The Challenge! http://blogs.starwars.com/kaitco/2
😀 – The Force is strong with this one.
🙂 – I’d read it again.
😐 – Meh…
🙁 – I have a bad feeling about this.
Lost Tribe of the Sith by John Jackson Miller
My rating for the series as a whole: 😐 – Meh…
Precipice: 😐 – Meh…
Skyborn: Between 🙂 and 😐
Paragon: 🙂 – I’d read it again.
Savior: 🙁 – I have a bad feeling about this.
I decided to review all four books in one set since the e-books were so short. It was difficult to come up with a complete rating for each one since one book was on the low side of “Meh…” and another was almost a four-star effort, but I stand behind my shrugging humph as I think upon what I have read.
While I liked some better than the others, the series fell a little flat for me, both in mechanics and in general storyline. What bothered me the most was that there was not a proper balance between “show versus tell” throughout the entirety of the series and, while “show versus tell” is something with which many writers suffer, I came into this series expecting far more from a seasoned author like Miller.
Right from the start, I was thrown into a completely unknown landscape with very little to help me grapple with what I was being told and that, more than anything, brought out my old skepticisms about science fiction literature. A part of me feels like any reader should be able to pick up any book about the galaxy far, far away and should instantly be able to fall into the novel without little to no background knowledge. With Precipice, there were several times in that first chapter where I had to keep backing out of the novel on my Kindle to make sure I was reading the first book in the series. I was completely lost!
Granted, my Star Wars knowledge is limited, but I honestly thought I needed some kind of Star Wars concordance by my side to help me understand what I was reading. Perhaps it is just because I am still fairly new in this journey of mine, but I think that strong storytelling about this universe should assume only a few things: 1) That the reader has at least watched some of the films and 2) Even if the reader has not seen the films, he or she at least knows that there are Jedi and Sith, there is the Force and that lightsabers come in several colours and can cut everything. Unless the novel explicitly picks up after another series, there should be few if any assumptions made.
In Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, was it helpful to have watched or have read the novelization of Episode 4? Of course! That’s why the cover had “From the further adventures of Luke Skywalker…” in bold letters at the top. The reader knows going into the novel that if the name Luke Skywalker does not ring a bell, he or she is going to miss a lot of the novel.
I also equate this idea to reading The Lord of the Rings. Is it helpful to have read The Hobbit and have some understanding of who Gandalf is and what hobbits look like? Of course! Yet, Tolkien does not jump into the story assuming the reader has read what was actually a prequel of sorts to his masterpiece. If I sound like I’m ranting a bit, it is simply out of the frustration of not having any idea what was happening for close to a full chapter and one of the longer ones in the novel, at that. I knew next to nothing about who I assumed was my protagonist, names were being dropped left and right to the point that I was truly turned off by what I read.
Honestly, imagine watching Return of the Jedi without ever knowing a thing about Star Wars and picture the opening scene. Two random robots are walking in the middle of some desert, you have no idea who they are, where they are or why the little one beeps instead of talks, and the one that is talking keeps referring to some guy named Luke and something else about a princess. Even the opening scroll would not help you get far and the rest of the film would make no effort to explain anything to you. This is acceptable in ROTJ because it is a part of a trilogy so assumptions can be made. I had nothing to help me understand whether or not Lost Tribe of the Sith was a part of another series, I was thrown a lot of names in those few pages and, thus, I was frustrated.
My frustrations were also deepened by how the novels flowed. Far too much detail went to facts that did not make a difference by the end of the series, whereas characterization were, in most cases, left to basic summaries.
In Precipice, was it really necessary to read about every single muscle Korsin flexed as the Omen crashed on Kesh? Did the reader really truly need to see each facet of Keshiri life before getting on with the rest of the story? Likewise, why was the reader simply told about the history between Korsin and his brother instead of allowed to see a part of it before their jump to hyperspace and the eventual crash? This is where the balance between “show versus tell” comes into play. Far too many scenes in the novel were shown when they could have quickly been told and vice versa. In my eyes, if the author was going to spend eons describing what could be summarized, then the novellas should have been great epics of detail from every character down to the last sparkle of the rocks on Kesh.
Once I moved past the initial shock of being thrown into a novel with a back story I may never learn and the long spans of description that came to nothing in the end (seriously, several thousand words were spent on the crash alone and it made not one bit of difference how the ship crashed in the end), I did enjoy many aspects of the series that caused me to think of the Sith on a deeper level and encouraged me to continue with the novels on my list.
