“You can’t do everything, Jedi. There’s no time!” — Narsk
Star Wars: Knight Errant (the novel!)
My first novel — written in coordination with several comics series — follows the adventures of Kerra Holt, a Jedi freedom fighter working behind Sith enemy lines as she attempts to save the innocent from warring tyrants!
In the summer of 2009, I was approached by my Lost Tribe of the Sith editor, Shelly Shapiro, about potentially crafting a novel to go alongside the Knight Errant comics series. That series, still then under the working title “Jedi,” was still in the very early stages; the first draft of the plot for “Aflame” had not yet been submitted, but Lucasfilm‘s Sue Rostoni had suggested that a comics/novel combination might work well. You can read about the development of the comics series here, but the idea is that the two basically were developed in parallel, as I put together concepts for who Kerra was and what she would be doing.
The concept of the Charge Matrica, the King Lear-like battle for a Sith elder’s favor, was there from the beginning; in fact, the original first page of the comics series referred to it by name, before I changed the text to refer to the death of Chagras in the lettering stage. As I continued to think about the Sith fiefdoms cut off from each other, I realized that, given the lack of communications and reliable scholarship, the existence of the competition — and even the relationships between the various lords — would be unknown to most. This made, then, for a fun backdrop to Kerra’s odyssey in the novel; a grand tour of places very different, yet secretly connected. The plot came together quickly, and the actual writing took all of the spring of 2010, with successive proofing drafts heading into the second half of the year.
The writing itself took me back to my daily newspaper routine, established more than 20 years ago; I wrote every single day, ensuring some progress forward even as I revised earlier pages. Momentum is pretty much everything when your intended word count’s in the six digits. But Kerra’s journey had a way of pulling me along.
I controlled the tempo in the novel through point-of-view shifts between Kerra and two other major characters: the Sith spy Narsk, and the mercenary Jarrow Rusher. As the story began, with Kerra mired in the hopelessness of Daiman’s world, the scenes are naturally longer. As the main characters got near each other, however, the pace quickened, and by the Battle of Gazzari and the Siege of Calimondretta, we were flashing pretty quickly between action threads. This was intentional, mimicking the Star Wars movies in approach: long moments with characters punctuated by stretches of breakneck activity, where our heroes were moving on several fronts at once, sometimes intersecting. If Gazzari or Calimondretta has any of the feel of the Battle of Endor, I’m happy.
Getting inside Kerra’s head was both interesting and challenging. Because she’s wound so tightly, there’s a lot that she doesn’t share, even with herself. Whatever hopes for a normal life she might once have had are vacuum-sealed and rarely acknowledged — liabilities against her young life’s mission. She’s closed off a lot of herself from sight. She doesn’t form relationships easily even with the people she thinks she can trust; connections are fleeting in this place, and, in her mind, to be guarded against lest they become another liability. The events of the novel crack some of that shell, and she actually smiles near the end. But she’s got a lot of healing and growth to do before she can become a whole person again.
On some level, I drew inspiration from some of the experiences of “gifted” students I have seen. Talented, autonomous, and driven — sometimes so driven, as in Kerra’s case, that they can be intense, and difficult to be around. And not always able to cope when they finally fail at something: Kerra, we see here, is prone to petulance and depression when she’s thwarted. She’s happiest when she’s in motion. These are themes I looked at in my Iron Man work, years earlier — and, in the reverse direction, in Knights of the Old Republic. No one expected anything of Zayne Carrick, including himself; unsurprisingly, he was better at rolling with punches, and generally more fun to be around. Kerra would be an exhausting friend to have. (I’m probably more like Kerra than Zayne, I’m sorry to say!)
Kerra, of course, is gifted at something very unusual: she’s a living weapon. A new Jedi Knight — but as we suggest, while she was in the Jedi, she was not of them. We showed just enough of the past to suggest that Kerra looked on the Jedi as a vocational school, rather than a philosophical path — again, ever the utilitarian. The Jedi of this era failed her people, anyway; in “Aflame,” neither her mentor, Vannar Treece, nor her eventual ally, Gorlan Palladane, had a lot of use for the Order as it was. In “Aflame,” we saw two poles of Jedi approach in guns-blazing Vannar and underground social-worker Gorlan; ultimately, Kerra realizes that neither approach is exactly suited to the situation. She’s not happy improving lives only around the margins — as so many under Sith rule are forced to do — but she realizes that, by staying alive, she at least has a chance of expanding those margins. She makes her own way, following her own rules.
