This week’s novel takes us right up to the the cusp of The Phantom Menace. In fact one of the final scenes in this book is Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan departing for Naboo. However, our Jedi duo is not the focus of this book, and honestly neither is its titular character. Instead, today’s story introduces us to Darth Maul as a force of nature. An unstoppable juggernaut that will not stop pursuing the book’s true protagonists until he is certain they cannot reveal what they know.
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.
Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter, by Michael Reaves, opens with one of Darth Sidious’s patented holographic Skype calls to the Trade Federation. Viceroy Nute Gunray does his best to hide the fact that his subordinate, Hath Monchar, has disappeared. Worse, Monchar knows of the impending blockade of Naboo and that the Sith are behind it. Not easily decieved, Sidious places a second call and dispatches his apprentice, Darth Maul, to find and kill Hath Monchar and any he may have spoken to.
As it turns out, Monchar fled to Coruscant to sell a data holocron with the Sith’s plan on it to the highest bidder. It seems to vary wildly by author in Star Wars whether a holocron is a Jedi-imprinted AI teaching construct or just a generic word for a data storage device. Nowadays it appears the former is the accepted definition, but this story uses the latter interpretation.
Monchar arranges through a third party to sell his holocron to information broker Lorn Pavan and his droid business partner I-Five. Pavan is something of a broken man, drinking and scamming his way into an early grave. Pavan also hates Jedi, taking any opportunity to rant about their selfishness and hypocrisy.
Meanwhile I-Five is a very modified protocol droid, whom Pavan treats as a friend, equal, and roommate. Before K2SO, I-Five was the go-to snarky droid of the Star Wars universe. Behind all his sarcasm and wit, however, he genuinely cares for Lorn and is in fact more aware of what’s good for the man than Lorn himself.
The two arrange to meet with Monchar and purchase the data crystal, but arrive to find only fresh corpses and a burned- open safe. Darth Maul has already found his target and slain Monchar, but before he can retrieve the data he is interrupted by a bounty hunter hired by Nute Gunray. Unaware that they are both after the same end, the bounty hunter attacks and blows up the apartment (and herself) with a wrist mounted rocket launcher. Maul escapes, but realizes too late he’s neglected the data crystal, which falls into Lorn’s hands.
Lorn and I-Five arrange to sell the data to a Black Sun Vigo named Yanth (Black Sun is a criminal organization fairly analogous to the Mafia, with a Vigo essentially being a Don). Unfortunately for them, Maul tracks them down and begins slaughtering everyone present. I-Five grabs Lorn and the two escape, but the Sith is right behind them.
Although the title bears his name and several sections are told from his point of view, Maul is not the protagonist of this story the way he was of last week’s book. Instead, I found myself reminded of the T-1000 in Terminator 2 as I read. In this book, Maul is an implacable threat. He rarely speaks. He is always just behind the protagonists and sometimes he’s even several steps ahead of them. The aura of menace and inevitability about him really gets across just why people are afraid of the Sith.
As Maul pursues Lorn and I-Five, Jedi Anoon Bondara and Padawan Darsha Assant speed to the site of Darsha’s recent Jedi Trial. To assume the full rank of Jedi Knight, Darsha was assigned a test: escort a Black Sun informant to the temple safely. She’s failed, sadly, but her Master is returning with her to see if there is any possibility of salvaging her mission.
By luck, and the Force, Darsha and Master Bondara come across Maul chasing Lorn and I-Five. Recognizing what they face, Bondara leaps back to confront Maul, and orders Darsha to get Lorn and his droid to safety. Lorn is livid that a Jedi is rescuing him but I-Five takes a more practical tack. Maul is distracted by the prospect of fighting a Jedi, allowing his arrogance to get the better of him in assuming he can quickly defeat Bondara and still catch his quarry. Bondara, knowing he is outclassed by Maul’s martial skills, causes a speeder bike to explode, sacrificing himself and knocking Maul unconscious to allow his Padawan and her charges to escape.
And so Lorn, I-Five, and Darsha find themselves trapped on the lower levels of Coruscant, unable to contact help and soon pursued by Darth Maul once again. Pavan grudgingly reveals the information Monchar sold them, and Darsha decides it’s imperative that the Jedi Temple be alerted.
The three face numerous dangers and the ever-dogged pursuit of the Sith as they seek to make their way back to the civilized upper levels of Coruscant. During the journey, we learn that Lorn used to work for the Jedi and in fact had a comfortable job at the Temple. He was happy. Then, the Jedi discovered his son Jax was Force sensitive.
The Jedi requested that Jax be allowed to join them and undertake Jedi training when he was two years old. Lorn, possibly not understanding all that would go along with such a decision, handed over his son. He soon found himself out of a job as the Jedi sought to prevent Jax from having any family attachments that might interfere with his Jedi life. Lorn’s wife left him, and Lorn was left with nothing but a deep bitterness towards Jedi.
This presents a problem for Lorn since he absolutely doesn’t want to hand over his evidence to the Jedi. He doesn’t trust them with it. But as the trio confronts and overcomes ever more challenges in the struggle to free themselves from pursuit, he finds himself feeling more and more guilty about his plans to ditch Darsha.
The three are ecstatic upon discovering a route to the surface at last. Their elation turns to terror as they open the door to freedom and see Darth Maul standing behind it. He’s hacked a security camera to locate them and anticipated their movements. Darsha senses that her time is now, and uses the Force to hurl Lorn and I-Five into a waste disposal chamber and away from the Sith while she ignites her blade and stands between Maul and Lorn.
