This a review of Star Wars: Lords of the Sith by Paul S. Kemp. It contains mild spoilers.
(Timeline: Lords of the Sith takes place between the events of Revenge of the Sith and Star Wars Rebels)
In Lords of the Sith, Twi’lek Freedom Fighters Cham Syndulla, Isval, and the Free Ryloth movement are handed a golden opportunity to deal a fatal blow to the Empire. The Emperor and his apprentice, Darth Vader, are making their way to Ryloth, ostensibly to deal with Moff Delian Mors, who has grown lax in her duties. Cham and company devise a plan to assassinate the Sith Lords – with help from an Imperial officer, Colonel Belkor Dray, who has lofty ambitions of his own.
Cham will be familiar to anyone who watched Star Wars: The Clone Wars. He is also the father of Hera Syndulla, now seen in Star Wars Rebels. He is a capable leader who inspires loyalty in his fellow freedom fighters, in particular Isval. She’s his right hand. Isval was once a slave, and her desire for vengeance against the Empire is what drives her as she frees other slaves and kills as many Imperials as she can. Now, her sights are set on Darth Vader.
Of course, as the title suggests, Lords of the Sith is a showcase for Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine. As the story unfolds, we see a young Darth Vader, still very much fueled by hatred and rage. He’s very much a physical presence. He leaps, sprints, throws his lightsaber at fleeing foes – it’s not hard to imagine Anakin Skywalker, his charred visage and yellow-tinged eyes behind the mask. We’re so used to the older and more sedate Vader we first see in A New Hope – not so much driven by his rage, but more resigned to his place in the scheme of things. After all, over time, you get used to the way things are. Your passion, your anger – whatever it is that fuels you – dissipates. That doesn’t mean it’s not still there, somewhere down deep, but it’s been set aside or redirected. He’s still menacing, but that’s the Vader we encounter in the Original Trilogy.
This Vader is very different. This Vader is lethal, merciless, and relentless. His pain is his greatest strength, and he relishes that fact. He sees order in subjugation. Anakin Skywalker’s line from Attack of the Clones – “They should be made to” – really resonates here.
Although consumed by the Dark Side and replaced by Darth Vader, Anakin is so close to the surface, and the memories that linger haunt him.
The Emperor. Darth Sidious. Palpatine. He’s very much as we see him in Revenge of the Sith. Manipulative, cruel, confident, and extraordinarily powerful. He’s always testing Vader, seemingly reading his mind. He knows what buttons to push, and he doesn’t hesitate. You almost find yourself feeling sorry for Vader. Almost….
For his part, Vader is loyal to his Master – at times it’s a tenuous loyalty. Of course, the Emperor knows that, and it pleases him greatly. However, you get the clear sense that he’d replace Vader in a heartbeat. The loyalty doesn’t really go both ways – but we already knew that about Palpatine (just ask Count Dooku).
In Lords of the Sith, the action is non-stop. Cham’s plan to take down Vader and the Emperor is brazen, and the result is epic on a scale I’ve not seen in a Star Wars novel in some time — with edge-of-your-seat space battles that would be well-suited to the big screen. (BTW, don’t like bugs? You’re in for a treat.)
The characters are all well-developed and their motivations are clear. No one seems out-of-place or superfluous to the story.
Lords of the Sith by Paul S. Kemp is a solid entry in the new Star Wars canon.
My rating: 4 1/2 out of 5
Thank you to Del Rey for providing a copy of this book for review.
*Of note, the May/June issue of Star Wars Insider features a short story that takes place just prior to the events of Lords of the Sith, as Vader and Palpatine are making their way to Ryloth. ‘Orientation” is written by John Jackson Miler.*