NOTE: Major Spoilers in this review! If you have not read Dark Disciple, you may want to finish the book before going further in the review.
Ever since Dark Disciple was announced last year, Star Wars fans have eagerly awaited the return of Asajj Ventress. Easily one of the most popular characters from The Clone Wars, Ventress is featured in Christie Golden’s new novel, and it is my personal favorite of the new canonical direction taken by the Lucasfilm Story Group. Based on unproduced episodes of Star Wars: The Clone Wars co-written by Katie Lucas, Golden has written a novel that is suspenseful, action-packed, emotional, and beautiful. Ventress is paired with Jedi Master Quinlan Vos to hunt down, and execute Count Dooku, and the personal journey the two undergo, both individually, as well as together, will stay with you long after you have finished the book.
Reminder: Major Spoilers from this point on!
Dark Disciple is great because it wastes no time in getting to the heart of the story, the relationship between Vos and Ventress. They have incredible, authentic chemistry that resonates throughout the book, and adds to our understanding of both characters. Before this novel, I was only vaguely aware of Vos (he is featured in the Clone Wars episode, “Hunt for Ziro”, the ninth episode in Season Three, as well as referenced in Revenge of the Sith), and under the guidance of Golden, quickly became on of my favorite Jedi Knights. Vos is compelling, as he uses charm that would ordinarily be used through a token Han Solo type character, but Vos is every bit his own man. He quickly became the most compelling character in the novel, and I would argue, is every bit as much the main character as Ventress. His transformation is unexpected, painful, and powerful. I am still conflicted as to how I feel about him even now, and his arc is Shakespearean in its scope and tone.
Asajj Ventress’ story is also full of gravitas, and we get to experience her bildungsroman in carefully orchestrated events. Ventress famously left Dooku in The Clone Wars and became a Bounty Hunter after Count Dooku killed her Sisters, and abandoned her. She has every reason to be closed off, and her transition of mind, body, and spirit is beautiful. The reader is privy to insights I never thought possible; Ventress has always been fairly closed off to fans, as far as hearing her immediate thoughts. She has always been an enigma, but a captivating one.
As she and Vos grow as a team, they also grow in love for one another, which makes for beautiful storytelling. Ventress is determined not to let anyone in, and Vos is, of course, forbidden to form attachment to anyone, making the struggle replete with gravitas and honesty. Through this novel, Vos becomes (particularly in the first half) the most human Jedi Knight in Star Wars lore. His struggle just seems the most concrete and relatable, and while he learns and trains alongside Ventress to prepare for facing Dooku, their adventures are exciting and well-paced. What happens to Vos truly encapsulates the horrors of war, calls into question wartime tactics, and further demonstrates the power of tragedy in Star Wars.
This is also a credit to the writing. It can truly be said that Golden wastes no time or exposition in Dark Disciple. While I have adored many Star Wars novels, not many can claim to maintain equal pacing throughout the work. However, Dark Disciple does just that. Every ancillary character is important, compelling, and worth exploring. This is a feat in itself, not just in Star Wars novels, but in storytelling. It is rare to experience, and extremely well done.
We also get much more of favorites Anakin Skywalker, Yoda, Mace Windu, and, in a featured role, Obi-Wan Kenobi. This is the first canonical novel set during the Clone Wars, and it is a welcome sight. The entire premise of the Jedi using assassination is compelling in its own right, and Kenobi helps to accentuate the struggle the Jedi continue to put themselves in through this integral time period in Star Wars. Major themes such as morality in time of war, how choice impacts your environment, and cost are explored in multifaceted ways, and help highlight what the Jedi do to help propel their downfall at the hands of Palpatine.
Halfway through the novel, Ventress convinces Vos that he must taste the dark side of the Force, in order to prepare for Dooku, and the symbolism is biblical in scope and tone. Much will be discected of the pivotal scene when Vos first succumbs to the dark side, and it is equal parts heartbreaking and unforgettable. The reader experiences Ventress’ doubt and confusion, as well as her fear at whether the end does truly justify the means. As previously stated, Ventress has never been explored quite like this, and she will no doubt be elevated even higher in the minds and hearts of fandom. Suffice to say, the last 25 pages will leave an indelible mark in your psyche, and may bring tears, as well as many other emotions.
Dark Disciple is smart, captivating, and unforgettable, and is, to my mind, among the finest in Star Wars storytelling. The weight, emotion, and resonance of the relationship between Quinlan Vos and Asajj Vetress is powerful in its narrative splendor, as well as tragic and beautiful in storytelling craft. This is essential reading for Star Wars fans, and will no doubt be considered one of the best Star Wars novels ever written. This is not hyperbole either; it is that good.
5 out of 5
Note: A big thank you to Del Rey for providing an advanced copy to review.Powered by Sidelines