"Tarkin," like many Star Wars novels, is not a book of one genre. While it's certainly part of a greater space fantasy environment, "Tarkin" has much in common from genres of historical fiction set in the Victorian and Napoleonic eras.
James Luceno, who wrote the excellent "Star Wars: Darth Plagueis" shortly before the Lucasfilm canon reset, takes a rather different tone with his villainous protagonist. Wilhuff Tarkin isn't a Sith Lord. He's not the sort of boldly despicable villain that you love to hate. He's not maniacal or all-powerful. He's neither Byronic nor dashing. He doesn't have a complicated inner good person struggling to get out. Tarkin is cold and calculating, and as the novel shifts between the genres of mystery, savage survival, and naval warfare, Tarkin echoes characters of Imperial literature and history like Professor Moriarty, Cecil Rhodes, and Admiral Nelson.
Like Moriarty or his rival, Tarkin has strong deductive reasoning skills. A good portion of the novel reads like a Victorian-era Sherlock Holmes mystery, albeit with a ruthless amoral genius at the helm rather than a drug-addicted defender of the meek. Tarkin doesn't make it through the novel without making a few incorrect predictions, but his mind is sharp, and his ability to unravel conspiracy is impressive.
Interspersed throughout the mystery are flashbacks to the Tarkin family's brutal rites of passage on the planet Eriadu. Like Cecil Rhodes, most infamous of Victorian colonialists, young Wilhuff adapts to survival in the savage savannahs and jungles of his homeworld. Accordingly, Eriadu's Carrion Plateau could have been the setting of a Star Wars "Heart of Darkness." Eriadu is the Darkest Africa of diamond mines and Boer wars, and like a good Victorian, Tarkin is taught the importance of order and fear. He rises to power treating both the natural and civic aspects of his universe as things to be tamed.
Finally, like Lord Horatio Nelson (or the fictional Horatio Hornblower), Tarkin takes on the role of Napoleonic-era naval strategist. Star Wars media more often depicts dogfights between small craft, making quick turns and dodging beams of energy. Though the space battles of this novel are exciting, they primarily focus on larger, slower vessels. So instead of evasive maneuvers, the novel's ships have to predict the path of their bulky opponents, turning and positioning their starboard cannons to hit the enemy's port with a massive broadside. This last element of "Tarkin" is less dominant than the others, but the relevant passages could have come from a C S Forester novel.
I quite enjoyed Luceno's "Tarkin." It won't be everyone's cup of tea, as the protagonist is neither particularly likeable nor particularly fascinating. Wilhuff Tarkin's shade of evil is instead a bit too close to home, embracing an ugly imperialism that has shown its face frequently on our own little planet.
One final aside for fellow Star Wars enthusiasts: fans of "Darth Plagueis" should be happy to see some small details from this previous work pop up in "Tarkin." It's not particularly explicit, but Luceno references a few characters and plot points from his earlier book as if it had never been extricated from the canon. It's almost as if Del Rey should publish a second edition of "Darth Plagueis," revised to fit the new editorial and canon standards but with at least 75% of the story intact. One can dream.
- Paperback: 384 pages
- Publisher: ARROW LTD - MASS MARKET; 1 edition (1 May 2015)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0099594269
- ISBN-13: 978-0099594260
- Product Dimensions: 11 x 2.4 x 17.8 cm
- Boxed-product Weight: 81.6 g
- Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 136,102 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)