Darsha surrenders to the Force, and much like Rey in The Force Awakens, this allows her to keep up with Maul, despite his being a far superior combatant. She knows she has no chance to win, but senses his arrogance and exploits it to set up a similar trap to the one her Master set earlier. She moves gas canisters close together and hurls her lightsaber at them just as Maul strikes the killing blow.
Lorn is distraught, suddenly realizing that the Jedi are not at all what he believed them to be and frantic to do something to save Darsha. I-Five, realizes what’s happening and points out that Darsha has made her choice, and they can either honor her sacrifice or waste it. Reluctantly, Lorn allows I-Five to use the disposal chamber to freeze them in a block of carbonite. The carbonite saves them from the explosion and slows Lorn’s life signs enough that Maul (who realized Darsha’s plan just in time) believes him dead. He reports success to Darth Sidious and leaves.
Some time later. I-Five and Lorn thaw out. Lorn is furious with Maul for killing Darsha and with himself for resenting the Jedi for so long. Darsha’s selflessness and courage convince him that a Jedi is the best thing he could aspire for his son to become, no matter how painful the separation or unfair the Jedi’s treatment of him. He resolves to hunt down the Sith who killed Darsha, fully aware that it’s a suicide mission.
He calls in a favor to get a ship from a smuggler called Tuden-Sal, and plans to follow Maul’s last known trajectory to track him. I-Five intends to go with him, but Lorn tricks the droid and deactivates him, unwilling to let both of them die on Lorn’s mad quest. He asks Tuden-Sal to deliver him to the Jedi, reasoning that I-Five can watch over Jax. Unfortunately for Lorn, we learn Tuden-Sal has no plans to do as Lorn asks because he’s coveted I-Five for a long time and secretly makes plans to keep the droid for himself.
Lorn, armed with a blaster on next to empty and a nodule from a force-resistant creature he hopes will blind Maul to his presence, slinks after his quarry. Maul is still riding the high of accomplishing his mission and once again his arrogance proves a fatal flaw. Lorn shoots him square in the back, but due to his blaster’s low power, he has to set it for stun, sparing Maul. Lorn rushes I with a vibroblade to finish the job, but the sight of the data crystal distracts him. He steals it back with intent to complete Darsha’s final mission.
That moment, however, is when Maul wakes up and cuts his hand off. Lorn runs, in shock from his wound but desperate to get the holocron to someone who can help. Thanks to the stun bolt, Maul is sluggish and Lorn’s Force resistant macguffin enables the scoundrel to escape into the space station. He finds an occupied plaza and within spies a face he recognizes from holonet news shows. A senator, with ties to the Jedi. Ashen faced and about to pass out, Lorn presses the secrets of the Sith into the hands of Senator Palpatine and begs him to get it to the Jedi.
The next morning, Lorn awakes in a comfortable room. His wound is clean and bandaged, and Palpatine’s promises of a prosthetic come back to him as he rises. He briefly considers his future, hoping to make a new life on Coruscant and try to establish some kind of contact with Jax. He opens the door to leave, and there stands Maul.
In the split second before his death, Lorn considers how he feels. He knows he can’t escape. But he feels strangely at peace. He did the right thing. Jax will grow up to be a hero, if Darsha is anything like a typical Jedi. The Sith plan is thwarted because the holocron is in the hands of the Senate. And so Lorn dies, satisfied.
Shadow Hunter ends on an uncharacteristic down note for Star Wars. Lorn may die thinking he’s saved the galaxy from the return of the Sith, but we as readers know he handed over Sidious’s plans to the man himself. Darsha and her Master are both killed to let Lorn escape and I-Five is doomed to slavery under Tuden-Sal because of Lorn’s misplaced trust. That’s an awful lot of misery being spread around with very little in the way of hope.
However, Shadow Hunter isn’t a book about how doing the right thing leads to good outcomes. It’s a book about finding yourself and your peace through doing the right thing. Darsha finds peace in knowing she’s following the will of the Force when she sacrifices herself. Lorn dies at peace knowing that he did what was right and that Jax would have been proud of him. As in real life, right actions aren’t always rewarded and in this case it costs everything to do one right thing. I think there’s beauty in that, despite the tragedy inherent in so many deaths with little practical outcome.
Especially sad is the fate of I-Five, since for his desire to stick with Lorn until the end he’s shut down and taken captive. Rest assured though that his story is not over, and we’ll find out what happens to the sarcasm bot 9000 a little later down the road.
Ultimately I find myself liking Shadow Hunter despjte my normal distaste for downer endings. It’s a story of personal redemption moreso than a tale of dashing heroics and there’s something about that which really resonates with me.
Running alongside the story of Lorn and Darsha are interspersed several scenes of Obi-Wan Kenobi (or as he keeps putting it “Kenobi. Obi-Wan Kenobi) investigating Darsha’s disappearance. I’m not really sure why these are here and it’s my main critique of the novel. It feels tacked on and ultimately *can’t* come to any definitive resolution since Obi-Wan can’t learn about Darth Maul just yet. So he farts around, does some cool Jedi things, impersonates James Bond several times, and finally gives up to go off to Naboo with Qui-Gon.
Speaking of going to Naboo with Qui-Gon, next week we’re tackling the first movie! Or, rather the novelization of it. Thus should be an interesting experiment and I hope you’ll join me for more Legends of the Hydian Way!