Backlist Burndown: Star Wars: Dark Disciple by Christie Golden
As book bloggers, sometimes we get so caught up reading review titles and new releases that we end up missing out on a lot previously published books. As a result, one of my goals this year is to take more time to catch up with my backlist, especially in my personal reading pile. And it seems I’m not the only one. Backlist Burndown is a new meme started by Lisa of Tenacious Reader. Every last Friday of the month, she’ll be posting a review of a backlist book and is inviting anyone interested to do the same. Of course, you can also review backlist books any day you want, as often you want, but be sure to watch for her post at the end of the month to link up!
Today, I’m featuring the final book that I had to read in order to complete all the adult novels in the Star Wars new canon. All caught up!
Mogsy’s Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction, Media Tie-In
Series: Star Wars Canon
Publisher: Del Rey (July 7, 2015)
Length: 336 pages
Based off of an unproduced script for Star Wars: The Clone Wars, this epic tale of action-adventure and romance got its second chance in Star Wars: Dark Disciple, penned by one of my favorite media tie-in novelists Christie Golden. Hands down, this is the best book I’ve read written by her, and certainly this has also become one of my favorite Star Wars books ever. In fact, I can’t even express all that much regret over those episodes that were never made, because then we wouldn’t have gotten this awesome novel. I honestly don’t think the show could have conveyed the same sense of wonder or a similar level of emotional depth.
On the surface, Dark Disciple might sound like just another one of the dozens of Star Wars books that have come before it, with a central theme of Light versus Dark, or more specifically, a story about a Jedi flirting with the Dark Side. But dig a bit deeper, and it’s clear it’s so much more than that. What made this book so great for me were the two main characters, beautifully and deftly written. I first got to know Quinlan Vos and Asajj Ventress from the Star Wars: Republic comics and the The Clone Wars animated series, respectively. I have to say, although both became fast favorites of mine, never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined them starring in a story together, let alone have so much chemistry between them. And yet, perhaps it is not so surprising, because the more you read, the more you begin to realize they are two sides of the same coin.
But let’s back up a little, because the story itself—the setting and its circumstances—also serves as powerful driving force behind the characters’ relationship. The book begins in the middle of a dark time for the Jedi. Despite all their efforts to curb the cruel and merciless Sith Lord Count Dooku, the Republic still finds itself losing ground to his vicious tactics. Perhaps this is what ultimately drives the Jedi Council to ponder striking back with vicious tactics of their own, even if it means going against everything their Order stands for. It is decided that for the good of the galaxy, Count Dooku must be eliminated once and for all, and thus in a secret conclave, an assassination plot is born.
However, the heavy responsibility of killing Count Dooku cannot be left to just anyone, or even to just one person. After much deliberation, the Council approaches Quinlan Vos, an experienced fighter who is also a bit of maverick and no stranger to the clandestine dealings of the Jedi. He is subsequently tasked to track down Asajj Ventress, the one-time apprentice of Dooku, with the reasoning that no one else in the galaxy knows the Sith Lord as well than his former pupil (and for a certainty, no one hates him as much as she does either). Cocksure and confident, Vos devises a plan to meet up with Ventress, posing as a bounty hunter so he can gain her trust and eventually co-opt her into his plan for taking down Dooku. But in a twist of fate, it is Ventress who actually manages to capture Vos under her spell, and both Jedi Master and former Sith acolyte end up finding something neither of them expected—love.
In retrospect, I shouldn’t have been surprised at my strong reaction to Dark Disciple. A glimpse at the highest rated books on my Star Wars shelf shows a clear pattern: most of them involve an element of romance. On the whole, I’ve always found Star Wars novels to be exposition-heavy, which frequently throws up a barrier between the reader and the characters. On the other hand, a love story immediately changes those dynamics, because if you want to create an effective and believable romance between two characters, being able to get into their heads and hearts is the only way to do it.
Here’s where the author’s talent shines. Taking full advantage of the novel format, Christie Golden takes what already we know of Vos and Ventress and fleshes them out so that they become very real, very engaging characters. Various depictions of Vos have always cultivated in him the image of the Jedi “bad boy”, a wise-cracking and risk-taking nonconformist to the Order’s ways, but in Dark Disciple we get to see a softer and more passionate side of him. And for The Clone Wars fans drawn to this novel because of Asajj Ventress, rest assured because Golden also does her character justice, ensuring that the Dathomirian’s tenacity and ass-kicking spirit is preserved while adding many layers to her personality underneath that tough exterior.
The two characters themselves are a good match for each other. Vos and Ventress both have interesting pasts, and even though you don’t have to be familiar with either of their histories to enjoy this novel, knowing some background will make the reading experience all the more satisfying. I initially expressed surprise at a story arc featuring the two of them working together, but now that I’ve seen them in action, I can’t imagine a more perfect pairing. I mentioned chemistry, but really, that is an understatement, considering the way these two interact. This story sees the two of them awakening something in each other that neither knew existed before. That spark is more like a blazing bonfire, so sultry and intense, helped by the fact that we’re dealing with a couple of Star Wars characters with somewhat sexually charged personalities. Interestingly, until now that behavior in both of them has always been portrayed as rather cheeky and flippant, but here we see their true capacity for intimacy and powerful attachment, and I for one came out of this still amazed at Ventress’ talent for putting so much affection and sensuality into the word “idiot”.
Very few Star Wars novels have captivated me like this, with a plot that kept me guessing at every turn. At the risk of spoiling the story, I’ll simply say Dark Disciple kicked my feelings in the butt real hard and I had to spend a good while recovering from that ordeal. This is a must-read for fans of The Clone Wars, but even if you only dabble in the expanded universe, you should really give this book a try. It is up there among what I feel are the most worthwhile novels in the new canon, and certainly one of the best in terms of character development and giving the reader an impactful emotional experience.
One final thought: if you can get your hands on an audio copy, do it. Publishers always go full out on the Star Wars audiobooks, with sound effects and voices. With narrator Marc Thompson at the helm, you really can’t go wrong. Plus, there’s the music. I’m not too fond of the prequel movies, but as always John Williams does an incredible job on the soundtracks. They use the love theme from Attack of the Clones to great effect in Dark Disciple, and by that I mean it practically turned me into a puddle of feelings on the floor. Loved it.