The Cestus Deception
by Steven Barnes
Published by Del Rey
Michael's Rating: 3.75 out of 4
Scott's Rating: 3.5 out of 4
Nick's Rating: 3 out of 4
Mike's Rating: 3 out of 4
This story takes place one year after Attack Of The Clones.
With the Clone Wars raging across the galaxy, a new threat has emerged that plagues the Jedi. A series of new Jedi killing droids have started to be manufactured on the planet Ord Cestus. Based on biotechnology, they have limited Force abilities that allow them to anticipate a Jediís moves. Despite the fact that Ord Cestus is allied with the Republic, the Separatists have their eye on the droids and the planet. Seeing a possible threat emerging on the backwater planet, Supreme Chancellor Palpatine dispatches the Jedi and a squad of elite clone commandos to deal with the problem. They are led by Obi-Wan Kenobi and Kit Fisto.
Obi-Wan Kenobiís mission is to approach the Cestian leadership and solve the crisis by diplomatic means. With the help of the mollusk-like Doolb Snoil, Obi-Wan engages the planetary leaders and the Five Families of Cestus Cybernetics. Meanwhile, Kit Fisto and a clone trooper squad are secretly dispatched to the planet to start fomenting a rebellion if the diplomatic approach fails. Fisto quietly travels among the working class of the planet and starts recruiting fighters for possible war. Those rebels are then trained by the clone troopers. Things are significantly complicated, though, when Count Dooku sends Asajj Ventress to stir things up.
Amid this backdrop of political intrigue is the story of Clone Trooper A-98, or ďNateĒ. The trooper, engineered to be more free thinking than his brothers, begins a journey of self awakening. His emotions develop and for the first time he begins to question why he is fighting for the Republic, something unthinkable for a trooper. More significant, though, is his growing love for Sheeka Tull, a pilot aiding Kit Fisto and a former flame of Jango Fett. Will Nate stand by the Jedi and his brothers during the war or desert and start a life of his own?
I found the book to be an immense joy, as I appreciated a Clone Wars novel that brought Obi-Wan Kenobi into the spotlight, whilst also further developing the character of Kit Fisto. Kit Fisto captured the imagination of fans with his brief action scenes in Episode II, highlighted by his enigmatic smile during battle, and I am sure that 'The Cestus Deception' will cement his endearment with fandom.
The title of the novel 'The Cestus Deception' really does justice for the book. The themes of deception, intrigue, innuendo and suspicion are deeply interwoven throughout the story. Ord Cestus seems to like all the other planets heavily featured in prequel literature; Naboo, Tatooine, Ansion, Zonama Sekot, Haruun Kal... in a sense, they are all isolated, backwater insignificant planets, yet the large hands of the powers that be use these pawn like planets on the galactic chessboard to further their own ends. Deception in itself is an intriguing subject, considering that the entire galaxy is engulfed in a state of chaos, full scale war doesn't touch Ord Cestus. Deceptions are the guns of war used on Ord Cestus... it plays out more like a Cold War scenario, which, in my opinion, made the book a gripping read.
The central premise of the novel, the threat of a new type of Jedi-Killing bio droid, was an ingenious plot point by Steven Barnes. Cybernetics, the joining of organics and machine, has been a core theme of Star Wars, best exemplified by Darth Vader, and the idea of the bio-droids is a great precursor to that character.
Another great theme explored by Steven Barnes is the oft-asked question, 'what does it mean to be human?'... 'what defines the individual?'. These questions are enveloped by the ARC Clonetrooper characters, most notably A-98 / Nate / Jangotat. I enjoyed discovering the military culture of the ARC troopers. Their code is very analogous to the Jedi code in a sense, both are very rigidly structured.
