A true Knight, Qui-Gon is. Forever on his own quest.
-Yoda, Jedi Master
This is the third original novel written in the Star Wars universe set around the time frame of the Phantom Menace (one I’ve reviewed-Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter; I never did get around to reviewing Rogue Planet). Cloak of Deception takes place prior to the Phantom Menace, and quite probably roughly the same time. If so, there’s a minor continuity problem, but it’s only a minor one.
The book opens with a group of terrorists striking against the Trade Federation (I know, I know; hard to feel sympathy for these guys). Led by Captain Cohl, these people attack one of the Federation’s massive vessels to acquire a king’s ransom in aurodium ingots. However, unbeknownst to them, a pair of Jedi are watching their every move, attempting to trace down who these terrorists are working for.
Things are further complicated as Finis Valorum, Supreme Chancellor of the Republic deals with the troubling requests of the Trade Federation requesting permission to augment their droid armies to protect against the Nebula Front terrorist group. Matters are aggravated when assassins attempt to kill Valorum after announcing a trade summit on the Outer Rim-a summit recommended by Senator Palpatine of Naboo. Add Jedi and mix.
Cloak of Deception delves into the politics of the Republic; we’ve got Senatorial corruption, we’ve got conflict between the Trade Federation and the Nebula Front, we’ve got troubles between the Core Worlds and the Outlying Systems. We get a good look at Chancellor Valorum, and get a pretty good idea about why he seemed so ineffective in the Phantom Menace. We also get a glimpse as to how Senator Palpatine managed to snag the Chancellor job at the end of that movie as well.
No less importantly, we get another look at the Jedi Knights Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi. To be honest, Qui-Gon quickly hit the top of my list of favorite Star Wars characters; noble as only a Jedi could be, living totally in the moment, and not afraid to be somewhat underhanded if necessary if it brought about greater good. Luceno, the author, was true to the character-I could easily see the Jedi in this movie doing exactly as he does in this book. The interplay between himself and Obi-Wan was also well written, I thought.
And then there’s Captain Cohl; he’s clever as hell, and demonstrates enough skill in adapting to unexpected circumstance that he can even elude Jedi Knights. While he doesn’t get whole bunches of pages in the middle of the book, his work at the beginning and end makes up for it. Cohl demonstrates that you really don’t have to be a Sith Lord to give a Jedi a hard time.
Speaking of Sith Lords…Darth Sidious indeed makes his presence known (although not to the good guys, natch), continuing to play everyone like puppets. And there are a bunch of other cameos-several members of the Jedi Council demonstrate that they aren’t just symbolic leaders. There are two characters who stand out for me as being wonderfully in continuity-a character who we’ve never actually seen (although we’ve met a twisted version of him); and a Jedi Knight who also appears in the New Jedi Order (specifically in a book “coincidentally” written by this author), which may go a long way to explaining a mystery in that book. Also look for a mildly significant role by a future Grand Moff all Star Wars fans should be familiar with.
Of the three books set in this time period, I’d have to rank Cloak of Deception at the top. Jedi are fun, and there’s plenty of them in this book. Rogue Planet was more of a traditional “Sci-Fi” book, Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter was heavy on chases. This one has a good blend of politics and action, and works great as Episode 1/2. Now, all we need is a book that centers on Amidala, as we’ve covered almost everyone else…!