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Darth Maul - Shadow Hunter
by Michael Reaves

Published by Del Ray


Scott's Rating:   4 out of 4
Chris M's Rating:   2 out of 4
Chris K's Rating:   4 out of 4
Michael's Rating:   3 out of 4
Adrick's Rating:   4 out of 4


A few days before the events of Episode I, the Neimoidians in the employment of Darth Sidious come to a terrifying realization - one of their members has disappeared. There was a fourth member of the Neimoidians scheming with Darth Sidious - Hath Monchar, a deputy viceroy who loses his nerve and heads to Coruscant looking to sell the whole sordid tale of Sidious's plans to rule the galaxy (starting with invading Naboo) to the highest bidder.

Needless to say, Sidious sends the ultimate hitman to take Hath out before he squeals - Darth Maul. But it won't be as easy as it sounds. For one thing, Jedi Master Anoon Bondara and his Padawan Darsha Assant are cleaning up from Maul's decimation of Black Sun months ago and have stumbled onto his new hunt. Lorn Pavan, a Corellian information broker with a grudge against the Jedi, and his acerbic droid I-Five have also gotten into the mix. It's a cat and mouse game, and Maul is one very hungry cat. The chase takes them through the horrifying depths of Coruscant as well as the seemingly safe upper levels.

This is one half of a two-novel "prequel to the prequel," so to speak. (The second novel being Cloak of Deception coming soon.) This is also the middle part of a loose-trilogy about our favorite Sith Lord (including the Darth Maul comic miniseries, and Episode I Journal: Darth Maul).



Scott:

    If you like Darth Maul, then you'll probably like this book. He's in all out action here and we get to see him in top form. Halfway through the book, I realized that this was like a Star Wars version of the Terminator. One line in particular sounded like something from that film. Lorn Pavan described the Sith: "He can't be bought off, scared off, or thrown off the trail, and he'll stop at nothing to get it." That's pretty much the gist of the whole story. In this book, Maul is very much true to character. His self confidence and cockiness are highlighted by Reaves. What's particularly fun is to see Darth Maul in everyday situations - using an ATM-like machine, hailing a cab, walking into a bar. Makes you wonder what the average joe on the street thinks of him.

Reaves does a good job of tying the films, books, and comics together. He includes elements from the recent Darth Maul comic, as well as details from the Jedi Apprentice books and Visual Dictionaries. He also has a good dose of humor in the story. Reaves includes the occasional tip of the hat to Indiana Jones and other films: "Jedi," he muttered to himself. "Why did it have to be Jedi?"

One of the cool things about this story is that it introduces a ton of new and interesting characters. There's a smart-mouthed, free thinking droid named I-Five that packs a few interesting features. Then there's Lorn Pavan who has a very good (and interesting) reason for hating the Jedi. I won't spoil it here, but it's a topic I've always wondered about. Then there's the Jedi Padawan Darsha Assant who fails miserably on her first mission. Most of the Jedi we see are heroes who either win the battle or die heroically. This was an interesting twist to see one completely botch a mission and the fear the consequences. And since these aren't core characters, they're totally fair game for being in serious jeopardy or killed. That raises the stakes quite a bit when they face Darth Maul.

Reaves also had a big challenge in writing this - people already knew the ending. From watching Episode I we know that the Jedi are unaware of the Sith. That obviously means that our heroes fail in this book. It's a conclusion that's easily drawn. However, Reaves puts just enough spins and twists on the story to make it an interesting trip, despite knowing the ultimate destination. The last few pages are really heart stoppers.

Overall, I found this to be a fun and exciting read.


Chris M:

    Reaves is very experienced with gritty urban settings and chase sequences (from writing in Batman: The Animated Series), and it shows. Coruscant is a town even Batman would be leery of taking on, and Reaves uses that to his fullest advantage in crafting the dangers facing Maul and his prey as they battle throughout the city-planet's lower levels.

