Handmaidens’ Backstories: “Queen’s Peril” Review

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“Queen’s Peril” is the second of Naboo Handmaidens/Padmé-themed novels by E.K. Johnston. However, it is completely stand-alone. It is not a sequel to “Queen’s Shadow”, it requires no previous knowledge of it. At most it is a prequel, as it takes place mostly before and during The Phantom Menace‘s events.

The Newly Elected Queen

The story is simple. It starts with Padmé Amidala’s election as the Queen of Naboo, it shows her first challenges in office with particular focus on building relationships with her handmaidens. We learn how the whole “queen’s double” idea came about and how difficult it was to implement. Roughly the second half of the book takes place during the events of The Phantom Menace. The story’s tone is overall positive and cheerful. It gets only somewhat darker once the Trade Federation invasion starts.

It deserves to be mentioned that showing the events of The Phantom Menace is done succintly, but so remarkably that almost overshadows the story’s main focus – the Handmaidens’ individual tales. There are plenty of explanations that almost feel like retcons – not in a bad way.

Everyone Ends With -é

But the book was intended to be chiefly the story of Padmé, Sabé, Rabé, Eirtaé, Yané and Saché, and that is how one should approach it. And I can vouch – it is not boring at all.

“Queen’s Peril” shines in terms of identifying the individual handmaidens and making them flesh-and-blood characters. If I commended “Queen’s Shadow” for doing this, then “Queen’s Peril” does it four times better. The structure helps a lot: the book is divided into several parts, each opening with a one-page flashback from one of the handmaidens’ points of view. That way we learn that one of the girls used to be a musician, always the second-best in everything, another was a stage engineer, third had a run-in with the law…

Most of the story is told from Padmé’s point of view, but the Handmaidens are always present. Sabé, the main “fake Queen” (played by Keira Knightley in the film), also gets a lot of space. What I found delightful were also the chapters from Captain Panaka’s point of view: his meticulous dedication to the Queen’s safety and his repeated frustration when confronted with the girls’ schemes.

Jar Jar And Maul Too

There are several randomly scattered singular paragraphs (rather than chapters) from other characters’ points of view. The likes of Palpatine, Maul, Obi-Wan and also Jar Jar. I feel the need to remark that E.K. Johnston’s Jar Jar is a realistic, relatable and likeable character. I would not have minded an entire TPM novelisation from his perspective if it were written like that.

Last but not least, E.K. Johnston takes exceptionally good care of establishing how Padmé acquired certain skills – from using a blaster or a lockpick to safely rolling after a fall (yes, Attack of the Clones).

Retcons? What Retcons?

The downsides of the book? I feel like its greatest advantages are its biggest weaknesses. The overall story suffers a little from trying to cram The Phantom Menace in, despite the fact that it is amazing. I am sure anyone who likes Padmé or who wants to know more about the handmaidens would have been okay with a book dedicated solely to Padmé’s first term in office, before the invasion. One could have easily devised a plot for that by elaborating on elements that are in “Queen’s Peril”: reopening Naboo to partners from the local sector, elaborating on the romances briefly touched in the story, more girls’ dress-up shenanigans and so on.

Showing TPM from a different perspective and offering explanations for some things also sometimes borders on retconning and may have been done a few times too many. It feels as if E.K. Johnston had written down a list of supposed “plot holes” (How comes Padmé can pick a lock? Why do Nabooans have harpoons on their guns? Why are there two blasters hidden in the Queen’s chambers?) and then put them all in the book. Again – it is well done. I appreciate it. But it could absolutely have been spread out into two novels. One introducing the Handmaidens, the other a “behind-the-scenes” of The Phantom Menace. That way, one could also have avoided the feeling that especially the second half of the novel is just a ticklist of TPM events.

It however may be just as well that “Queen’s Peril” is so succint. Perhaps long-winded elaboration would have ruined the final effect. Whatever the case, it is one of the best Star Wars novels out there from all possible perspectives. And even if you are not into SW novels, this may be a good one to try out.

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Rostislav Kurka
Rostislav is a Protestant theologian and a self-trained Sith, counting Jan Hus, Dorothee Sölle, Darth Revan and Darth Traya among his main influences. He hails from the hundred-towered city of Prague, where he had spent a large part of his life creating worlds and inspiring young generations to roleplay. His involvement in organising children's camps led him to accidentally writing a Lord of the Rings musical, which made him temporarily famous, and a Three Musketeer-Jedi fanfilm, which didn't. He has recently moved to the frozen waste of Finland, because that's it, the Rebels are there.