Author: John Jackson Miller
Publisher: Del Rey
Release date: January 25, 2011
Era: Old Republic
This review contains minor spoilers.
Let me stress that this review is coming to you from someone who has not experienced any of Knight Errant prior to reading this book. I haven’t read the comic (not even any of the previews, aside from seeing the covers online), and I haven’t read the short story, Influx (opting to instead wait for the forthcoming audio drama of this story from Solo Sound). This is my first taste of Knight Errant, and I had absolutely no problem diving into the book – even if it takes place after the first comic arc. This book was also the first thing I’ve read by John Jackson Miller, as my eyes and eBooks are mortal enemies, so this was as much an introduction to the author as it was to this particular story.
And geez, I loved this book.
It’s really easy for the casual fan of the Expanded Universe to mix up Knight Errant with the upcoming multimedia behemoth that is The Old Republic. After all, they both technically take place in the same era – even if more than 3,000 years separate the two. But with the campaign for The Old Republic just kicking off now (last summer’s Fatal Alliance and March 2011’s Deceived), I found the timing to focus on yet another untouched section in the Old Republic era to be a little odd. But the one thing this book had going for it was that it takes place about 30 years before the Darth Bane novels, which introduced readers to an oddball brand of Sith conflict. Needless to say, JJM took that idea and ran wild with it.
The Sith steal the show in Knight Errant. There’s no other way to put it. If you grab ahold of the paperback, you might even be a little overwhelmed at the rather lengthy paragraph that just doles out name after name. And without a dratamis personae, one would think it tough to remember them all. Such thinking would be wrong, though. The book is split into three parts, essentially telling three stories that are connected in a broad arc. Each part is inhabited by a different Sith antagonist, taking what sounds like a jumbled mess and making it quite an easy-to-follow and enjoyable read.
You see, the Sith in this time period are some of the most intriguing Sith I’ve had the pleasure of reading. So often, it seems like the Sith are the same cookie-cutter enemies, perhaps tweaked with a slightly different philosophy. But in Knight Errant, the Sith are a different breed entirely. For starters, they aren’t attacking the Jedi or the Republic. They are consumed by infighting in a region of the galaxy that has been lost to records. Hyperspace lanes are unknown in the regions, making the whole swath of Sith space into, essentially, the wild frontier. Daimon, for example, believes that he is the creator of all life in the galaxy and wages war against his brother Odion, who believes he is the destroyer of the universe. Throughout the book, we also meet Sith children, elderly Sith, and even an autistic Sith – the latter inclusion was something I was floored by, and really enjoyed. Of course, there’s plenty of room for great twists and turns in the story – isn’t that always the case when the Sith are involved? On more than one occasion, I found myself absolutely blown away by a reveal that I just never saw coming.
The backstory of these characters and their comic exploits are covered expertly, without ever really feeling like the reader is being rehashed old information. Surprisingly, though, the character that I cared for least was the protagonist, Kerra Holt. She just seemed too idealistic, while also finding a way to fight with rage or anger – but never with any hint of darkness taking over her. To me, she read like a stereotypical Jedi hero with a rough past. We’ve seen this character before, and there was nothing to her story that made me care for her. Perhaps, in the future, she’ll have to deal with these questions of darkness. I think there’s ample potential for her to really grow into a great character, but there’s little to be impressed with in the first introduction.
Luckily, Kerra has a great cast of new characters to play off of, including Jarrow Rusher and Narsk Ka’hane. Rusher, quite simply, is a mercenary employed by the Sith. He’s a bit of a rogue, very much like Han Solo – but he doesn’t come across as a copycat. If you ever wondered what Han Solo would have been like, had he taken the money in A New Hope and not returned to the Death Star to help Luke Skywalker blow it up … that’s Rusher. He’s a character that grows on you, so don’t be alarmed if he seems rather unlikeable at first. I promise, he’s quite the memorable character. Narsk, on the other hand, is a mysterious Sith spy – who always finds himself thwarted at all the wrong moments. He’s a great character, providing perfect comedic moments while still being able to maintain that sense of being a force to be reckoned with. Like Rusher, he’s a character that I suspect fans will take an instant liking to. If you’re looking for real comedy gold, and a constant underdog to root for, just look no further than Beadle Lubboon. In fact, I’ll leave that as a teaser. Note to JJM: more Beadle!
Miller also proves to be well-versed in Star Wars lore, not only name-dropping other characters and events, but going beyond that by giving some great anecdotes. Revan and Malak appear in conversation, as do Vodo-Siosk Baas, Exar Kun and Ludo Kressh. He also harkens back to some classic moments from the Original Trilogy movies. I won’t give the line away, but there is one particular conversation between Kerra Holt and Rusher that is interrupted before the dialogue is completed. Every fan of the films will be able to fill in the blanks, though. It’s little moments like that, hidden gems for the fans, that give the book an extra shine and make the final product that much more impressive.
Of course, there were little things that, as a reader, rubbed me the wrong way. Nothing that would be a deal breaker, just things that stood out as something I didn’t particularly care for. The continued use of “errant” in the book was one such thing. On far more than one occasion, Kerra is referred to as the “errant knight” or the “lone Jedi,” two such descriptors that were used to sell Knight Errant to fans. I can appreciate a small nod to that, but it felt way overdone in the book. The book also has a tendency to skip over dialogue. Rather than just let two characters talk, JJM will just skip to the point and have the narration sum up in a few sentences what would have otherwise taken a conversation. Clocking in at almost 400 pages, I can understand the need to remove some of the more useless bits of dialogue, but I was enjoying the characters so much that I felt robbed whenever a moment like that happened and I felt I was missing out on the characters talking and having more depth added to their identities.
The ending was another small problem point for me. The book contains a truly remarkable climax, and it will likely leave readers breathless at its audacity. But one can tell that the book is based on a comic series, simply by the astounding amount of loose ends that are left hanging. The resolutions of various plots just never come about, and while I’m free to use my imagination, I’m left really desiring a sequel. I understand that this was probably done on purpose, to get prospective readers to go out and hit their local comic shop for the continuing adventures. And while I may rifle through an issue if I come across one at a bookstore, the book didn’t sell me on the comic series. I don’t fault JJM for that, though. I’m just really fickle when it comes to comics, much preferring the trade paperback and omnibus collections to single issues. That said, as a reader, I would feel absolutely burned if some of the more memorable characters don’t appear in later issues of the comics.
Knight Errant kicks off Del Rey’s 2011 season with a bang. It’s simply oozing with greatness, and it’ll have most who read it wonder (quite loudly, I hope) why it took so long for JJM to write an actual novel for the Star Wars universe. Coming seemingly out of nowhere, Knight Errant has opened up a brand new era of storytelling in the Star Wars Expanded Universe. So quick, let’s give this new era a name and beg and plead for Miller to return and write another novel with these characters. A one-shot with unbridled potential, Knight Errant delivers a classic Star Wars experience with all the right twists to keep it from ever becoming stale. This one comes highly recommended.
Reviewed by Chris Carey
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