Star Wars: Queen’s Shadow by E.K. Johnston is the most recent young adult book to come out of Disney-Lucasfilm Press. I have talked about the YA Star Wars books before so I won’t delve too much into that aspect of it but basically these larger YA books (this one is almost 350 pages) are the same as the adult Star Wars books in all but name and publishing company (Del Rey does the adult book line).
Queen’s Shadow takes us back to a time period that has not seen much love until recently: the early Prequel Era. Taking place between Episodes I and II, this is one of the few novels to ever delve into that era, even including the old Legends timeline material. Currently, Queen’s Shadow is the only canon novel set completely between Episodes I and II, while Legends only had about three novels set between those movies. Needless to say, this is a time period in desperate need of attention.
Even the novel takes us to new territory that was rarely, if ever, tread upon in Legends; the relationship of Padmé with her numerous handmaidens. Starting four years after The Phantom Menace we begin the story with the election of a new queen of Naboo. This means that Padmé’s time as queen is up and she is floundering for something meaningful to do. Eventually this leads us into the Episode II storyline where Padmé is the Senator from Naboo and how she handles this transition in her life.
Taking place over a little more than a year, this is a transitional book, showing how one goes from being queen to a being a senator. Both extremely influential and powerful positions, but very different in regards to what one is fighting for. The queen fights for Naboo, and the senator fights for all of the people within the Republic — or at least they’re supposed to.
Padmé is also left with having to deal with the choices she had made within The Phantom Menace, not the least of which was getting Valorum ousted as Chancellor, only to have Palpatine step into his place. This had left many within the Senate “miffed” to say the least. How does Padmé handle being the “trouble maker” of the Senate?
Queen’s Shadow does a fantastic job of tackling these and many other issues that come up for Padmé, as well as those that come up for us as readers. My biggest concern about the book before stepping into it was the handmaidens. There are roughly 13,000 handmaidens (I think, I don’t really know the exact number), and they all have very, very, similar names. How are we, as readers, supposed to keep track of all of them?
I found that the Johnston does a fantastic job of keep the handmaidens straight. One of the ways she does this is to simplify the list of handmaidens that really impact the story. Within the movies, several of the handmaidens had gotten shuffled around between the end of Padmé’s queen career and into her senatorial career. But only a handful of each are influential to the story. Major portions of the story are even told from their perspectives — most significantly is Sabé, who crosses over between careers and is the second most important character in the book.
One of the strongest aspects of this story is that it answers a lot of questions I didn’t realize I even had about Padmé and this time period. Why were the names of all the handmaidens so similar? What was up with all the fancy dresses? Why does a senator even need handmaidens? Johnston takes all of these storylines and weaves them together in a masterful storytelling of the transition of a woman going from her childhood career into the rest of her life.
Padmé is a strong, intelligent, influential character and she reads as such throughout the novel. The prose of the novel flows naturally and Johnston picks up many, many story threads not only from the movies but also from The Clone Wars TV series and weaves them into the perfect narrative of Padmé’s life. The only real issue I had from the book involves a couple of these threads that feel like they’re dropped at the end.
Another major character in the book is Palpatine, and man what a weasel he is. It is interesting to see how he is portrayed here. Normally Palpatine is portrayed as this grandfatherly figure in the prequel era until he goes full on Sith. But here, from Padmé’s point of view, he feels slimy and manipulative. It’s not what we normally see of him and it feels like a very unique take on the character, surprisingly enough. The story covers a lot of ground and answers a lot of questions, but the book also brings up several more questions that I feel needed to be answered more clearly. This may be a bit spoilery, but I’ll tread lightly. One of the storylines that pops up constantly throughout the book was an issue with pirates plaguing various star systems that I felt was never adequately addressed. Upon talking it out with a friend of mine I have come to realize this is part of a larger plot to tie Palpatine in with the growing disruptions in the Republic as a whole, and while I fully understand it now, I feel it could have been stated more clearly in the book.
Another storyline that could have been spelled out better for the audience is who one of the Senators is working with. Trying not to be too spoilery, it is kept in secret throughout the novel and the reader would naturally expect this person to be revealed within the narrative of the book, only to be left wanting at the end. It’s very easy to guess who that person was, especially knowing her plot threads through The Clone Wars, but it would still have been nice to have some of these questions answered for us without having to hunt them down elsewhere.
The one company associated with all of these books, adult and YA, is the Penguin-Random House Audiobooks. And they have been knocking it out of the park with these books. Like many previous books, they used one of the voice actors to read the audiobook. For Queen’s Shadow they brought in the voice of Padmé from The Clone Wars, Catherine Taber. And she is perfect for the role. Since all of the handmaidens will often provide voices that are very similar to Padmé within the movies, this makes doing a narration that bounces between many of them not only possible, but actually makes sense. With subtle changes in her voice, Taber provides not only a believable experience, but a downright enjoyable one as well.
Overall, I really loved this book. It is not, and I repeat NOT, an action-adventure novel. If you are looking for that you are going to be sorely disappointing. But what we have is a political intrigue/personal growth story about a major time period in Padmé’s life. The characters are fascinating, especially Sabé who easily becomes one of my favorite characters from this book. Her story is left unresolved and this makes me want to know what is next in store for her. My only major sticking points are the plot threads which, if not dangling at the end of the story, are still clouded in mystery.