Author: Joe Schreiber
Publisher: Del Rey
Release date: January 28, 2014
Era: Rise of the Empire
This review contains minor spoilers.
Joe Schreiber’s third Star Wars novel, Maul: Lockdown, has a very different tone than his previous Star Wars works. The entire story takes place in Cog Hive Seven, a prison where inmates are pitted against each other in one-on-one gladiatorial deathmatches. Darth Maul is sent into this prison to uncover the identity of the mysterious Iram Radique and conduct a business deal on behalf of Darth Sidious. Of course, it’s not as easy as it sounds.
The presence of the fearsome Darth Maul, combined with the gladiatorial nature of the prison, allows Schreiber to maintain many of the elements present in Death Troopers and Red Harvest while making the story feel much more grounded in reality – or, at least, as much reality as you can have in a fictional universe. The book is just as brutal, graphic, and gruesome as you might expect. For example, in the novel’s opening pages, Maul shoves the still-snapping severed head of a serpent down an opponent’s throat and fastens their mouth shut. But while Schreiber describes the prison in every gory detail, it rarely feels out of place.
Darth Maul has seen a resurgence in popularity ever since he was revived for The Clone Wars animated series. While his fate still remains uncertain due to the show’s abrupt cancellation, it hasn’t prevented the fan-favorite character from appearing in a number of recent Expanded Universe works. In Lockdown, Schreiber gets into Maul’s head, laying bare his hopes, fears, and doubts, such as the purpose of his mission or his role in the Sith grand plan. Maul’s situation is made even more complex by the fact that he has been barred from using the Force, lest he give away his true nature. His cover name, “Jagganath,” is a little on the nose, but Maul certainly is a juggernaut of sorts.
Maul: Lockdown is a very fast-paced novel, with the average chapter length sitting at around 2-5 pages. Schreiber wastes no time, throwing the reader right into the story and letting them figure out the plot as they go along. There’s no setup, and the book ends just as abruptly. Also, while Maul is obviously the central character, the story is told through the eyes of a large cast of secondary and even tertiary characters.
One minor plot point near the end of the book seemed a bit unnecessary – serving only to showcase Maul in all his “glory” – and another scene appeared to completely ignore a certain character’s debilitating injury. The biggest issue, however, is not with the book itself, but with the marketing. Right from the start, Maul: Lockdown has been billed as the “follow-up to Darth Plagueis,” one of the most critically acclaimed Star Wars novels in recent memory. This is true to a certain extent; the events of Lockdown take place during the Plagueis timeframe, so there is some crossover of characters and plot threads. But, for the most part, the connection between the two is more worthy of the term “tie-in” than “follow-up.”
The two books are also very tonally different. Whereas Plaugeis was all about the Force, Maul: Lockdown is about pure brute force. Plagueis was about two masterminds manipulating the galaxy, while Lockdown is about a servant trying to please his master. Plagueis spanned decades, while Lockdown takes place over the course of a few days or weeks. The writing style is vastly different as well, with James Luceno writing a slower, thought-provoking story and Schreiber writing a fast-paced gruesome one.
In the end, Maul: Lockdown is a very enjoyable novel. Joe Schreiber’s writing style is perfectly suited to a story focused on one of the galaxy’s most ferocious Sith Lords, especially one set in a brutal prison. The characters are interesting, Cog Hive Seven makes for an interesting setting, and the challenges that Maul must overcome are believable. At times, you might even find yourself surprised by where the story goes. But if you go into Lockdown expecting a true follow-up to Plagueis, you’ll probably be disappointed.
Advanced Review Copy (ARC) courtesy of Del Rey. All staff members can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.