I review Lords of the Sith by Paul S. Kemp, one of the most recent entries in the new canon Star Wars expanded universe, putting the focus on Darth Vader and the Emperor. It is published by Del Ray.
A LONG TIME AGO, IN A GALAXY FAR, FAR AWAY...
Anakin Skywalker, Jedi Knight, is just a memory. Darth Vader, newly anointed Sith Lord, is ascendant. The Emperor’s chosen apprentice has swiftly proven his loyalty to the dark side. Still, the history of the Sith Order is one of duplicity, betrayal, and acolytes violently usurping their Masters―and the truest measure of Vader’s allegiance has yet to be taken. Until now.
On Ryloth, a planet crucial to the growing Empire as a source of slave labor and the narcotic known as “spice,” an aggressive resistance movement has arisen, led by Cham Syndulla, an idealistic freedom fighter, and Isval, a vengeful former slave. But Emperor Palpatine means to control the embattled world and its precious resources―by political power or firepower―and he will be neither intimidated nor denied. Accompanied by his merciless disciple, Darth Vader, he sets out on a rare personal mission to ensure his will is done.
For Syndulla and Isval, it’s the opportunity to strike at the very heart of the ruthless dictatorship sweeping the galaxy. And for the Emperor and Darth Vader, Ryloth becomes more than just a matter of putting down an insurrection: When an ambush sends them crashing to the planet’s surface, where inhospitable terrain and an army of resistance fighters await them, they will find their relationship tested as never before. With only their lightsabers, the dark side of the Force, and each other to depend on, the two Sith must decide if the brutal bond they share will make them victorious allies or lethal adversaries.
Lords of the Sith has been one of my most anticipated novels in the Star Wars expanded universe so when I got the chance to read it whilst I was in France I leapt at the opportunity and quickly devoured it. The focus on the Empire, Darth Vader and the Emperor in particular, made it incredibly fascinating to read, and particularly with that awesome cover – the Emperor crackling with the force lightning and Vader clearing a path through the middle of a warzone with two Star Destroyers on either side, makes for a striking background for what turns out to be a very fun novel, written by one of my go-to authors for good entertainment, Paul S. Kemp. If you ever wondered what a buddy cop story set in the Star Wars universe might look like with Vader and the Emperor as the bad cop and the even badder cop, then Lords of the Sith might be your best bet. The book details an attempted coup of the Imperial regime, and whilst we ultimately know that the coup didn’t work, Kemp manages to create just the right amount of tension to keep the book interesting, exploring both sides of the conflict very well. I couldn’t help but want the Empire to emerge victorious even though they’re the villains of the Star Wars Universe, and that was because Kemp handled the book very well. Each line of dialogue I was reading in the voice of the actors from the movies, and it felt very much a part of the Star Wars Universe.
The action sequences are absolutely stunning and one of the strongest that I’ve ever seen in any Star Wars novel, not just the Expanded Universe ones. Witnessing Vader at full strength is a sight that almost makes you feel sympathetic towards the people trying to bring him down, you know they’re never going to stand a chance no matter what they do. Making use of a variety of action sequences, Kemp writes equally well the battles on land and space, weaving them together well for a masterstroke of action. With the book set on the planet Ryloth, fans of The Clone Wars will be pleased to hear that the series, which is also part of the Expanded Universe canon, does not go ignored, and there are some throwbacks that readers will appreciate as the book explores the relationship between Vader and the Emperor, and how it’s affecting the man once known as Anakin Skywalker. This allows a complex approach to the character when it would have been easy just to approach him as a one-dimensional killing machine, and serves as a good way to mark Anakin’s transition from The Clone Wars to the one that we see as Vader in Star Wars Rebels in A New Hope.
We also see the Emperor in action here and it’s great to witness. At this point in the story the Emperor is keeping hidden the fact that he’s a force user, and will kill anyone who witnesses the truth apart from his Royal Guard and of course Vader. There are some chilling moments that allow Darth Sidious to have as much impact as Vader, perhaps even more so, as when these moments are used, they’re used sparingly, so we’re left with a great impact on the reader.
The book itself splits around 50% of its narrative to focus Vader/The Emperor and the other half on lesser known figures. We see two Twi’lek rebels plotting to kill both of them, realising that’s the only way they can make a statement to show that not everyone is happy with the Emperor. It’s an ambitious plan, and one of the Ryloth rebels, Cham, does have some doubts about the task at hand, it’s too good an opportunity to strike a crippling blow to the Empire’s heart.
Whilst some may be disappointed at the fact that the entirety of the novel wasn’t devoted to Vader and the Emperor, this doesn’t really matter as when they’re in the spotlight they have more of an impact than they would were the whole novel devoted to their adventures. Plus, it’s great to witness the pre-Rebel Alliance tactics that dissenters, members of the Free Ryloth movement, would use to bring down key Imperial figures, and the dilemmas that they have to overcome. Kemp creates such a strong and powerful read that you won’t care whether you know the ending or not, as you’ll be swept up for a powerful ride that should keep those who are willing to give the novel a shot hooked from the word go.