As I said earlier, the beginning caught me off guard, like a Chemistry mid-term on something the professor never covered in class, and there were several times in the novel where I was shouting to myself, “Let’s get on with this! Somebody bring out a lightsaber!” That initial boredom was quickly overshadowed by the Sith themselves.
The idea of “pureblooded” Sith was completely new to me and utterly fascinating. These red-skinned people had somehow interspersed with humans and other species creating other Force-sensitives, but in a sense, not as attuned to the dark side as a pure-blood Sith would be. The only part that dampened my new-found intrigue with the Sith were some of their conversations.
“‘What’s the third choice?’
Gloyd’s painted face crinkled. ‘There isn’t one. But I figured it’d cheer you up if you thought there was.’
‘I hate you.’
‘Great. You’ll make someone a fine Sith someday.'”
Some of the discourse between the Sith sounded almost ordinary and just as balanced as the Jedi, albeit in a slightly more sarcastic light. I had always imagined that the Sith were a mysterious and magical sect so bereft of the normalcies found in non-Force sensitives that they were barely capable of holding almost jovial conversations like the above quote. This view has also been reinforced by what I had seen in the films and in Clone Wars. I suppose, however, that this runs with the idea of what Anakin was screaming at the end of Revenge of the Sith; the Sith are just as “normal” as anyone, depending on a certain point of view.
The idea that the Sith ran in a gamut of shapes, sizes and colours was the complete “Oh wow!” moment in the book. Again, the films leave one with the perception that any Force-sensitive being is human since it takes a humanoid form to hold a lightsaber and, ergo, master the Force. I was delightfully surprised to “see” the array of Sith colour; from the pure-blooded red Sith, to every other colour in the rainbow. It was like viewing the world through John Lennon’s Imagine, but then brought back to your senses by the fact that they all carried “evil-coloured” lightsabers.
Further fascinating for me was the concept of something as basic as drug use in the GFFA. Korsin’s brother is an addict and I found myself sympathizing with his plight, regardless of the fact that I have had no similar experiences in my own life. That said, I also find that the more I read, the more the GFFA begins to mirror real life, but in a manner that makes the characters appear simultaneously down-to-earth and still like the wayward warriors they are.
In the end, though, the Sith did live up to what I expected Sith to do and I had to hold back a cold laugh at the callousness of the protagonist in the last chapter. What I enjoy most in an anti-hero like Korsin is whole-hearted evil and cruelty. It does not due for a villain or the protagonist’s character to be wishy-washy or grey. What Precipice confirms (at least for me) is that the Sith are evil, but some are clearly more evil than others.
By the time I came to Skyborn, I had imagined I could not be shocked again by another onslaught of information I did not understand, but once again, I was proven wrong. Within the first few hundred words, I was wondering if I was reading a story within the same series. The beginning of Skyborn was packed with so much mundane detail that I was certain that The Lost Tribe of the Sith was just a collection of short stories that were in no way interconnected. Of course, by the end of the second chapter, I finally saw the connection, but much of the second book of the series left me a little muddled.
Since I was unable to see how Adari and her Keshiri people related to the Sith, I found myself, again, wondering when the author was planning to get on with the actual story. Like in Precipice, detail upon detail was lain upon the reader, this time about the purple-skinned Keshiri and their view of the world, when much of this could have been summarized rather quickly without hurting the story.
When considering the novel on whole, Adari’s characterization frustrates me almost as much as my initial confusion in Precipice.
“Adari had never felt shame for all those hours she’d spent searching the creek beds, or for finding more interest in the shards of a shattered stone than in her children’s first words.”
Initially, I was not intrigued by Adari as a protagonist. She did not reach me on a “womanly” level or otherwise and I think what made this most apparent was the description of her love, or lack thereof, for her children.
Adari had her children simply because it appeared to be the appropriate thing to do and had no love for them. Even the Sith love their children, so what does this say about her? I cannot see her apathy towards her children as a more masculine quality either. It just feels fake and unbalanced. I am one of the last people to stigmatize the role of women in literature, but I have rarely seen the aloof mother done properly where some kind of vice was not involved and, even in Moth Smoke, one of my favorite novels, the author was discussing a woman who cared for little outside of herself. Adari obviously cares about rocks, but she just disregards people.
