Posted on December 1, 2008 by Flames
Michael Reaves’ novel, Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter, really wants to be a good book, but it fails to achieve that goal for the exact same reason that many fans believe the film Star Wars Episode I – The Phantom Menace disappointed on so many levels…both were tragedies that had no idea that they were tragedies! Be warned, the following contains numerous MAJOR SPOILERS and does so only because they are integral to telling why this book ultimately fails.
There are good points and bad points to discuss. Let’s start with the good, as that will take a little less time. Reaves has a talent for creating interesting, fully-fleshed out characters from scratch. The ones he’s been given to work with, not so much. Reaves’ characters include Twi’lek Jedi Master Anoon Bondara, his Padawan, Darsha Assant, Lorn Pavan, a human smuggler, his partner, the droid I-Five and the catalyst to the entire book, a Neimoidian by the name of Hath Monchar, a former member of the Trade Federation who sees profit in going against the wishes of the Sith. All five of these characters come across as interesting, with real motivations for what they are attempting. Reaves is also a good storyteller. His writing style is pretty much easy to read, with one glaring and obnoxious exception, which I will go into in just a moment. The story is simple and he ahs a way of describing locations that is positively creepy. The Cthons, in particular, get high marks for the creep factor! Reaves also writes excellent action scenes. He knows his light saber duels and how to choreograph them. Jedi abilities are used infrequently, but to excellent effect and the non-Jedi characters shine in brief moments of action, humor and insight. Brief moments, to be sure, and all too infrequent.
And now, the not-so-good parts of this book. First of all, Reaves has this irritating way of tossing four syllable words about, as if trying to impress upon the reader his literary experience. What they did was rip me right out of the story…and it was so jarring that I wanted to put the book down after a hundred pages. Tergiversator? HUH?? Reaves’ word choice is, on occasion, suspect at best. I wonder why the editor kept them in, because they were all unnecessary to the story and, more to the point, detracted from it each and every time words like that were used. Even that transgression, while egregious, isn’t the worst of it (yes, the irony of my use of big words isn’t lost).
More importantly, Shadow Hunter is a novel that doesn’t need to be. There is no reason for its existence. [SPOILER ALERT] Why bother with a book in which you know exactly how it will end? Perhaps because the author will create interesting characters (which he does) and provide at least one of them with a way to succeed despite the overwhelming odds (which, technically he does, but that is SO dissatisfying as to make one wish the character HAD died!). Not a single character that Reaves creates survives the massacre that is Darth Maul…and NOT, necessarily, due to the Sith apprentice’s actions! Bondara sacrifices himself (a novel end for the Jedi Master), Assant sacrifices herself (a noble end for the Jedi wanna-be), Pavan commits suicide (for all intents and purposes…and for very little reason other than the few hours he spent deciding he was lonely and falling for Assant), and I-Five’s memory is totally erased. And, like the story this novel tells, there really is no good reason for much of it. Reaves himself creates the perfect loophole that would protect at least two of these characters and allow them to come back at some point in the future, but he denies those characters even that dignity.
Now, I can get past the whole concept of knowing how the story ends. However, what is unforgivable is the utter lack of regard Reaves shows for characters he has created. In fact, Reaves seems to take a gleeful pride in killing off practically every character he creates in this book. Maybe he just didn’t like them. I mean, Assant is an incompetent Jedi-in-Training who not only fails her first solo mission, but manages to have everyone her drop like flies. And yet, that flaw is something that makes her a fascinating character. Lorn Pavan has more emotion and caring for his droid than he does living beings, but, again, Reaves gives a plausible and, in fact, heart-wrenching reason, for this, although even that is incomplete by the end of the book, a loose thread that didn’t need to be. Why eliminate all of these characters? Perhaps because this is a book about Darth Maul, the Shadow Hunter, heir to the throne of the galaxy.
Maul is, by a wide margin, the least interesting character in this entire book. We learn little new about him and watch him attack, bluster, almost get vaporized and repeat his actions over and over. How he got this far in his training, who can say, but he is described as a creature of shadow, with a fearful countenance and that, unfortunately, is the extent of malice we feel from him, although he IS a tenacious SOB, to be sure. Sadly, he comes across as arrogant and thoroughly incompetent, assuming his opponent’s death on at least three different occasions and almost getting himself killed at the last, but surviving (because he had to appear in The Phantom Menace) due to a faulty assumption on another character’s part.
A beloved character from the film series also makes a brief appearance, again, for no reason other than to eat up word count. He does nothing to move the story forward and provides no information whatsoever to future stories (much like Reaves’ characters, there is no future for any of them…so who cares, right?).
All in all, this book is a huge disappointment because of the potential Reaves promises and fails to deliver on. The storyline is a given, providing no real dramatic tension, placing the onus upon the characters. This was the great hope, and the great despair.
Characters that the reader spends time with and gets to know are discarded like yesterday’s trash. Options that the writer himself provides for a possible future storyline are cut off completely and his creations with them. This book becomes a one-off and an inconsequential one at that. Some might call it a waste of time and money.
In the end, Darth Maul, Shadow Hunter, is a book that, much like the characters the author creates for this story, should be forgotten and left behind. It’s only fair, as that is how the author treats his own characters. I’ll give this book a 2 star rating out of a possible 5 for one reason alone…Reaves knows how to create compelling and full-bodied characters. Now, if only he cared about them as much as his readers do.
Review by Joe Rixman