veWhen Lucasfilm and Del Rey announced the first four books in the new Star Wars canon, Lords of the Sith by Paul S. Kemp was the book I was most excited about. I have no familiarity with Mr. Kemp or his writing, but the thought of a book focused on Darth Sidious and Darth Vader during the Dark Times was intriguing to me. Luckily, the novel itself didn’t let me down.
The premise is that on the world of Ryloth, Cham Syndulla (the freedom fighter from Star Wars: The Clone Wars and father of Star Wars Rebels’ Hera Syndulla) is continuing his struggle against oppression by leading the Free Ryloth movement against the Empire. When he learns that the Emperor and Darth Vader are accompanying Twi’lek senator Orn Free Taa to Ryloth, he rallies his forces in an attempt to cut the head off the snake and free his people once and for all.
Once I picked up Lords of the Sith, I found it hard to put down. The action is propulsive and drives the book forward, only stopping momentarily to allow us to catch our breaths while Kemp rearranges some of the pieces on the board. There are a lot of parts at play: in addition to Cham Syndulla, there is his second-in-command, Isval, a former slave who hates oppression in any form; Moff Delian Mors, a hedonistic, drug-addicted commander who has relegated her responsibility; Colonel Dray Belkor, an Imperial commander who overestimates his intelligence; and Darth Vader, the Dark Lord of the Sith with conflicted emotions about his past and contemplations about his future.
For the most part, I loved the portrayal of Vader in this book. Kemp and Del Rey may as well have called it “Darth Vader is a badass.” His introduction was outstanding, and though he gets a tad too overpowered by the end, any scene with him was a thrill to read. Kemp digs a bit into Vader’s history, and it’s clear that at this point in the timeline the man still has regrets about Ahsoka and Padme. While a part of me would prefer a Vader devoid of conflict, I feel like we may be getting that in Rebels, and this did feel like a necessary stepping stone in going from Revenge of the Sith to the Dark Lord we meet up with in A New Hope.
Surprisingly, this was the rare book where I didn’t get annoyed by switching the POV character around. They were all interesting enough that I was compelled by each of their journeys and wanted to see what happened with everyone, not just Darth Vader. If I had any complaints, it would be that perhaps too much space was given to describing attacks against lyleks and also that I thought the ending was a bit too abrupt. But those were pretty minor when compared to the rest of the novel.
When it comes down to it, Lords of the Sith was a pretty fantastic one-off. It didn’t necessarily feel of great importance to the overall lore of the saga (with perhaps an exception being that the Free Ryloth movement makes note that it’ll take more than killing Vader and the Emperor to bring down the Empire), but neither did it feel like a waste of time (I’m looking at you, Heir to the Jedi). Despite John Jackson Miller’s A New Dawn showing a more significant moment in the overall story, Lords of the Sith reminded me of that book in a lot of ways: it was a well written, self-contained tale with interesting characters that kept me engaged throughout. I’m not sure if it is my favorite of the new canon books so far, but it is definitely up there.
Lords of the Sith is available now at Amazon.com.