Summary from Goodreads
When the Emperor and his notorious apprentice, Darth Vader, find themselves stranded in the middle of insurgent action on an inhospitable planet, they must rely on each other, the Force, and their own ruthlessness to prevail.
Published in 2015, Lords of the Sith by Paul S. Kemp is one of the new canon Star Wars novels, taking place between the films Revenge of the Sith and the novel Tarkin. Set on and around the planet Ryloth, the story focuses on the relationship between Darth Vader and the Emperor, as well as the Free Ryloth Movement led by Cham Syndulla — a recurring character from the Clone Wars series — who plot to overthrow the Empire by assassinating Darth Vader and the Emperor in one fell swoop.
The promise of Darth Vader’s relationship with Sidious being explored was enticing. It has only been a few years since Anakin’s turn to the Dark side, engrossed himself in the identity of Darth Vader. The novel explores what this transition has been like for him and considers how much of his former self is truly dead. We also come to better understand the Sith master/apprentice dynamic and how it pertains to the pair.
Unfortunately, all of this did not take as much prominence in the novel as I had hoped it would. There is tension between the two, the Emperor testing just how far Vader’s resolve goes, but these aspects are a far cry from the main focus of the story.
The story primarily follows the build up and execution of the Free Ryloth Movement’s plan to assassinate the Sith lords, thus freeing their planet from the oppression of the Empire. Cham and his right hand Isval lead this group of freedom fighters, their story interweaving with Imperial officers occupying Ryloth. The novel actually spends most of its time with these characters, the relationship between Sidious and Vader treated as more secondary. I don’t necessarily mind this, since the story they tell was still enjoyable, but the novel’s heavy leaning toward the Sith characters seems a little misleading to me.
Vader is in his prime at this time, however, and there are quite a few moments that were a lot of fun to read — one moment early on in particular. Technical limitations of the original trilogy did not allow to see more awesome demonstrations of his power, which we get to see plenty of in this story. The same goes for the Emperor, who is normally not seen taking things on directly himself. They are both ruthless, especially Vader, who becomes a terrifying figure to Cham and his movement, despite their determination to kill him.
Cham and Isval make a compelling duo, the former a talented leader at odds with his more inactive role, the latter a dedicated combatant and anti-Imperial extremist. Cham, having a history in the franchise, has fought against occupation of his homeworld before already. Isval is a former slave, a fate that many Twi’lek suffer from. Through her story we learn of the seedier places on Ryloth, where crime and sex slaves are all too commonplace. In this way the novel covers much darker subjects than Star Wars normally tackles, though it only stays on the subject long enough to give background to Isval’s character.
Lords of the Sith was a fun read and it’s definitely got me interested in reading more of the novels, but it didn’t have as much substance as I would have hoped. There’s a lot of mindless action that Vader and Sidious engage with for a good chunk of the novel, when I wish a more complicated or compromising dilemma had been involved instead. The two are so overpowered that I never felt much tension.
The writing could be a little repetitive and clumsy at times too. At one point I’m pretty sure the story lost track of how many Imperial guards should have been alive, and a single page informed me that Vader had deactivated his lightsaber four separate times in that span of reading. These moments were minor, and hardly speak for the quality of the novel as a whole, but they stuck out to me nonetheless.
If you’re a big Star Wars fan, I’d say give it a read. It’s not required reading, however. Despite focusing on key characters, it feels much more like a side story than one that fills in the gaps.