Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter

April 21, 2016 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , , )

shadowDarth Maul: Shadow Hunter by Michael Reaves


About halfway through this novel, I remembered I had read something else by Reaves. He was the co-author with Neil Gaiman on InterWorld, an ultimately disappointing and notably non-Gaiman story that read like it was more Reaves working from a Gaiman idea than a true collaboration. I didn’t remember because of the style or anything like that, though; I just realized it out of the blue.

Shadow Hunter feels somewhat similar to InterWorld, since it, too, uses an idea that someone else developed. To Reaves’ credit, he writes an original story, and avoids making it about existing characters, but with the Star Wars universe there, a lot of the work was already complete. The same is true for all the other writers who wrote stories set in the universe, so it’s unfair to hold him alone to that standard, but somehow Shadow Hunters feels like it doesn’t reach the same level those other writers reached. Part of it is that story simply doesn’t feel significant.

Shadow Hunters is ostensibly about Maul chasing down a Neimoidian who could reveal Palpatine’s plans to bring down the Galactic Senate, but really the story is about Lorn Pavan, an information broker who stumbles across the plans, his Droid partner I-5YQ, and Darsha Assant, a Padawan who becomes involved with the both of them as Maul tracks them down for the information they have. Throughout the novels, Maul has felt like a cardboard cutout of a character, which fits, since that’s how he felt in The Phantom Menace, too. What attention he does get in his books seems to be devoted to how skilled he is, how devoted he is to Palpatine, and how strong he is in the Force, but he doesn’t make for a compelling character around which to build a full story. Luckily for us, Reaves brings in the additional characters to have enough of a frame for Maul to do his thing, but the story is ultimately weak in terms of the overall universe of Star Wars. Even in Deceived, which was a more personal story instead of a galaxy-spanning story of intrigue, the background of the story added to the context of the universe. It seems like Reaves started with a “What If?” experiment — what would happen if Palpatine’s plans to block Naboo were to be revealed too soon? — but then it devolved into an adventure story that ignored the larger implications of that experiment. It’s not bad, as far as adventure stories go, but it doesn’t feel appropriately Star Wars enough, despite being a supposed showcase for Maul.

Another strike against the story is that we know how it has to end. This is a prequel novel to The Phantom Menace, so we know Maul has to survive the story in order to be available to do his part in that story, making whatever tension there would normally be in the story irrelevant. It’s interesting to see how the other characters respond to Maul, but knowing that Maul’s goal is to eliminate all the people who know of the plan, and that Maul will survive the story, means that there’s only one possible outcome for the story. That outcome makes the entire novel feel somewhat pointless.

Shadow Hunters feels like a YA novel. Any of the books I’ve read so far in the series would be appropriate for any age reader (well, maybe not the two Joe Schreiber books…), but this was the first one I read that felt like it was written for a younger audience. Aside from the younger characters and their getting caught up with juvenile concerns — Obi-Wan and Lorn both acknowledge their attraction to Darsha — there’s something about Reaves’ narrative that feels like it’s for younger readers. It isn’t pandering, but it does lack some subtlety, which reminds me of YA fiction.

Reaves brings in the Jedi, as the story is set on Coruscant, but he does so without any real subtlety. He establishes the character of Darsha well enough,  but when it comes time to bring in the Jedi Council, he gives us Qui-Gon, Yoda, and Mace Windu, though without any introduction or explanation. He also uses Obi-Wan as a secondary character, but still doesn’t develop him enough for him to feel fully realized. The characters are well known enough that it isn’t necessary to go into a lot of background, and he captured Mace Windu’s voice fairly well (though, oddly, his attempt at Yoda’s dialogue felt clumsy), but it bothered me that he expected us to fill in the characterization for these characters instead of truly creating them for his story. Since they only feature in just a few pages, they feel superfluous, like Reaves is reminding us that yes, he’s actually writing a Star Wars novel.

The novel ends with two short stories “Saboteur” and “Restraint”, both written by James Luceno, and both take place before not just this book, but also Lockdown, the preceding book. The chronology is weird, but I stuck with reading these in the proper chronological order.

“Restraint” isn’t particularly noteworthy, save for the fact that it is intended to further explain some history behind Maul and Asajj Ventress, as their origins were altered in the animated series The Clone Wars. In the story, Maul is being trained at an off-planet location, but he’s not allowed to use his Force powers in his training. During this training, women from Dathomir, Maul’s home planet, come to reclaim him for their society. Not being familiar with The Clone Wars, I don’t understand the full implications of the story, and it winds up feeling very pedestrian. I will say that Luceno captures Maul’s impetuous, arrogant character fairly well.

“Saboteur” is actually a better story. Maybe I’m getting used to Luceno’s style, but I thought he did a good job of keeping the story interesting. That being said, a Sith stealthily recording conversations and pitting two corporations against each other is about as “Star Wars” as a cat video. Apart from Sidious using the rivalry as a means to further the Trade Federation’s grip on trade, it didn’t have much to do with the larger Star Wars story at all.

Honestly, Shadow Hunters isn’t a bad book, but it doesn’t fit in with the other books I’ve read in the Expanded Universe. It feels too much like it was written to feed the demand for Maul, and not enough like Reaves had a good story he wanted to tell in the universe. If he had eliminated Maul entirely from the story and written the book as a standalone story focusing on his main characters and marketed it for the YA crowd, I would have gone easier on the book, but for all that build-up, the story ends up lacking.



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