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Star Wars: Cloak of Deception
James Luceno
Lucas Books, Del Rey, 342 pages

Star Wars: Cloak of Deception
James Luceno
James Luceno has worked as a carpenter, a travel scout, and a script-writer. He co-wrote many books with the late Brian Daley, under the pseudonym of Jack McKinney. These collaborations include The Black Hole Travel Agency series (Event Horizon (1991), Artifact of the System (1991), Free Radicals (1992) and Hostile Takeover (1994)). He lives in Annapolis, Maryland, but spends part of the year in Mexico.

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A review by David Maddox

Political intrigue, assassinations, taxation and space pirates. All this and more is featured in James Luceno's latest novel Star Wars: Cloak of Deception, a taut thriller set within the Senate Halls of the Galactic Republic.

Supreme Chancellor Valorum, saddled with the hardships of public office and constantly mired in scandal and baseless accusations, finds more problems from the greedy Trade Federation and the rising terrorist group known as the Nebulan Front. On advice from trusted friend and colleague Senator Palpatine, Valorum attempts to create peace between them, at an emergency trade summit. The Jedi Knights are tasked to protect the delegates from possible terrorist threats, but sinister forces lurk beneath the surface, using politicians as pawns in an unfathomable game. Meanwhile, Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn and apprentice Obi-Wan Kenobi quest to locate the mysterious renegade Captain Cohl and his mercenary army to unravel their part in the conspiracy.

Yet another prequel, this novel takes place a few months before Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace. It gives a few nods to characters in Michael Reaves' Star Wars: Darth Maul -- Shadow Hunter and presents the reader with the full lead-up and complete back-story of the events that led to the taxation of outlying systems and in turn the blockade of Naboo.

Author James Luceno is quite skilled at writing within the Star Wars universe, having written two Star Wars: The New Jedi Order novels, Agents of Chaos I: Hero's Trial, Agents of Chaos II: Jedi Eclipse and the eBook Darth Maul: Saboteur. In addition, he's novelized adaptations of the films The Shadow and The Mask of Zorro. If that wasn't enough he also co-wrote the popular series of RoboTech books with the late Brian Daley.

For fans expecting a rousing Qui-Gon Jinn adventure, be warned: he's not the real focus of the story. Instead, Supreme Chancellor Valorum takes centre stage. For a character who was supposed to be in charge of most of the universe, his part severely lacked depth in the film. However, the novel presents him as a good leader beset by circumstances beyond his control. We learn that the Valorum Dynasty has been holding the Republic together for generations and we get to see his losing battle to be just and fair in a universe bogged down in bureaucratic protocol. One can envision Terrance Stamp delivering each of his sombre lines, brow wrinkled in frustration.

This is not to say the Jedi are not an intricate part of the story. Qui-Gon Jinn spends much of the time in pursuit of the infamous renegade Captain Cohl, hunting him from planet to planet, trying to get inside the man's head and understand how he thinks. With determination and zeal, Qui-Gon seems reminiscent of Javert in pursuit of Valjean in Victor Hugo's classic Les Miserables.

Luceno captures the Jedi Council nicely but it becomes very clear that they really do worry too much. With eyes focused on the future and possible outcome of events, they miss so many details in the present which, we can assume, will eventually lead to their demise as the new Star Wars Trilogy unfolds. Yet it is exciting to see them in action, fending off an attack from hundreds of treacherous rebels, lightsabres blazing. Insight into certain characters is given; the hulking Saesee Tiin, the tranquil Adi Gallia, even the diminutive Yaddle (does everyone from Yoda's world talk in a backwards dialect?). Plus fans of Timothy Zahn's Heir to the Empire novels will get a kick out of seeing the pre-clone version of Jorus C'baoth make a cameo.

Unfortunately, the supporting characters aren't very interesting or clever. For a dishonoured war-hero who's turned to the mercenary life, Cohl comes off as a carbon copy of Han Solo, only with much less personality. Sadly, he is yet another throw-away character in the Star Wars novel universe. His crew are not very memorable and there's a very noticeable lack of 'droids throughout the story.

The biggest contrast is, while Darth Maul -- Shadow Hunter took place in the dark, underbelly of Coruscant, Cloak of Deception gives the reader a glimpse of how the "other half" lives. Most of the scenes take place in the palatial offices of the Senators, high above the city world in their towers. There is a definite class distinction in the Star Wars universe of old.

When you get down to it, Star Wars: Cloak of Deception is a good sci-fi book and a decent political thriller. It doesn't have the action and adventure of the usual Star Wars fare but it stands to show that there's always room for diversity as well as giving some solid background to the Star Wars mythos.

Copyright © 2001 David Maddox

David Maddox
Science fiction enthusiast David Maddox has been many things, including Star Trek characters and the Riddler in a Batman stunt show. He holds a degree in Cinema from San Francisco State University, and has written several articles for various SF sites as well as the Star Wars Insider. He spends his time working on screenplays and stories as well as acting in any venue he can. Residing in Los Angeles, he continues to be part of this wacky business called show.

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