Last week I praised Path of Destruction for going out of its way to set up plot threads for a video game that came out twenty some years ago. I also criticized it for seeming slavishly devoted to Darth Revan above all other Sith. It almost feels like Drew Karpyshyn somehow heard me, because book tells of the Darth Bane trilogy reaches even further back to 1993’s comic series Tales of the Jedi and ties the legacy of Bane’s Sith Order in with some of the older Sith that came before.
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 continue our look at the reborn Sith Order with Darth Bane – Rule of Two, which actually picks up right where the first book left off. Darth Bane, insistent that there must be exactly two Sith, recruits orphaned Jedi girl Zannah as his Apprentice. However, before the two can leave Ruusan, Zannah’s cousin, Darovit, finds them. Knowing what Bane will do to protect the secrecy of the Sith’s existence, Zannah maims her cousin and attempts to reason with Bane that he is no threat and his story of the encounter with them will only add to the storm of misinformation about the Sith.
Bane sees through her justification and knows she just wants to save her cousin’s life, a level of compassion for the weak which Bane finds repugnant. However, he’s smart enough not to expect his Apprentice to have adopted the full mindset and philosophy of the Sith less than a day from her induction. He also notes that she’s using her power to obtain what she wants, which Bane approves of, so he allows Darovit to live and the two move on.
Shortly after this, Bane finds a book belonging to one of the old Brotherhood of Darkness with references in it to the tomb of Freedon Nadd, an old Sith Lord, on the moon of a planet called Onderon. Bane orders Zannah to find her own way to Onderon as a sort of test and heads off in his own ship to loot Nadd’s tomb for anything useful.
Zannah is picked up by Republic soldiers looking for refugees, but panics when she’s told they are taking her to the fleet and steals a blaster, killing the whole shuttle crew and puzzling through how to get the navicomputer to take her to Onderon.
Meanwhile Bane discovers and enters Nadd’s tomb, which at this point has been looted by at least three different people by my count, but nonetheless manages to find a secret chamber containing a holocron and, concerningly, a bunch of crustacean-like creatures.
These creatures, called orbalisks, prove to be all but impervious to lightsabers and, as Bane learns once two attach themselves to him, all but impossible to remove. Nadd’s holocron reveals that if he does manage to remove them, they will inject a lethal toxin into Bane before they die. Resigned, Bane decides there’s not much he can do but use the pain and anger they evoke in him to further fuel his dark power and sets off to reunite with Zannah on Onderon.
Ten years pass, during which time Zannah grows up and is going by the name Darth Zannah now, which suggests she and Revan both attended the same school of missing-the-point behind the Darth title.
Anyway, Bane’s orbalisk problem has gotten worse, to the point the parasites have grown and now encase almost his entire body like armor. He’s come to kind of like it, however, since they make him nearly impervious to harm. The downside is he can’t leave their camp by Lake Naath on Ambria because he looks so obvious and will draw attention to them. So it falls to Zannah to perpetuate their scheming.
Zannah goes to Serreno, future home planet of Count Dooku, and goads a know-nothing terrorist cell into attempting to kidnap the retired supreme chancellor, which goes terribly wrong, but as Bane points out, keeps the Republic focused on useless enemies and prevents them from seeing the patterns that might lead them to the Sith. On Serreno, Zannah discovers a man called Hetton who is powerful in the dark side and possessed of knowledge Bane seeks: where to find the information necessary to make a holocron of his own.
Zannah accepts Hetton’s offer of becoming her apprentice, but leads him to Bane, where he is slaughtered. Believing himself betrayed, Bane flies into a rage and nearly kills Zannah before she reveals she brought Hetton to Bane to die, and that she has what Bane wants: directions to another holocron on Tython that can teach him how to create his own.
Bane sets off, but before he leaves, Zannah suggests maybe the orbalisks are taking some measure of control away from him, since he keeps losing his temper and destroying things he later regrets. Bane finds this troubling, to say the least. He knows that if he had killed Zannah, he would have wasted ten years of work training her before he realized she’d remained loyal. To that end he dispatches Zannah to secretly infiltrate the Jedi archives and see if they know of any way to remove orbalisks. Zannah accomplishes her task, but unfortunately for her, she is recognized by none other than Darovit, himself having been brought to the temple by a Jedi who wants him to tell the council about his meeting with Bane ten years ago. Zannah convinces him to come with her, and the two head for Tython.
The Jedi come looking for Darovit, and when they realize he’s gone, follow Zannah’s ship to Tython. Bane is furious that Zannah didn’t simply kill Darovit and that her compassion still hasn’t been stamped out, which Zannah of course denies. A battle between Bane, Zannah, and the group of Jedi that followed them ensues. The Sith are victorious, but not before a reflected blast of force lightning strikes Bane and kills one of the orbalisks. Zannah realizes she doesn’t have much time before the toxins kill Bane. She seeks out a healer on Ambria, and tries to coerce him into helping, but fails.
Darovit comes to her several minutes later. He doesn’t believe Zannah is all the way corrupted, and has convinced Caleb the healer to help on one condition: they sabotage the ship and send a message to the Jedi, exposing themselves and turning themselves over to the Jedi. Zannah at first objects, but realizes that if Bane dies now, he’ll never be able to teach her the secrets she needs to effectively take over as Sith Master. Reluctantly, she agrees.
Caleb undergoes a long and arduous process to free Bane of the orbalisks without killing him, and after many hours, Bane awakes, still very weak. Zannah reveals what she has done and Bane is furious, claiming she has betrayed everything and destroyed the Sith.
Later, the Jedi arrive on Ambria to discover a body, hacked apart by a lightsaber. They spread out, and are attacked by a one armed man with a lightsaber who seems mad. They kill him in self defense, then discover he has the lightsabers of all the Jedi who’d set off after Bane and Zannah. Surmising that he is the Sith Lord they were told was on Ambria, the Jedi conclude the Sith were finally wiped out. In truth Zannah has hidden herself and Bane in a secret room under the hut, and killed Caleb the healer. Then, she used the dark side to drive Darovit into a frenzy and forced him to attack the Jedi. When Bane wakes up again, he realizes she truly has fully embraced the Dark Side and her cunning, yet brutal ploy has not only saved them, it has preserved the secrecy of the Sith.
Rule of Two as you may have surmised, is a very dark book. It centers on unrepentant villains, and ultimately they get away with all the evil they perpetrate. That’s not to say it’s not a good book, however. Taken in context it’s an excellent entry in the story of how the Sith came to gather power in the shadows. In particular, I very much liked the effort and care Karpyshyn showed in tying together the Sith depicted in Tales of the Jedi and providing yet more mortar gluing the disparate parts of Legends together into a cohesive whole.
If I have one criticism, it’s that Zannah, who excels at Sith sorcery (itself a throwback to a character called Aleema Keto from Tales of the Jedi), uses her powers in a very grim way, that feels out of place. People go mad and claw out their eyes from horror at the illusions she creates, and like in Red Harvest that level of gory grimess feels at stark odds with Star Wars’ usual tone. However, since this is a book about the biggest of bads in the galaxy at the time, I’m willing to let it slide.
Next week we wrap up Darth Bane’s story (even though at this point it’s as much Zannah’s as Bane’s) with the final book in the trilogy and in fact the final book in what is dubbed the Old Republic era (not to be confused with The Old Republic the video game). Post-Darth Bane we move into the era of the prequel films, so stay tuned for more Legends!