Philosophy is gently embedded throughout the novel, and is there for the astute reader if they look for it. It has been a really long while since a Star Wars novel has really made me think, and actually find analogies to the real world. One theme that Steven Barnes presents to the reader is terrorism, which we are all currently sadly familiar with. Both sides of the conflict, the Republic and the Confederacy, both resort to differing kinds of terrorism to achieve their desired objectives. What left me with an uncomfortable taste in my mouth, was that the 'good guys', the Jedi, would also resort to these tactics. It really presents the paradox of terrorism. Both sides in a conflict believe that they are doing what is right, and believe the other sides are terrorists, and vice versa. It is sadly a no-win situation. Perhaps events such as this help fuel the downfall of the Jedi, especially in the eye of the galactic public.
The foreshadowing was also brilliant in the novel. For example, I loved the ironic musing of Obi-Wan Kenobi: "Wise in politics he might be, but Palpatine was still a novice in the ways of the Force." Equally brilliant were the many references to continuity, such events seen in the Republic comics, etc... I was also quite both surprised and pleased that General Grevious was mentioned a couple of times. This character is General of the Droid Armies, and will be a major villain in Episode III, it was awesome and unexpected to read little hints and references to him so far out from the final prequel film's release.
I think the thing that The Cestus Deception will be most remembered for is that it is the definitive clone trooper story. Few Clone Wars novels have so vividly captured what life is like for the clone troopers. We dive deeply into their training (literally), discover their thoughts about war, experience the prejudice against them by other species, and more. You learn that they are more than cannon fodder for action scenes. You find out about their customs, their sense of humor, and their perspectives on the Jedi. Barnes has done an excellent job filling in the blanks on these characters.
Even more notable is the story of Nate. His tale is very intriguing as he questions why he is fighting, contemplates countermanding orders, and generally does everything that he was trained not to do. He has very interesting conversations with Obi-Wan Kenobi about life and the Force. Nate also brings up thought provoking questions about how the Jedi are similar to clone troopers in how they are raised and trained. But things are taken to a whole new level as the love story between Sheeka Tull and Nate is developed. Throw in the twist that she once had a relationship with Jango Fett and you have all sorts of new situations that created an intriguing romance. The final result was that I almost wanted to skip the sections with Obi-Wan and Kit Fisto just so I could continue following Nateís story.
Lest you think The Cestus Deception is all human drama, think again. Barnes also shows that he can handle the action scenes well, too. Kit Fisto gets a ton of attention as well as lots of action. An opening battle between him and a Jedi killing droid was one of the highlights of the story. Barnes even introduces a new weapon Ė the light whip. But the biggest action highlight of the story is a three way battle between Obi-Wan, Asajj Ventress, and Kit Fisto. It is quite impressive and it not only delivers on the adventure and excitement, but it reveals more about the characterís personalities. You find out that Kit Fisto is a bit overconfident, Asajj is plagued by self doubt, and Obi-Wan is still Obi-Wan.
In the end, The Cestus Deception delivers in action, romance, humor, and intrigue. It has all the key elements of a good Star Wars novel.
The Cestus Deception certainly lives up to its name, weaving multiple layers of deception simultaneously. While not quite on par with Jim Lucenoís Cloak of Deception, this book still offers some deviously pleasing machinations.
However, the highlight of Cestus is not its many deceptions, but rather its human element, most notably that represented by Nate, the missionís lone ARC trooper. Nateís interaction with his clone brethren elicits questions of what it means to be human and whether there is more to living beyond the regimented life of a soldier. Likewise, XíTing Regent GíMai Duris is an interesting fulcrum between her people and the controlling elements in her society. Her struggles, both within and without, are rewarding.
I was pleased with the inclusion of Asajj Ventress. She is an intriguing character and Barnes did a good job fleshing out her being. I canít wait to see what other authors take her character. Much like Anakin, she walks a fine line between redemption and damnation.
I originally didn't want to write a review of The Cestus Deception, and do so now mostly out of the desire to be thorough. The bottom line being, the book wasn't bad; it had some cool moments, the characters were mostly interesting, and the development of Cestus and the X'Ting was very well done.
