You may remember back at the beginning of all of this I that I remembered really loving a lot of the old Legends books back when I was growing up. So far, we’ve had some decent books, some interesting ones that didn’t quite measure up, and one really disappointing one. Today, my friends, we reach the first really, really good book in our Legends read-through thus far.
Welcome to Legends of the Hydian Way, the chronicle of my attempt to read through and review all the novels that make up mainline Legends canon in chronological order. May the Force be with me
This week we’re looking at Knight Errant by Lost Tribe of the Sith author John Jackson Miller. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting much of this book before I opened it. You see, we’re about to enter a string of books I remember very fondly and between them and I stood Knight Errant. Worse, I knew from basic research that Knight Errant ties into a series of comics that Dark Horse was publishing at the time, also written by John Jackson Miller.
Given our track record with tie-in material so far I was expecting a speed bump on the way to better things that, like Dawn of the Jedi, would leave many things unanswered and unexplored to avoid stepping on the comic’s toes.
Boy, was I wrong!
Our novel opens on Darkknell, a planet in the grip of the Sith fiefdom known as the Daimanate. More specifically it opens on the home of Gub, a Sullustan (think Lando’s co-pilot in Return of the Jedi) charged with “revealing” that Sith Lord Daiman, ruler of the Daimanate and self-proclaimed creator of the universe, has always and forever been spelled with little wingtips on the letters of his name. This means going back through documents, some of which are obviously from landfills, and carefully adding in the little wingtips any time letters from Daiman’s name appear in print. It’s pointless, tedious, and serves to illustrate how nuts Daiman is from the beginning.
Gub believes a basic education is important for his daughter. So important that he’s willing to spend some of his meager rations hiring a tutor for her, a young woman named Kerra Holt. Unbeknownst to him, Kerra Holt is a Jedi Knight, and my favorite character in all the Legends books we’ve read to date. Here’s her secret: Kerra is a Jedi Knight who spends 90% of this book alternating between being completely flabbergasted by everything that happens in Sith space and alternatively being royally pissed off about it .
Ok, so let me give a little bit of context. This book is set 1003 years before A New Hope. The Sith Empire of The Old Republic era has long since fallen apart. The outer edges of the galaxy are constantly subjected to an ever-shifting array of petty Sith Lords setting up kingdoms and those same kingdoms collapsing and forming new ones. The Republic has had enough of the constant raids and intercenine bickering so they have pulled back, put up a cordon, and shut down all the communications networks to and inside the Sith occupied areas. In essence: out here in the backwaters nobody cares, nobody’s coming to help, and nobody even really knows the full scope of what’s happening.
Cut back to Darkknell, where Kerra Holt, only survivor of an ill-advised Jedi raid into Sith territory, plots to kill the creator of the universe. Kerra’s a pragmatic sort of Jedi. She wants to help all the enslaved people she finds out here, and figures the easiest way to do it is to kill Daiman. Daiman, for his part, has constructed an entire society based around the idea that he is literally the only being that actually exists and that everyone else is a fiction constructed by him to serve himself. It’s exactly the sort of narcissistic insanity you expect when someone’s entire credo is about self-aggrandizement.
Meanwhile, Daiman’s brother, the Sith Lord Odion (Yu-Gi-Oh fans can commence snickering), is somewhat understandably annoyed that the official position of his brother is that no one else is real and has spent a considerable amount of effort trying to kill him and absorb his territory. To that end, he’s sent Narsk, a Bothan spy-for-hire, to steal data and blow up Daiman’s main weapons development lab. He does so, but is stopped by Kerra, who blows up the lab prematurely and stuffs him into a dumpster. Kerra doesn’t think much of Sith or their hirelings.
Kerra returns home after the explosion and learns that her student, Gub’s daughter, has been chosen to be trained as an expert in making bomb sights for Daiman’s forces. Since this is a much better job than working in a factory, Gub readily agrees even if it means he will never see his daughter again. With no student to tutor, Kerra finds herself out of a job and a place to live.
Deciding that means it’s the perfect time to make a move against Daiman, Kerra sneaks into the palace at the same time that Jarrow Rusher, Brigadier of a heavy artillery unit for hire, is brought in by Daiman to learn of his role in an ambush the Sith Lord is planning for his brother. Rusher is very much the archetype of an old British officer, walking stick and all (he even swaps it out for a swagger stick later on). The Brigadier, as we learn, values his independence and truly cares about the men under his command, seeing the mercenary life as the only real way to have any sort of freedom in Sith space.
Kerra overhears the plans for the ambush, and decides that the four day journey on Daiman’s ship is the perfect time to execute an ambush of her own, so she stows away aboard his ship. She’s frustrated to learn, however, that getting Daiman alone to assassinate proves an impossible task and the ambush force makes planetfall with Daiman very much alive. Kerra follows onto the planet where the battle is to occur, even as Rusher and his artillery set up on a ridgeline for the coming fight.
Odion’s forces arrive, right on schedule, bringing with them Narsk, the Bothan spy who escaped from Daiman’s clutches. Battle commences, and to Kerra’s horror she realizes the bait for this particular trap is all of the children conscripted to make bomb sights, including Gub’s daughter! All thoughts of assassination go out the window as she scrambles to protect the innocent kids from being trapped between two armies. Even so, when Odion deploys a “siege tower in reverse” known as a Death Spiral (essentially a giant turret platform deployed from orbit to lay down a lot of hurt on enemy forces) Kerra finds that there’s no hope of safety for the kids unless they can flee the planet.
