Sunday, 7 December 2014

Star Wars: Tarkin by James Luceno (Del Ray)

I share my thoughts on James Luceno’s latest Star Wars novel, Tarkin, looking at Darth Vader’s right hand man from the original trilogy. This book was published by Del Ray Books.

Bestselling Star Wars veteran James Luceno gives Grand Moff Tarkin the Star Wars: Darth Plagueis treatment, bringing a legendary character from A New Hope to full, fascinating life.

He’s the scion of an honourable and revered family. A dedicated soldier and distinguished legislator. Loyal proponent of the Republic and trusted ally of the Jedi Order. Groomed by the ruthless politician and Sith Lord who would be Emperor, Governor Wilhuff Tarkin rises through the Imperial ranks, enforcing his authority ever more mercilessly . . . and zealously pursuing his destiny as the architect of absolute dominion.

Rule through the fear of force rather than force itself, he advises his Emperor. Under Tarkin’s guidance, an ultimate weapon of unparalleled destruction moves ever closer to becoming a terrifying reality. When the so-called Death Star is completed, Tarkin is confident that the galaxy’s lingering pockets of Separatist rebellion will be brought to heel—by intimidation . . . or annihilation.

Until then, however, insurgency remains a genuine threat. Escalating guerrilla attacks by resistance forces and newfound evidence of a growing Separatist conspiracy are an immediate danger the Empire must meet with swift and brutal action. And to bring down a band of elusive freedom fighters, the Emperor turns to his most formidable agents: Darth Vader, the fearsome new Sith enforcer as remorseless as he is mysterious; and Tarkin—whose tactical cunning and cold-blooded efficiency will pave the way for the Empire’s supremacy . . . and its enemies’ extinction.

It’s a new era for Star Wars. You may have seen the Force Awakens teaser trailer released a few days ago to much fanfare, but before that, Disney’s new Expanded Universe started with several writers getting their first taste of exploring the new Star Wars world. Readers also got their first taste of what to expect, and although I’ve only had the chance to read Tarkin so far from this new batch of releases, the new Star Wars universe looks to be in very good hands indeed.

James Luceno is one of my favourite Star Wars authors and I’ve loved his work in the past so it was a no brainer really as to whether or not I’d pick up Tarkin. Like with Darth Plagueis, James Luceno fleshes out a character who isn’t especially developed, and giving him some depth (although not without its problems, which I’ll touch on later) and intrigue of his own in a novel set before the events of A New Hope. It is very much a prequel novel that really works, telling the rise of Wilhuff Tarkin that’s executed in a strong way indeed. If you want to get a sample of what life was like for the Imperials before the completion of the Death Star then Tarkin is something that you’ll want to read, with plenty of interesting scenes that keep the novel feeling mostly fresh and exciting.

Luceno splits the narrative between flashbacks and the present day pretty well. The flashbacks are deployed to great effect and they are used to explore the different timelines strongly and they don’t really feel disjointed when it comes to pacing, and as a result you won’t find one section to be incredibly fast whilst the other is much slower.

The book itself blends the detective style approach with the look at the Empire’s problems after the Clone Wars. There are still Separatists to be dealt with and everything isn’t quite as clean as Tarkin would have liked it to be. Especially as the Death Star itself isn’t quite complete just yet, and it’s interesting to see how the Empire dealt with things before they had their super weapon.

There are a few problems however. As expected in a novel focused on the villains, and therefore you shouldn’t expect to find any sympathetic characters here. Luceno doesn’t make Tarkin someone you want to get behind and there isn’t anyone that developed to get on their side either, but if you can put that aside, then Tarkin is for the most part, very fun. It’s great for those of you who preferred Darth Vader over Luke Skywalker and as a general rule, fans of darker characters will probably get the most out of this book.

The novel is a good, solid read that explores Tarkin and the Empire pretty well. It gives plenty of page time to Darth Vader, and allows a good cop, bad cop kind of approach with both characters making the narrative very interesting indeed. The pace itself is handled very well and there aren’t really any dull moments, and despite the fact that Tarkin himself may or may not be interesting depending on your point of view, the book itself is still very much entertaining.

In short, you could do far worse than Tarkin. It might not be a perfect read but from James Luceno, it’s a damn good one, that aside from one or two problems, doesn’t disappoint.


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