Darth Maul - Saboteur
by James Luceno
Published by Del Rey
Scott's Rating: 3 out of 4
Michael's Rating: 3.5 out of 4
Chris M's Rating: 4 out of 4
This book is the first original Star Wars e-book. It is currently only available online and in electronic format. It is a prequel to Darth Maul - Shadow Hunter and the Darth Maul comic series from Dark Horse.
Some time before the events of Episode I, Darth Sidious begins his political maneuvering and setting up pawns for the eventual blockade of Naboo. Sidious has become aware that two companies on the planet Dorvalla have come into heated competition with each other. The planet is rich in lommite, an ore that is a key component in making transparisteel (used in viewports of buildings and starship windows). Both companies are intensley competing with each other to the point of resorting to sabotage. Sidious sees this as an opportunity to take out both companies and move the Trade Federation in as rulers of the key planet. Sidious sends Darth Maul to Dorvalla to secretly sabotage the plans of both companies and initiate their eventual destruction.
Like in his Agents of Chaos books, James Luceno again makes secondary characters come alive in this story. We meet Patch Bruit, a Star Wars everyman who is a foreman at the mine. Through the story we get to know him and like him, and we care about what happens to him as he eventually meets Darth Maul - a mismatch if there ever was one. We also get a good look at another corner of the Star Wars galaxy and a taste of what the working class goes through at the lommite mining operation. From the dust to the long hours to the cantina, we get a true glimpse of the industry behind all the cool hardware we see in the films and spinoffs.
There are some cool cameos in the book including an appearance by young Govornor Tarkin. We also see Darth Sidious as he first inspects Darth Maul's double bladed lightsaber. Luceno gives a true sense of who is the master and who is the apprentice here.
Unlike Shadow Hunter, this story has very little action in it. Some Maul fans may be very disappointed. However, we see the crafty and secretive side of Maul. You know that if the Sith remained hidden for hundreds of years, then they must be masters of stealth. Maul demonstrates that here. We also see Maul in some quiter moments such as in a cantina with a chatty waitress. Funny stuff!
Finally, we have to talk about the e-book format. I personally prefer a paper copy of a book, but I appreciate that Del Rey is making a move into e-book territory. I assume there is a market for it since many Star Wars fans are computer geeks or own palm devices. Pulling out a Star Wars e-book while on a business trip or traveling might be a very convenient thing. At least if they are making an e-book, it is something worth checking out. On the other hand, I hope this story is eventually released in a paperback collection of short stories.
Let me start by saying how good an Author James Luceno is. He has only written two previous Star Wars novels, with a third on the way (Cloak of Deception) and already he has shown that he has a true grasp of Star Wars literature history and continuity. Darth Maul: Saboteur acts as a prologue to Michael Reaves - Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter and in effect the Darth Maul comic series, providing a loose trilogy between three mediums; novel, comic and e-book. Saboteur further explores the mechanics of Darth Sidious's manipulation of the Trade Federation. There is more purpose to the character of Darth Maul in this novella than the movie, 'The Phantom Menace' itself, as he is used as a tool in the capitulation of two rival mining companies that are eventually consumed by the corporate mass of the Trade Federation, further sinking them into the debt of Sidious's grip. What pleased me most as a reader was the effectiveness of characterisation between Master & Apprentice - Sidious & Maul. Their dialogue was very reminiscent of Palpatine & Vader in the classic trilogy. I also enjoyed the detective and forensic aspect of Maul, which was not hinted at in 'The Phantom Menace', rather he was simply shown as a pit bull. Tarkin has a welcome cameo in the novella, I am grateful that he is starting to permeate the prequel era, as he was also featured in 'Rogue Planet'. Here, Tarkin is the Lieutenant-Governor of the planet Eriadu. Strange though how he goes from politics here, then to a Commander in 'Rogue Planet', and back to politics as later Governor, Moff and Grand Moff. Something for the continuity buffs to work out. Hath Monchar was also a welcome link to 'Shadow Hunter'.
What Reaves got wrong in Shadow Hunter, Luceno gets right in Saboteur. Specifically, the mood and feel of the SW universe. Luceno uses the short story format to devastating effect, using just enough description to create a mental image while keeping things going at a brisk clip. Even better, we get a presentation of the Sith Lord in a mission where he doesn’t slash and hack his way through enemies like a buzzsaw. Even a brief variation from the “pit bull with a lightsaber” characterization is a welcome one, and the supporting characters all carry their weight in the story as well. Even better, the appearances by the Episode I villains ring truer than in Shadow Hunter, and the connection to the overall TPM backstory doesn’t feel quite so forced. A great start to hopefully a long line of SW ebooks.
While glad for the opportunity to buy an e-book, I still would like to have the ability to print out a hard copy. That's not something that all e-book formats allow. I work all day in front of a computer. The last thing I want to do in my free time is stare at the computer screen some more. This is a major turnoff of the e-book format for me and other fans.
As for the story, it's not a real heart stopper. There are some cool moments, but it is not a terribly exciting read. It is more about political intrigue than action and adventure. That doesn't make it a bad story, though.
There was also some inconsistency between this book and Shadow Hunter. In this story, Maul goes to great lengths to hide his identity. He makes great effort not to leave lightsaber marks on any of his victims. However, in Shadow Hunter, Maul is still trying to hide his identity, but he leaves saber wounds on almost every character he kills. They don't fit together nicely.
My only gripe about Saboteur was that it was not long enough! James Luceno whets the appetite of the reader, leaving them wanting more, which I believe is effective story telling. The only other negative is that I hope Del Rey finds a way for fans who don't have access to the Internet, an outlet to read this novella.
Not really much bad in this. A brief continuity blip – maybe: A Lieutenant Governor Tarkin is shown as part of Eriadu’s government, while we meet Commander Tarkin of the Republic Navy in “Rogue Planet” three years later. No first names, so I guess it could be a relative.
If you don't pay for the e-book, Lucasfilm sends an Ewok after you yelling, "I want my two dollars!!!" Very disturbing.
The 'Toom Clan'. To have even less honour than the Hutts & Black Sun in shady business dealings is just plain scary. They got their just desserts in the end though. The moral: never have low integrity values!
I don’t know about appearances, but going 24/7 covered in chalky white lommite ore would sure make your mood ugly. ;)