E.K. Johnston’s Queen’s Shadow is a bigger story than it seems (REVIEW)


Queen’s Shadow is the latest Star Wars book released by Del Rey. It may not be the book you hoped it would be, but the payoff, if you make it to the last page, makes it worth the read.

On the surface, Queen’s Shadow is a book about Padmé Amidala and her handmaidens undergoing rapid costume changes, fretting about their uncertain futures, and, at points, gushing over cute boys.

But it’s much more than its opening chapters let on.

More from Star Wars Reviews

When this book arrived on my doorstep, I dove into it not knowing much about what I would find. I avoided excerpts, publisher’s summaries, and even The Star Wars Show’s interview with Johnston regarding the story. I didn’t want to know anything going in.

Therefore, what I expected was a novel about Padmé Amidala’s life — perhaps an intriguing account of the forthcoming Clone Wars and the parts she played in it. And in a way, that’s the book we got.

But the book’s beginning threw me off. Honestly, I didn’t care about Padmé’s handmaidens. I couldn’t keep them straight at first, and I didn’t want to try. Each time the story would shift to one of their perspectives, I rolled my eyes.

I wanted a book about Padmé, from Padmé’s perspective. I wanted a book that revealed more about her character and the mark she left on the galaxy. And as the chapters dragged on, I began to assume we weren’t going to get any of that.

I was very, very wrong.

At first, I did not like this book. I was disappointed. I felt let down and betrayed. Because it seemed to me, at first, like a simple, lighthearted story that at points didn’t feel “Star Wars-y” enough.

But I kept reading until the end. And that’s when everything changed.

The following contains spoilers for E.K. Johnston’s Queen’s Shadow.

Queen’s Shadow takes place several years after The Phantom Menace. Padmé’s final term as the Queen of Naboo is coming to an end, and her successor has asked her to serve as Naboo’s senator on Coruscant.

This sends Padmé and several of her handmaidens on a journey filled with more danger and discovery than any of them expected.

The issues I had with this book as I read it seemed at first like unforgivable flaws. The characters seemed too young, too careless, and the story felt too much like a breezy, shallow story about a young girl leaving her small planet (Naboo) and going to the “big city” (Coruscant) to “make the world a better place.”

Looking back now, I understand this may have been a deliberate and carefully constructed storytelling choice, if you look at the novel as a whole and don’t focus solely on its weak points.

In the book’s opening scene, Padmé and her handmaidens are playing together almost like children. Though reality and responsibility hover over their heads, they seem almost unwilling to accept that their lives are about to drastically change.

Throughout the book, however, we see each woman mature over time.

In particular, we see Padmé go from reluctant large-scale politician to fearless political warrior — all for the greater good. (This will be important later, trust me.)

The novel’s second main character, Padmé’s handmaiden Sabé, also goes through subtle changes that show her growth as a character. (This will be equally important in a moment.)

Padmé struggles to mesh with her new colleagues. Sabé tries and fails not to fall in love. By the end of the story, Padmé is an accepted member of the Senate, she, Bail Organa, and Mon Mothma are best buds, Sabé has a boyfriend — everything ends on the high note you’d typically expect from a book like this.

You’re probably a little disappointed. How anti-climactic! Not worth your time AT ALL.

Then you turn to the epilogue. The final piece of the story.

For me, these last pages changed everything.

We return to Padmé and Sabé on Naboo, right back where the book began. But things are different now. Padmé is dead. No one knows how it happened. And Sabé, presumably her closest friend, is frantically preparing to assume a new identity, return to Coruscant, and do everything she can to uncover this mysterious, tragic loss.

This is no longer a game. The galaxy is no longer a playground. The war has ended, and whether they want to, everyone who has survived it must now grow up.

We reach the final paragraph. Sabé considers ignoring an incoming call, but answers it anyway at the last minute.

It’s Bail Organa. And we are left to assume he has told her to come find him.

