Review: Karen Miller’s Clone Wars Gambit: Siege

Obi-Wan and Anakin are still stuck on Lanteeb, a planet far in the Outer Rim and of seeming little consequence. The Lanteebans pose no apparent strategic value to the Republic or Separatists; it’s an attitude that grossly misjudges the efforts of captured scientist Bant’ena Fhernan. She’s been hired to construct a virus to end all viruses, a massive biological weapon that will sway the war in Dooku’s favor, but getting materials for it isn’t easy. The key ingredient, damotite, lays deep within the sinuous mines of Lanteeb and Separatist overseer Lok Durd rides the locals hard with threats of drastic food and water rationing if his unreasonable quota and timetable aren’t met.

Against all impossibilities, the Lanteeban’s work furiously every day, risking damotite poisoning to please Durd. When Anakin and Obi-Wan crash their vehicle and end up stranded in the mining city responsible for churning out the dangerous material, the two are welcomed only as long as the villagers don’t know they’re Jedi. Naturally, an invading droid army and a failing shield barrier that forces the pair to use the Force for self preservation were probably unavoidable inevitabilities.

Karen Miller does several things with Gambit: Siege, most of which she’s shown us before. Like Stealth and Wild Space, Obi-Wan and Anakin are taken to their physical limits. They’re moved around the narrative like rag dolls with an unhealthy sense of duty and a never-ending desire to do everything they can to be compassionate without being heroic. Well, at least Obi-Wan does. Once again, Anakin’s emotional tidal waves and compulsion to save people gets him into constant trouble with his former Master. The friction that arises from these situations is an eerie echo of the clash of ideals Miller first showed in Stealth. Anakin and Obi-Wan are different. No one will argue that.

Anakin’s weaknesses prove to be his strengths in gaining the trust of the Lanteeban miners. He’s emotional and makes irrational promises out of the psychological fantasy that he really can save them. At times it feels like Anakin buys into the childish belief that Jedi are and should be the protectors of everybody. As Miller reminds us though, the “Jedi are not creatures of myth and magic” (p. 182)—with the ability to resist deadly damotite gas and reach out to the Force for hidden reserves of energy to keep going far past the point which a non-Jedi would have passed out and been hospitalized from a small army of injuries, it’s no wonder they’re misunderstood, held under suspicion, and thought of as immortal miracle workers. Miller, of course, removes this illusion.

The narrative is peppered with concern and exasperation over the length Anakin and Obi-Wan push their very human bodies to. If they aren’t trying to order each other to go lay down and take a rest, it’s one of the villagers. At first, this was touching and sweet, but after seeing the same from her other two Clone Wars books, I began to suspect Miller was trying a little too hard to prove a point. The two go through so much it almost became unreasonable to believe they hadn’t collapsed from exhaustion. In all fairness, they’re in the middle of one of the biggest wars the galaxy has experienced. Everyone’s tired and wants peace; no one wants to do the dirty work so the load is taken on by the too few who are willing to abide by duty and preserve the freedoms of the Republic. All of that, I understand. Completely. But reading the various ways Anakin and Obi-Wan could be so tired and yet somehow find the strength to keep going got a bit ridiculous.

Not to mention, in addition to being physically put out, everyone (everyone) was running on a short fuse. Characters were quick to temper, snapping at minor things—I was hard pressed to find someone who didn’t receive their final straw. The war wears thin across the galaxy and even Senator Palpatine, manipulative mastermind that we all know him to be, began to slip. It’s no wonder then that Obi-Wan, for all of his teachings of controlling one’s emotions and warnings of attachment to Anakin, found a very un-Jedilike and demonstrative display of human need.

Miller clearly has a soft spot for Obi-Wan. He’s complex, mysterious, and let’s face it: I don’t think anyone ever knows what to expect from his dark, fathomless closet of secrets. As if we didn’t already know Obi-Wan has an effect on the ladies, it’s still a bit of a surprise to find out he has a laundry list of past love interests the war seems to be shaking out onto his doorstep. It’s amusing for readers, but alarming for Anakin and extremely disappointing. In order words, how dare he. Whatever arguments ensue or are denied by Anakin’s incredulity are one of the best parts of this book. Miller has nailed the Anakin and Obi-Wan relationship in a way I don’t think any other writer has before.

I also really enjoyed the intellectual jockeying of Teeb Jaklin prying into Obi-Wan’s mortality. How strange it is to be asked not about his humanity, but his heart, his feelings. And how denied I felt by his standard Jedi answer. Miller had me convinced she would take his character into the realms of self-gratification, to break that outer display of calm and composure that Anakin so desperately wants, but in the end I realized perhaps the most important thing of all: Obi-Wan isn’t perfect. He’s as complicated as the war against the Separatists. To quote Anakin, “I don’t understand you, Obi-Wan.” (p. 342)

I may have been burnt out on the situations Anakin and Obi-Wan keep getting into (anything that makes them bone tired, causes bruises, swelling, lacerations, or broken bones), but Miller does effectively give us an ugly portrayal of what the war is really accomplishing. It’s breaking people apart at the most fundamental of levels and testing loyalties. As we all know, it shadows Anakin and Obi-Wan ominously. I hope this isn’t the last we see of Miller in the Star Wars universe.

Except next time, I’d appreciate it if she didn’t have everyone using the word “barve” so much. There are other insulting words. Let’s not make the galaxy seem more small than it already appears, please?

The Jawas bid you read more book reviews at Erika’s blog: Jawas Read, Too!

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