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Book Review: Star Wars: The Old Republic: Deceived by Paul S. Kemp

Genre: Shared World, Star Wars, Space Fantasy Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher: LucasBooks
Publication Date: March 22, 2011
ISBN-10: 0345511387
ISBN-13: 978-0345511386
Author Website: Paul S. Kemp

Before this review begins, you need to watch this (4 min.):

Watch you just watched was the cinematic trailer for Star Wars: The Old Republic, a MMO set nearly two thousand years before the events of Star Wars: A New Hope. In the time of the Old Republic, there were two warring galactic civilizations, The Sith Empire and The Old Republic. Based on competing philosophies, these two space-faring nations will never and can never see eye to eye.

Paul S. Kemp begins his story of the Star Wars: The Old Republic: Deceived with the events shown in the trailer above. On Alderaan, the Empire and Republic are talking peace. Meanwhile, with typically devious ruthlessness, the Sith have sent an army to attack Coruscant, capital planet of the Old Republic. The Empire wants control of Coruscant as a bargaining chip, a way to keep the upper hand during their negotiations. The masked Sith (a la Darth Vader) is Darth Malgus, the inventor of the attack plan that allowed him to waltz up to the Jedi Temple. His Twi’lek companion is Eleena, a servant he loves. Ven Zallow is the Jedi Master he bests in mortal combat. Deceived is only partly their story.

Instead, Deceived is really the tale of Zallow’s protégé, Aryn Leneer, a powerful force empath. Upon feeling the death of her beloved master, Aryn leaves the negotiations on Alderaan and heads for blockaded Coruscant bent on finding Darth Malgus. An old companion and former Republic pilot turned smuggler named Zeerid Korr provides the method to get there. But Zeerid has his own problems in the form of his illicit employers and a rival smuggler named Vrath Xizor.

As is fairly evident, the plot’s construction is rather simplistic. Each protagonist has an opposite, each of them are moving towards one another for an epic confrontation, each has an individual set of problems, and each is undergoing a moral transformation.

Darth Malgus believes that war and anger are the best way to understand and use the Force (something his Force powers make believable), but he has a potentially fatal flaw in his love of Eleena. Malgus teeters on the precipice of really embracing the philosophy he espouses, tempering his anger with the emotional weakness of love.

Aryn, on the other hand, is moving from calm to anger. A Jedi Knight, she struggles with the calm tranquility required of her. Her force empathy makes this all the harder to maintain, and in throwing off the shackles of the Jedi Order and going rogue, she begins a transformation from child of light to a moral grayness, a chaotic good – in Dungeons & Dragons terminology – type character.

Zeerid Korr begins as a morally good but pragmatic character. Like Han Solo before him, he has a sense of right and good, but circumstances beyond his control are dragging him down. He must care for a crippled daughter in an age when Luke Skywalker’s hand prosthesis is an expensive pipedream, is heavily in debt the crime syndicate The Exchange, and must take ever more distasteful jobs must to pay them off and earn enough bread for his youngling. As the story progresses, the doing-bad-things-for-a-good-reason Zeerid becomes more and more like the evil characters of Vrath Xizor. His moral transformation happens abruptly near the end of the novel and leaves little room for the mental repercussions to really inform on the rest of the story.

Vrath Xzor is a former imperial sniper working for the Hutts. His job is to stop Zeerid from delivering a shipment of engspice. He is the character that changes least and really exists only to provide a counterpoint to Zeerid and wreak a little havoc to move the plot forward.

Each of these character perspectives weave in and around each other to tell the tale. However, the course of the character development is so clear from the outset that it almost isn’t worth the race to find out how it ends. Malgus, Vrath, Aryn, and even the more sympathetic Zeerid just aren’t worth knowing and their changes of thought and behavior are often clunky, abrupt, and predictable.

It is unfortunate is that the plot scaffolding Kemp uses is so obvious. Once all the characters have been introduced, it becomes clear what is going to happen in the rest of the story and how it will play out. From there the story can only be read just to experience the specifics. There are some excellent lightsaber duels that are well-described and really exciting, but the plot as a whole is dry, parched, and predictable.

The setting lacks any vividness. The story is set in the Old Republic, but it could just as well have been the New Republic. There is no real experience or differentiation from the future events. Kemp is sparse in description, so that Imperial bent-wing fighters aren’t imagined any differently from TIE fighters, the background of Coruscant is a “city” without color that could just as well be Philadelphia or St. Louis as an space empire’s capital, and races are described merely by their appellation, with no corresponding adjectives to show how a Cerean is different from a Bothan in form or appearance. There is just no sense of the “alien” or “other” to the story. The variety of races, unless a reader is extremely familiar with the varied species of the Star Wars universe, might just as well have all been human and been done with it. The ships (only described in passing) could be from Star Trek for all the description the reader is given.

As a reader and fan of Paul S. Kemp, I really, really wanted to like this novel. He has written a number of novels for the Forgotten Realms mythos that have one of the best antiheroes in print and remain among my personal favorites. He was one of the first authors I ever interviewed. He is an excellent writer who has earned his place on the New York Times bestseller list several times. I like Paul S. Kemp. But no matter how I twisted and squirmed in an attempt to enjoy this novel, I found Star Wars: The Old Republic: Deceived hopelessly predictable in plot, monotone in setting, and obvious in structure. These three flaws were a trifecta of reading boredom that no well-written lightsaber duels could alleviate.

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