Star Wars: Queen’s Peril is the next novel by Star Wars veteran writer E.K. Johnston (author of both Queen’s Shadow and Ahsoka). It was advertised as the sequel to Queen’s Shadow, a very good story about Padmé that takes place about four years after The Phantom Menace, when she goes from being a queen to being a senator. Queen’s Shadow was a coming-of-age story about Padmé learning what to do next after her bout as queen at a very young age is over.
Queen’s Peril is not actually a sequel, though, but more like a stand-on-its-own prequel. Queen’s Peril takes place four years before Queen’s Shadow, immediately after Padmé becomes queen up through The Phantom Menace. And although many of the characters are the same (namely Padmé and her handmaidens), the events of this story act more as a prequel to The Phantom Menace than anything else. Knowledge of Queen’s Shadow is definitely not needed before reading this book, and the way that it is written you might even want to read them in reverse release order (chronological order).
The story focuses on Padmé becoming queen and her selection of handmaidens that she is so well known for in the movie. The book really enriches her relationships with her entourage and how each of them plays a part within the group. All of the girls having their own specialty and each of those special traits definitely comes into play during the novel. One concern that readers may have is that all of the very similar sounding names (i.e. Padmé, Sabé, Saché, etc.) would be difficult to keep straight. But I found few issues understanding who each of the characters were whenever they were mentioned in the story. This is indeed a testament to Johnston’s writing style, allowing the readers to keep all these names straight. The awesome thing about this book though is not only do we see the evolution of all these girls individually, and as a group, but we also see why Padmé is the queen. Despite having all of these other specialists to rely on, it really is her in the hot seat and only her that can do what needs to be done.
One thing that readers will note is that the book provides a lot of background to the Amidala persona that Padmé crafts throughout the book, mainly with the help of Sabé. The monotone voice that she uses was a central point to the character of Amidala and the explanation for why she uses it is given in great detail. I know this has been a contentious point for many critics of The Phantom Menace, however it should be plainly clear for anyone paying attention to the movie that it is the queen’s persona and not a problem with the acting. That’s probably a conversation for a different time, though.
This book also alters the canon a bit from what we had known within Legends — Padmé’s predecessor is no longer King Veruna, with King Veruna seemingly written out of canon all together at this point. The book also points out that, although Padmé is likely brilliant while becoming queen at only 14 years-old, all of the handmaidens are brilliant in their own rights, and the children of Naboo actually have a general tendency to be prodigies. It’s a bit different from our own world, but in Star Wars anything is clearly possible, so why not have a breed full of child prodigies?
One of the interesting choices about the book is that the layout of the story mirrors the Aftermath trilogy. In the Aftermath trilogy, the reader was given brief glimpses into the galaxy as a whole by jumping around to different micro stories within the time frame of the story. We see that again here where Johnston gives us snippets of other things that are going on in the galaxy, such as what Palpatine, Maul, Obi-Wan, and Qui-Gon are up to. Not only are these snippets not distracting from the story, but they are great at giving the reader context to where we are in the timeline running up to The Phantom Menace.
The first portion of the book, leading up to the movie, was absolutely enjoyable. I really loved it. But I was concerned about the tie-in to The Phantom Menace. How would the author handle it? Would we see yet another remake of the movie in text form? There is only so much of that I could take, since we have roughly 5,000 stories that just rehash the movies. (Most of them Legends at this point, but the critique stands.)
But no, that’s not how Johnston did it. The way she wrote the movie overlap was with the assumption that the reader knows the movie, and knows it well enough that they can follow along in the book as it jumps through the movie. The reader picks up scenes in the book that tie into the movie but are not seen on screen. They hop-scotch through the well-known movie scenes, so as to not rehash what we already know. I can see this being an issue for readers not as familiar with The Phantom Menace, but for those of us tired of the retreading, this was a brilliant way to do it. All the meat, and none of the filler.
I listened to the audiobook as read by Catherine Taber. I didn’t even need to double check narrator’s name because she played Padmé on The Clone Wars TV series, and she really is excellent in the story. I was able to finish the entire book in essentially two sessions, one of which was a four hour car drive, but never once did I want to switch away from the story. The narration was beautiful and the story was riveting.
I really loved the story in this book, probably much more so than its predecessor Queen’s Shadow. This story really shows us how Padmé grew into her queen persona — she did it with the help of a very bright group of assistants. The story is well laid out, clearly written, and provides the reader with some context as to where Padmé came from. Thinking back on the book, I really can’t find any flaws whatsoever, and I am a very nit-picky type of person. I would actually love to go back and listen to this story again, which I rarely do. This likely ranks as one of the best of the new canon books for me.
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