Audiobook Review: Queen’s Shadow by E.K. Johnston
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 3 of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction, Media Tie-In, Young Adult
Series: Star Wars Canon
Publisher: Listening Library (March 5, 2019)
Length: 8 hrs and 21 mins
Narrator: Catherine Taber
I had high hopes for this first Star Wars new canon novel focusing entirely on Padmé/Queen Amidala, but unfortunately I was left a bit disappointed. On some level though, I think I had anticipated the issues, because from the moment I learned that Queen’s Shadow was to take place in the transitional time between the end of her reign as Naboo’s queen and the start of her career as a senator, I’d wondered whether there would be sufficient material for a well-rounded, interesting story.
The book begins on the cusp of a new election for Naboo’s next queen, and Padmé and her loyal handmaidens are all nervous and excited about what they will do once she steps down as the current ruler. For four years their lives have been tied to the politics of the planet, but soon they will be free to pursue any dream or career they choose. As Padmé watches her handmaidens discuss their future plans, however, she herself is still unsure of what her next move will be. Service to her people is all she’s ever known, and now that her reign is almost over, there is a both a bittersweet sense of accomplishment and loss about a chapter of her life coming to a close.
But with the election of Réillata, the new queen, an unexpected opportunity suddenly falls into Padmé’s lap when her successor asks if she would represent Naboo in the Galactic Senate, replacing another retiring senator. It is an offer Padmé can’t refuse, and though a part of her is sad to be leaving her home planet for the bustling ecumenopolis of Coruscant, another part of her is thrilled to be able to serve Naboo once more, as well as to improve the conditions of the Galactic Republic. For one thing, she would like to put an end to slavery in the Outer Rim. Padmé has never forgotten the boy Anakin Skywalker she met on Tatooine, as well as the fate of his mother Shmi who was left behind on the desert planet.
In the years since that day, Padmé’s youngest handmaiden Sabé, who was also the one most often chosen to be her decoy, has also become one of her closest friends and most trusted confidantes. As Padmé takes her place in the Galactic Senate, it is Sabé that she sends to Tatooine in her stead to search for Shmi and hopefully buy her freedom.
First things first: there’s nothing really wrong with this book—nothing wrong, unless you count the fact that barely anything happens other than a whole bunch of political drama and description into the wardrobe of Naboo royalty. Don’t get me wrong, stories about the politics of the Galactic Republic, and later the Galactic Empire, have always been a prominent part of Star Wars fiction. But to have it as the main focus of a Young Adult book about Queen Amidala? The only result this guarantees is a limited audience, beyond diehard Star Wars fans such as myself. For one thing, this is not exactly the most interesting story you can tell about the character, nor does it have the usual adventure and action of a more typical Star Wars novel, so I doubt it would hook even the mildly interested. Older, hardcore fans of Star Wars will likely also find the conflicts in this story too simplistic and/or juvenile.
That said, the writing’s great. E.K. Johnston also wrote Star Wars: Ahsoka, which I really enjoyed, and she’s brought that same smooth and accessible quality in her prose to Queen’s Shadow. The problem with this book, as I said before, has more to do with the lack of material to work with rather than any weakness in its technical aspects. We’re looking at a very brief and narrow timeframe in Padmé Naberrie’s life, after all, so in a way it’s understandable for some parts of the story to feel slow, drawn out, inflated. To her credit, Johnston did try to work in a separate storyline for Sabé in order to give the plot and setting a little more variety, but as a supporting character, her impact can also only go so far.
Still, some positive things to note include all the wonderful references to other people, places, stories and events in the Star Wars universe, including an appearance by Senator Clovis, who was first introduced in the Star Wars: The Clone Wars television series in one of the few Padmé-centric episodes. I also liked how this book expanded and developed Padmé’s personality, so that we got to know more about her as a person with her own private hopes, fears, dreams and ambitions. So where Queen’s Shadow failed to deliver on good pacing and compelling entertainment, at least it worked extremely well as a character study.
Regrettably, the same could not be said of Sabé, who fulfilled her supporting role duties valiantly but was otherwise wasted in her potential. While her loyalty was admirable, it just sucked that her entire world and life’s purpose—by even her own admission—revolved around Padmé and serving her wishes and desires. If the ending to this book is indeed a setup for a Sabé story, my hope is that she will gain some of her own agency.
In short, Queen’s Shadow is probably a book I can only recommend to readers who really want to know more about Padmé, or if you’re generally into everything about Star Wars. While I count myself among the latter group, even I must confess it is one of the less engaging of the new canon novels I’ve read and not very memorable.
Audiobook Comments: Admittedly, I’m way more used to having January LaVoy read as the female narrator for Star Wars books, but for Queen’s Shadow, how could I say no to Catherine Taber, who also provided the voice for Padmé on The Clone Wars cartoon series? Just like the audiobook of Star Wars: Ahsoka, getting the voice actress for the title character to narrate the book was a stroke of genius and brought an extra layer of immersion to the listening experience.