I remember being so intrigued by her. Padmé Amidala seemed like a character with such potential in Star Wars’ prequel trilogy. She spent a good deal of her screen time in her first movie behind the public mask of the Queen. And still the maturity, the gravitas, and of course the wardrobe was a combo that made a statement. Then as the movies progressed she had some great moments but was put more and more on the back burner to allow the spotlight to stay on Anakin Skywalker. So it was a relief to see her character expanded on in The Clone Wars TV series. Then the announcement of Queen’s Shadow, a book to focus on Padmé, seemed like an even better opportunity to let her shine.
E.K. Johnston’s Queen’s Shadow is more an exploration of a period of time in Padmé Amidala Naberrie’s life than a traditional story. It meanders through character perspectives in a third person omniscient view that for the most part keeps to the shallower end of the pool. Although there is a very quick dunk into a dark issue that I wish could have had more presence overall. Despite all the book’s talk and awareness of masks and personas, it felt like we were too often still held at arm’s length from this young woman committed to her duty.
The story, set between The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones, takes us from the last day of Padmé’s tenure as Queen of Naboo through her first year as her planet’s Senator on Coruscant. It’s a a tale of politics and friendship and while technically a YA book, it tends to read younger.
Maybe it’s in part because we know where Padmé is in the next movie and what ultimately happens to her, but her personal stakes never seem that big or dramatic here. It’s at least a little bit of the writing too though. Johnston clearly cares a great deal about Padmé and her handmaidens. And with that seems to come an aura of protection around them. Sentiments are frequently moderated to keep the characters likable but it leaves a lot of them rather boring instead. Conflicts are often minimized and flashes of emotion quickly reigned back in. They’re like a fleet of Mary Poppins minus the magic, whimsy, and mystery – perfect but not that interesting.
Dormé, one of Padmé’s newer handmaidens, and Sabé, her faithful former decoy, manage to standout from the pack. Even more of those characters and their expressiveness would have been welcome. It’s great that the powers that be were supportive of a Star Wars book centering on female friendship. There’s also some nice representation in various types of relationships – especially the romantic ones. The passion and conflict the rest of the book lacks shows up beautifully right before the end. A whole bunch of prequel movie and Clone Wars references pop up too, which will be fun for readers deeply versed in both.
Ultimately I kept yearning for a more lively story and repeatedly found myself wishing the author showed more faith in her readers’ ability to connect the dots. I’ve listened to Johnston on various Star Wars convention panels and she’s always excited, thoughtful, and has interesting observations. I wish more of that could have translated to the book. Queen’s Shadow is sure to answer a lot of questions Padmé fans have had. How much you’re willing to overlook combined with how much you love Padmé will tell if the journey to get those answers is a good fit for you.
The publisher sent an advanced reader’s copy to FANgirl for review but as always my opinions are my own.
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