Saturday, March 26, 2011

Review: Star Wars: The Old Republic: Deceived by Paul S. Kemp


Deceived is set before the events of the previously released novel The Old Republic: Fatal Alliance.  The book is set approximately in 3653 BBY in the events of the sacking of Coruscant and its immediate aftermath, while the negotiations for what will become the treaty of Coruscant occur in the background. The Epilogue does occur in the future after the events of the novel proper, but just how far in the future is unclear.

Dramatis Personae

Adraas; Sith Lord (human male)
Angral; Sith Lord (human male)
Arra Yooms; child (human female)
Aryn Leneer; Jedi Knight (human female)
Eleena; servant (Twi'lek female)
Malgus; Sith Lord (human male)
Ven Zallow; Jedi Master (male, species unknown)
Vrath Xizor; mercenary (human male)
Zeerid Korr; smuggler (human male)

The book revolves around the stories of three main characters, Aryn Leneer, Darth Malgus, and Zeerid Korr.

Author Paul S. Kemp described the Point of View (POV) characters thus in an interview I conducted;

I like to think that Malgus is a complicated character.  He embodies much of what we think of when we think of the Sith – he’s violent, values strength and power, and in general regards peace/passivity as weakness.  At the same time, he’s possessed of a keen sense of honor, and has a powerful attachment to Eleena.  These somewhat contrary impulses give him his internal conflict and drive his character arc. 

 The other two main POV character are Aryn Leneer, a Jedi Knight and Force empath, who has very personal reasons for confronting Malgus, and Zeerid Korr, a former Havoc Squad commando who is in deep to a criminal syndicate known as The Exchange. 
One of the strengths that Kemp has as an author is crafting very interesting and complex characters.  The strength of Deceived isn't its plot (while good) or its action (while great), the real strength is the development of its characters and their interaction.  One flaw that many authors fall into is that there characters are not internally consistent.  They set up the character with certain traits, philosophies and motivations, and then for the sake of the plot they have the character do something that doesn't make any sense given what we know about that character.  Kemp constructs some really interesting characters that while they evolve through the course of the novel, the maintain that internal consistency that makes there actions and decisions make sense and makes the novel feel like a very satisfying journey.

Deceived is all about relationships.  The relationship of Aryn Leneer to her Jedi Master Ven Zallow, the relationship between Zeerid Korr to his family, the relationship of Aryn to Zeerid, the relationship between Malgus and Eleena, the relationship between Malgus and the other Sith in the power structure, and ultimately the relationship between Aryn and Malgus.  It is almost like the characters are asteroids stuck in orbit around each other, they cannot stop crashing into each other, and then spinning off in strange new directions. 

I am a sucker for a good villain and for the flawed hero.  In this novel we had heroes stepping into the dark and villains stepping into the light, it was a great story and a tremendous introduction to a character I hope we see more of in the future in Malgus.

Deceived gets a 9.5 out of 10 lightsabers. 

There be Spoilers Below....

Continue reading for a discussion of the novel in-depth with lots of spoilers.  I will be breaking the discussion down by character for the sake of organization. 

I. Aryn Leneer

Aryn is a fascinating character.  She is a Jedi, but her specialization is as a Force Empath.  As far as I can tell from my reading of the Expanded Universe, this is a bit of a first in terms of Jedi specialization.  It also seems like a very dangerous ability for a Jedi strong in the force to possess.  The ability not only to feel your own emotions but to experience the emotions of others strongly through the Force would take a Jedi with the most strict discipline and durasteel willpower in order to handle the emotional trauma that could potentially affect you.  As we see with Aryn, her emotions can get the better of her.  Not only do we see the fact that she has more then the traditional Jedi emotional attachment to her Master (Ven Zallow), but we also have hints that when she was comforting Zeerid over the grief of his wife's death and daughters maiming there was some kind of romantic relationship formed.

Aryn comes very close to falling to the Dark Side in this novel, and about 2/3 of the way through the book I thought one of the two possible outcomes of the novel would be Aryn falling and apprenticing herself to Malgus. 

