An enjoyable novel that falls a little short of greatness, Star Wars: Lords of the Sith chronicles an adventure which teams up Darth Vader and the Emperor on the hostile planet of Ryloth.
Star Wars: Lords of the Sith is part of the current Star Wars canon. Check out the timeline.
If Lords of the Sith falls a bit shy of greatness, it at least makes a respectable effort. The novel, written by Paul S. Kemp, concerns a cheery excursion enjoyed by Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine that comes to include a lot more lightning than the weather forecast suggested – if you get my meaning.
As we’ve learned in The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels, the planet Ryloth isn’t exactly an ideal holiday destination anyway, home as it is to the Free Ryloth resistance movement led by Cham Syndulla. He’s cropped up before in various corners of the canon and is a point-of-view character here, orchestrating a blow against the Empire that fells an Imperial Star Destroyer and leaves Vader and Palpatine stranded on the planet’s surface.
While Vader, Palpatine and a handful of guardsmen butcher the planet’s indigenous life, Cham, along with his right-hand woman, Isval, and a treacherous Imperial informant by the name of Belkor Dray, stalk the Emperor and his apprentice in the hopes of assassinating them. To be honest, that doesn’t even sound like a good idea on paper, and it shouldn’t constitute a spoiler to say that it turns out even stupider in practice.
Set between Revenge of the Sith and the novel Tarkin, the appeal of Lords of the Sith is rather obvious. A Darth Vader still internally grappling with his nature is the most interesting version of the character, and it’s a treat to hear him openly conspire against the Emperor – although admittedly only within the confines of that iconic helmet. Which is intentional, of course; Kemp writes the Emperor as an all-knowing tactician, and even when Vader’s thoughts stray to sedition, he’s fearful enough of his master to be up-front about it. It’s an odd relationship, but then again the Sith ideology is odd in itself. What’s perhaps more important is that Lords of the Sith spares plenty of time for the slaughtering of Ryloth’s local wildlife, with lightsabers and the Force, which I suspect is what most people picked up the novel looking for.
There is more to it, though. It’s a necessarily darker Star Wars tale, with even the ostensible heroes having a welcome moral complexity. Isval, in particular, has developed her own, unusual method of processing the traumas experienced by a Twi’lek slave – she occasionally just murders random Imperials. It’s as good a strategy as any, I imagine, and her perspective is always welcome, as she’s perfectly willing to embrace the seedier side of a revolution. Cham can be a bit square.
Also of note is Moff Mors, the first openly gay character in official canon, and given that Paul S. Kemp is a noted misogynist and self-styled macho tough guy, it’s a surprise she gets such a notable arc. Thinking about it she’s probably the most well-developed character in the book, transitioning from a slovenly figurehead who shirks her responsibilities into a capable, commanding antagonist whose exploits I wouldn’t mind reading more of. Funny, that. As for Kemp himself, I don’t know how much masculine street-cred you get for penning Star Wars novels, but it isn’t as if you get much for writing about Star Wars novels either, so I don’t really have a point of comparison.
Anyway, the ending’s a bit abrupt, and the action sequences go on much, much too long, some of them comprising several full chapters. The carnage can become interminable after a while, which is what holds Lords of the Sith back from being a more accomplished novel, but it’s nonetheless an enjoyable one that delves into Vader’s helmeted head and plucks out some arresting self-loathing. Plus there are lightsabers and beheadings and such. Really, that’d work as the blurb.