I like the scene with Maul in a Coruscant customs building, taking his time at the terminal with a huge p.o'd line of people behind him. Cute. Very cute. :)

Hmm. Apparently, there are Duros (separate from Neimoidians) in the TPM era. Very interesting. The book is very fast paced, which I like. The character of I-Five is a hoot. Reminds me of Alfred from Batman. In the last chapters, Reaves pretty much demolishes Lucas's carefully constructed attempts over the last 1 Ĺ years to hide Darth Sidious's secret identity. I'm curious to know how this got past Lucasfilm editors. "The recent tension between the Republic and the Trade Federation" is mentioned. A Cloak of Deception reference?

Lorn and Darsha are definitely two of the more intriguing and three-dimensional characters to come into the Prequel era, and I did feel a slight sense of regret and loss at their fates. And I5, of course, is a hoot. The brief appearances of the other Episode I Jedi are gratifying as well.


Chris K:

    Michael Reaves brings an experienced hand to the saga with Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter, and it shows. Reaves's initial forays in Star Wars were writing episodes for the Droids and Ewoks cartoons. Since then he has written for of Batman: The Animated Series, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Sliders, and just about every cartoon you ever thought you forgot from your childhood from the late Seventies onward (see the bibliography on his website).

I mention this because Reaves knows how to write characters, and writ them well. Maybe it's been an effect of the Star Trek-ish over-gluttony of the books in the past several years, but many Star Wars novels have either too many characters, or the ones already present are too stiff, lacking in malleability. Characters in a rich setting as Star Wars should be dynamic and fluid. It was refreshing that Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter didn't boast a cast of dozens, but perhaps eight or nine at the most. Every one is captivating, from the smarmy droid I-Five to Darsha Assant, a young Padawan. And Darth Maul, of course.

Even if Maul were not the focus of this novel, it would rate as one of the most entertaining romps ever had with Star Wars. Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter is as close to a perfect SW novel as you're likely to find. These characters come alive. These people aren't standing in the background but want something in their own ways, and Darth Maul's mission to find the treacherous Neimoidian is the catalyst for the other quests to overlap. Darsha Assant is close to her goal of being a full-fledged Jedi. Obi-Wan Kenobi is more subdued in this story as he seeks to help a friend. A lot of people want to make a fast buck. Lorn Pavan is running from a secret rage toward the Jedi. a rage that I felt empathy for. Maybe not quite on par with killing Chewie off, but Reaves will make some people angry: by causing them to question the good about the Jedi. For once, they aren't so high and mighty, riding into town on a white horse with a shiny badge gleaming in the sunlight. There's an aspect of the Jedi presented here that nearly made my blood boil. A few rounds of TIE Fighter afterward, blasting those bloody Rebels out of the sky, brought it down to a simmer.

Supporting cast aside, most people are gonna pick up this puppy for Darth Maul. Reaves obviously had fun writing for the character: displaying his full array of talents, his acumen at finding prey, and he even puts Maul in situations that might not have crossed some fans' minds (they sure didn't for this fan). I'll say this: Darth Maul versus the Coruscant Highway Patrol, and you can parse that as you will.

There are some tie-ins with other chapters in the saga, such as the midi-chlorians. Reaves also gets props for rectifying some canon issues with his book. That whole thing about the Sith being an ancient race overtaken by evil Jedi? Fughetaboutit! It just didn't happen here anymore. The Sith now, and always has been, a cult of two adepts that continued from when Darth Bane remade the order after the initial Sith wiped each other out. Now the Sith are merely the diametric opposite philosophy of the Jedi, and this reviewer says it's about time! But fans of previous Star Wars books should be happy with the "retconning" of some elements, such as Exar Kun and the holocron. What was most noticeable was what wasn't there: a tendency some authors have had to introduce decidedly non-Star Wars aspects into the saga. Reaves exercises great discipline and restraint when he handles Star Wars: using what already exists, and getting the most mileage out of it. THIS is what SW writing should be about: exploring this universe as-is, not mish-mashing it with others.

