A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away . . . .
Genre: Star Wars – Space Opera – SciFi
Series: Star Wars Legends
Publisher: Random House (May 24, 2000)
Author Info: Website
Length: 368 pages
My Rating: 3.5 stars
Cloak of Deception is a prequel story to Episode I: The Phantom Menace, and it is a political thriller. Yes, you read that right. This Star Wars novel breaks from the familiar action adventure formula of most Expanded Universe tales to focus on political corruption, trade wars, terror cells, and two familiar Jedi (Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan) mired in the whole mess. This setup book for Episode I a nice change of pace that had a few problems but was still a very satisfying read.
The Republic has a long history filled with glorious triumphs and dark defeats, but now it is mostly entangled in annoying futility. Top on the lists of festering problems is the Trade Federation. This conglomerates trade monopoly spreading its powerful tendrils across the galaxy, growing in size, power, and influence constantly. Their maltreatment of Outer Rim systems breeding hate and conflict resulting in a growing terror movement dubbed the Nebula Front, which is becoming more violent and more bold by the hour.
But the Trade Federation and the terrorists are merely the public face to a growing internal problem which few perceive: the Republic is slowly dying. This ancient bastion of democracy and peace divided into opposing factions. Member worlds having different desires and visions of the future which cannot be reconciled. The Senate itself broken up into warring factions. The growing cancer allowing power broker like Senator Palpatine and his ilk to increase their standing, while traditionalist peace makers such as Valorum see themselves marginalized and demonized for attempting to find middle ground to hold everything together.
Enter Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan. These Jedi are sent out to investigate the Nebula Front’s recent activities, especially the movements of one Captain Cohl, whom Qui-Gon has a stubborn desire to stop. Immediately, the two become embroiled in a huge plot which stretches from the Outer Rim to the halls of power in the Senate itself, familiar faces like Supreme Chancellor Valorum, Senator Palpatine, Jedi Masters Yoda and Mace Windu, even Queen Amidala making appearances throughout.
With Cloak of Deception, James Luceno has the unenviable task of explaining exactly what the hell led up to the beginning of Episode I while telling an exciting story where most readers will already knows who the main villains are and what their goals are, but somehow, someway, he actually accomplishes his task, creating an entertaining political thriller with enough space battles and lightsaber fights to lighten up all the serious themes.
My favorite element of the book was actually the political nonsense of the Republic Senate. Luceno doesn’t attempt to hide that Senator Palpatine is the driving force behind all the conflicts, showing him at his cunning best whispering sweet lies to fellow politicians while barking sibilant commands in his Sidious form. While I’ve always known the future Emperor was a master manipulator, I never gave him enough credit until reading this narrative and truly comprehending the extent of his plans which led to Episode I. Now, I am left to wonder what else Palpatine set into motion. Perhaps Anakin’s force conception? Qui-Gon’s discovery of the Chosen One? Once far-fetched fan conspiracy theories now do not seem too ridiculous considering how Palpatine played everyone in the Republic.
My greatest disappointment with Cloak of Deception was the characters plots of Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan, Captain Cohl and the Nebula Front. I was really hoping to learn more about our two Jedi, especially the stoic Qui-Gon, but the two stayed fairly static, showing absolutely no growth during this story arc. The same can be said of Captain Cohl who begins this novel with a bang only to disappear having little to no role in events by the end. As for the Nebula Front, it never develops past the point of being another shadowy terrorist group needing to be dismantled.
Overall, I enjoyed Cloak of Deception, accepting and embracing the political thrilled as a different kind of Star Wars story. There are certainly slow section, pages of political scheming and shadowy maneuvering that many people might find boring. On the other hand, these section were very realistic to me, eerily familiar to the state of U.S. politics 2017 and taken by me as a warning of how a tyrant can so easily convince people he is a savior while a true savior can be so easily portrayed as a tyrant.