This review was originally posted to Tumblr on April 27, 2015
Lords of the Sith by Paul S. Kemp has the distinction of being both a book that’s what it says on the label and of also being filled with unexpected surprises. Out today in bookstores everywhere, Lords of the Sith successfully gives you your fix of Vader and Palpatine being ruthlessly effective when it comes to taking care of business while telling all sides of the story.
Vader getting a story in which he gets to be the badass supreme can often be impressive enough but when you add in Palpatine also getting his hands dirty? You know it’s going down. Part of what makes the Emperor such an effective character is how rarely he actually dives in to the fray himself. Readers and watchers know that someone’s going to die the minute the lightsaber (or the Force lightning) come out. Not many people have lived to see this brutal efficiency and for good reason.
Kemp does well with handling Vader who serves as the point of view character for a decent portion of the book. Not even a decade has passed since Revenge of the Sith and he does a good job of writing the Vader who’s still somewhat transitioning away from Anakin Skywalker to the emotionless weapon. The brief moments of reference to important people from his previous life feel meaningful to the story and not just like ticked off boxes. This is also a Vader who is exudes power. He’s fairly terrifying and that’s how Vader should be.
For me, the real surprise of the book came from the two female characters: Moff Mors and Isval. In books past, Kemp’s female characters, when included, haven’t been particularly impressive but there was definitely something different this time around. Isval is a Twi’lek revolutionary who works with Cham Syndulla to try and get Ryloth out from under the Empire’s thumb. They have their victories here and there but this is their biggest change to strike a decisive blow against the Empire yet. While she and Cham both carry equal parts of the story, I found Isval to be the more intriguing to be inside the head of. She has clear motivation and its easy to see what drives her. That said, it’s easy to see where Hera gets her rebellion leadership style.
Moff Mors, on the other hand, was unexpected on several levels. Much has been made of her being the first LGBT character in the new canon and with that comes a lot of pressure that is almost impossible to stand up to. At the start, Mors comes off as being a less than impressive servant of the Empire. She’s barely even phoning in governing the planet. The ruthlessly effective Tarkin of Ryloth, she is not. In all honesty, I wasn’t thrilled with her the first time we met her. As the book unfolds, readers get to learn more about her back story which serves to flesh out why she is the way she is. This revelation and her actions in the latter half of the book are what really sold me on her as a character and not just another Moff. It made her feel real. Her sexual orientation is presented in a very matter of fact way in the book. It isn’t written as this big, attention-grabbing thing. It’s just a part of who she is and it really makes the character work as more than the token diversity. (That said, I still miss my gay Mandalorians from Legends…)
Much of this review has been focused on the characters because that’s what really drives the story forward and makes it succeed. Lords of the Sith is another book that proves telling a contained story can be successful and still have an impact. The plot does a serviceable job of moving the action along in this story which takes place almost completely on Ryloth. This doesn’t mean that it’s bad; it’s just not what has you on the edge of your seat. Kemp does do a good job of making it clear who knows what when the plot is approached from multiple angles. It’s more interesting (to me at least) to see how all the characters react to this extra large chess game with more than just two opponents where everyone has their own very strong agenda. I don’t have much to say on the writing style either. There are a few times where I could’ve lived without some of the descriptions of characters but it’s otherwise fine. Do be prepared for a lot of battle sequences though as befits a book about these particular Sith Lords.
I give Lords of the Sith a 3.5/5 along with a recommendation that you give it a read.
Thank you to Del Rey for providing an advanced copy of this book for review purposes.