Monday, 13 January 2014

'Maul: Lockdown' - Joe Schreiber (Del Rey)

I know, I did say that I wasn't going to read any more Star Wars books. I meant it too, I've pretty much had it with these books for a long time now and can't see my mind changing any time soon. There's something about 'Lockdown' though that made me change my mind for one book at least. Ok, two books; I'll be reading 'Honour amongst thieves as well, of course I will.
First up, Darth Maul. Here's a character that could have made 'The Phantom Menace' into a much better film and if he'd been allowed to; I know there's another book with him in it but I haven't read it and I wanted to see how a book with Darth Maul as the lead actually panned out. Secondly, Joe Schreiber. Here's a writer who's not afraid to take the Star Wars universe off in gritty and horrific directions (and I'm thinking 'Deathtroopers' here) and I really wanted to see what kind of a plot he would fashion around a lead like Darth Maul.
As it turned out, 'Lockdown' wasn't without its problems but did its job very well on the whole.

It's kill or be killed in the space penitentiary that houses the galaxy’s worst criminals, where convicts face off in gladiatorial combat while an underworld gambling empire reaps the profits of the illicit blood sport. But the newest contender in this savage arena, as demonic to behold as he is deadly to challenge, is fighting for more than just survival. His do-or-die mission, for the dark masters he serves, is to capture the ultimate weapon: an object that will enable the Sith to conquer the galaxy.

Sith lords Darth Plagueis and Darth Sidious are determined to possess the prize. And one of the power-hungry duo has his own treacherous plans for it. But first, their fearsome apprentice must take on a bloodthirsty prison warden, a cannibal gang, cutthroat crime lord Jabba the Hutt, and an unspeakable alien horror. No one else could brave such a gauntlet of death and live. But no one else is the dreaded dark-side disciple known as Darth Maul.

If I was going to sum 'Lockdown' up in one sentence it would go kind of something like this. I enjoyed this book despite itself. Darth Maul is a strong enough character in Schreiber's hands (and in his own right) to carry the book through a real muddle of double crosses that don't seem to make much sense along along with people being introduced with no rhyme or reason. This could be something to do with Maul's mission being drip fed to him but, even then, the timing feels all off.

You're probably wondering why I kept reading then (wouldn't blame you if you were). For all of my problems with the book (and these take up a large part of the book), 'Lockdown' is the ideal stage for Schreiber to do what he does best. Schreiber gives us another look at the dark fringes of the Star Wars universe, fringes often hinted at but never displayed in quite the way that Schreiber does it. He leaves us in no doubt that there are some very dangerous places out there in the galaxy and this prison facility is one of the worst.

Even though we know that Maul is a match for anything in this facility, Schreiber keeps our attention by staging some awesome fights (Maul vs Wampa, well worth the ticket price) and taking us down dark corridors where anything could happen. The supporting cast do their job but it's Maul who literally makes every page his own with his dark brooding presence and propensity for lethal violence. This is what makes 'Lockdown' tick and powers the book past all the awkward moments (and maybe if 'Lockdown' had been a little longer these would have ironed themselves out).

I'm not sure what the future holds for Star Wars novels (who will take them on once the Del Rey licence expires) but I hope Joe Schreiber is a part of it. 'Lockdown' makes things difficult for itself, when they don't need to be, but can really hit the target when it has a mind to.

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