Rusher, for his part, is having a very bad day. The Death Spiral is annihilating his forces, leaving him with a fraction of the men he started with and a bad case of shell shock. His day is made no better when a Jedi and over a thousand children stampede past him and force their way into his ship, with Kerra demanding that he bring the kids along on his retreat. Not really in a position to argue, Rusher and his remaining forces pull out with the refugee kids.
Eager to get rid of the thousand-odd kids taking up space previously occupied by now dead comrades, Rusher decides to take them to a nearby domain he’s heard is ruled by Sith children. Kerra is irate but Rusher points out that there really isn’t a better option for these kids. Upon reaching the planet, the group discovers the whole place is under an intense form of Force persuasion, amplified by a network of captive telepaths all forcing compliance on the populace. Kerra breaks in to the throne room in hopes of finding out who is behind it all, only to discover two teenagers, a boy and a girl. Worse, the catatonic boy turns out to be the one controlling everyone else, even his sister, because his catatonic state (possibly meant to be some form of severe autism, it isn’t actually made clear) has prevented him from realizing that other people are distinct from him. To the boy, named Quillan, everyone else is simply an extension of him. Sort of like Daiman, except simultaneously more successful and less intentional.
Kerra kidnaps Quillan in an attempt to free his sibling and slaves on the advice of Narsk, who Kerra is surprised to find snooping through her comm system. With the mentally dominated throngs in disarray, an entirely new fleet of ships arrives to take control of the planet. It turns out to be commanded by Quillan’s other sister, Sith Lord Arkadia.
Arkadia is surprisingly helpful and offers to house the refugee children from the Daimanate in relatively freedom and safety (at least compared to all the other Sith out there.) In fact, I think Arkadia is responsible for the only appearance of the phrase “I’m a Sith Lord – and I’m here to help,” in all of recorded knowledge. (That is, in fact, a verbatim quote.)
Arkadia brings the group to her own kingdom which is based on the icy world of Syned. There she reveals to Kerra what’s really been going on in this corner of Sith space, and for a lot longer than anyone expected. The truth is that all of the Sith Lords they’ve met so far: Daiman, Odion, Quillan, Arkadia, and more, are all the grandchildren of one woman, known as The Dowager. Wife to three husbands over the course of her life, Vilia the Dowager realized, like any good Sith, that all her children would want her power and her holdings. So she arranged a way to keep them all too busy to bother trying to kill her: The Charge Matrica. Essentially it was a grand contest, whoever expanded the most before she died won everything she owned and had. Due to being Sith, this didn’t last as long as she’d hoped and some eight years ago Arkadia’s father was the only child of Vilia’s still alive. He, then suddenly died of a mysterious poisoning and Vilia started a second Charge Matrica, this time with the grandkids.
All of this shocks Kerra, who realizes how that suddenly makes the odd, feudal behavior of the Sith in this part of space make sense. Even more shocking is why Arkadia is telling her this: she wants Kerra to kill her grandmother. Arkadia knows the Charge is really just one big distraction designed to buy time for Vilia to live out her life while her grandkids fight each other over the scraps she hands out. Kerra refuses, leading Arkadia to imprison her and order her executed. She then tasks Narsk with killing her grandmother, much to his surprise.
You see, the Bothan spy has been popping up here and there throughout the story, always with a different employer, but at this point it’s all but explicitly stated his real master is in fact Vilia herself, and so Narsk sets in motion a plan to free Kerra and convince Rusher to create a distraction by offering to pay in hyperspace coordinates to the Republic. And so as Arkadia loads her ship with Quillan and Narsk to meet Vilia, Rusher docks his ship with the city, where instead of unloading the refugee kids, it unloads every scrap of ordinance his men could load into the numerous big cannons stored in the hold. Meanwhile Narsk sets Kerra free in hopes she’ll cause havoc and sabotages the plan to kill Vilia, escaping in the chaos and even keeping his cover intact by blaming equipment malfunction for the failure to execute Vilia. Not that Arkadia’s in much of a position to care since Rusher mostly destroys the city with his cannons before retreating with Kerra and the kids to flee to the Republic. Kerra chooses to remain in Sith space, realizing how many people out here desperately need what the Jedi represent, and how with her knowledge of the Charge, she can be significantly more effective.
This article is going pretty long, but I have to gush a little bit here. This book is fantastic! It grabbed me immediately with its interesting setting and colorful characters and kept me enthralled with its unfolding mysteries.
Kerra herself is just awesome. She reminds me far more of the Jedi that we’ll see later after the Order is reformed. She’s pragmatic, rightfully outraged by the atrocities around her, and willing to risk her life to protect the weak without preaching about how emotions are the real enemy. In fact, as I said earlier, Kerra spends most of this book in a fit of righteous indignation, to the point that Rusher starts referring to her as “Her Craziness.” She’s dynamic, and feels a whole lot easier to root for than Jedi who don’t feel anything when they see people oppressed or hurt and step in out of some sense of placid responsibility. Kerra’s real, she cares about these things because who wouldn’t care when confronted with such terrible things?
The mystery of the Charge Matrica is another huge plus in this book’s favor. It unfolds slowly, never seeming obvious or needlessly obscure. And once revealed, it makes total sense. Within the twisted logic of the Sith (something I noted before that Jackson Miller really seems to understand well) her plan is nearly flawless. Nobody will bite the hand that feeds them so long as there’s more to gain from biting the others trying to get the food. And because they are all fighting they aren’t uniting into anything that could be a threat to the Dowager.
In the end I cannot recommend Knight Errant enough. It’s incredible, captures the excitement of Star Wars perfectly, and has more going on than I could ever hope to fit into even an article as long as this one has run. Find a copy and you’ll be glad you did.
Next time sees us plunging ahead a mere three years to begin the story of the man who would be destined to destroy and bring back the Sith, the Sith’ari of legend: Darth Bane himself.