Old Friends: Cmdr. Daultay Dofine, Qui-Gon Jinn, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Viceroy Nute Gunray, Chancellor Finis Valorum, Senator Palpatine, Deputy Viceroy Hath Monchar, Rune Haako, Dark Lord Darth Sidious, Ainlee Teen, Bail Antilles, Darsha Assant, The Jedi Masters: Plo Koon, Oppo Rancisis, Adi Gallia, Yoda, Anoon Bondara, Luminaria Unduli, Jorus C'Baoth, Mace Windu, Ki-Adi Mundi, Vergere, Yaddle, Saesee Tiin, Depa Billaba
Synopsis: The Trade Federation is getting ready to make their move on Naboo. Palpatine is setting up to take down Chancellor Valorum. The Nebula Front is making trouble for the Supreme Chancellor, and Capt. Cohl is messing with everyone, including the Jedi Council. This one sets up and explains all the details, ins and outs, personalities and problems, of the politics and economics of the Naboo Blockade.
Review: This book takes some serious concentration. The politics start in the Chancellor's private offices, and moves thru the Senate Chambers, the Outlying Sectors, the Jedi Council Chambers, and of course, on the Trade Federation's ships. The reader learns how and why Palpatine sets up Valorum for the "vote of no confidence" as seen in "The Phantom Menace". Darth Sidious is definitely on hand, and working the Trade Federation for all he's worth.
The Neimoidians have a cushy little set-up out at Dorvalla: a mining operation that makes them a lot of credits, and gives then an out-of-the-way location no one really knows about. Unfortunately, Capt. Cohl, a bit of a renegade, doesn't like the Trade Federation at all and causes them serious trouble at Dorvalla. He is working for someone but the details are very unclear. He manages to pull off his mission and disappear, but he is being watched - Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon are in the neighborhood.
The Jedi Council has been tasked with the investigation of the Nebula Front, a splinter Group that is disrupting Valorum's efforts to solve the Trade Federations incursions into everyones business. Someone is definitely behind the scenes orchestrating their every move. Qui-Gon thinks that there is a connection between the Nebula Front, Capt. Cohl's operations, and the Trade Federation. He and Obi-Wan are going to figure this out, or else. The Jedi Council, ALL of them, are very involved in this storyline and this is the high point in the book, as far as I am concerned.
On Coruscant, Valorum is trying to convince the Senate to tax the trade routes, or not. Palpatine is offering advice, working his way around the other senators, influencing everyone. When the Nebula Front, seemingly involved in the episode at Dorvalla, raises a fuss (understatement) about Valorum's plan to tax the Trade Federation, a special diplomatic meeting is arranged at Eriadu so everyone can get together and solve the problems. Since Valorum's life has been threatened, the Jedi accompany him to the get-together. And everything goes right down the toilet from there. Just wait till you meet Tarkin for the first time.
This is where I think the author really does a good job. We get to see the Council in action. And I mean real action! When the Jedi are thrown into the conflict with the Nebula Front, the battle is excellent!! The Jedi Masters bring along their lightsabers, and the result is better than expected. Instead of sitting around talking, they are fighting! James Luceno has broken the boredom of this story (which, unfortunately is necessary to explain the politics stuff) with some really great action sequences that will keep you interested, excited and guessing.
Throughout the story, there is an underlying feeling of intrigue and treachery. You know what is coming later, and you know who is doing what to who. But how does it all fit? Stick with Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan and it becomes almost clear. The backstabbing Palpatine is a real slimeball; Valorum is too darn nice and trusting. How it all shakes out is well written. If you can get thru the politics, it's a pretty good book. And a must read if you want to know how Palpatine really did it!
Title: Cloak of Deception