This review is about Star Wars: Maul: Lockdown, due to be released on January 28. The book has been marketed as an adventure starring Maul and an interquel to Darth Plagueis. Enjoy!
Maul: Lockdown was a book I anticipated with a mix of hope and dread. Maul is one of my favorite Prequel characters and I was also excited to see Darth Plagueis again. However, Joe Schreiber is best known to Star Wars fans for his Deathtrooper horror novels, which might suggest that the book would be a shallow bloodfest. While Maul: Lockdown isn’t a perfect Star Wars novel, I was relieved to find that it succeeds more often than it fails.
Joe Schreiber comes to Star Wars from a background in horror novels and as expected this novel is pretty violent. I’d definitely not recommend it for younger readers. The fights are pretty gruesome, not just because of the deaths but graphic detail with which those deaths are depicted. We see prisoners bludgeoning each other to death and even pulling out the bones. I think Schreiber does a decent job setting expectations and pointing out that the prison, Cog Hive Seven, is supposed to be a brutal environment, but, if you’re not into horror and violence, think twice about this book. I found myself barely able to tolerate some scenes.
The plot is fairly basic. Darth Sidious tasks Maul to track down a weapons dealer, Iram Radique, who is allegedly hiding within a prison aboard a space station, Cog Hive Seven. It’s a bit of a contrivance, but that’s how Schreiber manages to get Maul deep inside a prison. If you can accept that stretch, I actually think the idea of throwing Maul into a prison works pretty well. It’s a brutal environment in which everybody is out for him or herself. The dystopian setting almost reminded me of one of Alien 3 (and, yes, there’s even a monstrous alien in Maul: Lockdown that goes around killing prisoners).
For the first few chapters, Maul: Lockdown seems like it’s going to just focus on a series of fights between Maul and a variety of different opponents. Cog Hive Seven also conveniently forces its prisoners to engage in gladiatorial matches, allowing Schreiber to throw some bloody death matches in there. Fortunately, the novel is more than just death matches. By about halfway through the book, the plot thickens and the search for the weapons dealer is in full force. There’s still plenty of action, but I think Schreiber does a decent job making it serve the story rather than gratuitous violence for violence sake.
My problems with the book’s plot came more with how it was wrapped up, which I discuss separately in order to avoid spoilers.
Again, for a book that could have just been about gore and violence, some of the characters really do shine. Schreiber is good at creating pathetic characters who ironically feel well-rounded and believable. Too often, when Star Wars authors need a “scum & villainy” character, they create one-dimensional characters who are obviously mere plot devices. Schreiber’s characters are certainly not the best I’ve ever read in Star Wars, but one does get the sense that they at least possess two or three dimensions. Sadistic characters also have families and fears while pirates and inmates are not just boneheaded numbskulls – although those surely do exist as well. Sadiki Blirr, the warden of the prison, stood out as a female character who defied many stereotypes about female characters in Star Wars novels.
That said, with the possible exception of Sadiki and possibly one father-son pair of inmates, I don’t think I found myself caring about any of Schreiber’s new characters. They more than serve the story, but I viewed them as I view most characters in an Alien movie. Which ones are going to survive? How will they die? Will they help or hinder Maul?
Which brings me to Darth Maul. It’s actually been over a decade since we’ve gotten a book centered around Maul (Michael Reeves’ Shadow Hunter). Reeves’ Shadow Hunter used Maul as a largely silent antagonist lurking in the background, almost a personification of fear itself. However, Maul: Lockdown is definitely a book about Maul. Maul is the primary protagonist. This is his story. We see him in action a lot. I think Schreiber does a decent job incorporating what we now know about Maul’s intelligence and leadership skills from The Clone Wars into this pre-Phantom Menace version of Maul without eroding the mystique of the character. We even get to see Maul act as a gang leader, a nice nod to his role in The Clone Wars Season 5 episodes. Overall, this generally does feel like Darth Maul.
Which made me a bit disappointed that I felt like we didn’t learn much about Maul as a character. We see him in action, but actually don’t learn much about his history or psychology that we hadn’t learned in previous EU works. Of course, most of the time Maul is his usual tough-as-nails self and frightens people with a single glance. some one exceptions. Maul in Scheiber’s book does have fears. He isn’t always confident of success. He worries. At first, I found these character traits a bit off-putting. However, upon reflection, if the spends so much time with Maul I think it has to show him occasionally off his game. It makes him feel more like a real character. The important thing is to see how he overcomes the challenges he faces.
I’m not a nitpicker for inconsistencies or gaps in logic when it comes to Star Wars. But this book had quite a few that bugged me. First, how would anybody, including the narrator, know what an amphistaff was? There is a Yuuzhan Vong in the prison and the prison wardens can’t identify his species, and the narrator never mentions the species, but does use the word “amphistaff.” Odd. Also, Schreiber uses “coffee” instead of “caf” to describe Star Wars coffee – something I am sure will upset many fans.
The whole story depends upon the prison staff and prisoners not knowing that Maul is a Sith. He avoids using the Force throughout much of the novel. However , this made me wonder why the prison wouldn’t have a midichlorian test to detect Force-users. I’d think prison staff would want to know.
None of these ruined the book for me, but they all occur early on and seemed a bit sloppy on Schreiber’s part.
There were parts of the ending I hated and parts that I loved. I’ll try to provide a relatively spoiler free discussion of my ending, but also feel that I have to explain my rating for the book, so…
*** SPOILER WARNING ***
The biggest problem with the ending is something that plagues many Star Wars novels, namely a chaotic ending. Too many loose ends are tied up too quickly in an unsatisfying manner. I think the book would have worked better if more of the content had been spread out.
For example, the search for Iram Radique ends with a whimper, not a bang. I won’t say who he is or what happens, but it almost doesn’t matter because by the end the book doesn’t even give the reader the opportunity to absorb the impact of the conclusion to the mystery. It almost felt like Maul – and the reader – were being tugged along for this search just for the sake of giving Maul something to do in the prison but that Iram Radique himself and Maul’s mission were not important to the Sith Grand Plan.
There is a really neat tie-in to the game Bounty Hunter. We get to see another character and that character has more than a cameo role. Schreiber actually manages to give that character a bit of depth. But, again, all of this is thrown into the last quarter of the book or so where it’s competing with too much other action. I actually think the book would have been even better if that character had been introduced earlier so we could see even more interaction between Maul and that character. But overall I give credit to Schreiber for going back and using some of that older EU material.
At first I was very confused about the ending. We know early on he has to obtain a nuclear weapon from Iram Radique and that he has to transfer it to a certain group, but it’s not clear why Sidious would want this. Was this mentioned somewhere else in the EU? Well, it turns out that it ties directly into the Darth Plagueis novel in a very subtle way. In other words, Maul: Lockdown doesn’t explain why Maul went on this mission! You need to read Darth Plagueis FIRST in order to make sense of it and then to see why the mission was so important. It actually adds a really neat twist to Darth Plagueis.
*** END SPOILERS ***
Overall, I found myself liking Maul: Lockdown more than I'd expected to or feared. It’s important to go into this book knowing that it’s pretty dark and bloody. However, I think it should satiate Darth Maul fans and fans who want tense action scenes. I would have preferred the plot to have unfurled a bit more gradually and more emphasis on certain characters, but also appreciate that the characters felt more real than they had any right to be for this type of novel. Overall, I’d say if you like the Alien movies and you like Darth Maul, you’ll probably enjoy this novel.