Dark Disciple is a fun and pacey novel with charismatic lead characters, but it veers too close to the source material and never quite makes proper use of the book’s expanded format.
Star Wars: Dark Disciple is part of the current Star Wars canon. Check out the timeline.
Dark Disciple was written by Christie Golden, and adapted from eight unproduced episodes of The Clone Wars. With all due respect to the woman, this is a fact you could have deciphered on your own. While it’s at times an exciting and surprisingly moving book, even if I didn’t entirely buy into some aspects of the central romance, it’s also a book which adheres far too closely to the original, scripted format, rarely elaborating or using the benefits of prose to memorable effect. This and some basic literary errors, like nonsensical point-of-view shifts and a wildly uneven ending, conspire to undermine a lot of the good work Dark Disciple does in crafting an engaging and memorable story involving two characters from The Clone Wars: Asajj Ventress and Quinlan Vos.
That story concerns a plot by the Jedi Council to assassinate Count Dooku in the wake of another wartime atrocity. It’s hardly in-keeping with the Jedi’s pacifistic philosophies, but no matter. The Order’s consistently idiotic decisions throughout the Clone Wars sugar-coat this moral pill and the book’s uncompromising pace makes swallowing it surprisingly easy. Obi-Wan is staunchly against such things, of course, but he nonetheless suggests Quinlan Vos as an ideal choice for the mission, given his penchant for undercover dirty work. You might recall Vos from “The Hunt for Ziro”, an episode in The Clone Wars’ third season. His gimmick is psychometry, which allows him to experience the memories of other beings by touching objects they had come into contact with. If you suspect that might be somewhat overused here, particularly against him, you would be correct.
Obi-Wan also suggests an accomplice for Vos: Asajj Ventress, the former apprentice of Count Dooku whose unique knowledge of the man and his operations might be some kind of benefit. What nobody involved anticipates – which is odd, considering the sagely Yoda is also present during this exchange – is that neither Vos nor Ventress are prepared for the emotional connection they’ll forge for each other during their mission. A love story it is, then, and one that also challenges the somewhat stunted ideology of the Jedi Order.
This is all established briskly, but then again so is everything else in Dark Disciple, which emulates the ebbs and flows of TV-style pacing so accurately that you can tell every time one unproduced episode ends and another begins. I suspect Golden wasn’t given much leeway, although in this interview she’s loathe to admit that, but it’s easy enough to find the seams. It no doubt makes the book exciting, even if a lot of depth and motivation is sacrificed for the sake of speeding things along. The whole first half of the book, now that I think about it, feels somewhat contrived, awkwardly shunting characters into the right position and stretching out rather obvious reveals that there’s no real reason to not have addressed sooner. The second half is better for it – it’s just a question of whether or not you get there.
You probably will, mind. Ventress is an interesting character and a solid choice here for a role that requires her moral – and, I suppose, physical – flexibility. Dark Disciple does a decent job of continuing the maturation that she experienced during The Clone Wars, tying her inner monologue into memorable sequences from the show, such as when she’s forced to deal with the repercussions of ticking off Boba Fett, or when she returns to Dathomir and is confronted by her loss of Mother Talzin and the Nightsisters, both of which occurred in the show’s fourth season.
This all makes me wonder, then, why Dark Disciple is adamant on giving Vos so much more point-of-view time, especially in scenes which would have benefitted from Ventress’s perspective. Vos, unique as he is among the typically square Jedi, is not the reason most Star Wars fans might gravitate towards the book. He is barely-known in the current continuity, has received only a fraction of the development Ventress has, and is a much less important character in the minds of fans. In many ways Dark Disciple feels like a Vos story that happens to feature Ventress, which doesn’t benefit it, however enjoyable their rapport might be.
Putting aside those nagging moments when it’s unclear why more attention wasn’t given to a particular detail or why a certain character wasn’t given narration duties in a certain situation, Dark Disciple nonetheless satisfies on the level of breezy, inconsequential entertainment. Its second half pays off several story threads with surprising if not entirely sensible results, and there are simple pleasures to be found in particular exchanges and sequences. It isn’t a great book, for reasons that were perhaps out of Golden’s hands, but it’s one that prioritises pace and plot; easy to read, enjoy and promptly forget about. If Quinlan Vos himself were to handle it, he might recall me having quite a nice time.