Prolific Star Wars novelist Luceno (Millennium Falcon, 2008, etc.) offers a rather redundant standalone tale examining the life of a master of the Force’s dark side.
Taking place in the years leading up to the first Star Wars prequel film, The Phantom Menace, Luceno’s novel mostly just engages in gap-filling, expanding on the role that Sith Lord Darth Plagueis played in training and mentoring Darth Sidious (also known as the nefarious Emperor Palpatine). Palpatine’s arc has been thoroughly explored both in the Star Wars films and in various supplemental works, so there’s little new ground for Luceno to cover once he gets to Plagueis recruiting Palpatine as an apprentice. The first part of the book, detailing Plagueis’ efforts to harness the power of the Force to grant immortality, has greater novelty, and occasional scenes later in the book hint at a more mystical story. But Luceno mostly concerns himself with dry accounts of political and business maneuvers, full of convoluted deals and deceptions. Many passages are little more than parades of names, listing off people and planets that Plagueis and Palpatine must make into allies or enemies (or enemies masquerading as allies). At one point Plagueis himself even laments how convoluted the Sith Lords’ plans to overthrow the Galactic Republic have become. As the later part of the story overlaps with the events of The Phantom Menace, a number of familiar faces show up in small parts (including Darth Maul, Queen Amidala and Count Dooku), but the story remains focused on Plagueis and Palpatine, two patently evil characters whose very existence is defined by being cold and ruthless. It’s hard to engage with such unpleasant, unknowable protagonists, and even more so when their fates are essentially predetermined.
With increasingly smaller niches to explore, Star Wars novels need to find new approaches to the same material, something Luceno is unable to achieve here.