We see a bit of this in her interactions with the Sith and their flunkies. Some readers think a Jedi is obliged to kill any Sith on sight, be it a lord or a minion; others expect deadly force to always be the Jedi’s absolute last resort. In the field, the actual practice tends to be more of a mix: taking a cantina bully’s arm isn’t a one-way trip to the dark side as long as you try to buy him a drink first. Kerra’s attitude in the novel is instantly illustrated by her interaction with Narsk. She’s not murderous, but she is indifferent to any hardship that might be suffered by those who would align themselves with the Sith. They’re all culpable to some degree. Locking Narsk in a trash bin or rolling him down a big hill is, in fact, less than he probably deserves — but again, in Kerra’s thinking, it gets him out of the way without forcing her to make a decision about lethal force. It’s life in the Wild West.
Of course, even if she’s not always the executioner, she does plenty of judging — as we see with her interactions with Bridagier Rusher. As the most easily relatable character, Rusher was always a blast to write — though he, too, had layers: showing a happy face to his customers and crew, while keeping to himself the desperate need to keep his operation afloat, and out of Sith hands. That need was, in fact, part of his genesis. I had realized that there had to be some justification for the continued existence of mercenaries when Sith lords could simply enslave whomever they wanted; the “Mandragoran method” described in the novel. That would set up the main relationship conflict for the novel, in which Kerra, who begins believing Sith underlings are all alike, slowly realizes that Rusher is no different from the parents seeking to find better lives for their children.
It’s an interesting realization for Kerra, and it comes after a lot of harsh words and feelings. As mentioned above, she’s fine with sacrificing ideals to practicalities when it’s her choice — but no one else gets that slack. Around Rusher, we never forget that she’s eighteen. His heart is in the right place, but he can’t afford to go along with Kerra without a practical path to success; their scene in the grotto is pretty much an urgent “Tell me how!” moment. They were an interesting couple to write: while there were certainly some verbal fireworks between the two, it’s safe to say that thoughts of romance are in that shuttered-away part of Kerra’s soul. (That won’t always necessarily be the case, but at least at this stage of her journey, there’s no time for love, Charlie Brown!)
Rusher’s path ultimately comes from Narsk, our most mysterious lead character, and the first one we meet, doing what he does best. Rusher’s interest in history was important because it showed that even learned people didn’t know what was going on in the sector; Narsk, on the other hand, knew all. More in the tradition of the KOTOR characters when it comes to keeping secrets, Narsk required some finesse: while he was lying to his Sith bosses about who he really worked for, he could never lie to the reader.
Narsk, we see, is in the employ of Vilia, the head of a family of Sith lords vying for power. The idea for the Charge Matrica had, again, come by way of King Lear with a trip through I, Claudius and even The Big Valley; Vilia’s name is, in fact, an anagram of the mother of Emperor Tiberius, and I imagine a Thorn Birds-era Barbara Stanwyck for her voice. I intended that Narsk would see Vilia as someone quite amazing, almost a mythical figure; Hera to Arkadia’s would-be Athena. She ties it all together, making the dysfunctional seem functional. Someone mentioned The Year Without a Santa Claus, in which Mother Nature chastised Heat-Mizer and Snow-Mizer — that’s a funny connection.
I’ve written of the Sith Lords Daiman and Odion over in the comics notes; here, we got to see Daiman’s crazy world in full. The Daimanate called upon images from similar cult-of-personality states; Turkmenbashi of Turkmenistan was just the latest of the world’s “let’s-rename-all-the-months” leaders we’ve seen. We also get a creepy peek into Daiman’s inner doubts, as he struggles to make what he can do fit with his world view. It’s not pretty.
There is actually a fourth point-of-view character in Calician, the regent for the Dyarchy. There was no question of showing Narsk’s actions on Byllura while they were happening; the surprise of his involvement, and who he worked for, had to be preserved. Getting inside Calician’s mind, meanwhile, gave us an understanding of what was going on on Byllura that no one else could provide — while letting us see what it was like to live under constant Force manipulation. In Calician, I had the chance to take a typical egomaniacal Sith and crush his will under a multi-ton weight; he’s been a puppet for so long he no longer recognizes his limbs as his own. But that strong Sith will and sense of identity also makes him the one person that has any chance of resisting Dromika’s power — Kerra included, as we see. But as soon as the Dyarchy falls, we go immediately back to Narsk as our speaker for the Sith.