Whilst it was fantastic to explore the Clone Wars era character of Obi-Wan Kenobi further, it was a little disappointing that Anakin Skywalker was not central to the novel, however, we can be rest assured that Anakin will feature prominently in future Clone Wars novels. Kenobi's and Skywalkerís parting, at the start of the novel, left me a little disappointed in the scene, as it felt like that they were *too* at ease. After all, they are in the midst of a galaxy-wide spanning conflict. You would think that there would be a greater sense of urgency, tension to their actions and conversation. They seemed too relaxed.
One nitpicky point, I disliked the fact that there were so many chapters, often chapters being only 1 or 2 pages in length. I felt that this disrupted the flow of the novel at times.
Another small irritation, I hate it when a play on words is blatantly obvious. Barrister Doolb Snoil's appearance is similar to a snail, and he is named Snoil, however, I suppose that is typical Lucasism.
I found the cover artwork to be a little misleading. Count Dooku dominates the cover of the novel, yet his character is not in the story at all. He is only mentioned a very few times. Like wanting more of Anakin, it would have been great to have read more about the leader of the Separatists, Count Dooku.
As much as I enjoyed The Cestus Deception, I did have a few minor problems with it. First of all, some of the political intrigue was confusing. All the talk of treaties, layers of government, etc. were at times confusing. I also had a hard time buying the Jediís scheme to resolve the situation. Planting a team to start a rebellion while at the same time trying to peacefully negotiate with a legal government seems destines to failure (even if it may echo real world events). And Jedi secretly starting a rebellion and terrorist activities doesnít seem very Jedi-like to me. This is addressed in the book, but it still didnít sit well with me.
Jedi killing droids that are Force sensitive also seemed like a bit of a stretch. While I reluctantly bought the explanation for them, it still didnít seem like a seamless fit into the Star Wars Universe. Then again, neither did midi-chlorians, so what do I know.
As for the characters, I generally liked Sheeka Tull but she came across as a bit patronizing to Nate on numerous occasions. Still, Iíd like to see more of the character in the future. And did anyone else notice that Doolb Snoil is just ďLionís BloodĒ spelled backwards? Whatís up with that?
Steven Barnesís first foray into the Star Wars universe is a well-crafted story, but it is not flawless. The storyís two standout, Jedi Obi-Wan Kenobi and Kit Fisto seem little more than terrorists through most of the book. Though I understood the necessity of their actions, it seemed grossly out of place for members of their order. This is the sort of job suited solely for the commandos, not the galaxyís supposedly great moralists.
Other Force-users in the book also struck a nerve: the JK bio-droids. The use of another Separatist droid plot to drive the story seems contrived, although the twist ending did redeem the droids somewhat.
The book isn't bad. It just...didn't really do anything for me. Barnes had a decent (if not terribly innovative) plot, and good characters to work with, both pre-existing and original, but it felt...overthought, I guess. The melodrama surrounding Jangotat and his love interest, whose name escapes me, was really a lot more than I think was necessary, and while it's handled skillfully enough to not be grating (which, really, is a pretty big compliment), it didn't need to be there to begin with. You have to be an amazing storyteller to do the romance plot the way Barnes did and make it outright enjoyable, and I just don't think he was quite up to it.
Really, though, it might just be me. When I think back on it, I can't come up with a single aspect of the book that I disliked; in fact, more often than not I think "hey, that was a nice idea". I can't believe I'm mentioning Death of a Salesman again (see my Jedi Trial review), but this just seems like one of those times where a good book just didn't click with me. I'm more than willing to give authors crap for what I view as bad writing (see, again, my Jedi Trial review), but there's nothing bad about The Cestus Deception. That just happens to be the best thing I can think of to say about it.
Nothing to add here.
Snoil getting squashed like a bug. Ugh.
A subliminal product placement for another of the authorís works. Re: Doolb Snoil = Lionís Blood. Perhaps this book should have been titled The Barnes Deception.
The not-nearly-reinterpreted-enough "Jedi Flow" scene. Come to think of it, I guess there is one thing I disliked.