Jedi News Book Review: Dark Disciple

    In the war for control of the galaxy between the armies of the dark side and the Republic, former Jedi Master turned ruthless Sith Lord Count Dooku has grown ever more brutal in his tactics. Despite the powers of the Jedi and the military prowess of their clone army, the sheer number of fatalities is taking a terrible toll. And when Dooku orders the massacre of a flotilla of helpless refugees, the Jedi Council feels it has no choice but to take drastic action: targeting the man responsible for so many war atrocities, Count Dooku himself.

    But the ever-elusive Dooku is dangerous prey for even the most skilled hunter. So the Council makes the bold decision to bring both sides of the Force’s power to bear—pairing brash Jedi Knight Quinlan Vos with infamous one-time Sith acolyte Asajj Ventress. Though Jedi distrust for the cunning killer who once served at Dooku’s side still runs deep, Ventress’s hatred for her former master runs deeper. She’s more than willing to lend her copious talents as a bounty hunter—and assassin—to Vos’s quest.

    Together, Ventress and Vos are the best hope for eliminating Dooku—as long as the emerging feelings between them don’t compromise their mission. But Ventress is determined to have her retribution and at last let go of her dark Sith past. Balancing the complicated emotions she feels for Vos with the fury of her warrior’s spirit, she resolves to claim victory on all fronts—a vow that will be mercilessly tested by her deadly enemy . . . and her own doubt.

    I am not an obsessive fan of the Clone Wars, I think it is important to point that out straight away. The Clone Wars was behind pay wall TV in the UK that I did not subscribe to and the continuing absence of the final season on Blu Ray meant a disconnect from the product. If content is not readily available it is difficult to become a fan of it. However, I was a major fan of the Dark Horse Comics created character of Quinlan Vos – and was excited to read a novel with him front and center.

    Beware, mild spoilers ahead.

    Quinlan Vos from the Dark Horse Comics Republic series was a complex character, a Jedi who walked a fine line between the Dark and Light. A large arc followed him as he appeared lost to the Jedi, and it was a thrilling and captivating read. The Clone Wars Quinlan Vos had far less screen time, was less layered and his portrayal was weaker than the comic. With the evolution of Star Wars canon, the Dark Horse comics featuring Vos are how legend tales, and not part of the canon continuity whilst the Clone Wars animation series is. This was a bonus to Christie Golden who had a clear backstory to re-create and re-establish in her own vision. On this basis, I was truly optimistic to see what an accomplished writer such as Golden could achieve, and to a certain degree she delivers.

    The other central character of Asajj Ventress is a former Sith Acolyte who was an assassin for Count Dooku, before progressing to a bounty hunter with a strange ‘honorable’ link to our hero characters. It is hard to now consider her a villain of the piece.

    I take the opposite opinion with Ventress as I did with Vos. I feel Dave Filoni’s Clone Wars gave a stronger character than Dark Horse Comics did in their portrayal of Ventress. It would thus be interesting to see how she converts back into literature.

    Both characters have one common trait; a complete lack of moral ambiguity which is very un-Star Wars, and as such brilliant to delve into. But central to the plot is the fact that the Jedi Council sends them on an assassination mission. This is just wrong and the novel struggles as a result. The Jedi are the keepers of peace and justice in the galaxy, not villains who put bounties on people’s heads. The plot idea is that the killing of Dooku will bring a quick end to the war, and is thus somehow justifiable. What a truly horrible concept and something that should never have been attached to the Jedi Council. To me this is not a Jedi concept, not a Jedi action, and a betrayal of their values. If it had just been the “grey” character of Vos determining to do this I could buy into it. As it stood the whole plot of the novel caused me great discomfort. I just did not buy into the motivations of the Council or the characters. There was no real establishment of motivation, and in that way the novel failed. Lets also remember that Ventress tried to kill Vos twice, and now the Council has determined to unite them. It lacks basic logic.

