The Old Republic: Revan (Drew Karpyshyn)
Revan is set after the events of Kotor 1, with act two taking place after Kotor 2. The book attempts to explain what happened to Revan after the events of the massively popular video game, and give a defined voice to the two protagonists from that series. It also serves as an introduction to the Sith Emperor that will apparently play an important role in the upcoming MMO.
Revan's story arc starts off strong, with strong ties to the games, and a fantastic appearance by squad mate Canderous Ordo. The two go on a mission to track down Mandalore's Mask, a quest which ultimately takes them to Canderous' old tribe of Mandalorian warriors, including his wife. This segment has some of the books best action scenes, and features one of the best glimpses into Mandalorian culture in the EU. The finale of this sequence also explains some of the mysteries of Kotor 2, so overall this aspect is great.
What isn't great, however, are the random cutaways to a Sith Lord named Scourge. Thrown in without context or initial connection to Revan, Scourge allows us a glimpse inside the hidden Sith Empire. Unfortunately, the character isn't very compelling, and his passages consist of either an embarrassing level of paranoia, or a random action scene or two.
Of course, the two plots do converge, although the results aren't exactly inspired. Where Scourge was paranoid to the extreme prior to meeting Revan, his inhibitions are broken down by Revan, and he eventually helps Revan in his escape. He doesn't do it alone, however, as Kotor 2's Exile begins a quest to save Revan that ultimately forces Scourge and the Exile to team up. This pairing is a bit hard to swallow, and the differences between Jedi and Sith aren't stressed enough, but it works solely because of the ultimate evil that the Sith Emperor is presented as being.
The fact that even a Sith thinks the Emperor is bad creates the image of a powerful villain, as does a fantastic concept that is ultimately mishandled by the author, but ultimately the Emperor doesn't create the presence I was hoping for. He is a good villain, certainly above average, but not great. The final fight scene does him no favors in this department. When he is about to face the ultimate challenge in a three way duel with Revan, the Exile, and Scourge, Scourge does one of the dumbest, most inexplicable things ever. Without spoiling it too much, it truly doesn't make sense, and relies on Scourge trusting a power he didn't even think was valid until a handful of hours prior to the duel. As a result, the epic conclusion is more of a colossal letdown, and the finale, as poignant as it was from Revan's point of view, was tainted as a result.
Revan, previously a blank slate determined solely by player choice, develops a personality of his own in this novel. It isn't the most compelling characterization, but it is adequate given the circumstances. His maverick nature and overall power, in addition to his general skillset and power, create a very engaging character. Much of his effectiveness comes in how others view him. Scourge, the Exile, Bastila, and even Canderous seem to be in a state of awe concerning his powers and persona, and their thoughts and words on his powers help build him substantially, more so than anything that he actually does in the novel.
The one truly weak aspect of his persona is his relationship with Bastila. While his devotion to her is touching, and lends power to the otherwise anti-climactic finale, Bastila just isn't very good in this book. Unlike Revan, she did have something of a defined personality in Kotor, and here it is handled very poorly. She comes across as more of a passive and weak willed person than she was in Kotor, where she was stubborn and headstrong to the point of annoyance. Her role here is more akin to Padme's in Episode III than anything else, and as a result the relationship feels hollow and lacks an emotional connection with the reader.
Scourge is a character near devoid of personality. The Sith scheming he partakes in during the first act is much like that of Bane's, but unlike Bane, Scourge lacks a background or personality. The character is 100% ambition and no vision. He also lacks the leadership qualities and sympathetic origins of Bane. His paranoia, that causes him to rant for paragraphs on end before ultimately being proved wrong, crosses the line between caution and into the realm of insanity, as he believes every character is out to get him at all times. The characters that he surrounds himself with during these early adventures have promise, but aren't elaborated upon enough, and ultimately his early passages fall flat. Later, he seems to become little more than a Jedi with Sith powers, as the conflict that should arise between Jedi and Sith teaming up is barely exploited. Ultimately, the character's inexplicable decision at the finale of the book completely eliminates what little credibility that he had.
The Exile is introduced fairly late in the book, and her character is also rather uninteresting. Part of this is due to the fact that, unlike Revan, her background is barely touched upon, and everyone looks upon her with a touch of indifference. Also, her extreme adoration of Revan and single minded desire to free him makes sense from a motivational standpoint, but prevents her from developing more interesting or complex features.
Bland scenes featuring the Emperor take all of the power out of what could have been a very dramatic and effective villain, and the poor handling of Kotor references hurt the writing here, as does bad dialogue.
The author tries to explain Revan's history for those who may not remember the video game series, while also not becoming so tied to the games that the book is indecipherable to new comers. The result is unfavorable, as the author spends way too much time detailing Revan's past actions, and the events of the book, and doing so in a boring and unimaginative fashion. Revan's amnesia is handled well, but the overly dry retelling of his past was an exercise in boredom. Also, the Kotor party members were barely mentioned. All but T3, Bastila, and Canderous have only throwaway references, and Carth (arguably the game's most important companion) doesn't even receive that. Incorporating the characters that helped shape Revan would've been a nice touch, and it was ultimately disappointing that only three of the game's nine party members made it into the book in any capacity.
The revelation concerning the Emperor's past atrocities was an excellent idea, but poorly handled. The scientific and fact based descriptions of his crimes took quite a bit of the emotion from them, and the other characters constantly referring to it and being moved by it was a bit over the top. Even his background is bland, as it touches more upon basic facts and figures than it does the allegory and story telling that make history compelling, and not just a bland re telling of the past.
The dialogue also could've been better. Besides the ridiculously cheesy catchphrases used by seemingly every character at one point or another, the interaction between the characters feels stiff and unnatural. The dialogue is extremely heavy on exposition, and there is very little humor or character oriented dialogue throughout the book. So much of the dialogue is just talking about plans or bland re tellings of prior events that it further damages the already tepid characterization.
One of the brightest spots of the novel are the vivid descriptions of Sith culture. The author does a great job of defining the social hierarchy, customs, and back story of the Sith Empire, and the inclusion of these random facts and tidbits of info has me a bit more excited about the upcoming MMO than I was before. It also helps to put some of the action in the story into context, such as when the Exile arrives on the Sith homeworld and attempts to build up contacts. In this instance, the backstory and culture blend seamlessly with the action to create a very effective bit of world building.
A highly anticipated novel for many a Kotor fan, Revan is an enormous disappointment due to the lack of Kotor supporting characters, and disproportionate amount of time devoted to the new (boring) character of Scourge. Fans unfamiliar with Kotor will probably get next to nothing out of this book due to the flaws in writing, and poor characterization, in addition to the ridiculous ending. Not an all time bad Star Wars book, but it had the potential to be so much more.