The Cestus Deception

June 14, 2016 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

cestusThe Cestus Deception by Steven Barnes


I’ve read a book by Steven Barnes before, way back in 1998. Iron Shadows. I remember nothing about the story, but I liked it enough to finish it. Going into The Cestus Deception, I figured I would get a higher-caliber Star Wars story since it would be written by an accomplished author. Then again, Salvatore’s take on Attack of the Clones didn’t impress me that much, either.

The Cestus Deception is about a plot against the Republic that centers on the planet Cestus, where a new wave of battle droids are being created. These are nicknamed “JK”s, short for “Jedi Killer”, because their hardware includes a biological component that gives them Force sensitivity. They’re able to anticipate a Jedi’s movements and respond accordingly, and of course as soon as the Jedi council gets wind of these droids, they embark on a trip to Cestus to try to shut the process down.

In the end, the story was just okay. It touches on the same themes that Karen Traviss does in her Republic Commando series, examining the morality of creating an army of clones and treating them like supplies instead of people. Barnes doesn’t capture the theme as well as Traviss does, and places part of his focus outside the clones. The clones — or at least one of them — are among the heroes of his story, but somehow they don’t have the same heroic feel that Traviss gave her characters.

The story begins to show how the Jedi feel about the army, the war, and everything it entails. Obi-Wan features in the story, and he begins to question the usefulness of the war. He can trace all of the reasons the war began, and he understands why they’re at that point, but he begins to wonder how it developed the way it did. In one scene, he’s able to locate a missing tramcar by looking at the existing cars on the line and finding the gap that shouldn’t be there. In the same way, he begins to think about all the events that led up to the war, and wonders what he has missed by not looking at those events the same way.

The biggest problem I had with the story is that the main plan the Jedi have for winning the planet over to their side is through deception. It doesn’t ring true, not just for the Jedi, but especially for Obi-Wan. In the prequels, deception isn’t a part of his personality, so when it does backfire, it’s hard to feel sorry for him. The Jedi effectively become the antagonists of the story at that point, and it was hard to sympathize with them because once the deception failed, I felt like they were getting what they deserved.

The edition I read also included a bonus novella, The Hive, which is also set on Cestus and features some of the same characters. In fact, it opens with a scene lifted directly from the novel, and then takes us on a side journey. I think I preferred the novella to the novel, simply because it moved faster, and highlighted the bravery of the X’Ting. Barnes added a thematic element to the story that felt a bit rushed (the X’Ting doesn’t trust Obi-Wan, but comes to due to his actions), but otherwise it was the highlights of the book.

I was expecting the book to be better, which of course just set me up for disappointment. It’s readable and compelling enough, and fills in some additional background to the Star Wars story overall, but it just didn’t have the kind of oomph I felt like it needed. I get the feeling that, twenty years from now, I’ll remember having read this book, but won’t remember any of the details about it, either.

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