    The history of Vos and Ventress is taken further by adopting a love story side plot. I feared this when I first began reading it but much to Golden’s credit she does an amazing job making it work. I actually think that she pulls something off that would never have worked on screen. Her development of the sub plot is at times sublime. She enables the development of their respect and love without distracting from the main assassination plot, which is not an easy task.

    Heading into the novel I expected the Dooku confrontation to be the climax of the novel, but cleverly it is not. The fight is just the beginning of an epic chain of events that leads into a most brilliant heartbreaking finale. However, the underlying issue of the failure to establish motivation hurts the second half of the novel badly. The Vos and Ventress relationship is established on lies and the lies continue, including betrayal of trust. It is not clear why Vos is in love with Ventress as his actions go against this. With the love story being an underlying plot of the novel this basic motivation not being established weakens the entire novel. Almost getting to the point where you begin to dislike Vos in a way that I don’t think is intended at all from the writer.

    At one point about halfway through the novel the impact of episodic TV scripts does impact on the flow of the novel. There is a clear divide that Golden struggles with. It lasts for a few chapters, but beyond that momentary stutter, Golden recaptures the flow and ends the novel with a flourish.

    There will be elements of the fan community who will debate and criticize the death of another female character. Many will call it the fridging of an another women to serve the growth of the male lead. I can, to a point, understand and appreciate that debate but in this instance it serves the plot, it makes us care and from it emerges a character with a new motivation and need of redemption. It is arguably the first time in the new canon where an event of significance has happened that will have future ramifications. Did it have to be the female that dies, did it have to serve the male storyline? No. But it was more impactful, and the ramifications were greater. I would rather have great female characters that we care about, whose lives matter, whose actions matter, whose deaths upset us. If we start determining what can and cannot happen to a female character then we end up with vanilla characters that skirt around the periphery of storylines.

    Such criticism can be countered by establishing more female lead characters but we also need great female character arcs and this was a beautiful and fitting ending to a great character. For me, the new canon must deliver more impact and deaths to characters for the storylines to resonate. No one must be safe, and every storyline matters. Clone Wars was a bold TV series and this was a bold choice that I applaud. Such criticisms come from a history of poorly handled female characters, we do need to wipe that from our memories and move forward with the belief that LFL will deliver on their promises of more great female characters. In that world such criticisms of the impactful demise of characters becomes irrelevant. In the historic world of female character deaths, surrounded by a dearth of female characters it was a concern. Let’s be optimistic that we are now beyond that.

    I reviewed this novel with an advance reader copy that had a number of small issues. There were contradictions in the dialogue and facts and absent words which made some chapters difficult and distracting to read. Hhopefully this will have been corrected for print.

    Golden works hard to deliver an emotive tale and I think that fans of the Clone Wars will be deeply engrossed and drawn into it. She has taken great care to handle the characters with care and respect. Scenes of pure joy, action and tear- jerking despair are littered throughout and it will be an emotional rollercoaster for Clone Wars fans. Other Star Wars fans may like me not be as invested, but it was an enjoyable read despite its flaws. The fact is not all Star Wars fans need to enjoy the novel to the same level, I think it will be wonderful to sit back and see how engrossed Clone Wars fans become and perhaps join that rollercoaster with them.

    Having adapted eight episodes of unfinished Clone Wars to deliver this novel, it shows that handled correctly there are avenues beyond animation to move the Clone Wars story forward in new ways, whilst bringing the same kind of joy to the fans hearts. I think this is perhaps the true beginning for the continuation of the Clone Wars era tales…

    Many thanks to Random House for the advance review copy.

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    Brian Cameron
    Brian is an obsessive collector of Star Wars books, comics, and magazines. With a collection extending into the tens of thousands, he is obsessed by variants, and the more obscure a publication the better! Brian was the Literature Editor for Jedi News, and was also host of the podcast Take Cover on the Jedi News Network until August 2017. Brian stepped down from Jedi News in August 2017 for personal reasons. At the end of October 2017 he was part of the team that launched Fantha Tracks.