Star Wars: Deceived, by Paul S. Kemp, is a tightly plotted novel, at least in the sense that everything in it seems to have its place. Four heroes are lifted from the incredibly impressive The Old Republic trailers: the masked Sith Darth Malgus, the Jedi Knight Aryn Leneer, the ex-Republic soldier Zeerid Korr, and the Twi’lek Eleena. I suspected that the dramatis personae was supposed to show each of the main classes in the game, but was unable to figure out which one Eleena would be; she is also the only main character whose point of view we don’t get to see from. The book has multiple emotional hooks involving the relationships between Aryn and her Jedi Master, Aryn and Zeerid, and Malgus and Eleena, the latter of which I thought was the most interesting, and also the least explored. Kemp creates in Malgus a Sith in love, and expertly lets the character be cruel and kind in equal measure while keeping the imposing, weighty darkness Malgus showed in the trailer. Unfortunately, however, we never fully understand Eleena’s side of the story. She is devoted to Malgus because he saved her life, but does she approve of his Sith ways? We don’t know, and by the end of the book she becomes something of a MacGuffin. But the four protagonists act and interact, and at the end I felt that they formed a nice core for the book to take shape around.
The book sets itself apart from other Star Wars novels in that the stakes are largely internal. There are no superweapons to be destroyed. The set-piece final battles, which are to be both expected and enjoyed, are background to three different moral dilemmas. Zeerid, Aryn, and Malgus each have to decide between light and darkness, and some of those choices pleasantly surprised me.
Speaking of battles, Kemp writes fight scenes that I wish I could see on-screen. There was a great moment where characters tossed their blasters aside and started using wrestling moves. The Force-powered battles reminded me of The Force Unleashed or Clone Wars, with fast, creative choreography that had a little too much of a visual component. The prose lost all flourish during the fights, but when I went back and read certain paragraphs like an instruction manual, picturing the moves, I realized Kemp had done his research (or his time on the mats).
The prose itself had a nice lilt at moments that reminded me of when I first started writing Halo fan fiction-- every once in a while, Kemp is going to turn to the reader and wink. He’s going to say I’m writing a Star Wars novel-- isn’t that great? Isn’t that hilarious? Phrases like “second-tier Darth” seemed to have fun playing around with language. He carries themes and single phrases nicely throughout sections of the book, something I need to work on.
Then of course he’d say something like “It had been a symbol of justice for thousands of years. And now it was gone. There was symbolism in that, Aryn supposed.” and I facepalm.
Being that this is the first book in the TOR era that I have read, I was curious to see what was going to be different about the galaxy four thousand years ago. (Although this book was published after the other TOR tie-in, Fatal Alliance, it is chronologically first.) It’s nearly a moot point to complain about this, since I could have complained about the same thing back in the days of Knights of the Old Republic and didn’t since KotOR was so awesome, but it bothered me that almost none of the technology in the Star Wars universe had changed over four thousand years. Other cute nods to the original material, such as Han’s spaceship-hiding tactics, seemed trying too hard to be just that--cute.
I did keep flashing back to some of my favourite Star Wars books and making not-favorable conclusions. I wish Sean Stewart of Dark Rendezvous had described the locations. His Coruscant, as brief as it was, was great. Kemp shows us the Works when it was actually....working, and it’s a fantastic, almost steampunk vision of elephantine industry. However, it had none of the imposing character that Stewart’s House Malreaux did. I wish Michael Reeves and Steve Perry had written some of the dialogue: they're so great about making characters care about the small things, and giving those characters time to talk.
As a final note, it took me way too long to notice that Zeerid’s last name is Korr, and that the other Star Wars novel Paul S. Kemp did was about Jaden Korr. You’re not alone, questionably-related Setele Shan.
On the whole, I rate Deceived as not as good as anything Michael Reeves wrote, and better than Fate of the Jedi as a whole. I’m glad I read it but might not have been if I’d bought it. Recommended if you’re curious about the era, or about conflicted Sith.