Monday, November 30, 2009

Book Review: The First Two Thirds of the Darth Bane Trilogy

Warning: Spoiler Alert!

I recently finished reading Star Wars: Darth Bane - Path of Destruction (a novel of the Old Republic) by Drew Karpyshyn. Before that I read its sequel Star Wars: Darth Bane - Rule of Two. Why did I read the sequel first? Well I just happened to come upon it while I was perusing the Science Fiction section of my local Chapters bookstore. As I mentioned in my last post I love mythology, both ancient and modern, and modern mythology includes Star Wars. I also love Lord of the Rings, The Vampire Chronicles, and Dune. When it comes to Star Wars, I highly prefer tales set in the Old Republic, as opposed to those set after the original movie trilogy. Rule of Two not only met this criteria, but also explained a good deal about the rebirth of the mythical Sith, and why there are only two at one time. I was also enticed by the prospect of a female Sith (Darth Zannah) as a protagonist. That was sufficient reason for me to buy the book, and so I did not look carefully enough to realize that it was a sequel to another novel. I don’t believe it had a negative impact on my reading of it. No critical information from Path of Destruction was omitted, so I don’t believe it’s vital that the books be read in order.

Regardless, I will give my reviews of them in order. Though I enjoyed both novels, I liked Path of Destruction a little bit more. I suppose the main reason would be that Path of Destruction has a more grandiose plot, with the Brotherhood of Darkness battling the Army of Light for control of the Galaxy, while Rule of Two has a much tighter and more personal focus on Bane and Zannah. Path of Destruction begins with Bane, then called Dessel, working in the Cortosis mines of Apatros. Physical labour makes me miserable, so I can easily sympathize with Dessel’s lot here. The nitpicker in me though forces me to ask ‘why do they use manual labour instead of droids?’ Most of the droids we’ve seen on Star Wars have seemed pretty stupid, so it may be that there are advantages to using Humans over cheap droids. Besides, Star Wars is hardly the only science fiction story which avoids automation for plot purposes, so I’ll let the matter drop.

When Dessel gets into a fight with a Republic soldier over a card game, he kills him in self defence. Knowing the fate for killing a Republic soldier, he flees Apatros and joins the Sith army as a common soldier. After about a year, his Force talents are realized and he’s sent to the Sith Academy on Korriban. That’s right, the exact same Sith Academy from Knights of the Old Republic. The author of the Darth Bane Trilogy, Drew Karpyshyn, was also the lead writer for KOTOR. I’m not much of a gamer, but KOTOR was one of the few video games I really enjoyed, and I found the numerous references to KOTOR in Path of Destruction amusing. It’s at the Academy that Dessel takes the name Bane. Bane’s journey into Sith-hood is quite fascinating. He’s the most promising student at the Academy until he first kills someone with the Dark side and he realizes its control over him. It scares him, so he withdraws from the Dark side, and his power weakens. This costs him dearly when he challenges Sirak, the Academy’s top pupil, to a duel. Bane is beaten to a pulp, loses all respect and the privilege of private tutorship from the Academy’s instructors.

Forsaken by the rest of the Academy, Bane studies privately in the library, absorbing the knowledge of the Ancient Sith. The Brotherhood of Darkness had forsaken the teachings of their ancestors, and so the library is mostly ignored by the other students. It is from the Ancient texts that Bane not only increases his knowledge of the Dark side, but learns how corrupt the Sith have become. The Sith are meant to be ruled by the most powerful, who are served by the weak. The problem with this is that multiple lesser Sith would often team up to take down a powerful Dark Lord, and then inevitably turn on each other. This would leave just one weak Sith in place of a once mighty Dark Lord. Kaan’s solution to this was to create a Brotherhood of Darkness, where all the Sith were equal. Bane recognizes this for the perversion it is, and realizes that the only solution is for there to be only two Sith; a master and an apprentice. One to embody power, the other to crave it. He then takes it upon himself to exterminate the Brotherhood of Darkness.

Bane gains the help of Githany, a former Jedi who realizes Bane’s potential and sees an opportunity to gain a powerful ally. She tutors Bane herself, teaching him both what she learned from the Jedi and what her Sith instructors have taught her. She also helps Bane overcome his inhibitions that are preventing him from fully embracing the Dark side and reaching his full potential. Bane also gets duelling instructions from a Twi’lek Sith named Kas’im. Eventually Bane is ready to take on Sirak again, and this time he succeeds. This is how he earns his lightsaber from Kas’im. He sets off for the Valley of the Dark Lords, hoping to find some Ancient Sith secret to help him Destroy the Brotherhood of Darkness. When this fails, he heads to Unknown world of KOTOR and visits the Rakata temple. There he finds Revan’s Holocron, where he learns the ritual of the Thought Bomb. He joins up with the Brotherhood of Darkness on Ruusan, where they are battling the Army of Light. There he betrays them, ordering the Sith blockade to engage the Jedi fleet, allowing the Jedi to send in reinforcements. This forces the Brotherhood to risk the Thought Bomb Bane taught them. This ritual destroys all of the Sith, save for Darth Bane.

