Spoiler Level: Medium
James Luceno's tale of the Prequel era picks up at the same planet where Darth Maul: Saboteur left off, albeit months later, and we see how the manipulations in that short story set the stage for even bigger manipulations in this novel, which set the stage for the even bigger manipulations of The Phantom Menace. Which of course also set the stage for the manipulations of the next two films.
Luceno has a complete and total grasp of Palpatine, and the intricacies of his machinations that we become privy to here are really at the core of the lessons that the Prequel trilogy was trying to show us.
I remember as a kid, I always found the boardroom scene in the original Star Wars to be the most boring part. But then I saw it again as a young adult and the dialogue talking about how "The Emperor has disbanded the Senate..." totally fascinated me. I really wanted a deeper look at this pre-Empire version of the Star Wars Galaxy. I guess that's part of why I wasn't as disappointed with the film as everyone else was; when I finally got to see the Senate, it exceeded my imaginations of what it was.
And that's where this book excels-- it shows us how far the Republic has fallen, how deeply the corruption has taken hold, and how cleverly Palpatine is able to play that to his advantage. And it takes on an even deeper meaning now that the Prequel Trilogy is over, and you absolutely know that these failings are leading to not just the end of the Republic, but the Republic itself letting go of all it was supposed to hold dear and becoming the Empire.
In the Senate, politicians are not concerned with the welfare of the Republic or their own people; they're concerned with taking down their political opponents, or making sure things go smoothly for the ones with the money, such as the Trade Federation, because that will benefit them. The parallels between this and our own government, which often seems more concerned with helping the corporations than helping the people, are obvious. And so is the warning-- if we don't turn back now, this could happen here.
It's also nice to get to see another story with Qui-Gon, who was such a wonderful part of Phantom Menace but has so few other stories. And this story also introduces Vergere, who becomes a very prominent character in the New Jedi Order series, so I found that to be a very pleasant connection.
All in all, while we the fans were busy whining about Jar-Jar and little Anakin yelling "Yippie!" we should have been focusing on what Episode I got right-- the corruption that could allow evil to take hold without anyone noticing. And that's what this book delivers.