We first met him in a Star Wars: The Old Republic game trailer — the mysterious masked Sith that brought down the Jedi Temple during the sacking of Coruscant. Darth Malgus, dark lord of the Sith, was the one who led this brutal assault and cut down countless Jedi on their own sacred ground. Now he is one of the main characters in Deceived, the second book in the SWTOR series by Paul S. Kemp, which tells the story of the attack as well as the calamitous events which came afterward.
On the surface, Deceived might just be another novel based on a video game, but after reading it, I admit the quality of the storytelling took me by surprise. Even as Star Wars novels go, I have to say it is better than most. Granted, it is still your standard Star Wars fare — you have your archtypal tale about a Jedi and her comrade pitted against a Sith Warrior and the dark side and such. But still, it was refreshing to read a game book for once and get the sense that the author is actually more interested in telling a good story rather than trying to write a blatant MMO marketing piece that attempts to showcase every single player class and their abilities (which, incidentally, was my main complaint about the first SWTOR book).
That is not to say Deceived is completely devoid of references to the upcoming MMO, just that I feel they are much less pronounced. In fact, in true BioWare fashion, what I think the book attempts to do is to set the stage for the type of light-side/dark-side interactions we can expect to see in TOR. Deceived does this by delving deeper into character motivations and ambitions, and treading the line of morality.
Instead of hobbling the story, the addition of this interplay actually made things better. Subsequently, I felt the characters of Deceived were more fleshed out than I would have expected from a video game tie-in or Star Wars novel, because of the personal reasons and internal conflicts that drive them. The angry and hate-filled Darth Malgus, for example, may surprise you with his tenderness towards the woman he loves. Similarly, the Jedi protagonist Aryn Leneer has her own reasons for turning her back on the Order and going rogue. The reader will also find the smuggler Zeerid struggle to make some difficult decisions, in the name of keeping his family safe.
As such, even though this book can be read as a standalone novel, if I have to relate it back to SWTOR, I want to say Deceived prepares us for the kind of moral dilemmas and questionable choices and we will no doubt face in-game. In the context of the novel, however, this also serves to provide in-depth characterizations for the heroes and villains, and helps readers connect to characters who are otherwise new to the Star Wars expanded universe and are thus relatively still unknown. It’s a win-win situation, really.
There were a few things that annoyed me about Deceived, and I feel I need to mention them. One of them pertains to Darth Malgus, who was the one I was most looking forward to reading about, but unfortunately he also turned out to be the weakest character for me. I felt that his evilness, anger, hate, and all that lust for destruction and melodrama was just a tad over-exaggerated, making him just another broody Sith Lord in the Star Wars line-up, overshadowing what depth he could have had. Aryn and Zeerid, on the other hand, were much more interesting to me.
The book also changes points-of-view very frequently, bouncing around, sometimes only after just a few paragraphs at a time. Word of warning, it can get taxing if you are unused to that. Thankfully, there are blessedly few subplots in this novel, which made the constant shifts bearable. I liked how the storyline in Deceived has a clear focus, and Kemp follows through with it very well.
I would recommend this book to fans of Star Wars, fans who are looking forward to the MMORPG, and even those who are just looking for a quick but fun video game-related read. If you enjoy scenes of lightsaber combat and space encounters, you will not be disappointed — in fact, you can even expect to read about the Sith attack on the Jedi Temple in all its glorious detail and appreciate it anew. However, there is also more to Deceived than just constant action; there is also a deeper poignancy and intensity behind the events that I honestly didn’t think I would find in a Star Wars game novel. Perhaps other readers will be pleasantly surprised as well.