I’ve been on a bit of a Vader kick recently. Built Vader’s Castle, bought a tonne of Vader comics, levelled Vader up on Battlefront 2 quite a bit and the first book I’ve read this year (I’m writing this on 6th Jan).
I first read this in 2015 when I was on a huge Star Wars Canon binge and it cemented itself in my mind as a brilliant novel with great insight into the relationship between Palpatine and Vader which we hadn’t seen lot of in any of the content we had, and has now continued to be explored in both of the ‘Darth Vader’ comics.
The story follows Vader and Palpatine on a visit to the planet Ryloth to attempt to put an end to the ‘Free Ryloth’ movement led by Cham Syndulla.
With the help of an Imperial insider named Belkor, Cham and his insurgents attack the Star Destroyer on which the two Sith Lords are being taken to the planet.
The ship is destroyed and Vader and the Emperor escape but their ship is critically damaged and they crash land on the planet. Vader, Palpatine and two Royal Guards make their way across the planet, all the while being hunted by Cham, his people and Belkor who is afraid that his role in the attack will be found out.
Vader and the Emperor manage to destroy a hive of native predators and wipe out an entire village before being found by Moff Mors who has discovered Belkor’s plot and is leading the search for The Emperor and Vader.
The ‘Free Ryloth’ movement is all but destroyed but Cham is taken to safety to continue his crusade for his planets freedom.
This book really gets us into Vader’s head, it’s set five years after ‘Revenge of the Sith’ and even though he had resolved himself to being Palpatine’s puppet he still had glimmers into his past, which the Emperor can sense and it is revealed that their whole ordeal in the story is a test for Vader to see if he would take the opportunity to vanquish his Master.
The Emperor is perfectly manipulating, toying with Vader, making vague digs using memories from his life as Anakin Skywalker, even referencing the crash landing from ‘Revenge of the Sith’.
Cham Syndulla is every bit the freedom fighter as we saw in ‘The Clone Wars’ and then again in ‘Rebels’, he has amassed a great number of assets that he fully utilises to complete the mission but it’s a failure. He initially believes that this would be the end of the ‘Free Ryloth’ movement but after witnessing the losses of his people at the hands of Vader his resolve is strengthened.
Belkor is an interesting character. A Lieutenant to Moff Mors, he is her go-to who deals with all aspects of running the Imperial occupation of Ryloth whilst Mors lives in luxury on one of the planets moons. It’s not until ‘The Perilous’ is attacked that Mors returns to her duties after realising Belkor’s treachery in an attempt to usurp her position. The whole plan drives him insane as he hunts for Mors and the Emperor’s party to cover his tracks and come out on top but it’s too late and he is killed by one of the people he believed loyal to him.
I really enjoyed all parts of this book, all of the characters are well fleshed out and given great moments to really shine. The plot doesn’t really get started until about half-way though but the whole journey to that point is so enjoyable you hardly notice, I only did because I was updating my ‘Goodreads’ profile.
Kemp writes the Vader/Palpatine relationship brilliantly and it makes me want to see more of them in a future novel from Kemp. Cham Syndulla is also brilliantly written and feels like he stepped right out of ‘The Clone Wars’ and into the page.
The new characters are great too. Cham’s second-in-Colman’s, Isval, is a complex character and watching her story flesh out through the novel is amazing. You really feel for her at times and at one point are almost cheering her on, even though her actions are less than honourable. Belkor’s story arc is interesting. Disillusioned by his superior he wants to advance his position and take her job, which is why he has been supplying Syndulla with information allowing him to plan attacks on the Empire. He is ambitious and that ambition eventually leads to his downfall.
I can’t recommend this book enough. It’s well paced, brilliantly written with amazing characters, both old and new and overall a great story.
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