It’s always dangerous to tell a SF story in which kids are controlling others’ minds; there are some bad TV episodes out there (and Kerra makes a joke to that effect). What I wanted to do with Quillan and Dromika was show how the accident of birth into Sith space could have tragic results. Had they lived in the Republic, the Jedi could have worked to help them to lead normal lives. In Sith hands, they became weapons.
Finally, Arkadia I visualized as something of a self-imagined goddess of wisdom: after the madness of the earlier stops on the journey, her home would look like a pleasant place to stop. But as with Odysseus, Kerra realizes that things are not all as they seem. If Arkadia’s method of keeping her people off balance feels familiar in your own workplace, it’s because it came from a corporate context: one of the executives described in Barbarians at the Gate delighted in switching people to new jobs as soon as they achieved competence in an old one, just to prevent alternative power bases from forming. As we see, even some of the workers in Arkadia’s paradise leap the fence, when given the chance! (Fun note: Barbarians at the Gate was co-written by a former co-worker of Star Wars fan ambassador, Steve Sansweet!)
The proofreading process was helped along by my wife, Meredith, and by T.M. Haley, who was assisting me in 2010. I stripped out a number of sequences where I used the old quote-paraphrase- quote style from journalism school; it’s good for keeping longer conversations from getting too far off into the weeds, but I’ve been working on using it less.
The final volume omitted the Dramatis Personae, at my request. It wouldn’t do to provide ANY details about the mystery figure at the end of the book, for example, and I didn’t want readers at the start to know any more about Quillan, Dromika, or Arkadia than Kerra did. The Jedi don’t have a complete scorecard, either. And while a Dramatis Personae makes sense for a stage play (Shakespeare used ’em, of course!), my personal feeling was that providing characters you could remember and tell apart was part of the job.
The novel released on January 25, 2011, five years to the day after Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic #1 went on sale. That weekend saw my first two events as a novelist with the 501st Legion in attendance, including an event at the Borders in Madison. (It was sadly the last Star Wars event they would have, as the chain went under.)
The response to the novel was gratifying, with the title reaching #9 on the Barnes & Noble Paperback list and appearing for several weeks on The New York Times Bestseller list. The Knight Errant novel was followed by the final issue of “Aflame”; another comics series, with events to follow the novel, is slated for later in 2011.
“So much for working for the creator of the universe. No miracles here!” — Jarrow Rusher
I’ve been asked enough about pronunciations, so here they are. Again, until there’s an audio version of something from Lucasfilm, these are purely my own suggestions — your pronunciations are just as valid as mine!
Daiman — DAY-muhn
Odion — OH-dee-yun
The Daimanate — DAY-muhn-et
The Odionate — OH-dee-yun-et
Dackett — DAK-it
Gazzari — gah-ZAHR-ee
Celegian — seh-LEE-gen
Quillan — KWILL-en
Dromika — DRAHM-ee-kah
Arkadia Calimondra — ar-KAY-dee-yuh KAL-i-mahn-dra
Arkadianate — ar-KAY-dee-yuh-net
Syned — SIGH-nehd
Vilia — VILL-ee-yah
There was no subtitle for the Knight Errant novel, but if there had been, I was looking at Beholden, which spoke to the beholden trust between Kerra and her charges (and ironically about Vilia’s relationship with hers).
Kerra appears on Syned on the cover. Her eyes are actually hazel, but reflect the green of her lightsaber here.
Kerra Holt’s first name, as mentioned on the site before, was a contraction of “Knight Errant” that I had used as a placeholder in early drafts. For her last name, I followed what I had done with Zayne Carrick, whose surname came from one of the dorms I lived in at the University of Tennessee. By contrast, I only lived a summer in the campus-run Andy Holt Apartments. (I’m out of dorms to use as names, now — I’m doubting I will use Eigenmann Hall from Indiana!)
The first novel I started in high school, an Indiana Jones-style adventure, also introduced its hero through a eyes of a crook whose caper goes horribly wrong. I’ve been writing prose for a loooong time — those pages are dot-matrix on tractor-feed paper!
