Queen’s Shadow by E.K. Johnston, Review by Corinne Donnelly
Queen’s Shadow, one of the newest Star Wars Disney canon novels, takes place between the end of The Phantom Menace and the beginning of The Attack of the Clones. Written by E.K. Johnston, who also wrote the Star Wars novel Ahsoka, it provides an intimate glance into the lives of Padmé Amidala and her handmaidens after her reign as Queen of Naboo ends and her term as senator of the Galactic Republic begins. While an appreciation for the prequel trilogy is not required to enjoy this book, it certainly does not hurt. It should also be noted that the book is categorized as Young Adult, and while there are a few fantastic YA Star Wars novels (see Lost Stars and Leia: Princess of Alderaan, both by author Claudia Gray), I would not place Queen’s Shadow among them.
When Johnston makes references to the movies, she’s at her best. As someone who waffles back and forth between liking and disliking the prequels, I still found these homages delightful, and sometimes hilarious. Johnston also places a lot of care in cultivating her characters, particularly Padmé. Padmé has always been one of the least developed characters in the Star Wars universe, primarily because she never receives much dialogue outside of her interactions with Anakin, Qui-Gon, and Obi-Wan. Until now, what has been written about her is quite minimal, which is a shame, not only because she is the mother of Luke and Leia, but also because she had a fascinating career, impeccable values, and a generous heart. In Queen’s Shadow, Johnston gives her a voice, and a strong one at that, which is refreshing and long overdue.
Something I would have preferred less of is the sheer amount of characters introduced throughout the relatively short novel. While not the fault of Johnston, nearly all of Padmé’s handmaidens’ names rhyme, so it is extremely difficult to differentiate between them. Johnston’s attempt to remedy this problem by giving each handmaiden a specific talent unique to them falls flat almost immediately. The addition of so many different characters also leads to too many plot-lines. Padmé and her closest handmaiden and confidant, Sabé, narrate the most chapters, and they also have the plot lines with the highest stakes. When the narration shifts to characters of lesser importance, the novel drags on. I never much cared for any of the other seven(?) handmaidens, and their appearances contributed very little to the plot.
Queen’s Shadow waxes heavy on politics and corruption, so if you’re looking for something lighter (perhaps a love story), you’ll be dissatisfied. Personally, I’m glad Johnston steered clear of romance, as Padmé gets totally overshadowed by it in The Attack of the Clones and The Revenge of the Sith. Right now Padmé has more important things going on than being pursued by young men; she is a fledgling senator in a body politic that does not fully trust her yet. Her attempts to navigate these waters are arguably the most interesting parts of the novel, especially once she meets Senators Bail Organa and Mon Mothma. Also, it would be remiss of me not to mention that while a small portion of the plot is set on Tatooine and briefly alludes to Shmi Skywalker, Anakin’s mother, Anakin does not appear in the book, nor does Obi-Wan Kenobi. Chancellor “I am the Senate” Palpatine does play a minor role though, and he is his usual wily self, so that nearly makes up for their absence.
E.K. Johnston’s Queen’s Shadow is a welcome addition to the Disney Star Wars novels, although a somewhat flawed one. Padmé’s interactions with her closest friends and confidants, as well as with those set out to crush her ambitions, increase appreciation for her character, and engender a better understanding of the decisions which will eventually lead to her early demise. While I wouldn’t recommend this novel to everyone, if you’re a fan of the prequels and/or have always been curious about the Queen and later senator of Naboo, I would give this a read, just keep your expectations in check.