Star Wars Queen’s Peril Book Review
EK Johnston’s second book about Padme, Queens Peril, is set before and concurrent with The Phantom Menace. I’ll be honest; when I first read the book’s announcement, I thought it would be similar to the old journal series where the story is retold from the perspective of a single character. I was wrong. This book is so much more than that. It’s a story of empowerment, not just for Padme but for her handmaidens as well.
The novel opens with Padme winning her election to be Queen of Naboo. Captain Tanaka selects handmaidens to also serve as extra security. Naboo is a planet of education, encouraging all children to be the best they can be while valuing all forms of art. This has led to a world of child prodigies. It’s normal for people of high skill and power to be relatively young. Tanaka focuses on those teens with skills he feels would most aid Amidala. They all look similar enough to her to be able to act as a decoy. Their specialties range from sewing to being duplicitous (yes, one of her handmaidens is explicitly there to teach her to lie). These teens conspire together to significant effect, creating a whole royalty much greater than each of their parts.
Considering that the Queen has many handmaidens, there is not enough room in a single novel to fully develop each one. The most fleshed-out is Sabe. She is the first handmaiden and the one that is best at acting the Queen. In The Phantom Menace, Sabe is the one that fills in as Queen while Padme pretends to be the handmaidens. However, I find myself drawn most to the character of Rabe. She is the duplicitous one. Without her, Padme might have been too honest to succeed.
Perhaps most importantly, young teen girls are presented as young teen girls. Sure, they are all child prodigies, but they still make mistakes. They have relationship problems. They sneak out of the house. They are learning to express their feelings. Johnston even brings up menstruation, although she gets out of keeping track of time by introducing medicine that suppresses it. Representation matters, and it is nice to see young women represented well in Star Wars and science fiction/fantasy in general.
While it may be possible to enjoy the novel without seeing The Phantom Menace, its intended audience is someone who has seen the movie. Rather than rehashing the story, it just leaves out the majority shown on screen. Instead, it will jump to scenes not shown, either from another character’s perspective or just before or after the movie scene ends. If you have seen The Phantom Menace, you might be happy to know that Jar Jar is mostly left out of the story.
Johnston frequently jumps from scene to scene. By adjusting the length of each scene, she changes the perceived speed of the story. As the novel reaches its conclusion, the scenes become even shorter, enhancing speed and stress. This technique also allows us to shift the POV of the story. She can tell Padme’s story in one scene, go to the next scene to Panaka to examine what is going on as an outsider, then to Qui Gon, placing the story in The Phantom Menace’s timeline.
Johnston adds great lore to the Star Wars canon with Queen’s Peril. It is an inspirational portrayal of young women succeeding in a challenging environment. Star Wars is increasing representation in the new canon, but this is something not explored. I hope the success of this story leads to more female-centric Star Wars novels. Perhaps a story of Leia’s life on Alderaan is in order?