I found Bane’s journey from an overworked, underappreciated cortosis miner to Dark Lord of the Sith interesting and compelling, and the references to KOTOR were always appreciated. Path of Destruction fits nicely into the Star Wars mythos, while explaining how the Sith ‘rule of two’ came about. Since Bane doesn’t start off as that nice of a guy to begin with, and his descent into pure Evil is relatively gradual with at least one major hesitation, it’s more believable than a valiant Jedi falling fast and hard to the Dark side, which seems more common in the Star Wars Universe. The monastic training of both Jedi and Sith is something that’s always been of interest to me, so the large chunk of the novel that’s set on Korriban is probably my favourite. My favourite ‘insane moment of pure evil’ is when Bane is poisoned, and he murders a group of brothers and their father so that he can draw strength from their suffering. Their anguish sustains him. That’s how you know he’s a true Sith Lord. Bane’s story tied up nicely with the epic ‘subplot’ of the galaxy wide war between the Sith Empire and the Republic. By betraying his fellow Sith, Bane actually saves the Republic. That is, after all, the nature of the Sith. Their treacherous nature will always condemn them to failure, and the Light will prevail.

Rule of Two starts were Path of Destruction ended. Zannah is a ten year old girl who’s lost her entire family in the war (or so she thinks). She’s befriended a ‘bouncer’ named Laa, a floating green telepathic alien (don’t ask). Though usually peaceful, the bouncers can be driven mad by Sith sorcery and become extremely dangerous, so the Jedi are ordered to kill them on sight. When two Jedi Knights shoot Laa on sight to ‘protect’ Zannah, she reaches out with the force in anger and kills them both. Bane’s not too far away, and is impressed. She willing becomes his apprentice. Bane drags her back to the cave where the Thought Bomb was used, just to make sure all the other Sith are dead. There they find Zannah’s cousin Darvoit, who’s survived. He’s enraged to see her with Bane and foolishly decides to fight him. He’ll die of course, so Zannah uses her Force powers to blast off his hand to prevent the duel. Bane recognizes that killing Darvoit will only create animosity between himself and Zannah, and sees no harm in letting Darovit live, so he spares his life. This is a decision which will cause him serious grief about ten years down the road.

At a Sith camp, Bane found the journal of the Academy’s headmaster, which contains the location of the tomb of Freedon Nadd. Not wanting to share this information with his apprentice, he abandons the ten year girl on war ravaged Ruusan all by herself, saying it’s part of her training. Even for a Sith Lord, what a bastard. She has to meet him on Onderon in ten days time, and if she fails she’ll have proven herself unworthy as his apprentice. I can’t help but note that Bane uses the old sci-fi cliché of telling someone to meet him on a planet, without being any more specific. On a Human scale, planets are pretty damn big. Is Zannah suppose to scour the entire planet like Maharet searching for Mekare? (That’s a vampire Chronicles reference, for those that don’t know) Some longitude, some latitude, a City name, maybe a street address, that would be helpful. I can only assume that Bane used the Force to find Zannah, but still, he found her almost as soon as she arrived. Vampires have psychic powers and it took Maharet six thousand years to find Mekare. Proof that a Sith Lord could kick a Vampire’s ass, at least at a scavenger hunt? Possibly. If anyone would like to discuss this with me further, please meet up with me on Earth.

Okay, sorry about the Vampire rant. Anyway, Bane goes to Freedon Nadd’s tomb on Dxun, Onderon’s moon, where he finds Nadd’s Holocron. He’s also infested by two of these crustacean-like parasites called orbalisks. As far as he knows, they can’t be removed without killing him. They cause him constant pain, but they also inordinately increase his strength, regenerative powers, and his ability to draw upon the Dark side. They also serve as a near impenetrable armour that can even withstand a lightsaber. They eventually come to cover his entire body, except for his head and hands, due to specially devised gloves and headgear. The author chooses not to mention whether or not Bane’s genitals or anus are covered, by I would have to assume Bane took precautions to prevent this as well. Bane’s case of gaining superpowers by being covered with parasites is similar to Leto Atreides II from Children of Dune and God Emperor of Dune, who covered himself with the sandtrout larva of the Dune worms. I don’t know if this is an intentional Homage, but if it is I have not problem with it. Me chastising someone for taking ideas from Dune would definitely be the pot calling the kettle black.

