Monday, 31 August 2015

Review: 'Dark Disciple' by Christie Golden

I am an unashamed Star Wars fan. If I have the chance to read a Star Wars book I will and when I saw that Netgalley had Dark Disciple up, a book centred around one of my favourite Star Wars characters, I knew I had to get it. And I can't quite tell you how glad I am that I did. Thanks to Netgalley, Random House and Del Rey for providing me wit a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 07/07/2015
Publisher: Random House, Del Rey
Based on unproduced episodes of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, this new novel features Asajj Ventress, former Sith apprentice turned bounty hunter and one of the great antiheroines in Star Wars history. 
The only way to bring down the Sith's most dangerous warrior may be to join forces with the dark side.
In the war for control of the galaxy between the armies of the dark side and the Republic, former Jedi Master turned ruthless Sith Lord Count Dooku has grown ever more brutal in his tactics. Despite the powers of the Jedi and the military prowess of their clone army, the sheer number of fatalities is taking a terrible toll. And when Dooku orders the massacre of a flotilla of helpless refugees, the Jedi Council feels it has no choice but to take drastic action: targeting the man responsible for so many war atrocities, Count Dooku himself.
But the ever-elusive Dooku is dangerous prey for even the most skilled hunter. So the Council makes the bold decision to bring both sides of the Force's power to bear—pairing brash Jedi Knight Quinlan Vos with infamous one-time Sith acolyte Asajj Ventress. Though Jedi distrust for the cunning killer who once served at Dooku's side still runs deep, Ventress's hatred for her former master runs deeper. She's more than willing to lend her copious talents as a bounty hunter—and assassin—to Vos's quest.
Together, Ventress and Vos are the best hope for eliminating Dooku—as long as the emerging feelings between them don't compromise their mission. But Ventress is determined to have her retribution and at last let go of her dark Sith past. Balancing the complicated emotions she feels for Vos with the fury of her warrior's spirit, she resolves to claim victory on all fronts—a vow that will be mercilessly tested by her deadly enemy . . . and her own doubt.
The first thing that anyone who wants to go into this book should know is that, over the years it ran, The Clone Wars managed to create and develop some fascinating characters which were beloved by its audience. One of these characters is Asajj Ventress. In the TV show she was a notorious Sith warrior, not quite an apprentice, not quite just an assassin. As the seasons progressed her character and history were fleshed out significantly and Asajj became a fan-favourite. When TCW came to an end there were unproduced scripts for future seasons, which were worked into comics, reels or, as in the case of Dark Disciple, novels. Hence, there are some who will go into this novel having seen the show and knowing a lot of background information. It's definitely helpful to be familiar with the characters and their relationships already, since a lot of the fun might otherwise be missed. So much for the necessary information.

Dark Disciple made me cry. Not a lot of novels manage to actually get to me in that way but as I neared the final few chapters and pages I was hit by sudden emotion. Christie Golden really got into the story of the novel which can't have been easy considering the characters aren't hers and the story line was already roughly sketched out. Golden develops the tensions between the characters very well, continuing what is set up in The Clone Wars but also adding something new to it. The focus of the novel is split between a number of characters but mainly focuses on Quinlan Vos and Asajj Ventress. As their stories intertwine and separate again and again the reader gets a real understanding of their motives and feelings. Asajj is, however, the shining star of this novel. She is at the very centre of the story and although Quinlan Vos is a very interesting character, Asajj carries the novel from beginning to end.

Asajj Ventress is one of my favourite characters in all of Star Wars. She is a strong female character that is more than just physically strong. The problem with the "strong female character" trope is that these are too often women that can punch and be punched, but who are still incredibly emotionally dependent on the mainly male characters around her. The beauty of Asajj Ventress' story lines throughout TCW and Dark Disciple is that emotional independence and co-dependence is  always a major theme. Her whole relationship with Dooku is based on her seeking his approval and then lashing out when she doesn't get it, whereas her link to her origins, the Nightsisters, is one of strength. Asajj's story is one of growing emotionally, discovering your own worth for yourself and being vulnerable without being "weak". She is an inspirational character and I believe that Dark Disciple continues her story perfectly and is, hence, worthy of her.

Obviously the end of the novel can't be discussed here since that would be the spoiler of all spoilers. Some reviewers have argued that there is some unfortunate trope in the end, but in many ways I felt like it was a great end to this novel. In a novel technically not entirely focused on Asajj, there was a very strong emphasis on her character development at the end. Not everyone will be happy with this ending and I believe a case could be made for disapproving of it. However, in the grand scheme of Star Wars, I believe the end of Dark Disciple fit in very well. The tragedy and mythical feel of all of Star Wars comes out very well in this novel, I believe, and that is why fans of The Clone Wars will also love it.

I give this novel...

4 Universes!

Yup, this is a brilliant book! Although it is probably limited to a Star Wars-audience, it is a lot of fun. The characters are well-rounded, Golden's style of writing is succint yet funny, and she taps into the Star Wars-lore perfectly. Being given the responsibility to write about one of TCW's most beloved characters is enormous but Christie Golden does so expertly. The novel flies by and is both exciting and emotional, at times. I'd recommend it both to Star Wars fans but also to fans of sci-fi and strong female characters.

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