Adari is presented as more level-headed that the rest of the Keshiri, but lacks the outright selfishness necessary to make her behaviour to her children and her people believable. That is not to say that a lack of a maternal instinct is tantamount to selfishness, but for something that is so ingrained in womanhood, there needed to be more than just a few lines telling the reader that Adari did not love her children or motherhood.
Adari’s heresy trial, while somewhat amusing with its Scopes Monkey Trial meets Star Wars storyline, has incredibly little to do with the actual plot. Her chief “prosecutor” is given a plethora of detail and back story, but Izri Dazh plays no part in the overall story.
“‘But you know that all that is Kesh came from the Skyborn,’ Izri said, jabbing his cane in her direction. ‘Nothing can be born of Kesh anew!’
She knew; every child knew. The Skyborn were the great beings above, the closest thing the Kesh had to deities.”
Most of the first chapter was downright boring. Seriously, this was my Kindle note from this part of the story:
Star Wars: Lost Tribe of the Sith #2: Skyborn (JOHN JACKSON MILLER)
– Note Loc. 104 | Added on Tuesday, August 10, 2010, 06:38 PM
this story just got a million times more mundane. really? we are just reading about a darwinesque stone trial? even when described in the context of another world it has been done so many times it is simple and inane.
I suppose Izri plays the Dr. Zaius in the story, but he shines brightly for a long while before fading into inconsequence.
This is not to say that Miller could have summarized everything about the Keshiri by saying, “All folks down in Tahv-ville believed in the Skyborn a lot, but Adari, who lived just north of Tahv, did not.” but all the detail just became overbearing.
What would have made an incredible story would have been to make it one complete novel, where the first chapter showed the reader what was happening to the Sith, the second chapter discussing Adari and the Kesh, the third including more information about the Sith on Kesh and so forth until Adari meets the Sith, bringing the two parallel stories together.
I could not help but notice, however, the glaring dig at religion Miller inserted into this story and, while I would like to see his ultimate point being that science can break down anything in the universe into matter, energy, space and time, a dig is still a dig no matter how annoying.
What I did enjoy was when Adari met the Sith. Miller did an outstanding job of presenting how the Sith would appear to someone who knew of nothing outside of her terrestrial bounds and this was where the overflowing detail was finally put to good use. The reader got to “see” the Sith precisely how Adari saw them which helped paved the way for the third and, in my opinion, the best novel of the series.
The second half of the novel is what kept me drifting between two ratings for the whole book. While the first half was drab and grey, the second was full of life and colour, much like in The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy steps out of her Kansas home into the beautiful land of Oz; the two halves are like night and day. By the end of the book, I found myself, again, wishing that Miller had made this one continuous story.
While I found the italicized trips into Seelah’s memory a little heavy-handed, I think Miller did a good job with the memories and with the third novel altogether.
There was more of a balance between “show versus tell” in the third than in any of the others and, even though, Miller did include irrelevant details in this book as well (again the memories), the details did not distract one long enough to wonder where the author was going with the book.
At this point, the groundwork has been laid and all that is left is story. I did find it difficult to believe that the Sith were still earnestly attempting escape after fifteen years on Kesh, but their actions were exactly what I had expected of them; a lack of justice for the voices of the weak and a complete sense of power and control. Fascinatingly enough, the one I had thought who would feel the most comfortable overpowering a Force-lacking species, was the one most anxious to still leave the planet.
All this notwithstanding, Paragon was far from perfect and some of the same questions I had about the ability to “see” using the Force while watching ROTS, sprang up in this story as well. In ROTS, I found it amusing (for lack of a better word) that the Jedi, who could sense the slain souls of fallen Jedi half a galaxy away, could not sense a Sith lord sitting just a stone’s throw away from them, i.e.: Yoda sits directly across from Palpatine in the beginning of AOTC, but other than simple mistrust thrown at any politician, there is no sense that Yoda senses a real disturbance in the Force. In Paragon, I see marked similarities, though on a smaller scale.
Ravilan, a red Sith and from my limited understanding, a pure Sith, should have been able to “feel” or interpret the Force with far greater accuracy than any of the humans around him. Why Ravilan could not see or sense Seelah’s murders on a Force-limited planet like Kesh is just mind-boggling. As soon as I had read that Seelah oversaw all births, I assumed she was doing something naughty and this intuition was without anything that came out of her past memories; this was based solely on her character in the past two books.
