Review - Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter - by Michael Reaves - January 2001
The first Hardcover of the new Millenium, Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter was a book placed prior to the events of The Phantom Menace. It seemed there were a slew of them, as there was some confusion or secrecy over what would happen in Episode 2. As such, books that worked as lead into to what would become known as "Attack of the Clones" came slowly - and instead, we got books full of background. Let's consider this one.
The EU - Lots of Maul - While I am by no means a Darth Maul fanboy, I do recognize that one of the things that makes the Star Wars Universe great (or crappy when it is missing) is the presence of a strong villain. The first time you see Darth Vader is perhaps one of the greatest villain entrances in movie history.
With Darth Maul - well, he, too, was just bad and freaky and intimidating when you saw him. (Note: Lucasarts was Stupid with a capital S to put an image of the dual bladed lightsaber in the trailer... it was awesome in the trailer - but imagine if you had no clue about it when you first saw it pop out at the end... AWESOME!) But the thing is -- he lasts, what? Half a film? He was gone very quickly, cut from the universe as it were.
This book focuses on Maul, with probably 35-40% of the narrative being from his perspective - and it is interesting. Reaves does a great job with this established character. If you are a fan of Darth Maul, seriously, pick it up.
The Bad - Foolhardy Characters - I will be honest. I really, really dislike stupid characters. I don't mind characters with flaws that lead them to their destruction - but I don't like stupid characters. Nor do I like it when characters do something that is out of character for them that leads to their demise. They should die as they are - not because of... well, it would be neat if they died.
The main character, Lorn Pavan, is presented as a hardscrabble, tough as nails character. He's gritty, fun -- and then has a complete change of face/character -- which leads to his demise. He has won, but a sudden change of heart leads to bad things. And we get to listen in on his thought processes, and even he knows that it is dumb - and yet does stuff anyways. This is not character development - this is character suicide done via artificially rapid character change.
The same thing happens, to a certain extent, with the young Jedi character early in the book - there's too much hearing in the thoughts, "I know I shouldn't, but I'm going to anyway." This doesn't make the character passionate, or reactive, or engaging, or decisive, or any other positive characteristic that can lead to trouble - no, if you know you shouldn't and it goes against your better judgment and how you've survived all your life, and you do it anyway - you are just being a fool.
The Ugly - Thesaurus Boy Strikes - I am good with words. I got a 790 on my SAT verbal, and after hitting college I studied Greek, Japanese, Hebrew, and Latin, with a cursory glance at Arabic and Italian (and the Spanish I had taken in High School). I know English vocab better than most.
Reaves gets fixated on obscure words. I don't know why - maybe he's an avid scrabble player and these are words he won a game with. Maybe he was doing some drafting while the national spelling bee was on in the background. Either way, some words just stick out like sore thumbs, for his use of vocabulary isn't "advanced" - but just peculiar. For example, he uses the word "Monad" at least three times in the first half of the book. Really? That's the word you want to use to describe a vastly tall building that stands by itself (he explains it the third time he uses it). Again, I know what a monad is -- but how many people just picking up the book do? There were 5 or 6 other words (obstreperous, some others that I can't find at the moment) that just seemed totally out of place.
And I'm not against having advance vocabulary in a book - but the whole book needs to be written at a high level, not just random 10 cent words that pop up now and then. If you want to write at a high level - write at a 10th grade reading level -- don't write at a 5th and then throw a random 14th grade word it -- they stick out like sore thumbs, and all it's going to do is confuse some poor kid who is reading the thing.
And I bring this up because it really is one of the main disappointments I have with this book (and his others in the Star Wars universe) - they distract and jolt the reader out of the flow of the book and story - making you more focused on the writing rather than the story. Like a giant piece of road kill, you have to swerve around it -- and then you are no longer focused on your nice, scenic drive.
The Grade - B+/C+ A split grade here - if you are a Darth Maul fan, B+. You will highly, highly enjoy this book. If you aren't -- well, it wasn't by any means bad, but there are some flaws, some things that made me highly annoyed with the characters and the writing. It's not a bad story - but if I pull it out and read it again, it will be because I'm in the mood for some Maul, not because I'm in the mood for this book.