For the previous two volumes and the crossover that comprised part three, I’ve unapologetically targeted Doctor Aphra as the weak link. Her complete absence in this book absolutely proves my point. This volume was absolutely brilliant, dare I say the way it should have been from the beginning.
Having been captured by the Rebels, Aphra is out of the picture, and Vader has accordingly put a bounty on her head to ensure her return. Finally, he’s done messing around. Any condition she’s in is acceptable, and one such bounty hunter attempts to cash in with nondescript disintegrated remains. I’m pretty sure you know how that plays out.
In the meantime, the Dark Lord proceeds to the Shu-Torun system, a mining world with a courtly culture, and a quota to the Empire they have been unable to meet. The entire story has shades of Bespin, only bigger and far more satisfying in terms of how Vader deals with the matter. This is about as close as it gets to seeing Vader in the role of Imperial diplomatic attaché.
Of course, the Emperor can’t make it easy on his apprentice. Presumably at the request of Grand General Tagge, Vader is to be accompanied by Dr. Cylo and the Astarte twins, whom we already know to be useless. They get a second chance to screw over the Dark Lord, and it’s pretty obvious at all points that Vader’s having none of it. If they must be in his presence, they will be his tools. As Vader coordinates with the newly-installed queen of the system, he puts his murderous droids in charge of a droid army to take out the rebellious dukes, serving up one lesson in Imperial justice after the next.
Character-wise, the writing is spot-on. This is cinematic Vader as we always knew him to be, running the kinds of missions we always knew he would in the name of the Emperor. By the end of the book, the Emperor tells Vader to return to Coruscant, for the time to reveal everything is at hand. But that’s when the bad news comes. Inspector Thanoth has found Aphra, and it’s time he and Vader talked. Ok, so almost perfect. The loathsome Aphra is now used as the MacGuffin for the final volume. But the tension is palpable as we know Thanoth both respects Vader and is eminently loyal to the Empire, so just as Vader’s ascendancy into his master’s graces is nearly complete, this little monkey wrench threatens to unravel it all.
Of course, we know it plays out just fine, it’s just a question of how. That’s what that last volume is all about. For this volume, both the featured plot and the overarching master plot are just so well-executed, I almost don’t mind that Aphra’s name gets mentioned. For every story and character beat, this was truly a most enjoyable story.