Carl explores a masterful novel from a master author
What is it with Claudia Gray? What’s her secret? How does she know EXACTLY what to write about in her Star Wars books? How does she know that what she writes will go down in history as some of the greatest Star Wars books ever to grace the shelves? How does she consistently manage to hit the nail and the subject matter EXACTLY on the head whereas 95% of Star Wars authors miss the target, either just short or by a country mile?
Star Wars: Master & Apprentice | By Claudia Gray
When I first picked up Ms Gray’s new Star Wars novel, ‘Master & Apprentice‘, I had to take a deep breath. You see, I’ve read her other Star Wars novels, ‘Star Wars: Bloodline‘, ‘Star Wars: Lost Stars‘ and the completely brilliant ‘Star Wars: Leia: Princess Of Alderaan‘ and have been completely blown away by them. The stories she tells hook us from the very first page and never let us go. Her descriptions of the characters and events make us feel we are actually part of the story, that we are witnessing the events first hand. The characterisation is top notch and we end up feeling sad that we cannot see this on the big screen or as a series on T.V. They really are that good. So, with that knowledge in mind, I opened the book and strapped myself in for the ride.
And what a ride I’ve been on! This could possibly be Gray’s best novel yet. I started reading the book and I couldn’t put it down. I was compelled to keep reading until I couldn’t read another word. And then was annoyed at myself that I didn’t reach the end! I really wanted to read the book until it ended but couldn’t manage it. The following morning, I finished reading the book and then went back to the start and read it again. It really was that enjoyable and fulfilling.
The book concerns the relationship between Qui-Gon Jinn and his 17-year-old Padawan, Obi-Wan Kenobi. We have seen their relationship in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace but this starts before the events of the film, giving us an even more in-depth look into how and why they are the way they are with each other. Their relationship during the book echoes the Master/ Padawan relationship further down the line between Obi-Wan and Anakin, in some ways its reflection, it’s mirror image. What happens between master and student here will be repeated between master and student in the years following Qui-Gon’s demise at the hands of Darth Maul. Again, mirroring his to be student, later on, Obi-Wan is headstrong, resilient and rebellious. He has a temper and an attitude that is unbecoming of a Jedi. Slowly, through the events of the novel, we see the parallels becoming clearer, even up to a point where we fear that Obi-Wan may step down the path his future pupil will take. Only our knowledge of what’s to come and how his future will play out stops us from becoming fearful for him.
Qui-Gon, as we already know was a padawan to Count Dooku many years before the book opens. Qui-Gon was Dooku’s second padawan learner, His first was Rael Averross. Averross became and to a certain extent still is Qui-Gon’s friend. He always offered Jinn a few wise words on how to deal with the unpredictable Dooku and his mannerisms and how to best serve his master and become a better Jedi. Sometimes, Qui-Gon listened, others he dismissed the advice offered out of hand, believing he knew a better way on fulfilling his potential and gaining the good graces of his master. Averross took on his own Padawan learner, only to have to reluctantly kill her during a mission that went wrong. His recklessness and unthinking led to his Padawan being hit with a slicer dart, poisoning her mind and forcing her to attack her master which in turn led to him having to strike her down.
His failure has been a shadow over him ever since. The Jedi council has declared him not at fault for what he had to do. Others, though have their own opinions. Rael is despatched to the world of Pijal to become lord regent to the planet’s monarch, the Princess Fanry. Here, he finds some way of restoring his faith, to attempt to atone for his ways that led to the death of his pupil. The planet is in co-operation with the Czerka Corporation. This heavy-handed corporate entity makes its profits by making deals with the planets overlords and providing them with slave labour. Many people convicted of any sort of crime, from a small indiscretion up to the vilest of crimes, are turned over to Czerka, who take the prisoners and bind them to a lifetime of slavery. Fanry is approaching her coronation, where she will become Queen and Averross is guiding her as well as being her protector. However, what started out as fun and annoying little disturbances by the opposition to Fanry’s upcoming treaty with Czerka has developed into violent attacks. Bombings have occurred and ships have been attacked.
