Labyrinth of Evil
by James Luceno
Published by Del Rey
Scott's Rating: 2.5 out of 4
Mike's Rating: 3.5 out of 4
This story leads directly into the opening scenes of Star Wars ? Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.
A short time before Episode III, Nute Gunray makes a critical error that provides the Jedi with their first clue as to the existence of Darth Sidious. As Obi-Wan, Anakin, and the Jedi begin following the trail that will bring them closer to revealing the Sith Lord, Darth Sidious begins moving his pawns around for the final move in his plan to take over the galaxy.
Count Dooku is sent to bait Anakin and Obi-Wan away from Coruscant to a planet where he is ordered to kill Kenobi. Meanwhile, General Grievous is sent by Sidious on a secret mission that will be perhaps the Separatists? boldest move in the Clone Wars. Of course everything that transpires leads Darth Sidious one step closer to his final confrontation with the Jedi?and acquiring Anakin Skywalker as his new apprentice.
The most noteworthy thing about Labyrinth of Evil is that it is a direct lead into Revenge of the Sith. That alone makes it worth picking up. As you may or may not know, Episode III starts off right in the middle of a major space battle and a lot of action. This book lets you know exactly how everything built up to those events. This is a perfect opportunity for James Luceno and Del Rey to interface the novels with the movie and they certainly take advantage of it.
If you?ve been following prequel spoilers, then this is going to be a fun read for you. You finally learn more about General Grievous, Darth Plagueis, Utapau, Felucia, ARC Fighters, and more. All the stuff you?ve been hearing leaked over the past couple of years finally gets revealed officially. This book also expands on Count Dooku and his rise to power and his apprenticeship as a Sith. If you haven?t been following spoilers, though, the significance of some of the brief mentions of planets and characters might fly right past you.
I had a hard time getting into the first half of Labyrinth of Evil, but the second half had me totally engaged. It features some great space battles, an impressive lightsaber fight, and even a chase on a train that?s right out of an old Western. I kept waiting for Mace Windu to tell General Grievous that the town wasn?t big enough for both of them. But one of the highlights of the second half is the pursuit of Darth Sidious. You could have renamed the novel ?Chasing Palpatine? thanks to this subplot. It features some great interaction between the Jedi and the Clonetroopers, some suspenseful moments as they slowly discover the secret tunnels of the Sith, and a scary ending sure to satisfy readers. (No, they don?t catch Sidious with his pants down in the bathroom reading a magazine.)
The other fun thing about Labyrinth of Evil is that it?s the first time we get to really see General Grievous in action outside of the Clone Wars cartoons. He promises to be the cool character of Episode III (besides Darth Vader), so it?s fun to see some of his badness revealed here. His full history is unveiled here as well.
Let's just get this out of the way: Labyrinth of Evil is not plotted normally. This would appear to be due to the fact that in a sense it's the first part of a duology, the fact that the main plot revolves around a mystery unraveling, and beyond that, I'd say it's partly just the way Luceno writes. I don't, however, think it's a bad thing. Structure is important in storytelling, but not more important than the story. If I'm telling a large-scale story, the resolution of which is contained within the story as opposed to further down the road, I'll probably (but not absolutely) have a standard three acts. If I'm telling the story of two investigators following a series of clues, the end result of which won't even be depicted in my story, I'll probably come up with something like Labyrinth. That is, a patchwork of scenes spanning a predetermined period of time. That's the kind of story Labyrinth is; it's also in many ways the kind of story the Han Solo Trilogy was: not "here's this huge thing that happened", but more "here's what happened between here and here". The last month of continuity before RotS being as crowded as it's looking to be, I'd imagine we're going to see a lot of Point-X-to-Point-Y storytelling, in order for everything to fit together. I for one am fine with that; it makes the passage of time feel more realistic. The month in question could even be viewed as a microcosm of between-film EU as a whole. The whole of the Clone Wars, as they've been presented these past three years, is not one big story; it's simply three years of hell, several chunks of which have been shown to us as self-contained, and ongoing, stories. Labyrinth is sort of like that, only on a smaller scale.