Adari’s character seemed a bit shunted to the side for the greater part of the story and I could not help feeling slightly betrayed considering the amount of time spent on her in the previous book. I also did not like, or perhaps I simply did not understand, the end and Adari’s newfound desire to return the Keshiri lifestyle back to its roots. In hindsight, this was just the beginning of what would become a truly mundane end to the series.
This novel was what almost brought the entire series down a complete notch for me. There are so many issues that I could probably take up the remainder of my blog space complaining about it, but instead, I will focus on characterization.
Adari Vaal began as the wayward heroine to the series and, robbed of what could have been an incredible rise and a fantastic level of depth, Adari’s character was left lifeless and bland. There were several points in Skyborn and Paragon that Adari seemed to have some promise, but in the end, she was simply wasted.
What caught my attention most in Skyborn, infuriated me most in Savior. Skyborn presented the reader with an Adari who was the heretic, the mother to children she barely loved, and the geologist who would rather spend her time examining rocks than interacting with her own people. How and when and, better still, why did she develop these feelings of patriotism about her homeland and her people?
I was at no point struck with the sense that Adari particularly cared for her own people and Korsin’s fascination with her throughout the second and third books gave the perfect setup to have Adari either run away with the Sith should their help arrive or overthrow Korsin to set herself up as the supreme leader of her people. Good God! She had ample opportunity!
She reunited the Skyborn with the Keshiri; Adari could have, should have, claimed herself queen/empress/Skyborn Elect/whatever over her people and, if she harbored some understanding of injustice, why not use her newfound power to overcome the Sith and bring her people into a Kesh Age of Reason? The Keshiri are so numerous that they don’t have a number to count their population. Surely, amassing an army devoted to their Keshiri-Skyborn could have helped take down the Sith. I am not saying it would have been easy or bloodless, but anything would have been better than what came of Adari in the novel.
Adari’s plan was comical in its inanity. What it proved was that she had learned nothing from spending twenty years amongst the Sith. She had spent years in their inner circles and, even if she was not Force-sensitive, she surely could have learned enough about the Sith and the ways of the dark side to come up with a plan better than what was presented. Were the Sith not a resourceful people? Could they not, knowing that food and shelter were just a ways off, have fought and clawed their way back to the mainlands eventually? She spent a minimum of ten years drawing up plans and the idea to “strand” the Sith was best someone with inside knowledge could create? It is unthinkable!
Adari’s character had so much promise and yet it was all for naught. Even worse were the open questions that will never receive answers. Why devote an entire novel about a single character and her view of her world only to have her dissolve into mediocrity in the end? Why would a character with such spirit and so out of sync with the rest of her people, even want things to go back to the way they were? The reader was told a million times that Korsin thought the world of her, but why? We were not shown anything out of the ordinary about her other than what was given before her encounter with the Sith and yet, somehow, we are left to decipher what specific actions of Adari endeared her to Korsin. I just can’t stand it when great characters are just wasted; it is like they are brought to life with a real purpose, but laid to rest never realizing their full potential. I may not have been able to immediately associate with her, but Adari’s character had great potential to become like the Sith, yet the antithesis of them at the same time.
What was probably most disappointing about the last book and the series as a whole was that the series did not leave me feeling like I was further enlightened in the Star Wars universe. There are likely other series I kicked off this list since Lost Tribe of the Sith made the cut in my first glance that would have been far more gratifying, but it will be a long while before I even get to them.
Unlike with the first two books on my list, I don’t feel like I have learned anything significant from the series. Since I was reading about completely foreign characters who were not developed as well as they could have been, I felt nothing when reading about their deaths or banishments. There was nothing more than a, “Okay…I guess it’s over, now.” when I got to the end. Actually, it was more of a “He’s going to end it like that?!?!?” but either way, I was not pleasantly surprised as I had been with the last two. It was evitable though; there was no way I would be able to read 91 books without coming across a few that did not settle well with me.
Oh, well…Onto Darth Bane: Path of Destruction!
Truth be told, I have already started Darth Bane: Path of Destruction and am loving every minute of it, which is what made it so difficult to come back to these, but on I trek! 🙂