The opposite of a warning: This is a spoiler-free review of Paul S. Kemp’s Lords of the Sith.
The newest book in Star Wars canon tells a story that would make most fans drool: Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader teaming up to get out of a sticky situation. We see the duo together frequently in the prequel trilogy as Chancellor Palpatine and Anakin Skywalker and then briefly once Anakin knows Palpatine’s dark side identity. We get an idea of the way they work together in the original trilogy too, but Lords of the Sith by Paul S. Kemp provides a close look at their budding master and apprentice relationship.
Lords of the Sith takes place primarily on Ryloth in between Revenge of the Sith and Tarkin. The Empire is exploiting the home planet of the Twi’leks for the spice Ryll. While the citizens comply, a sizeable rebellion has formed and it’s led by none other than Cham Syndulla. We first met him in Star Wars: The Clone Wars, and he’s the father of Hera from Star Wars Rebels. She comes by her insurgent tendencies honestly. Cham’s group causes enough trouble to get the attention of Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader. The Sith travel to Ryloth, but their visit goes awry and soon the Sith Lords are left to fight for their survival.
Seeing Palpatine and Vader in this particular time period provided so much context. Vader is still finding his way and learning to let go of the past as well as understanding Palpatine’s seemingly limitless power. It’s fascinating to see under Vader’s helmet and learn how he leverages hate and fear to become more formidable and to see a little of why is the way he is–and the part Palpatine plays in who Vader’s become. Combining this book with what we know from the films gives you incredible insight into the villain.
While I enjoyed the peek into Vader’s journey, I was more excited about spending time with Palpatine. I am a Rebel through and through, but I’m a little obsessed with Palpatine and the way he manipulates people around him. His intelligence and patience was on full display in the book—the moments in which he manipulates Vader are especially interesting–but in addition to viewing Palpatine’s intangible skills, Lords of the Sith shows him in action. Palpatine isn’t sitting upon his throne on Coruscant; he’s taking care of business in the jungle and in the thick of battle. Kemp’s action scenes are vivid and it’s all too easy to imagine this book as a spinoff film.
However, the action scenes were also the biggest flaw of the book for me. They were big–epic even–but they dragged on too long. At one point I found myself skimming to see how many more paragraphs or pages there was of a particular fight. I was tempted to skip ahead. Of course, your mileage may vary.
Because of Vader and Palpatine’s journey and the insurgency, you also witness some of the inner politics of the Empire. In some ways, it’s like a giant corporation with people being lazy, people moving up to use that laziness to their advantage, etc. We meet Moff Delian Mors, already well known for being the first LGBT character in Star Wars canon, and she develops in a way I didn’t expect over the course of the book.
On the rebellion side, it was a smart move to continue a story that started in The Clone Wars. The citizens of Ryloth didn’t want to be occupied then, and that hasn’t changed. They want to be independent, and the way we see the Twil’eks fight will probably have a part to play in Hera’s backstory on Rebels. Her father is devoted to the cause and also conflicted by it. He makes the hard decisions, and he carries the weight. You can feel the loss of lives pressing down on his shoulders, and it adds layers of emotion and drama to all of his decisions. Because you know Cham doesn’t do anything lightly, every action he takes has a deeper impact.
For the most part, the book takes its time with each of the characters mentioned above as well as others. The point of view changes between them, and the format works wonderfully for this story. Kemp does a fantastic job at relating inner thoughts and making you feel like you’ve known a given character for much longer than a couple hundred pages. However–without getting specific and giving away spoilers–resolution for one of the characters sort of falls off the radar as the book ends in an abrupt fashion, and I don’t feel the female characters in the story were developed as well as they could have been.
Overall, Lords of the Sith is a must-read if you’re a fan of Emperor Palpatine and/or Darth Vader or if you’re at all interested in learning more about their dynamic. The book is a snapshot of the galaxy in a time when the Empire is on the way up and a bigger rebellion is a barely formed thought. It shows the extreme strength and cruelty of the Sith Lords as well as how others do not understand and therefore fear their power and as a result, makes the formation and eventual triumph of the Rebel Alliance that much more impressive.
This review was completed using a copy of the book provided by Del Rey.