Claudia Gray’s latest novel focusses on the early days of Obi-Wan’s apprenticeship under the tutelage of Qui-Gon Jinn. Just like two other recent SW stories, “Queen’s Shadow” and “Dooku: Jedi Lost”, “Master and Apprentice” is set in the unexplored prequel era; more specifically, before the events of Episode I.
Princesses, Treaties and Czerka Corporation
The main storyline revolves around the two Jedi’s mission on the backwater planet Pijal. Qui-Gon is called there by an old friend, Dooku’s first apprentice, Rael Averross (who has briefly appeared in “Dooku: Jedi Lost”). Rael has been appointed the ruling regent of the planet until the time the young princess Fanry comes of age. Upon their arrival, the Jedi find themselves amidst political plotting surrounding the upcoming coronation.
Upon her coronation, the princess would be able to sign a treaty that shall transform the planet from an absolutist to constitutional monarchy and also allow the Republic to build a new hyperspace lane through Pijal. Things are, however, becoming steadily more and more complicated because of the interference of the greedy Czerka Corporation as well as rising opposition combined with violent attacks. For good measure, mix in the arrival of two gemstone thieves, one of them a former Czerka slave. As if all that was not enough, Master Qui-Gon Jinn is becoming increasingly troubled by premonitions that something is going to go terribly wrong on the day of the young queen’s coronation.
The contemporary story is interlaced with occasional chapters from young Qui-Gon’s point of view, from the time when he was Dooku’s Padawan. These chapters are amazingly rich sources in terms of lore. They deal with Padawan Jinn’s fascination with ancient Jedi prophecies (including that of the Chosen One) and his doubts about their validity. This theme is relevant for the contemporary story, as Qui-Gon is unexpectedly confronted with his own visions of the future, and has to figure out a way to interpret them – if he decides to believe them in the first place.
Is Claudia Gray Agatha Christie?
The story reads a lot like a detective novel. Throughout the reading, you’ll continuously wonder “who’s the murderer”, or in this case, who or what is the threat from Qui-Gon’s vision – and with what motivation. The right balance of action and questions will propel you to read on and on, until you finish the whole book.
At the same time, there are familiar elements that remind the reader of Episode I: The Phantom Menace. A young queen, a treaty, a greedy corporation… not to mention Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan themselves.
Claudia Grey has managed to capture the prequel atmosphere really well and showed that you do not need the Sith or other visibly evil characters to make a compelling Star Wars story.
A large part of the narrative revolves inevitably around Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan’s relationship. What I loved about this is that both the characters act in a believable manner, and you can very well see how their relationship got to the point where it is during Episode I. If you are a fan of master-apprentice drama, doubts and misunderstandings, you will love this book.
I should also mention, however, that Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan are not the only Master-Apprentice relationship in this novel. The same kind of dynamic is sketched out also between Dooku and Rael Averross, and in a sense, even between Rael Averross as the regent of Pijal and princess Fanry as the monarch coming of age.
The book also provides many small extra details in a by-the-way manner: Obi-Wan’s first time riding a giant lizard, his like/dislike for flying, the relationship between Qui-Gon and the Jedi Council, and much more. I also very much appreciated the fact that Claudia Gray has used Czerka Corporation (well-known especially among all fans of Knights of the Old Republic series), thus firmly reintroducing it into the canon.
I loved this book. Its most alluring aspects were the pre-prequel setting, the master-apprentice dynamic, and especially the “detective plot”. If you are the type of people who would enjoy Harry Potter books chiefly not because of the magic, but because of trying to figure out who was after the Philosopher’s Stone or which side Snape was really on, then “Master & Apprentice” is exactly the kind of read you should go for. And for the same reason, I can tell that the book may be interesting also on re-read. It should be like re-reading a detective story, when you can pick on the clues since you already know how the murder happened.
I can also recommend the audiobook version of “Master & Apprentice”. Jonathan Davis’s reading is very well done, including a faithful imitation of Qui-Gon’s voice. He adds personality also to the original characters, such as Rael Averross, whose cocky demeanour and accent I won’t be able to forget for a while.