Wrapping up E.K. Johnston’s Padmé series, Queen’s Hope is her third novel focusing on the former monarch of Naboo around the time of the Star Wars prequel trilogy. While the previous two novels, Queen’s Shadow and Queen’s Peril both took place around The Phantom Menace (Queen’s Shadow shortly after and Queen’s Peril shortly before), Queen’s Hope takes a jump in time 10 years down the road to center around Attack of the Clones, both during and shortly after the movie.
Although these can be considered a trilogy of novels, each book essentially stands on its own. Many of the characters obviously continue throughout the series, and events in earlier novels impact the characters and events in later novels, but chronological reading is not required to get the full impact of the novels. The author herself even responded to a question on Twitter about reading order that it is “dealer’s choice”. Even the books themselves weren’t released in chronological order, being released in a 2-1-3 pattern, much like our favorite movie series.
We begin our story, much like the previous novel Queen’s Peril, looking at a “between the scenes” moment of the movies with Padmé preparing for the wedding we see in the closing scenes of Attack of the Clones. As with the previous novel, Johnston does a supreme job of not rehashing the movies like so many overlapping stories prior and instead focuses on what is missing, leaving the reader to piece together which parts of the movie fit where.
The book then continues on into, somehow, uncharted territory. Ever since the Legends continuity was wiped away in 2014, the time period between Attack of the Clones and The Clone Wars theatrical movie had remained a blank void (minus two episodes of The Clone Wars TV series that take place immediately before the movie). This undisclosed length of time (although it couldn’t possible be more than a few months) has remained largely unexplored until now. Queen’s Hope takes the first tentative steps into The Clone Wars time period, uncovering what happened during the first few weeks of the war, when everyone was still optimistic that the war would be wrapped up quickly.
Despite taking place during a time when Anakin and Padmé are first married, Anakin plays a remarkably tiny role in the novel. He is off doing his own thing, which I believe is partially covered in the recently released Brotherhood novel that takes place partially concurrently. Meanwhile, Padmé takes on her own mission, one that involves her former handmaiden Sabé to play her previous job of decoy again. It is a mission that will lead everyone to reevaluate their priorities and where they are in their own lives.
In these novels, Johnston does a really great job letting us get inside the heads of the handmaidens. These stories are not about Anakin and Padmé; they are solely about Padmé and her handmaidens. These are a group of characters that, up until these novels, had been sorely lacking in the canon. Johnston does a stellar job of giving each handmaiden their own identity, and continuing that identity as we get more and more handmaidens added into the mix. Although new handmaidens are added into this book, they are not given the spotlight as previous handmaidens were. Despite the previous books becoming an ensemble affair, this books ends up being mostly about Padmé and Sabé.
The focusing in on just these two characters works for this book, though. We had followed them through the other two books and the movies and we want to know more about their relationship as well as Sabé’s life, which we get brief glimpses of in Darth Vader comics but little else. We also get brief snippets of other characters sprinkled into the interstitial sections of this story, like Shmi and Breha, but not enough for my tastes. I would say my only major issue with the story for this novel was that Padmé’s mission did not draw me in as much as Sabé’s supporting efforts did. She was the real star and I was fascinated to see how she weaved through the difficulties of portraying the Senator nearly a decade after they had previously done it, when both of the women had matured and individualized.
The writing style of the book is what really gives it the enjoyability factor. The flow of language is very smooth and there are few, if any, times that I was jarred out of the narrative. It allows the reader to be carried along by the story. I have found that one of the benefits of the novels geared towards younger readers is that even though the subject matter is often not dumbed down, the language is simplified, making it easier to enjoy the story without stumbling over larger words. It also ends up being a much quicker read. On top of that, Johnston is a craftsperson with her words, taking each Star Wars novel to new heights while she hones her craft.
I also want to note that this novel has some of the most inclusive characters that we have seen to date including a trans woman clone named Sister and Tepoh, a nonbinary aid to Saché. This may also be the first time we have fully seen trans representation in Star Wars to date. I always enjoy getting new representation and I’m all for pushing the boundaries even further.
Continuing her audiobook narration of the series was Catherine Taber, the voice of Padmé for The Clone Wars TV series, and she continues to provide a perfect presentation of the story. She makes it feel as if Padmé herself is reading journal entries and we are just sitting around a fireplace as she regales us with one of her many adventures. This is one of those series that if you had the option to do an audiobook, I would highly recommend it.
Overall, the story is very enjoyable. If you liked the previous two novels, this one follows suit and feels like another piece of the puzzle. While Queen’s Shadow was easily my favorite of the trilogy, this one was also enjoyable and an excellent complement to the series. My biggest complaint about the book is that there are no more of them coming. These books feel like they’re episodes of a television series, with each one looking into a different aspect of Padmé’s life. They are short enough that you can read them in a few sittings, but enjoyable enough that you want to devour them as quickly as possible. If Johnston could continue these types of stories for Padmé or other characters I would be there in a heartbeat to gobble them up.
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