On top of all that, I'd say Luceno makes this type of thing work particularly well. I think The Unifying Force was in a lot of ways the same kind of thing in reverse; it wasn't so much a tale unto itself as it was a device for wrapping up eighty thousand things into a neat little ball, and making it entertaining besides. He did it there, and he does it here. Each of the many action sequences feels fresh and exciting; particularly impressive since they're almost all involving the same two people. Luceno makes Obi-Wan and Anakin both palatable and plausible; they feel like natural progressions of everything that's come before, yet it's occasionally surprising to see how much they've evolved, particularly with regard to Anakin's progression towad the Dark Side.
I feel like I should mention all the exposition, but there's not really much to comment on. I liked it all, was surprised by a lot of it (Sifo-Dyas really was just a regular Jedi who got killed? Who'da thunk?), and I'm looking forward, unspoiled as I am, to seeing how much of it - Sifo-Dyas, Grievous' history, Palpatine's master - is actually dealt with in the movie.
With regard to the, um, "current events" issue, I simply want to say that THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU TAKE OVER A GOVERNMENT. I'll grant that the "Triad of Evil" and applause breaks in the State of the Republic take you out of the story, and anyone saying they're not intended as nods to real life is full of it. But for the most part, any similarity to actual persons or events is entirely coincidental. The stuff about liberty-violating security measures, terrorism, the media, etc. is WHAT REALLY HAPPENS. It may bear a certain resemblance to what many feel is happening in the United States right now, but it's also what happened in Germany. And Russia. And Rome. And so on. And we would be seeing it from the story of Palpatine no matter what climate it was written in; there's a methodology to turning a Republic into an Empire that's been historically proven time and time again, and Palpatine is nothing if not methodical.
Lastly, as always, I have to commend Luceno for his skill at bringing the universe together. Considering that this is probably the closest to G-canon an original novel has ever come, it's great to see how much extraneous stuff he can work in; a notable example being the completely unexpected nod of the head toward the eventual development of gravity well generators.
Unfortunately, one of the biggest strengths of Labyrinth of Evil is also its greatest weakness. Since this book introduces a lot of Episode III characters, situations, planets, and vehicles, Luceno is forced to spend a lot of time describing them in detail for the reader. For example, authors of the other Star Wars books don?t have to take time to explain what an X-Wing looks like, but Luceno must take time to explain what an ARC-170 Fighter looks like. All this exposition and detailed description bogs the story down and slows the action to a crawl. Only by the halfway point, when all this is done, does the story really get rolling.
The book also refers a lot to ?Yoda: Dark Rendezvous? and the Quinlan Vos issues of the Dark Horse Star Wars comics. That?s all well and good if you?ve been following them, but if you haven?t then it?s going to be terribly confusing. Rather than being a good jumping on point for new Star Wars readers, this may only confuse them and discourage them.
It has been mentioned that the wartime events and politics in this novel are similar to those real world ones involving Bush, the U.S., and the war in Iraq. Despite this being denied by Luceno and LFL, I still found it to be the case. I mean, they specifically mentioned security against terrorists in Coruscant, restriction of civil liberties, and even a Star Wars version of the ?axis of evil?. These obvious references to the real world really ripped me out of the story and turned me off.
Finally, Labyrinth of Evil is hurt by the fact that readers already know that Palpatine and Darth Sidious are the same guy. If there had been more mystery surrounding the identity of the Sith, then everything would have been much more exciting. But since you know Palpatine and Sidious are the same guy, you know that all trails of the Sith lead back to the Senate. You know why Palpatine stymies the Jedi. You know how the Separatists are able to get onto Coruscant. The reader is already 10 steps ahead of the characters of the novel, so that makes things a little anti-climactic. This in no way is a reflection on Luceno or his writing. It?s just an unfortunate side effect of going back and telling the stories of a prequel. You know the ending before it happens.
One thing Luceno in particular seems to have issues with is typos. They were particularly bad in TUF, and they're back here, albeit to a lesser extent. Given the amount of editorial review this sucker must have gone through, I shudder to think how many misspellings there were to start off with. There were a couple very minor factual mixups as well, one in particular that stuck in my head being a reference to Aurra Sing being human.
Nitpicky stuff like this is really all I can come up with in terms of complaints; that said, the book was great, but not overwhelmingly so, as is happening often these days, so I'm compelled to give it a slightly lower score than this review would seem to suggest.
Nothing to add here.
Poor Fa'ale's head-tail getting scorched off. Why, that's as bad as a human losing...um...nevermind.