Zannah is eventually rescued by a shuttle with a Farmer, his two sons, and a Republic soldier. She brutally murders them and takes the craft to Onderon. She is one badass ten year old girl. There she meets Bane, who saves her from some beastriders, and then takes her to Ambria to train her. Ten years pass by. Zannah is a powerful Sith sorcerer, but is still not ready to challenge her master. She realizes that she must get him to somehow remove the orbalisks if she is ever to claim the mantle of Dark Lord for herself. She suggests to him that the orbalisks are causing him to lose control over his emotions, after he trashes their camp in a fit of rage when he fails once again to make his own Holocron. Dark Bane suspects that the orbalisks may be the cause of this as well. Here, I will admit that I may have lost something by not reading Path of Destruction first. When I read Rule of Two, I didn’t really understand why Bane wanted to make a Holocron so badly. Path of Destruction helped me to understand that he wanted to ensure the Sith order survives, so he wants to make a Holcron to preserve his knowledge for future generations. He orders Zannah to visit the Jedi Archives on Coruscant, disguised as a Jedi Padawan, to try to find any information that can help them remove the orbalisks. Meanwhile, Bane goes to Tython to find the Holcron of Belia Darzu, in the hopes of discovery how to make his own Holocron. Lotta Holcrons in this series. He eventually learns that it’s not the orbalisks, but that he needs to make a capstone to stabilize the matrix. While Zannah is at the Jedi archives, she runs into her cousin Darovit.

After being maimed on Ruusan, Darovit became a hermit who used the power of the Light to heal anyone who sought his aid. When a memorial to the Jedi’s sacrifice on Ruusan is being built, he sabotages the construction anyway he can, remembering what the Jedi did to the Bouncers. Eventually this attracts the attention of the Jedi Knight responsible for the memorial, Johun. When he meets with Darovit he learns that Darth Bane still lives, so he takes him back to the Coruscant to testify before the Jedi

Council. After some persuasion, Darovit reluctantly agrees. Before his meeting with The Council though, Darovit takes some time to skim through the Jedi Archives, where he runs into Zannah. Small Galaxy, no? In all fairness, I suppose that the odds of two force sensitives visiting the Jedi Archives at the same time are significantly higher than two other long lost relatives visiting some random place simultaneously. Plus, the Force probably drew them there. Once Darovit sees Zannah, he switches allegiances and the two of them get out of there as soon as they can. Unfortunately, in her haste Zannah left out the datacard she’d use to gain Tython hyperspace co-ordinates, so five Jedi follow her. There, they battle.

I was a little disappointed with how unceremoniously Johun and the other five Jedi died in this battle. Johun has his own subplot, and if it wasn’t for him the book wouldn’t really have a climax. But he doesn’t even get a one liner off. Bane chops his hand off, and then Zannah finishes him while he’s writhing on the ground. It’s pathetic. I think a main character’s death should a little more dignity than that.

Just as Bane was about to strike Johun with Force lighting, an Ithorian Jedi casts some sort of Force bubble around him, causing him to electrocute himself. This causes several of the orbalisks to die, releasing a fatal toxin as they do so. Bane has days to live. Zannah takes Bane and Darovit back to Ambria, where they seek the aid of a healer named Caleb. He will only help them if Zannah hand herself and Bane over to the Jedi. Zannah still has much to learn from Bane, so she agrees and makes the transmission, and Caleb treats Bane. Now, at this point I thought Zannah really was going to turn herself over to the Jedi and eventually follow the path of the Light, which I admit I didn’t really want her to do. Fortunately, I was pleasantly surprised. Drawing upon her Sith sorcery, Zannah is able to prevent the Jedi from becoming aware of her and Bane’s existence. I won’t say what she does here, only that I didn’t see it coming and I thought she was very cunning and ruthless. A fine Sith, indeed.

So, having read the first two books, I am eagerly anticipating the release of the Threequel, Dynasty of Evil (I think), this December. Once I get it, and of course read it, I’ll put a review of it up here as well. I hope Zannah will defeat Bane and take her own apprentice. I hope Zannah’s story continues beyond the Darth Bane Trilogy. I would love to read more about Zannah, right until the end of her life (which I really hope doesn’t end in Dynasty of Evil). I hope this blog entry will get somebody else to read the Darth Bane trilogy too. Since this blog is purely elective, I would not write a review of something unless I really liked it, or really hated it. In case it’s not blindingly obvious, I loved these two books, and I’m sure I’ll love Dynasty of Evil. Kudos to Drew Karpyshyn for writing these wonderful novels. The about author section of the Darth Bane books says that he lives in Canada’s Hinterlands with his wife Jen and their Cat. I wish to know more of this Cat.

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