"You've been a good apprentice, Obi-Wan, and you're a much wiser man than I am. I foresee you will become a great Jedi Knight."
Qui-Gon Jinn's comment to Padawan Obi-Wan Kenobi insuggests an easy relationship between the two, but author Claudia Gray's novel reveals that they had a rocky journey as teacher and student.
Master & Apprentice throws us back to a time before that movie. Getting into these characters' heads is fascinating, with the tension between them ramping up the drama.
After a swashbuckling mission, the rebellious Qui-Gon gets a surprise invitation to join the austere Jedi Council, but that'd mean Obi-Wan would be transferred to a new master to complete his training. Qui-Gon is torn about the prospect, despite long doubting his ability to teach the strait-laced Obi-Wan.
In the midst of this, we're treated to fascinating flashbacks to Qui-Gon's own apprenticeship under Master Dooku -- who'll later become the villainous Sith Lord seen in Attack of the Clones. These are infrequent enough to be tantalizing without interrupting the flow of the main narrative.
That kicks in when Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan get sent on a mission to stop terrorists threatening a planet that's ending its isolationist policies to open hyperspace lanes, offering new routes for space travel.
Another of Dooku's former students, Rael Averross, is stationed on the planet. He's an unorthodox, slightly obnoxious Jedi, and even more of a rebel than Qui-Gon. Their interactions, both in the main story and the flashbacks, have a fun dynamism to them.
Along with the three main Jedi, we meet jewel thieves Rahara Wick and Pax Maripher. These kinds of outlaw characters are a dime a dozen in this universe, but these two manage to stand out because their great backstories.
The main plot isn't the most compelling or surprising we've had in a Star Wars novel, but Gray infuses each character with enough unique energy and voice that it doesn't matter.
Much of the story is told from Qui-Gon's point of view, and he offers fascinating insights into the nature of the Force, the role of the Jedi in the galaxy and his own responsibilities as a teacher.
We don't get quite as much of the teenage Obi-Wan or Averross, but their journeys are excellent to follow regardless. Even the seldom-seen Dooku has a massive presence.
There's also a great exploration of the Jedi Temple, offering moments with Masters Yoda and Mace Windu. The author uses the era introduced in George Lucas' prequel trilogy wonderfully.
Gray's other Star Wars novels -- Lost Stars, Bloodline and Leia: Princess of Alderaan -- are among the best you can read, but Master & Apprentice stands out as her strongest. Deep characterization and depicting inner conflict are clearly her strengths as an author.