(2016) Paul S. Kemp, Arrow Books, £8.99, pbk, 352 pp, ISBN 978-0-099-54268-1
The Clone Wars ended eight years ago, the Republic is no more and the Empire is on the rise. For some the only way is up, and for others it is down, and out, ground in the dust beneath a storm trooper’s boot, but in some places the stirrings of rebellion have started and have to dealt with, quickly and mercilessly. In the rebooted Star Wars universe, Lords of the Sith by Paul. S. Kemp takes place after the film Revenge of the Sith and before the recently published novel Tarkin which chronicled the rise of Peter Cushing’s character that we saw in Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope.
What we get here is an adventure featuring the Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid of the Dark Side, who else could be the Lords of the Sith of the title, only Emperor Palpatine and his merciless disciple, Darth Vader. And this is a rarity, Anakin Skywalker might be in the early days of his servitude to his master, and already his ruthless right hand but the Emperor hardly ever puts his own life on the line, except this time he decides he has to intervene on the planet Ryloth, which provides slave labour through the indigenous Twi’lek people and Ryloth produced the narcotic known as 'spice' (shades of Dune here, perhaps). This is too good to be true, too good an opportunity for the rebels to resist, the chance to kill Palpatine and Vader and deal a devastating blow to the Empire as they learn that the Star Destroyer Perilous is heading for the planet with both of them on board. The ship is attacked and goes down in flames, leaving the Emperor and Vader stranded on an inhospitable world with a rebel force hunting them down. Not only do they have that to contend with rebels forces hot on their heels, but the Emperor and Vader encounter insect creatures known as Lyleks that they have to defeat and all the while Vader is raging with his inner-demons and at one point is tempted to let the Emperor die so he can take his place.
Paul S. Kemp has previous form writing Star Wars novels and cleverly he has focused on the bad guys as the 'heroes' of his story rather than rebels and more familiar good guys from the Star Wars universe. He has also cleverly weaved in Chan Syndulla, a character from The Clone Wars series who is the main thorn in the Empire’s side on Ryloth, in fact this novel takes a story line that appeared in “The Clone Wars” and runs with it. Kemp also adds some interesting supporting characters into the mix which is a pre-requisite in spin-off novels like this, even if some of them arethe inevitable shreddie, and Cham’s second-in-command, Isval, a former Twi’lek slave has much on her mind given her past experiences. Moff Mors, a notable gay character also makes an appearance trying to hold her position despite the best (or worst) efforts of the ambitious, Belkor Dray.
Characters aside, Kemp gives us some good action set-pieces from space battles to the Emperor and Vader working together to survive and tapping into the Dark Side in ways we haven’t seen before and Vader even gets to flex his old piloting muscles. As an added bonus and to keep the dark bromance going, Lords of the Sith includes a Vader short story called 'Orientation' by John Jackson Miller that originally appeared in the Star Wars Insider Magazine where Vader is given some pretty menial stuff to do by the Emperor, but what are the Emperor’s real motives? And what lessons are there to be learned for pupil and master?
Finally, while I have to quibble about the length of the chapters – only 18 chapters in a book that is well over 300 pages, a well-deserved nod should be given to Aaron McBride’s great cover art, depicting an Emperor with Force-bolts coming from his fingertips and Vader swinging that trusty old light sabre of his. No doubt if the cover continued downwards, they’d be picking their way through some dead bodies, lots of them.
See also Rory's take on Lords of the Sith.
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