Next week I'm starting on a marathon of the Thrawn books for Lesser Evil's release, but before that I wanted to fit in one more Claudia Gray book, because her Star Wars is just amazing. This week it was a re-read of Master & Apprentice, chronicling a tale about Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon a few years before The Phantom Menace.
It's an awesome, awesome book. A great character study of both Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon, with equally interesting and well-written side characters and a compelling plot shrouded with mystery and twists. So, so worth the read, and really puts The Phantom Menace in a new light. It also really, really makes me want to rewatch The Phantom Menace though I don't exactly have the time. It's a pretty dangerous book, but a very good one and definitely worth the read.
Spoilers ahead for Master & Apprentice by Claudia Gray!
Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon's relationship is obviously the most important part of the book. It's actually really fascinating to take a step back from the well-oiled machine that is their partnership in The Phantom Menace and see a time where things weren't quite so smooth. At this point in the timeline, Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon are frequently at odds and just don't quite understand each other. It makes for a tense atmosphere, but they have moments where they work together really, really well, and those moments become more and more frequent as we go through the book, until that seems to be more the bedrock of their relationship and they gain a new understanding that obviously will carry them into the events of The Phantom Menace. Gray writes the progression really naturally and really well, and I really liked her exploration of both of these characters throughout the book.
Two very fascinating side characters in this book were Rael Aveross and Princess Fanry. Rael was a former padawan of Dooku before Qui-Gon was, and he and Qui-Gon have a tense relationship as they differ on some of their thoughts and practices concerning the Jedi. Rael is an interesting character, he made a mistake that led to his padawan years prior and afterwards was sent to the planet of Pijal to be a diplomat and lord regent to the orphaned princess before she was old enough to rule, Princess Fanry. He grew very close to her as he essentially raised her. Fanry to me, is one of the most fun side characters in this book.
Although much of the plot revolves around her impending coronation and what the change of power on Pijal would mean for the region, Princess Fanry is relatively in the background for much of the book. She's certainly there, but always talked over in discussions despite the fact that she's soon to be queen. Everyone just views her as a child, which is why no one suspects her to be the secret leader of a terrorist organization that's supposedly tried to assassinate her and stop the signing of a treaty that would forever cement the power of the slave-owning Czerka Corporation. She dramatically and violently cements her power once she's crowned Queen and prepares an attack on the Czerka ship, but is foiled when her handmaiden turns a blaster on her because she doesn't want to risk the lives of all the slaves on the Czerka cruiser, being a former slave herself. Fanry's transformation is so, so cool, and one that definitely caught me off guard my first time reading.
Two more very fun side characters are Rahara and Pax. They're jewel thieves who find themselves on Pijal in search of a secret cache of kyber crystals that they can sell, only to instead find out that they're kohlen crystals, very very close to kyber but without all of the power of kyber (though it's later revealed that they can be used to power lightsaber-proof body shields, and also body-shield proof lightsabers). Rahara had Pax are roped into ferrying Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan around the moon as they investigate things on this planet, because their ship can fly under the radar. Rahara really takes up their cause, as a former slave of Czerka who escaped she's more than happy to take the chance to strike back at them, and Pax just wants to follow Rahara- especially after she gets captured by Czerka and they mount a rescue in the climax of the book. Pax is a funny character, he was raised by protocol droids for much of his life so he has some... quirks, and is pretty interesting to read.
Another part of the book I really liked was the mystery of the Opposition. A group opposing the upcoming treaty and Czerka's influence, they are all former artists and performers who created various colorful, dynamic, but most importantly peaceful demonstrations opposing it. However, they seemingly also are responsible for a series of dangerous attacks, like blowing up a factory and attempting to assassinate the princess. With some investigation, it turns out that the Opposition is not responsible for any of the violence, and the leader turns herself in to really try and prove their innocence. The real group behind those attacks are called "blackguards" by the Opposition, as they wear all black and have those lightsaber-proof body shields mentioned earlier. This is the group secretly led by Princess Fanry herself, trying to lead up to her revolt against Czerka.
The book ends on a pretty happy note. Princess Fanry was stripped of her queen title, but the rest of the Pijali government and the Republic did agree with her stance on Czerka. They were pushed out of the government and the enslaved people were freed. Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon's bond was formed much stronger, and Qui-Gon turned down an offer to join the Jedi Council because he felt he had to personally learn more about his own connection to the Force, and so he could continue Obi-Wan's training. The only dark inkling in the ending is a call from Dooku to Rael Aveross, asking him to join him on Serenno...