Sunday, June 5, 2011

Star Wars: Deceived

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. 

5 comments:

  1. (Warning: major snark, crankiness, and ranting ahead. I am attempting to remedy this with chocolate but it isn't working fast enough argh.)

    Nem I can't get into TOR, I just can't. I can't take any of the characters or designs or scenarios seriously. Darth Malgus is a total amalgam (where they got his name?) of Malak and Vader. It feels like all they're doing with this game, design-wise, is trying to make it feel as much like the OT as possible, and the first KotOR did that except BETTER because a) Bioware designed it and b) they were going for similarities in narrative motif instead of aesthetic and I want something actually original and I, I, I also needed this space in which to rant.

    Although, a large part of me wants to believe that no one could possibly be this ridiculously un-creative and they've just made the designs so similar to stuff we've already seen before because they want to attract as many players as possible and figure that will be easier if they say "hey, it's Star Wars, it's set in a different historical era than the movies that everybody knows but look it's got things that resemble stormtroopers and Star Destroyers and Vaders!" than "hey, it's Star Wars, but it looks absolutely nothing like what casual fans of the films know, save for a few pan-franchise themes!".

    ...Yes. Back to being more relevant to your post.

    Why are Leneer and Eleena anagrams of each other? Is this significant in any way to the plot, or is it brought up at all in a moment of self-referential humor? If not, I will be sorely disappointed in Kemp's naming abilities.

    Ew, Nem, I, I am opposed on principle to the idea of Sith being in love (*hypocrite*) if they're being properly Sithly. Love (not passion, but real-actual love, and not just romantic love) is the complete, polar antithesis of everything the Sith stand for. He'd better have some good inner conflict going on about that one, because I refuse to believe that your run-of-the-mill, completely-given-to-darkness, grr-I-hate-everything Sith is also going to have anything approaching romantic feelings for anyone that either don't go any deeper than physical attraction, or are some twisted, corrupted, mentally-unsound version of "love" (like stalker-Sion with Exile).

    I do appreciate that there were no superweapons that needed to be destroyed. Refreshing.

    I also think there needs to be more just wrestling in Star Wars. Force powers, lightsabers, and blasters are all well and good, but sometimes you just need to put someone in a headlock.

    I'm glad I'm not the only one bothered by the apparent total lack of change in technology in the Star Wars universe. That was the prime reason why I loved Tales of the Old Republic, because it went the sensible route and showed this beautiful, relatively-primitive technology that in many cases was aesthetically superior to its more utilitarian OT-era counterparts. I mean, I guess an argument could be made that technological development has been stagnant since the days of KotOR due to some bizarre, millennia-long "dark age" of lack of innovation, buuuuut...you don't need me to tell you how improbable that is. (Yes, I am aware that KotOR had this same issue, but it is awesome, so I have double standards.)

    Questionably-related Satele Shan bothers me in her questionably-related-ness. I think the only reason Lucasarts doesn't just come out and say she's a descendant of Bastila is because they recognized that by making Revan canonically male, they royally cheesed off roughly half of everyone who's ever played the game. If they affirm that Bastila had offspring which led to Satele's existence, there's an almost nonexistent jump to make to assume that Bastila ended up with male-Revan as the game implies, which will be rubbing salt into the wounds of those who militantly crusade for a female Revan.

    --

    Well. I hope this makes up for my lack of commenting on some of your other recent posts.

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  2. I have to say, I want to have hope for this one. It was more interesting than FotJ. It was also quick and easy; I finished it in about four days. Part of why I like it is because I read this http://fangirlblog.com/2011/02/fangirl-speaks-up-star-wars-books-bad-romance/ blog recently. She talks about wanting more romantic relationships in Star Wars, which I completely disagree with, but she also talks about non-romantic group stories, which I love. And I thought that this book came up with good groups, or at least duos-- people who relied on each other, and were each other's weaknesses.

    I admit that I hadn't noticed those things about the names. If "Amalgam" is the source for Darth's name...I'm a bit disappoint. That's not frightening. The anagrams weren't mentioned, no.

    Malgus's feelings weren't explored enough that I can positively say their relationship wasn't founded on the physical, but the moral of the story was that she was his weakness. And, spoiler warning-- he does kill her at the end. I thought that was a great way to show the depth of his evil, and it surprised me in its ruthlessness. Death isn't treated lightly in this book.

    "Force powers, lightsabers, and blasters are all well and good, but sometimes you just need to put someone in a headlock." This is the best sentence.

    Hehe, I have the same double standards in terms of the technology. It makes me feel a tad better (or worse?) that other franchises do the same leaps in time without changing much of the technology that people came to that franchise for.

    I'm beginning to realize that the white male human Revan and Jaden were written by white male authors (who presumably identify as human!), and that that is both the problem and the explanation for the bland player characters. I assume that those are just one more phenotype and that my Revan exists somewhere still.

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  3. I think most things would be better than FotJ, yes. That is good, though, that the character interaction was strong. I know that's something you look for in good characterization.

    (Oh wait they're almost-anagrams. One-letter difference. Still, it's kind of...lazy.)

    That does satisfy me and strikes me as true to the Sith code. Because they see love as weakness, and because it undermines everything about their philosophy, I think a Sith who feels love for anything or anyone must at some point make a choice between love and power, whether consciously or subconsciously. Anakin did the same thing; he could have given himself over to love and forgiven and tried to understand those whom he was told were betraying him, but he chose the path of power, under pretense of being able to protect those he cared about, and ended up inadvertently hating them and causing great harm to them. If you're really walking down the road of darkness, eventually you will have to rid yourself of sources of light in your life.

    Oh Nem, you always flatter me when you call my sentences the best. You have a lot of best sentences, yourself.

    I guess a lot of franchises, specifically science fiction franchises, and even more specifically science fiction franchises that cover vast periods of time, do struggle to maintain a balance between what's historically feasible and staying familiar to what fans expect. I don't exactly approve of what Star Wars is doing with its technology history, but KotOR was so good in so many other ways that I just don't like nitpicking it.

    I think you're pretty much entirely right on that one--which saddens me. I'd rather have an interesting character than one that correlates in demographic with its author. Let's face it, white male humans are boring. I always wanted Revan to be a Wookiee.

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  4. Despite not writing characters very well myself, I do love groups. Thus the large, varied cast in ICBI. Unfortunately, they couldn't interact too much because some would have eaten the others.

    That conflict between love and power -- or death and innocence -- was dealt with pointedly in Deceived. The fact that three characters had to make the same sort of choice gave it the structure I liked. In no way was it perfect, but it did have that. It was refreshing to see a SW novel that stood alone.

    I believe you've won my deviantArt signature back from GlaDOS.

    I agree with everything you said about franchises having to balance between feasibility and familiarity.

    Haha, that would certainly be different. At the same time as wanting more diversity, I also accept that I write white female player characters -- or aliens who act like quirky white females. So I blame the published PC authors less, while at the same time still not caring about their characters.

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  5. Yeah, interaction in IBCI was...problematic by nature of those involved in the interaction. But you handled it entertainingly.

    Oh wow, sweetness. xD I feel like she and I are locked in some epic sig battle now. *derp*

    Yeah okay I write white female player characters too and am thus a hypocrite. But yes, the authors could at least have the decency to make the characters interesting in personality if not demographic. I'm still holding out for Revan (or am I too late for that?).

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