I once read that the best villain is one you feel sympathetic for. I thought about that, then thought about all the villains I love. Javert from Les Miserables, Elphaba from Wicked, Khan from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan… All loveable characters, despite their evilness.
Darth Malgus from Star Wars: The Old Republic – Deceived is right up there.
In all the Star Wars novels I’ve read, this is the first Sith Lord I’ve seen depicted as a vulnerable human being–and that includes Vader. There’s more to this guy than his one-dimensional balls-of-hatred counterparts. Darth Malgus may have been born in the Empire, trained in the dark side his whole life, and views the Jedi as misguided idiots, but he has one weakness: his female servant Eleena. He loves her, and she him, and it’s that vulnerability–that love for not only a slave, but a non-human Twi’lek slave–that the other Sith take pleasure in exposing.
But at the same time, Malgus isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. He leads an all-out attack against the Republic’s capitol planet, destroys the Jedi Temple and kills a powerful Jedi Master. He’s an evil, evil man… but still finds time to make out with his girlfriend before killing Jedi scum.
And that’s what gets him in trouble with his master: Lead a Sith Army against Republic forces, destroy the Jedi Temple, and then get sent to babysit the planetary blockade because you ordered the Imperial medics to treat your injured slave as they would an injured Sith Lord. Sucks to be you, Malgus.
Deceived brings in three other dynamic characters, each with their own personal demons. It’s their intertwining fates that drive the plot of this novel.
An empathic, mid-30s Jedi Knight, Aryn Leneer was on Alderaan when Malgus burned down the Temple and killed her Jedi Master. Aryn felt his death though the Force—and what a beautifully, well-written, sad scene that was. Fueled by her love for her slain master, she sheds her Jedi robes and goes rogue.
A former Republic Solider, widower, and friend of Aryn, “Z-Man” has become a smuggler, indebted to The Exchange, a crime syndicate, for two million credits. And while everyone thinks his salary is going towards his gambling debts, he’s really sending the profits to his seven-year-old, disabled daughter. He’s worked hard to ensure no one ever learns of her existence–and the quicker he gets out of their debt, the quicker he can be a father again. But in the meantime, he’s their puppet, running engspice (think: crystal meth) to the recently-conquered Coruscant. Convenient for Aryn who is trying to get there, too.
And when Malgus, tipped off by Vrath Xizor, a former Imperial Sniper turned mercenary, learns that the Jedi Knight accompanying Zeerid is the apprentice of the Master he killed, he vows to seek her out.
It all comes full circle.
What’s preventing this from getting a perfect five, loveable canaries? There were a couple scenes that just weren’t believable. (Yes, I know, this is a universe where senators can lose the will to live and teddy bears can destroy an entire army.) One scene in particular earns the ‘You’ve Got To Be Kidding Me’ award: While 500 kilometers above the surface of Coruscant, their ship exploding all around them, Aryn throws on an oxygen mask, cuts the canopy of the ship with her lightsaber, grabs Zeerid, envelopes them with the Force, and jumps out into the planet’s atmosphere. Using the Force, she slows their decent as they get closer to the city below, and the two land with only a few bumps and bruises.
Is it awesome? Absolutely.
Does it prove the Jedi chick is a lot more powerful (and resourceful) than we think? Absolutely.
Is it believable? If I tried that in my Star Wars RP campaign, I’d have to pool dice and pray to the God of the icosahedron for my GM to even consider allowing me to try that.
Okay, bad example. But still. Really?
Plus, Deceived is super-short: 255 pages. That’s fewer pages than the thinnest Harry Potter novel. I loved Deceived, don’t get me wrong, but I would have liked just a liiiiiiiiiittle more. I wasn’t ready to say good-bye to the characters just yet.
As a side note: Zeerid Korr and Vrath Xizor earn the ‘I See What You Did There’ award. Jumping 3,000 years after Deceived, a Jaden Korr is not only the main character in Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Academy video game, but the protagonist in Kemp’s other Star Wars novel Crosscurrent. And Prince Xizor is the leader of the Black Sun criminal organization from the novel Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire.
Are we implying Jaden and Xizor are descendants of Zeerid and Vrath? Dunno.
But now you know how I earned the moniker JediCanary.