The Jedi council, knowing of the problems between Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan have quietly offered Jinn a seat on the Jedi council. Jinn knows to accept will mean Kenobi will be off his hands and assigned to another master. But why does he feel so guilty considering accepting it? And why does he feel he has failed his apprentice? On the other side, Obi-Wan is feeling the same way. He feels he has let down his master. Both are sent on a mission to the Pijal system to aid Rael in his investigation of the terrorist attacks perpetrated against the Princess and her people. Along the way, the pair encounter a pair of galactic jewel thieves, Pax and Rahara. Rahara has no love for Czerka, having once been one of their slaves herself. She managed to escape years before and is determined to help free any slaves she can. Whereas she is headstrong and self-reliant, Pax is the opposite. He is the only survivor of a pirate attack many years before. The pirates murdered the entire complement of humanoid people aboard, leaving only protocol droids left. Pax is discovered by the droids and over 15 years, has only their contact and teachings to guide him. When his ship is finally found, Pax is indifferent to most people, having a droids attitude to everything including people.
After an attack on a Czerka ship full of slaves. Qui Gon and Obi-Wan leap into action, saving the entire ship and its inhabitants. They are aided in secret and without detection by Rahara. She hasn’t done this to save the Czerka ship but to save the lives of the slaves aboard. Rael welcomes the Jedi and his padawan to the planet, introducing them to the Palace’s inhabitants and the head of the Czerka operation on Pijal. After an attack on the Princess during the night, Qui Gon has a vision of a serious outcome during the Princess’ coronation, a vision he can’t fail to shake off. With this being brought to Obi-Wan’s attention and Obi-Wan’s discovery of his master being offered a Jedi council seat, the division between them becomes even wider. And after another attack on the Princess and a battle between Blackguards and the two Jedi where their lightsabers fail to do any damage against their attackers, the situation becomes far worse than they both feared.
The book is a triumphant celebration of words and explanation. The setting couldn’t be more suitable for our two lead characters. The byplay between them is a joy to read, many times making the reader smile and remember back to our very first encounter with them many years ago on board a trade federation control ship. Again, we are presented with both their opinions and both again are right and wrong at the same time. Their dialogue, however, is fantastic. Claudia Gray seems to have the inside track on every character she writes about in the Star Wars universe. Every minute detail is presented here again for us all to enjoy and the research and knowledge the author has put into the novel is nothing short of wondrous.
There are, of course, little digs into the universe presented here. Many characters are named within the story and even Takodana is mentioned during the events including a cameo from an un-named bartender with huge goggles! Hello Maz, how are you? These little snippets raise the story to an even greater height than it already had but all feel justified and needed within the confines of the novel. Qui-Gon’s relationship with Dooku is presented to us in flashback scenes and we can see the starting of Dooku’s fall from the light. I’ve always believed that Dooku was either a Master Manipulator or had just a small chink in his armour which prevented him from going fully to the dark side. Here the confusion isn’t resolved but adds an even deeper contrast to Dooku and his underlying character, one that I’d enjoy seeing explored in greater detail.
Claudia Gray has hit yet another home run with the novel. She has slotted into the hall of great Star Wars novelists alongside Alexander Freed, James Luciano, Pablo Hidalgo, James Khan, Alan Dean Foster and the legendary creator of Thrawn, Timothy Zahn in her own right. Her writings leave us with a great feeling and a thirst for more. Unlike the quite frankly lacklustre recent novel, Queen’s Shadow, this IS a Star Wars book that’s worthy of our attention. This IS a must read for all Star Wars fans. Whether you like the prequel trilogy or not shouldn’t come into play here as this book is everything that a Star Wars saga fan could hope for. It not only brings the prequel saga to life even more than before but is a totally engrossing novel in its own right. Claudia Gray must be commended for writing such an enjoyable book. Get down to the local bookstore, pick yourself up a copy and prepare to be thrilled by an absolutely outstanding novel of the highest order. If the Emperor doesn’t command it, then I myself do.
Until next time.
Star Wars: Master & Apprentice by Claudia Gray is published by Penguin Random House and is available to buy from all good retailers.
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