More than 20 years after its initial release, Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter by Michael Reaves has received the Star Wars: Essential Legends treatment, including a new unabridged audiobook read by Maul voice actor Sam Witwer.
Shadow Hunter is essentially a prequel to The Phantom Menace and features some events happening concurrently with the opening scenes of the film – i.e. the blockade of Naboo and the dispatch of Jedi Obi-Wan Kenobi and Master Qui-Gon Jinn to investigate.
The novel is chiefly about Maul’s mission to hunt down a Neimoidian traitor who stole away with Darth Sidious’s plans for the blockade of Naboo. That Neimoidian involves information broker Lorn Pavan by selling him the details, adding another person to Maul’s hit list. To make matters even spicier, Jedi Padawan Darsha Assant is dropped in the mix during a mission set by the Jedi Council.
As Maul paves a path of bloodshed and terror in the lower levels of Coruscant, Lorn and Darsha become uneasy allies as they fight to get the information to the Jedi with the Sith hot on their tails.
While Shadow Hunter has Darth Maul’s name in the title, and the Sith apprentice is considered the book’s protagonist (antagonist, too), the adult novel shares much of the spotlight with Lorn and Darsha. Reaves does an excellent job writing Darsha and the other Jedi in the same style as what we see in the prequels – peacekeepers who are slowly morphing into law enforcement while trying to stick to rigid and outdated dogma.
Lorn becomes even more fascinating as the novel slowly lays out the pieces of his heartbreaking puzzle and his reasons for hating the Jedi. And through Lorn, we see the underbelly of Coruscant explored in creepy detail – who lives there and how they’re treated and regarded, from monsters and scoundrels to those just trying to survive.
Besides the exploration of a different, darker level of Coruscant and the fleshing out of new characters that fit perfectly in the Legends universe, Shadow Hunter is also an essential read for fans of Maul.
While Ray Park is the face – and moves – of Maul, Witwer is the Sith’s menacing voice. Like he did for the character in The Clone Wars and Rebels, Witwer does an excellent job pitching his voice to deliciously creepy depths. For Maul alone, Witwer exuded several tones ranging from worrisome sadistic glee to explosive wrath that could be felt through my headphones.
This story itself is also a fascinating exploration of Maul’s twisted psyche. Shadow Hunter shows Maul at the height of his dark side power and Sith apprenticeship. He’s full of anger and hatred, and he channels those dark emotions into his dual-bladed lightsaber, which he treats as a deadly extension of his mind and body.
At this time, Maul is also at a tipping point and full of impatience to prove himself to his master, Darth Sidious. His fierceness and rage are white hot, and he’s nearly burning up with the madness of it. This Maul is definitely the one we see in The Phantom Menace but with so much more backstory, context, and, well, voice.
You won’t watch The Phantom Menace the same way after reading Shadow Hunter.
Maul’s polar opposite in the book is Darsha, who’s also at the tipping point that all Jedi Padawans experience. She has a solid relationship with her master but is staring down the Jedi Trials to become a knight. And like so many other Padawans, she questions her abilities and whether she’s ready for the responsibility.
Through these two Force users and Lorn, we get a fast-paced thriller set in the core of the Star Wars universe. Shadow Hunter combines street-level action adventure with a touch of horror and political intrigue to produce a captivating page-turner.
Penguin Random House Audio continues to deliver superb updated audiobooks to attract more fans to Legends. And while Shadow Hunter may be Witwer’s audiobook debut, his immersive narration far exceeded what fans have come to expect from Star Wars audiobooks.
The book more than delivers on the promise of unleashing on the galaxy the dark side nightmare that is Maul. Shadow Hunter provides a horror story befitting the timeline-spanning character while delivering a satisfying, but not-so-happy ending.
Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter is available now in the new Essential Legends Collection format and via audiobook.