Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Maul: Lockdown Review

In Norse literature, berserkers were warriors who fought in a blind rage, remaining in that state until all the foes around them were killed. In The Phantom Menace, Darth Maul was portrayed as quietly menacing, until the final battle – when the berserker rage propelled him into one of the most impressive fight scenes in any Star Wars film. Maul: Lockdown shows a Sith who is a bit of both at all times, calmly orchestrating traps one moment and viciously tearing an opponent apart the next.
I've been looking forward to Maul: Lockdown for a long time.

I conducted an interview with Lockdown author Joe Schreiber here.

My review is reposted here from its first appearance on Knights Archive:

Lockdown is perhaps the goriest Star Wars novel in publication, but is not thematically grueling.  In part because of the gore, it doesn’t always feel like it takes place in the same Star Wars universe as the other books. Instead, it’s a universe where characters have been tossed in a room together and shaken. It’s an industrial death metal remix of Duel of the Fates. It functions as an action story and a horror story, with escalating destruction. Maul follows a lot of hunches and Force suggestions, which sometimes made his thought process hard to follow.

But the book does characterize him well.

Darth Maul is like an inverse reflection of Luke Skywalker. Like Luke, he doesn’t have a lot of choice. He is an apprentice in a world with very few other Sith just like Luke was an apprentice in a world with very few other Jedi.

Maul’s attitude is slightly different in Lockdown than it was in The Phantom Menace: he’s younger, not as privy to Sidious’ plans. Sidious has still kept him in the dark about his grand plan, and that’s beginning to grate. But author Joe Shreiber mentions the one thing that has been consistent with every author that writes Maul – the way Maul looks out at the Jedi Temple from the Li-Merge building just like Luke looked at the twin sunset. The reader can tell that Maul will become even more loyal once Sidious tells him his mission on Tatooine, and can see the pride that will eventually lead to Maul’s fall.

The novel exhibits a varied group of characters – most deplorable in some way. Maul’s straightforward belief in the power of the dark side seems pure and innocent in comparison. The prison station Cog Hive Seven is “some lightless region of subtle horrors, where pure, uncomplicated savagery was a positive relief…”

I learned from Del Rey editor Frank Parisi at New York Comic-Con that Lockdown was originally supposed to take place after The Clone Wars. When they changed it to take place before the show, Parisi said, they tossed around the idea that Cog Hive Seven was the place where Maul learned to work with groups such as the bounty hunters and Mandalorians who help him in The Clone Wars. In that regard, the novel answers the question that plagued my viewing of Maul’s parts in the show –
How is he good at being both a loner and a leader? The novel makes The Clone Wars better. It also illuminates The Phantom Menace. I think it’s the hallmark of the best tie-in fiction to resonate throughout other parts of the expanded universe in that way.

Schreiber has a varied, dense prose style that fits the dark, high-octane story. Machinery is described as “violent, rhythmic, throbbing like the adrenalized heart of some colossal creature.”  The jail feels claustrophobic in the way Shreiber seems to have intended. Side characters’ dialogue is realistic and adds dimension to minor players. Other times, sentences feel gimmicky, especially the cliffhangers at the end of chapters – and the very first line. In addition the end of the book goes a bit fast, introducing new characters as capstones to the larger plot. Maul seemed over-powered in parts of the novel, ripping skulls out of spines and such. It required suspension of disbelief, even knowing that he is a trained Force-user going against non-Force users and animals.

The plot was satisfying, though. The twist kept me guessing – unlike in Razor’s Edge, where the twist was pretty obvious, I was surprised to learn who Iram Radique was. The fact that there aren’t really repercussions to that identity being revealed contribute to the rather odd pace of the ending. Despite the book’s vastly different tone and subject matter, it actually ends with a very similar moment as the one at the end of Razor’s Edge – which also felt abrupt to me.

If you’re a Darth Maul fan, especially one who liked the action story told in Shadowhunter, Lockdown will certainly entertain. If you’re not a fan of the character, Lockdown may convince you that Maul is a little more than brutish, and provides additional perspective on the events of Darth Plagueis. The reader gets to see both Maul’s tactics and his berserk rage.

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