Lords of the Sith is the latest novel in the new Star Wars canon and the first novel from veteran author Paul S. Kemp as part of this new canon. Kemp, the author of Crosscurrent, The Old Republic: Deceived, and Riptide, gets his first chance to delve into the dark waters of the most important Lords of the Sith in Star Wars history, Darth Sidious and Darth Vader.
The plot to Lords of the Sith is fairly simple: a rebel group on Ryloth (Free Ryloth movement, led by Cham Syndulla) sets a trap intended to take out the Emperor and Vader. When the trap is sprung Vader and the Emperor find themselves behind enemy lines with few resources besides themselves upon which they can rely. Skilled in telling stories set in the shadowy depths of the less savory parts of life, Kemp excels in his treatment of these villains but beyond that populates a world with some returning and some original characters that are distinct and interesting individuals. Kemp crafts characters like a master baker, folding in layers of pain and joy, loss and triumph to create a deliciously damaged cast. No character in the novel exemplifies Kemp’s skill in character building than Isval. This former Twi’lek slave is not only a fearsome warrior and brave soldier, but she is also a complicated woman; while she is damaged by her experiences, she reclaims her agency and helps others in similar circumstances reclaim theirs.
In addition to Isval, Kemp spends a majority of the novel developing Cham and two new Imperials, Colonel Belkor Dray and Moff Delian Mors. Even if you don’t know a lot about the book you may have heard about Moff Mors, a character that made news at the beginning of March when Bryan Young reported that Mors would be the first LGBT character introduced into the new Star Wars canon. As I was reading this novel I got more and more nervous regarding Kemp’s handling of Mors. There is a lethargy, gluttony, and weakness in Mors that reflects very poorly on the character throughout a good portion of this novel. I was nervous that what I was enjoying as a very well-told story would be lost in the inevitable firestorm of controversy over Kemp’s handling of this character. Of course, given my experience reading Kemp’s work I probably should have had more faith in his level of attention to character, because when he turns his attention to developing Mors later in the novel it all clicks into place and what was earlier an unflattering portrayal of a person becomes one that is very human, understandable, and relatable.
Vader also gets some nice character moments in this novel, particularly through his thoughts and flashbacks. We get to see a character trying to navigate his relationship with the Force, his current predicament, and his relationship with his master.
In a relatively small role I also love what Kemp did with the character of Twi’lek Senator Orn Free Taa. He is the very epitome of the sycophantic tool that Sidious uses until he is ready to discard it.
Despite all of the intrigue, fighting, and tension in the story perhaps the darkest and creepiest passage takes place when the Emperor is being nice. When Sidious turns on the charm you know things are not going to end well.
This novel, like the others in the new canon, does a nice job of weaving elements from the films in with elements from The Clone Wars series and Star Wars Rebels. Careful viewers of The Clone Wars will notice some very cool connections.
Kemp does a wonderful job in this novel taking a story focused largely on two characters in Vader and the Emperor that you know have to survive, but he also populates the story with enough characters with unresolved fates that he creates a sense of peril and drama throughout the story.
It is with good reason that Kemp is my favorite author currently working in the franchise–he takes a back seat to no one in his world building and character development. Lords of the Sith is a truly enthralling experience of kick-butt storytelling in the desperate and dark world of Palpatine’s New Order.
Lords of the Sith is on sale April 28th on Amazon.com in hardcover, ebook, and audiobook download.
Author’s note: A review copy was provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review.