There was a Brigadier Arthur Easton Rusher who served in Southeast Asia in World War II, but he is not the inspiration for our brigadier’s name, nor was the geographic feature known as the Jarrow March. Just coincidences. Just like — yes, Narsk is an anagram of Snark — but it’s not intentional!
Darkknell and Xakrea were shown in detail in the “Interlude at Darkknell” short story by Timothy Zahn and Michael Stackpole, printed in the Tales of the New Republic collection. Some elements of the city’s geography were brought in, although the Daiman-centric names obviously did not survive a thousand years.
There are sevens hidden all over the place in the novel, a relic of Vilia’s first generation of seven children. Coincidentally, the novel itself roughly broke down into sevenths as written, with three sevenths spent on Darkknell and Gazzari, two in the Dyarchy, and two in the Arkadianate.
The triple star system as described for Darkknell is very much an astronomical possibility; many have been discovered. I don’t know if anyone has claimed them as their “eyes in the sky,” though!
One treads very carefully bringing invisibility into Star Wars. As the reader can see, we presented all sorts of drawbacks to the use of the Mark VI. It’s almost more trouble than it’s worth!
Narsk’s needler weapon came from one of the West End guides.
Rusher said that he had adopted his force’s ranks from an ancient time — and here, he was referring specifically to the Mandalorian Wars-era ranks outlined in the Knights of the Old Republic Campaign Guide. Brigadiers led brigades, which were defined as four to nine battalions plus a headquarters unit — overall force ranging in size from 1,000 to 5,000 beings; majors led the battalions. “Master” in Dackett’s case was a shortening of the Shipmaster term from that era, being the highest-ranking naval non-commissioned officer aboard a vessel. This underlines the degree to which Rusher was just making things up on the fly, as Kerra said, mixing his services in arriving at his ranks — but it’s safe to say that Dackett was the #2 ranked person in Diligence.
The ancient hand-held weapons used as Rusher’s battalion names — Coyn’skar, Dematoil, etc. — likewise came from a West End guide.
While the “lurch ratio” is a new concept, the “fire/disable” rating has been mentioned before with regard to Star Wars artillery.
My son and I crafted a model of the Diligence for my reference; it appeared in an article on the official Star Wars website. It is no longer online.
The recurrence of the “knight errant” phraseology is something of our “shaken, not stirred” for this series, much as the ironic rephrasings of “May the Force be with you” were a staple of the KOTOR comics. The real “knight-errant” term is spelled with a hyphen, but we decided not to go that way.
My often-used figure of 560, for my grandfather’s LST from World War II, comes in again as the number of Brigade survivors.
Calician’s name was deliberately chosen for its similiarity to “Celegian.” The similarity comes up a couple of times, both as a childhood insult against the regent, and again once Calician begins to regain his identity.
Every location in the novel also appeared in the Knight Errant Essential Atlas Supplement. Clearly, the Jedi did not know about the Dyarchy, which centers on Byllura, or the Arkadianate, which centers on Syned.
After Odion’s Sword of Ieldis vessel, we get another link to the ancient Sith lord in Arkadia’s New Crucible vessel. We can see why the KOTOR-era Crucible would appeal to her.
I should post my map of Calimondretta one day. The name of the city, of course, was inspired by the suffix found on Alexandretta.
I was very happy to make a role for Seese, the Herglic. My initial plans for the Crucible in KOTOR had included a Herglic as a trainer, but the character was cut for … well, space. Imagine all the room a Herglic would take in the panel!
Bitsy, Rusher’s favorite cannon, is indeed the heavy laser cannon found mounted atop and facing aft on the Moomo Brothers’ Moomo Williwaw. Whether the derelict it was mounted on was that vessel, the book doesn’t say. Knowing the Moomos, they may have simply forgotten where they parked for a few thousand years…
The novel included a 16-page color comics section showing the first part of Aflame #1. It’s the first appearance of a comics section in a prose Star Wars paperback, to my knowledge, and the first color insert in a paperback since the Return of the Jedi novelization, from what I am told.
The novel includes one element that will be a major plot point in the next comics storyline — it probably won’t be what you’d guess! But you’ll know that you read about it here first…
The novel went to a fifth printing in the summer of 2016, but it was otherwise identical to the original version, complete with the comics section and embossed cover.