally hoped for. It is, however, a solid and adult entry in official canon, of which readers will surely appreciate Kemp’s setting-up of future plot/character strands linked to REBELS Season Two, especially with regards to Cham’s daughter, Hera, and her family’s shattered history of warfare against the soon full-time arrival in that series of Darth Vader. 7 out of 10

Get hold of LORDS OF THE SITH here:

With thanks to CENTURY PUBLISHING UK.


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