Friday, March 21, 2008

Review: Darth Bane-Rule of Two

Here we are, for yet more Dark Side fun. No, I'm not talking about another Holiday Special, I'm talking about Drew Kashpryn's sophomore Star Wars novel, Darth Bane: Rule of Two (ISBN: 978-0345477484). This was a hardcover released on Boxing Day 2007, and came in at 336 pages. Not bad for a novel that was ordered and produced within six months. Unfortunately, you can see that rush in a few places, but over all the book is a decent addition to the SW mythos.

Opening the cover, this is what's found on its inside:

In the New York Times bestseller Darth Bane: Path of Destruction, Drew Karpyshyn painted a gripping portrait of a young man’s journey from innocence to evil. That man was Darth Bane, a twisted genius whose iron will, fierce ambition, and strength in the dark side of the Force made him a natural leader among the Sith–until his radical embrace of an all-but-forgotten wisdom drove him to destroy his own order . . . and create it anew from the ashes. As the last surviving Sith, Darth Bane promulgated a harsh new directive: the Rule of Two.

Two there should be; no more, no less.
One to embody the power, the other to crave it.

Now Darth Bane is ready to put his policy into action, and he thinks he has found the key element that will make his triumph complete: a student to train in the ways of the dark side. Though she is young, Zannah possesses an instinctive link to the dark side that rivals his own. With his guidance, she will become essential in his quest to destroy the Jedi and dominate the galaxy.

But there is one who is determined to stop Darth Bane: Johun Othone, Padawan to Jedi Master Lord Hoth, who died at Bane’s hands in the last great Sith War. Though the rest of the Jedi scoff at him, Joshua’s belief that there are surviving Sith on the loose is unshakable.

As Johun continues his dogged pursuit of the man who killed his master, Zannah, faced unexpectedly with a figure from her past, begins to question her embrace of the dark side. And Darth Bane is led by Force-induced visions to a moon where he will acquire astonishing new knowledge and power–power that will alter him in ways he could never have imagined. . .
Fundamentally, it's not bad. It gives a lot of hints of things, though they are in a slightly disjointed order from the events of the book. Of course, that's not important. What's important is does it make one want to purchase this novel. To that, I have to say, possibly. This was written towards those who had read the first novel. Not a bad approach to take with a sequel, but still, there is information in this blurb that just doesn't need to be. For example, do we need to know Hoth's name here? No! He doesn't appear in this novel. A better take on that sentence would have been: Johun Othone, whose Jedi Master died at Bane's hands in the last great Sith War. It provides the same information, without dragging the reader down in pointless facts.

Anyways, on with the proverbial meat and potatoes of the review. I had trouble picking out a single, overarching plot for the story. The closest would probably be Zannah's struggle to accept what she has chosen to become. This is not a classical plot-line where x macguffins had to be recovered before the battle against the evil wizard. There was no climatic scene where the protagonist struggled against the antagonist to save the day. Since, the protagonists here are the Sith, one can't expect that type of story--they are after all, the bad guys of the Star Wars universe. It would be like having a Hero's Journey tale about the Ring Wraiths. What you do have, is a number of smaller plots, weaved around four main characters over a number of years, and then what happens when they all collide. It's not a bad way to take the tale, and it happily glosses over the decade where Zannah is learning how to control her powers, and drops us neatly into the most important bits of her character arc.

And since I've stumbled onto talking about the characters, let's take a look at them. There are four primary characters here: Zannah, Darth Bane, Johun Othone, and Darovit. Personally, it's my opinion that their importance in the novel, is in that particular rank as well. For despite the fact that Bane's name is in the title, it's really Zannah that runs the show here.

As I said above, Zannah is the main character of this novel. Much in the same way the PoD displayed in stunning glory Bane's own descent into the Dark, this shows Zannah's transformation from the happy girl at the start of the Jedi vs. Sith comic to a Sith. Additionally, she's well on her way through the proverbial Hero's Journey, and despite the fact that she's a Sith, she successfully fulfills the needs of the Journey in this novel.