II. Zeerid Korr (Z-Man)

From the excerpts we were provided prior to the books release, I was most skeptical of Zeerid's character.  For some reason the whole "Z-Man" nickname drives me nuts and instantly makes me want to dislike the character for giving himself such a silly nickname.  But once I read the book and really understood Zeerid, it makes sense, it helps that he is also aware of how silly the name sounds.  But Zeerid is someone trying to compartmentalize his life, for his work for the The Exchange  he is in effect creating a new persona in the person of Z-Man.  Creating false character traits such as his gambling problem, and zealously guarding the secrets of his daughter Arra.

While I am not yet a parent, the defining character trait of Zeerid is the parental instinct.  Everything he does in this book is for his daughter.  He may not be making the proper choices, but he is doing what he thinks he must do to provide for his daughter.  We see the extreme of this at the end of the book with him consciously deciding to commit murder to protect the secret of the existence and condition of his daughter from even potentially reaching The Exchange.

Zeerid in his previously life was a member of the Republic's Havoc Squad and fought alongside of Aryn Leneer.  The interesting and ambiguous question of the book, is when did the romantic relationship between Aryn and Zeerid begins.  I may be wrong in my reading of it, but the inference that I got was that something was going on between the two of them before the death of Zeerid's wife.  This certainly would lend a certain moral ambiguity to both characters, but would seem realistic given the conditions of warfare and long separation from family back home.

III. Darth Malgus (Veradun)

Malgus may be my favorite EU Sith.  I will be re-reading Deceived, and I want to think about it some more, but the depth that the character possesses is fascinating.  His relationship with Eleena is so conflicted and tragic.  I do believe that some part of Malgus truly loved her.  But I think the key to understanding the relationship is in the Sith philosophy itself, the exultation of self above all else.  The Sith look inward, at the end of the day the most important person to Malgus will always be Malgus.  His love of Eleena is less important to him then the fate of the Sith Empire and his knowledge and understanding of the Force. 

A very interesting aspect to Malgus is that while he didn't like playing politics as seen by his relationships with Angral and Adraas, he has a very nimble and powerful intellect.  He uses logic to reach his conclusions and is very philosophical for what on the surface appears to be the epitome of a Sith warrior. I really enjoyed his conflict/warfare as a whetstone concept.  The fact that he believed peace would make the Sith and the Empire weak and that they needed conflict to exist, in effect war could never end.

There are some interesting parallels to be drawn between the fall of Jacen Solo and his becoming of Darth Caedus and Darth Malgus.  The idea of sacrificing something/someone you love to attain Dark Side power in the Force is an interesting concept.  For Jacen it ended up murdering his aunt Mara Jade, for Malgus it was murdering his lover.

There is also a certain code of honor to Malgus.  While it hardly makes him a hero, it makes him more layered of a character.  Is it just an extension of excessive pride?  I really like the contract of how he let Aryn live because she spared Eleena, and then he sought ought and killed Adraas and used the fact that Adraas had called Eleena names a  way to increase his connection to the Dark Side and kill Adraas.  Its odd that he both grants mercy and exacts revenge because of the way his Eleena was treated, yet he is the one who murdered her.  There is a certain thought process, similar to what we saw with Jacen, among Sith that is circular and insane.

There is so much more to say, but lets face it, Malgus is just a bad, bad, Sith Lord. 

IV. Supporting Characters

Some interesting supporting character tidbits.  The unnamed female Mandalorian bounty hunter is  apparently Shae Vizla, could it be an ancestor of the future Death Watch leader Pre Vizsla?  I know the spelling is slightly different but it would be an interesting connection.

The mercenary Vrath Xizor, shares a surname with the Falleen Prince Xizor, of course these two are of different species but its interesting to see the name Xizor in the Star Wars Expanded Universe again.

Eleena is a rather tragic character in the novel.  I am not sure what to think about her.  Is it a case of the Stockholm Syndrome? Or is this the case of genuine affection by Eleena towards her Veradun who rescued her and she willingly killed and waged war against his enemies to help and protect him.  Putting up with the Imperial anti-alien bias to remain with her lover and Master.  I wonder just how much she thought she understood about Malgus' character and that he would ever be able to choose her over his drive for power.

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