Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Dark Lords of Stilt

Another book digested. See I am trying to keep to my New Year's resolution of reading more. I know I read far less than many other devourers of fantasy, but still I'm kind of pleased I'm on a roll. So that's two licensed novels down - Red Magic first, and yesterday I ripped through the rest of Darth Plagueis, as you guessed a novel based on the Star Wars galaxy. 

Is he dozing off? Most likely.
If you've been following this blog you probably know I have a love/hate relationship to Star Wars, I'm one of those classy nerds who lived the original trilogy and went ballistic on the prequel trilogy (though I've become mild after raising my own son who is now heavily into Star Wars and loves The Phantom Menace); well, I can say as much that the prequels are definitely better than this book about Darth Plagueis - or Hego Damask - the Sith Lord who was the master of Palpatine aka Darth Sidious. If you thought the movies had stilted, unrealistic dialogue, wait until you read this novel. It has its moments - not many, but a few - where I was momentarily transported to that galaxy far, far away, but for the most part it's a dry laundry list of events setting up Palpatine as the master of the universe. It provides a backstory on his political rise to power, how he met and began training his apprentice Darth Maul, gives us all the details on his relationship to his own titular Sith master, and a lot of vague, uninteresting political events mostly related to taxation, trade, a few assassinations, installing puppet kings etc. It could have been, or should have been, a novel that made me all giddy and excited. But when the best background story to explain Maul and Sidious' relationship is that some random woman approaches Sidious with a horned baby and asks him to take it, well, then I find that the author's imagination has floundered severely (or maybe this was a decision given to him by Lucasfilm, who knows). The novel tries to bridge the wacky Star Wars Expanded Universe with the canon of the movies, throwing in familiar characters like Jabba the Hutt (why does that stupid slug have to be everywhere?) without emotional context. Jabba was just fucking fine when he was the mafioso in Return of the Jedi, properly set up through a few lines of dialogue in the two preceding movies, but when they put him in the special edition of A New Hope and now gives him a very large role in the Expanded Universe it becomes meaningless. Just like the infamous "rule of two". Remember the scene in Menace when Sidious and Maul are having a little discussion on a balcony on Coruscant? At that point we had Darth Plagueis, Darth Sidious, Darth Maul and even Count Dooku was getting in on the Dark Side of things. Nah, I better forget this novel quick as possible. It manages to ruin even the prequels.

The novel is unable to build much suspense for two main reasons: One, we know the outcome (the prequels faced the same problem, but in their case, we were all excited to see how things came about) and two, every time there's some plan in motion we are given paragraphs of exposition. There's a whole lot of tell, and far too little show. 

So, after two novels based on existing franchises it's time for something fresh, and something well written. I have decided on Saladin Ahmed's debut novel Throne of the Crescent Moon, published exactly one year ago in two days, and boy it's a breeze from the start after the clunky writings in the two previous reads. Already 14% in, I am looking forward to the adventures of the Doctor Ghul Hunter and his fundamentalist companion. And, of course, I am looking forward to continue re-reading A Storm of Swords.

Still on the table next to my bed is Brandon Sanderson's The Way of Kings - where it's been since 2010 (!!). It is very well regarded over at Goodreads, and I can't for the life of me understand why, aside from the world building perhaps. Was there ever a more ponderous tome? Maybe I should get back into it, maybe it picks up speed at some point. There must be something I'm missing since so many people love it.

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