While many eyes are looking ahead to Star Wars: Episode IX and the conclusion of the Skywalker Saga, Disney Publishing’s latest release in the Young Adult market takes us back to the Prequel era for a brand new story. Queen’s Shadow fills in (part) of the story between in the ten year gap between Episode I and Episode II, showing how Padme transitioned from being the Queen of Naboo to the highly regarded Senator in Attack of the Clones.
The novel picks up at the very end of Amidala’s tenure as Queen (like, literally the final day) which is a few years after the end of The Phantom Menace. From the outset, the book is all about potential and possibilities. For the first time in her life, Padme isn’t sure of what she wants to do next, nor what path she should follow. Even as her handmaidens, her closest allies/confidants, begin to live their own lives, she feels adrift.
When the newly nominated Queen asks Padme to serve as their new Senator in the Galactic Senate, she finds new purpose. But even here, there’s constant questions about whether it’s what she really wants to do. As she struggles to balance the significantly different politics she came from, Padme must lean on her trusted handmaidens (both old and new) more than ever before.
Between assassination attempts and uncovering new allies, there’s a lot going on within the book. While Padme is, obviously, a primary focus of the story, the book also dedicates quite a bit of time to Sabe who is Padme’s most trusted friend/Handmaiden (she was the one played by Keira Knightley in The Phantom Menace). While Padme is dealing with the Senate, she entrusts Sabe with a far more personal mission.
I don’t want to divulge much more, otherwise I’ll be diving into spoiler territory. That said, it’s hard to pinpoint an overall plot for Queen’s Shadow. It’s much more of a character study, showing specific events and how those involved deal with them and grow. So instead of one singular story thread that everything builds towards, it’s one sequence of a events after another.
Generally speaking, I don’t enjoy those kinds of “slice of life” stories (whether in book or movie form), and they leave me kind of, ‘meh.’ BUT, there’s something definitely special with the way in which Queen’s Shadow handles it. So if you’re like me and don’t typically enjoy that brand of storytelling, don’t let this throw you off, it’s very much worthwhile.
The strength of Queen’s Shadow lies in the relationships between the characters. In a very short amount of time, their dynamic is established as E.K. Johnston seamlessly integrates small character moments into nearly every interaction. These instantly give you insight into the personalities of the various Handmaidens and their deep relationships with one another.
While the Handmaidens were an intriguing presence in the Star Wars Prequels, they didn’t have much screen time, so it’s not like Johnston is relying on pre-established relationships to give the characters gravitas. Somehow, though, within the first handful of pages, where a relaxing Padme and her cadre must rush to prepare for an impromptu visit from Chancellor Palpatine, the dynamics between everyone is casually laid bare. It’s a simple scene, but it almost instantly endears you to the characters you’ll be following throughout the rest of the story.
Moreso, in showing what comes NEXT for these characters, fans get to learn more about the Handmaidens in general and what they went through BEFORE. While there’s no flashbacks, bits of the backstory come into focus through various conversations and reminiscing moments. As someone who really enjoys the minutiae of Star Wars lore, it was neat getting to see the ins and outs of Naboo’s political traditions.
There’s so much more as well, including some interesting moments with Palpatine and quite a few character interactions that fans of The Clone Wars cartoon series will surely enjoy. The good news, though, is all of these elements are handled deftly. You aren’t beaten over the head with plot dumps/exposition, nor does anything feel like simple box checking on the timeline, which has happened with some of the newer Star Wars books (especially those filling gaps between films).
For the most part, reading Queen’s Shadow felt like I was back reading some of the older Prequel Era books from the “Legends” releases. Take from that what you will, but for me, those were among my favorite stories back in the day. Queen’s Shadow is a super fast read, as the jump between events feels like you’re hurtling towards the end at a breakneck pace. It never drags and kept me flipping the pages as fast as I could.