Of all the Star Wars novels I've read to date, Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter felt most like an actual Star Wars film, from the ubiquitous opening shot of a massive starship, to the ending. and WHAT an ending! Longtime students of Lucas lore are gonna delight in the myriad of in-jokes and references to other Lucas productions: another nice touch that made the novel flow and feel like one of the films. Chalk this one up as an action-adventure with some really neat twists, and a finale quite unlike what previous SW books have attempted before. And let us hope that Michael Reaves will return to the galaxy far, far away sometime in the not too distant future.


Michael:

    Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter is a very well balanced book in itís structure. It is paced very well from the outset by the author, Michael Reaves, who conveys a great sense of urgency in itís characters, as they run through the bowls of the maze which is Coruscantís underworld, in a cat and mouse chase. Reaves seems well suited writing in the Coruscant underworld setting. We know by the movie ĎThe Phantom Menaceí what the ending to this book will result, but the fun is watching how that actually occurs. This is a similar situation in the prequel trilogy. We all know that Anakin will become Vader, but what is most interesting is how that happens. Michael Reaves seems to have grasped Star Wars literature history and continuity, by providing subtle hints to the ĎTales of the Jedií comics, Episode I Adventures, Darth Maul comic and the Jedi Apprentice series of young adult novels.

The most pleasing aspect of the book, which gave me the most enjoyment, was the introduction of new characters by the author, such as Lorn Parvan, his partner droid, I-5, and the Jedi Apprentice Darsha Assant. You really feel for and understand the characters in the book, as they are a tight knit group, and each has their own purpose. One of the best sub Ė plots to the book revolved around why Lorn despised the Jedi, and how that was gradually changed by his interaction with Darsha, as he grew to respect, admire and even care for her. Familiar characters are handled well by Reaves; he gives a deeper insight to the master and apprentice relationship between Sidious and Maul, and cameoís by Mace Windu, Yoda, Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan are a highlight.

Humour and action are intertwined throughout the book. I-5 provides comic relief throughout the book, and is relatively unique for a droid character within the Star Wars universe to occupy this role. I really enjoyed this character, and hope that he will return in the future in some capacity. The action varies, a welcome relief that it is not repetitive, we are treated to lightsaber fights, chase scenes, and scenes with horrific monsters and cannibalistic zombies.

I think one of the most memorable scenes in the whole of the book, was near the end, a wounded Lorn Parvan, stumbling into a familiar Senator . . . . Senator Palpatine, this was a real heart Ė stopper!


Adrick:

    As of this writing, Shadow Hunter has been given a new paperback release to celebrate (that is, promote) The Phantom Menace in 3-D and the return of Darth Maul in The Clone Wars. Originally, I was going to write another review of Shadow Hunter for the rerelease, as I did for Heir to the Empire and the Phantom Menace novel, but Scott, Michael, and the two Chrises did a pretty thorough job of analyzing it the first time around. So this is less a review and more a reflection and a look at the added material in the new edition.

Itís hard to believe itís now been over ten years since Shadow Hunter was released. I remember receiving the original hardcover as a birthday gift. Back then Star Wars novels seemed few and far between, which is funny considering Chris Kís complaint of a ďStar Trek-ish over-gluttony of the booksĒ in his review. But to me, each new release was a thing to be savored, and I was careful not to rush through them.

Shadow Hunter made that difficult, with its thriller-style plotting and series of complications and cliffhangers. Reaves is great at creating characters that seem more like ordinary people in the galaxy far, far away than Luke and Obi-Wan, and itís hard not to like Lorn, I-5 and Darsha. Pitting them against Darth Maul is interesting and tragic because you know who has to win in the end.

One of the things I liked the most about the novel was Reavesís treatment of Nute Gunray and Hath Monchar. The look at the Neimoidian personality and physiology (as it turns out, the two are closely linked!) was interesting as Iíve always had a soft spot for the villains of Episode I.

Shadow Hunter, like any older Star Wars novel, is interesting to re-read because some things take on new meaning with time. The multiple references to Maulís apparent inability to die now seem to point to his ultimate survival, recently revealed in The Clone Wars. Considering that almost every character in the novel is doomed, itís also nice to know that itís just the beginning of the story for one of them. (The Coruscant Nights novels serve as sequels of a sort to this novel.) In retrospect, some of the opinions in the above reviews seem a little silly--itís hard to see this novel singlehandedly re-writing Sith canon, as Chris K seems to think it did.