The same way Ahsoka Tano found him at the end of her novel, before becoming Fulcrum — or, as we now know, one of multiple people presenting as Fulcrum as Rebel informants.

Ahsoka was also written by E.K. Johnston. And the significance of both books ending with a secret meeting of sorts between a main character and Bail Organa cannot be ignored.

At the beginning of Queen’s Shadow, Sabé was just another handmaiden. A forgettable face. It was her job to stand in for Padmé, to pretend to be her.

Perhaps, now, she’ll be standing in for her in a different way.

Padmé may be gone. But as Johnston carefully shows, her legacy doesn’t have to be.

Sabé is being called to a greater purpose. Once lost, but called forth to something more. Just like Ahsoka.

The Empire has risen. But the Rebellion isn’t far behind.

Trending. The Last Jedi unscripted moment revealed by Mark Hamill. light

What I’ve always appreciated about the Star Wars universe is that often in very small ways, each story connects to a much larger plot and timeline. And some authors are very good about inserting both subtle and obvious references to other parts of the timeline that all flow into the current main saga at large.

More and more with each release of a new canon novel, I’m noticing significant effort being put into authors connecting dots between other Star Wars stories.

The end of Mur Lafferty’s Solo novelization, for example, includes an epilogue in which a young Jyn Erso and Enfys Nest meet due to their mutual connection to Saw Gerrera.

Part of Thrawn: Alliances takes place at the Black Spire Outpost, which happens to be an important part of the forthcoming Galaxy’s Edge (both the ride and the books being released around it).

In Queen’s Shadow specifically, E.K. Johnston is brilliant in doing everything she can to remind us how tragic Padmé’s death truly was. At one point, her character comments that she wouldn’t mind having a family someday, but could never see herself having twins. (HOW. DARE. YOU.)

I’m not even going to touch the Alderaan chapters in this review — you’re going to have to read them for yourself. But they are the connecting factor that reinforces Bail’s decision to adopt Leia years later, something I have always felt Revenge of the Sith as a film did a disappointingly poor job of explaining.

Johnston also takes the time to outline how many plans Padmé had made before she died — specifically dozens of drafts of bills she wanted to bring to the Senate in an attempt to change the galaxy for the better.

This, of course, occurs during the epilogue, when we already know that none of those plans may ever come to fruition.

Yes, back to the epilogue again. Despite this book’s many weaknesses (sometimes it’s hard to figure out what the plot is), these five pages of text, in my opinion, make up for them entirely.

If it weren’t for this epilogue, I don’t think this book would have been memorable to me at all. That’s unfortunate, and even though I’m glad it served its purpose, I think this book may have suffered significantly from being categorized as YA.

Queen’s Shadow is a young adult novel, which does limit its depth at points. It reminded me a lot of Leia: Princess of Alderaan — and there were a few parallels between the two that sweetened it slightly. But it didn’t spend nearly enough time developing Padmé’s character the way ALDERAAN developed Leia’s, and maybe a little too much time focusing on small-scale galactic politics.

However, it’s no accident that Padmé and her handmaidens were in their later teens when this story took place. That’s one way the epilogue manages to hit home. At the end of it all, you’re reminded that what all of them have been through isn’t something a child should ever have to endure.

That sympathetic pull matters. It’s what’s going to drive Sabé to play a bigger part in the formation of the Rebel Alliance. At least, that’s what those final lines imply.

There are parts of this book that are slow and parts that are tempting to skip over. But it all pays off when you make it to that last page and realize there is a bigger story being told here than the one written in these pages.

This is not a book about Padmé Amidala becoming a senator and trying to fit in with the big kids. It is, in the end, a book about war. How it forces the innocent to grow up. How innocent lives are lost to it, their plans for the future frozen in time.

And how, when the right people come together, their once meaningful lives can help spark a rebellion, even after they’re gone.

Next. Star Wars Rebels: The origins of Ahsoka the White. dark

Queen’s Shadow is now available anywhere books are sold.