Still ace at Star Wars novels, Claudia. I really should read her non-Star Wars work at some point, but every time I finish one of her SW books, I’m left satisfied, and feel no need to do so. Perhaps this is a mistake.
This book was unexpected, both in that she chose to write about the earlier period of Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi’s partnership instead of the later period most SW writers play in, and that I enjoyed it so much, when I’m usually not that into prequel-era Star Wars very much. I just don’t have as much emotional connection to the characters, even though both Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor bring gravitas to the material that makes me have affection for them (and Obi-Wan features quite a bit in the Clone Wars TV show).
While there is a space adventure here, featuring a coronation, a galactic treaty, terrorists jeopardizing that treaty, and an evil galactic corporation that exists on slave labor, this is really a book about the emotional relationship between Qui-Gon and his fourteen year old apprentice, Obi-Wan. Qui-Gon has been given a chance to join the Jedi Council, which is a surprise because he so often is at odds with them. This drives a wedge in their already fragile master/apprentice relationship, as Obi-Wan feels like he has never been good enough for Qui-Gon, and that he doesn’t understand his master; Qui-Gon leaving to join the Council feels like an abandonment on top of that. Qui-Gon also has struggled in how to reach Obi-Wan. He is not one to follow the rules blindly and often does things not by the book. He feels torn by his desire to join the Council, and what he sees as his duty to Obi-Wan.
I thought the book did an excellent job of portraying the emotional arcs of both characters, and their resulting conflict. Watching them clash with one another while being able to see inside of their thoughts, and that they both respected each other but couldn’t find a way to communicate that, was a little heartbreaking. This book gets at the heart of the Jedi/Padawan relationship, how even though Jedi aren’t supposed to love, it’s impossible for a master not to care for, even love, an apprentice they spend years bringing up, and for an apprentice to care for the Jedi who raised them. We get echoes of this in the relationships between Jedi Rael Averross (also an apprentice of Dooku) and his Padawan, and with the princess he acts as Regent for on the planet Pijal, as well as the relationship between Qui-Gonn and Dooku himself in the form of flashbacks.
The one thing that didn’t work perfectly for me is that there are hints to the overall Star Wars mythology in the ancient Jedi prophecies that Qui-Gonn studies, including one that I’m pretty sure predicted the births of Leia and Ben Solo (“She who will be born to darkness will give birth to darkness,” or something like that; I’ve returned the book to the library). The reason that I didn’t like this very much is that I wanted to know what all those prophecies were referring to! And we don’t get any answers. Obviously this is a Me complaint; the prophecies were deployed strategically, and I think Gray meant them to be a fun nod, not something to obsess over (like Qui-Gonn and Dooku do). Well, I can’t help that I’m obsessive and hate unsolved puzzles, which in one of life’s great ironies, I am terrible at solving.