Next on our list is Darth Bane himself. Bane is the mentor/father figure for Zannah in this story. That's not to say that he doesn't have things to do himself, but frankly, his bits in the story appear more like nods to dealing with continuity issues than any overt need for him to interact with the plot. In fact, his main goal was to gain and then lose the orbalisks and gain the ability to create holocrons. Beyond that, he was merely a force of nature, destroying things when the need arose. Of course, that was okay, because he carried out his Hero's Journey in PoD.

Then there was Darovit. You kind of have to feel sorry for Darovit here. He was happily building himself a life on Ruusan, harming no one, and occasionally healing folks. Yet the Jedi, once more appeared and thoroughly trashed his life. Oddly, this is something of a standard theme in Star Wars stories: if you interact with a Jedi, your life becomes something bad. Frankly, though, of all the characters, I think I liked him the most. He was a touch acerbic and bitter. Of course, you would be to if your beloved cousin happily smashed your hand to bits before leaving you to die.

The final member of the gang is Johun Othone. The lone Jedi who believes that some of the Sith survived Kaan's thought bomb on Ruusan. Frankly, that the Jedi don't believe this is somewhat insane if you ask me. I mean, what makes them think that EVERY Sith Lord & Apprentice was on Ruusan when the bomb went off? Not every Jedi was. That alone should have been enough to make them realize what a stupid mistake not believing Johun is. Of course, stupid mistakes are one of those things which Jedi excel in so I guess it's not that surprising. Beyond that, Johun is pretty much a standard Jedi. He reminds me a bit of a young Obi-Wan mixed with Ulic Qel Droma. Sadly, I doubt he'll be anything beyond utterly forgettable.

Beyond there are a host of secondary characters including Farfolah and a Chancellor Vallorum. These characters fulfill various needs within the story, appearing and disappearing when the time is right. Some of them have high impact on the outcomes, while others only impact a specific character. In the end, while these are not fully defined, they have enough definition that one can get behind what they're saying, and worry over them when they come into danger.

Settings were varied and well wrought. From the devastated plans of Ruusan, to the desert world of Ambria. Finally, there was the Jedi Temple on Coruscant, of special note are the bronze statues of the Lost Ones, and the differing reactions from Zannah and Darovit to them.

Mechanics in this piece were great. I could not remember finding any typographical errors, nor where there any glaring continuity errors that jumped out at me. In fact, all of the continuity nods were well-placed, tying into somewhat obscure references without being patronizing. Which is a very good thing as my prime complaint about the original Darth Bane novel was the continuity mistakes. Probably the greatest issue I have with novel, is its reliance on the macguffin to drive a few of its micro plots. Sure, we know that there are only 2 Sith left, so they HAVE to learn via holocrons, but the repeating quest to find the next holocron got a bit annoying.

Overall, I liked this book. A lot as it happens. Unfortunately, the lack of a unified plot was a slight detriment. It read more like a series of comic books, with each distinct chapter having its own plot and arc, and then a bunch of these were then collected together and shoved into a hardback book, and marketed as a novel. Which is not necessarily a bad thing--the original Foundation novel had a similar structure, the problem here is that only the last few sections really had a strong enough plot and conflict to hold together for this type of format. Everything else just read like the short character building cut-scenes that are often found in RPG video games. While those scenes were interesting (especially when dealing with things such as Dark Side training) they were not particularly exciting to read.

Beyond that, the characters were fun, and we have a solid Hero's Journey fulfilling Sith in the person of Zannah. Which I have to admit is something that I never thought I'd see from a Star Wars novel.

In the end, what we've got is a book with great characters, interesting information about the Dark Side, pretty scenes, a handful of new spaceships and finally a weak overarching plot comprised of a handful of strong mini-plots. In the end, I'm having to give this a 2.7 out of 4.

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