For all the scorn heaped on to ‘The Phantom Menace’, some deservedly so, there was a feeling that the most successful character was also the one that died: Darth Maul. Voiced in whispered tones of evil by Peter Serafinowicz and portrayed by martial arts expert Ray Park, Maul presented us with a credible villain to match the Jedi. An eager, sneering proto-Vader. The success of the character meant that Maul was brought back to the books, comics and ‘The Clone Wars’ TV series. ‘Maul: Lockdown’ is however set in the days before Palpatine’s Naboo gambit and deals with Maul being sent undercover to Cog Hive Seven, a prison with a difference.
Cog Hive Seven may be home to some of the galaxy’s most hardened criminals, but it also operates as its own fighting competition. Prisoners are matched against each other in fights to the death, broadcast over the HoloNet to millions of fans. Huge amounts of money are bet on the outcomes. When Maul enters the fray, however, and starts winning matches he shouldn’t, the operation on Cog Hive Seven comes under some sharp scrutiny, not only from the Banking Clan, but also the criminal underworld as well.
Meanwhile, Maul’s mission is to locate an arms dealer named Iram Radique, a ghost of a figure who supposedly lives somewhere on board the prison, devised by a brother and sister team. The brother writes the ‘infallible’ algorithm that matches fighters against each other and his sister is the prison warden. Needless to say, their lucrative operation comes to an abrupt stop with the introduction of Maul.
‘Maul: Lockdown’ might have been a difficult book to pull-off in the ‘Star Wars’ universe. Prison novels and movies show what an awful place it is to be while TV shows like ‘Prisonbreak’ and ‘Oz’ have detailed how relentless grim the environment is. The novel takes its cue from these media, but the author Joe Schreiber places a confident, ‘Star Wars’ spin on things. The story has heart: a father and son team with key information on Radique form one strand of the story while Maul races against time to find the arms dealer. Just think about how bad a day you’d have everyday if Palpatine was your boss! It is in the execution of Maul’s thinking and personality that Schreiber shows what a good writer he is. Maul may be another anti-hero, but he’s a damn good one, resourceful, tough and driven.
While the death matches play a large part of the book (there is a lot of fighting), the underlying plot twists and turns enough to keep you guessing. The pace of the book is quick. Maul is already in the prison when the book starts and it keeps the pace up as Schreiber heaps-on challenge after challenge for the Sith Lord. The supporting characters are good and, as well as Palpatine, we get another familiar face in the story who gets to prove what a vile bastard he is, too.
‘Maul: Lockdown’ is a fast, enjoyable and thrilling ‘Star Wars’ novel that is not hung on around any of the film’s lead characters, but instead focuses on one of the movies’ more intriguing figures and tells a damn good story in the process. Pleasantly surprising.
(pub: Del Rey/Ballantine Books/Lucas Books. 330 page hardback. Price: $27.00 (US), $30.00 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-345-50903-1)