Shadow Hunter has compelling characters and a great deal of suspense--if you havenít picked it up yet, nowís the perfect time. The new paperback pairs it with two other Darth Maul short stories, both written by James Luceno: the ebook Saboteur, which was also available in the previous paperback release, and the brand-new Restraint.

Saboteur has its own review page here, and it also has a number of reviews already, so Iíll just say that itís an entertaining story that binds together Cloak of Deception and Shadow Hunter and shows that Maul isnít just a bruiseróhe has a brain too.

Restraint doesnít work quite as well, partially because it seems so different from what we already know about Maulís background. Ryder Windhamís The Wrath of Darth Maul recounts much of the events of Restraint, and places it in context with the previously established story of Maul. Thereís a bit of extra explanation of events here, but overall I prefer Windhamís version. If the story were a standalone, Iíd say skip it. But it does have some nice tie-ins with the Clone Wars TV show, and itís paired with two exceptional Maul stories, so it canít hurt to take a look.



Scott:

    As much as I loved the new characters in the book, I would have liked to have seen more of Darth Maul. There are often large gaps between his appearances. However, I realize it could be difficult to have him around all the time and keep it interesting. Maul can be a rather flat character if not used sparingly.

I also would have liked to have seen more background on Maul. Why does he hate the Jedi so much? How did he hook up with Sidious? What was his training like? Some is given on this, but not a lot. Most of that was told in the Darth Maul Journal, something many fans will probably not read. It should have been saved for this.

The timing of this book is also confusing. It takes place days, if not hours, before the Naboo blockade. The whole point of the novel is that the Sith don't want the Jedi to know about their existence or the blockade. However, just a couple of days later, they completely reveal themselves to the Jedi and their plans. If the events were so close to happening that they were almost unstoppable, why did they care if some little information broker tried to sell the info? If it had been months before, their concern would have been more understandable. The closeness in chronology kind of takes away from the urgency of the events in the book.


Chris M:

    I knew I was in trouble from the opening line: "An even longer time ago in a galaxy far, far away." While Reaves has boned up on his SW general knowledge, it's clear he doesn't have the feel of the saga down pat. The pacing is fine, but he doesn't really take the time to build his characters up - we learn just enough about them (and guess the rest) to get into the story, but no more than that. The book feels at times like a contemporary action film that's been grafted into the SW universe.

The big problem with this book, of course, is that you know beforehand how everything's going to turn out - Maul victorious, Naboo blockaded, movie about to begin. And if you meet any characters you didn't see in the movie and see them going against the villain, it's a pretty safe bet they won't make it to book's end. That makes the reader reluctant to build any real empathy or interest in the "heroes" of the piece, Darsha and Lorn. Of course, such stories can be done and have been done (such as the Star Trek book trilogy about Captain Kirk's friendship with Gary Mitchell, an officer killed in the series' second episode), and Reaves does make a valiant try of making you like the characters anyway. I found myself, if not rooting for the heroes, at least hoping they give Maul a hard time of it.

This book presents something of a continuity nightmare for EU enthusiasts. In particular, it seems to follow directly on the heels of the Dark Horse Darth Maul miniseries, a story stated by Dark Horse to be 6 months prior to TPM. But the book ends literally the day before TPM begins. Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan leave for Naboo in the last chapter -- immediately after the blockade of Naboo begins, directly contradicting the Episode I Journal: Queen Amidala (which states the blockade was in effect a month prior to TPM). It also leaves no room for the Scholastic Episode I Adventures books (#1-4, which involves Maul and the Infiltrator) to take place.

My question is, if the Jedi leave immediately after the blockade is established, how could the Senate be "endlessly debating" about it? The Senators would be sitting down to breakfast and holopads and just learning about the blockade as the Radiant VII would be taking off.

