Friday, February 24, 2012

Shepherd492 reviews: Star Wars: Knight Errant

Knight Errant (John Jackson Miller)

Plot

Knight Errant is an enjoyable introduction to the political climate of "Sith Space" 1,000 years before A New Hope. The three Sith Lords and their domains are wildly different from one another and each is an excellent antagonist for new hero Kerra Holt to face. The book is actually structured more like three comic book arcs...the villains and immediate conflicts are different from act to act, with only the protagonists and larger conflict (Jedi trapped in Sith space) being carried over.

The book starts with Kerra stranded in Lord Daiman's lair. Here we are also introduced to the two major characters that carry over through each of the book's three acts: Bothan spy Narsk Ka'Hane and mercenary artillery captain. Kerra's mission on Daiman's world is well plotted, culminating in a thrilling battle between two Sith armies, with Kerra caught in the middle. Unfortunately, this portion of the book also spends quite a bit of time on the two recurring characters, and, while they are good support characters, they aren't complex or interesting enough for the extended face time given here. Narsk, in fact, works really well as a shadowy enigma, which is his role for the final two acts of the book. Rusher is a good foil for Kerra, but he isn't a great point of view character.

The culture of Daiman's world, Darkknell, is well crafted. The workers are under terrible conditions and forced to work and learn about only one thing for their entire lives. They are also compelled to accept the young Sith as the creator of the universe, even when he obviously makes mistakes and doesn't know things. This leads to some of the more humorous moments in the book, as his advisers struggle to tell him things that he "already knows" without offending him. Humor is a big part of the entire book, but never more so than here. This initial passage kicks the book off on the right foot, promising large scale, exciting action scenes, witty dialogue, and overwhelming odds against our protagonist.

The second act takes us to the realm of the Dyarchy, a section of Sith space ran by twins Dromika and Quillan. The two, along with regent Saaj Calician, are somehow manipulating the people of Bylurra. The conflict between Kerra and Rusher over the fates of several thousand younglings rescued from the climactic battle of the first act starts to heat up here, and serves as an interesting bit of characterization for both of them. Here we really start to see the contrasts between Kerra and Rusher through their views on the potential fates of the children.

Kerra goes scouting to see if Bylurra is a world suitable for thousands of children. Through the unresponsive, vacant behavior of the inhabitants, she quickly realizes it is not. Shortly thereafter, all hell breaks loose and a smaller scale, though still exciting, battle scene takes place. Kerra goes on an exhilarating raid of the Dyarchy's palace, where she discovers the cause of the people's stupor. This culminates in a duel with Calician and another frantic escape sequence. Overall, this passage was the weakest in the book. The world doesn't have any life to it, and the antagonists are lifeless and without personality. The power structure is interesting and the action is great, but this act just doesn't measure up with the rest of the book.

The third act takes us to the Arkadianate, and its throne world Syned. Here we are introduced to the final Sith lord, and here the book returns to what made the first act so enjoyable. There is yet another underlying element of oddness- the citizens of Syned are routinely moved from job to job, no matter how different those jobs might be. This results in more of the humor seen in the initial act, and gives us another mystery to ponder. As it turns out the mystery is related to the new Sith Lord, Arkadia. Arkadia is just as demented, but in a completely different way, as Daiman from the first act. The big reveal of the book gives a possible reason for this, and acts as an explanation for Narsk's behavior/inclusion. There is another big action scene- the structure of each act is VERY similar- and the book ends with somewhat of a cliffhanger.

Overall, the plotting is simple but effective. The three acts work together very well, though the middle act is unquestionably the weakest, and the major revelation at the end was strange, though plausible.

Characterization

Kerra is the centerpiece of the book, and she is a exceptionally strong female lead. As a Jedi, she falls a bit short due to her recklessness, argumentative nature, and occasionally frayed emotional state. That doesn't stop her from being a great character though, as she is attracted to noble causes and determined to save as many people as she can from the Sith. The character shows a lot of promise, and I think the fact that she isn't much of a "traditional" (prequel) Jedi works in her favor, making her more human and relate able than the overly stoic Jedi that have become the norm.

The supporting characters aren't quite as strong. Narsk doesn't have any real personality, despite showing up an awful lot in the first and third acts of the book. Rusher is better, and his point of view is a good glimpse into the workings/role of artillery in Star Wars, which isn't seen often. He serves as a sharp contrast to Kerra, but like Han Solo, undergoes quite a bit of change that sees him develop a more caring personality by the end of the book. This is interesting because Kerra really doesn't change much throughout the novel, whereas Rusher does. There is a "Jar-Jar" esque character in Duros recruit Beadle Lubboon. Beadle is completely incompetent, as seen throughout the book, but he means well. The character has some funny moments, and is no where near as bad as Jar Jar because he doesn't have a hideous accent, and is rarely the focal point of a scene. I liked his inclusion in the context of this story, and he was used sparingly enough to be acceptable.

As for the antagonists, Daiman, and Arkadia are somewhat cartoonish and one dimensional, but nonetheless entertaining. There is something very menacing about a character that can not only convince himself that he is the creator of the universe, but also force other people to believe it as well. Arkadia isn't quite as unhinged, but her idea of moving people around and making them uncomfortable in order to secure her position as leader is equally devious. The middle act suffers from the lack of a charismatic, intriguing villain as the two children are basically mute, and we see the events through the eyes of Calician who is basically mind controlled and pretty non threatening.

Prose


The prose in Knight Errant is extremely solid in all aspects, crafting an excellent adventure novel. Of particular interest is the humor infused throughout the novel. From the character's thoughts and words to the sheer absurdity of the antagonist's views and the culture of their worlds, this book is filled with many different types of humorous moments. This lends the book a lighter feel than what would otherwise be seen in a book about crazed Sith lords enslaving the populating and warping the minds of children, and it fits the swashbuckling nature of the action perfectly.

Speaking of the action, there are some great action scenes here, of many different varieties. Early on, the focus is on stealthy sequences, with both Kerra and Narsk creeping around to learn about Daiman's reign. Later, some more traditional pieces are used, including several lightsaber duels and frantic escapes. The large scale battle between Odion and Daiman is among the best. There is something more satisfying about being in the heads of people caught up in the fighting and just trying to survive than in seeing events from the perspective of a general or leader who is trying to will their troops to victory. The book captures the chaos and action of the battle really well, while showing Kerra's efforts to do all that she can, without single handedly winning the battle for one side or another.

The worlds and their cultures are built up well too. The power structure and working class are explained on each of the worlds, as is their relationship to Sith Space on the whole. The contrasts between Arkadia and Daiman are striking and help to tie the book together, though the middle section is something of an outlier in this regard. There are plenty of details concerning each of the worlds, the rulers, and their overall territory that help set a backdrop for the action.

Conclusion

A fast paced, action packed novel, Knight Errant is a classic black and white Star Wars story. Kerra is a strong, unique protagonist and the humor throughout the book complete the package. A weak middle act is the only real detriment to the experience.

Final Score

85/100

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