Star Wars: Cloak Of Deception (James Luceno)
Plot Summary (Highlight to read)
- Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan attempt to thwart pirate Arwen Cohl's attack on a Trade Federation freighter, they are unsuccessful and the freighter is destroyed. Cohl and his crew survive with a stash of aurodium ingots worth a substantial amount of credits.
- Because of the raids on their ships, the Trade Federation asks that the Galactic Senate enable them to bolster their defenses. The proposal is considered if the Trade Federation will agree to taxation.
- Supreme Chancellor Valorum is nearly assassinated on Coruscant, and the Jedi, including Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon, are sent to the planet Asmeru to investigate the origins of the assailants. They are attacked, and the Jedi discover yet another plot against Valorum, this time during an upcoming trade summit on Eriadu.
- Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon follow the trail to Karfeddion where they find minor details involving the plot against Valorum. Next, they go to Eriadu in hopes of foiling the plot. On Eriadu, the plan is set in motion when the mastermind, Havac, betrays Cohl and his crew, then assumes direct control of the mission.
- The Jedi are able to foil the plot when Cohl, injured due to Havac's betrayed, comes forth with the details. Havac and Cohl die in an ensuing struggle, but Qui-Gon manages to kill Havac's sniper before he can fire on the Chancellor. The Trade Federation delegation at the summit is destroyed when a battle droid goes rogue and kills them. Only Nute Gunray, and Lott Dod escape, securing Neimoidian dominance in the Federation. Valorum is brought up on charges of fraud concerning a company run by some of his relatives.
The plot mainly seeks to flesh out some of the political climate at the start of Episode I. The origins of both the Trade Federation taxation dispute, and Valorum's alleged crimes are both explained. The story is woven together very well and, even if it was somewhat predictable (if only because we know the situation at the start of Episode I), it is still entertaining. It does get a bit hard to follow at times throughout, simply because there are so many side plots and tidbits of info thrown in to the political climate, but by the end of the novel everything adds up. The only thing that bothered me was that the Jedi were not really presented with a threat for the entire novel, any fight scene with a Jedi was somewhat dull simply because the adversaries are never any more than thugs or mercenaries.
Characterization is a serious flaw in this book, most notably among the Jedi. Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon don't really have much meaningful interaction during the course of the book, it was hard for me to decide what their relationship was with one another beyond master and apprentice. Individually, there is some backstory on Obi-Wan, and Qui-Gon's renegade streak (hinted at in Episode I but never really seen) is fleshed out a bit more, but I wanted more out of them, especially Qui-Gon whom is making his (to date) only major appearance in a novel besides The Phantom Menace. Cohl's pirate crew was incredibly bland and cliche, with a very predictable evolution over the course of the novel. Palpatine is as interesting as ever, but we don't get inside his head much, instead, much of his intrigue in this novel is in all of the subtle manipulations throughout the novel. His dialogues while convincing the other politicians to see it his way are interesting because we know what he is after, and we know he is behind almost everything (to one degree or another) that happens in the novel. Valorum is a pathetic figure, the only action that he takes that isn't suggested by someone else is denying the Jedi in their attempts to protect him, and as such, making their jobs harder to do. He is portrayed as somewhat of a valiant hero, well meaning but destined to lose, and I simply couldn't accept him in that regard. The supporting Jedi also had no real purpose other than as name value. This is especially true on Asmeru, where five supporting Jedi are present, but none of them are really detailed at all. All but Adi Gallia (acting as something like the Jedi's emissary to the Supreme Chancellor) are disposable and not even worth the time spent describing them.
The author uses a myriad of descriptions in his writing, and while they are always on point and coherent, many could have been done without. Descriptions of Coruscant, especially parts of Coruscant that you are guaranteed to have seen if you are reading this novel (The outer structure of the Jedi Temple for example, or the Senate Rotunda) are given far too much detail. The supporting Jedi are also given several descriptive paragraphs that do nothing but hinder the flow of the novel, especially in relation to their importance to the plot. I did like how the author wove in various bits of continuity to create a more cohesive tale, such as King Veruna of Naboo's troubles, and Tarkin as governor of Eridau. My favorite, however, was when the author referenced "The One Below" from Star Wars tales when describing Yaddle. Action sequences are fairly pedestrian, ground battles in particular, where some variant of Jedi deflecting blaster bolts is repeated several dozen times because their challengers are somewhat limited. Dialogue is usually good, the political talk in particular is mostly sophisticated and telling without being overloaded with buzzwords or specialized vocabulary. The only problem concerning the dialogue is that between the pirates, which was neither realistic nor entertaining.
Very good for fleshing out the political climate at the start of Episode I, and with plenty of clever plot twists and schemes, the novel is hindered by a lack of action and poor characterization, and as a result only ranks in the mid tier of my reviews so far.