Page 200: Since when was one of the "Seven Dirty Words" allowed in Star Wars?!? Our favorite galaxy has always been a PG-13 one, and the writers have been very creative in coming up with an alternative litany of curses. It's stuff like this that pulls you out of the story just when you're really starting to get into it.

What finally shoots this story down (*cough*otherthanLucasfilmapparentlynotpayingmuchattentiontotheEU continuitythey'vealreadyestablished*cough*) is the lack of meat to the villains. Sidious is, well, Sidious. The Neimoidians seem even more mindless and cowardly than ever, with little hint that they're more than the movie-serial stock villains they appeared in the movie. And Maul, while showing a surprising sense of honor and even empathy for his opponents, is still little more than the one-note, unstoppable killing machine he was in TPM. And that's not enough. This is Maul's novel - but there's not enough character there to sustain a novel. I'll be fair, though, that's not really Reaves' fault - Lucas won't let him delve into the villains for obvious reasons. Hopefully Cloak of Deception will avoid this pitfall.


Chris K:

    Anyone looking for unrevealed insights into the Sith mystique may walk away from this book a little disappointed. Apart from the numerous inward thoughts of Maul and Sidious, most of what we find was already presented in the Episode I novelization. And the Darth Maul Journal was more in-depth with Maul's origin. Still, there are some neat bits of lore here: Maul-aholics will enjoy discovering how the Horned One crafted his dual-bladed lightsaber. But what the novel lacks in Sith myth, it more than compensates by showing what Darth Maul is capable of with his training and equipment. Though, ummm. would Darth Maul really hail down a taxicab? Maybe in New York City he could get away with that unnoticed but still.

Lorn Pavan seems to have a whole good story "fleshed out" there somewhere, but we don't get to see it fully. And maybe it's just me, but there could have been a LOT more done with Darth Sidious. Oh well. maybe Sidious will get his own novel someday ;-)


Michael:

    Like my fellow reviewers, I have to agree that one of the main negatives concerning the novel, is that the outcome is known before the before even the book is read. Lucasfilm and Del Rey could have prevented this problem, looking back in hindsight. Next year, Alan Dean Foster is writing a prequel novel to Episode II, which will be released in February, a few months before the new movie is released. I think that this novel would have had much more an interesting impact on the reader, if it was actually released before ĎThe Phantom Menaceí, letís say for example, in February 1999. For most people, they didnít know the ins and outs of TPM, so the novel wouldnít have spoilt the movie, and the movie wouldnít have spoilt the novel. Also, like my fellow reviewers, it would have been nice to get inside of heads of the Sith duo, learning a little bit more about their history and beliefs. As previously stated, not many people will by the childrenís novel (Secrets of the Sith), so a little background to the Sith would have given the novel a little extra punch. It also would have been nice to see some more of Sidious in action, but I guess that we will have to wait for ĎCloak of Deceptioní, which I am eagerly waiting for.


Adrick:

    The continuity within the book itself isnít always stellaróat one point Hath Monchar warns Lorn about the Sith, and just a few pages later Lorn guesses at the Sithís involvement without making reference to Moncharís revelation! This is the kind of shaky continuity that made Street of Shadows (shadows, shadows, shadows) such a disaster.



Scott:

    Lots of ugly in this book! There's the decapitations, the dismemberments, the high-rise swan dives, and the saber in the Hutt trick. Gotta love them all!


Chris M:

    The Cthons, the subhuman cannibals in Coruscant's underground. Also the Taozin, that giant transparent lobster in the lower levels.


Chris K:

    Nute Gunray. naked. 'Nuff said.


Michael:

    Definitely the Cthons. Very disturbing sub-human cannibalistic race living in the bowls of Coruscantís undercity. Personally, I was happy when Darth Maul decapitated a few of them. I would hate to run into them in a dark alley!


Adrick:

    This re-release was pretty dang hard to find. Amazon still had the old one in stock, as did most of the bookstores I checked. I didnít find it until long after the release date. (Ironically, it was at a grocery store not far from my house. So next time youíre out buying saltines or whatever, pick it up.)


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