I read it a long time ago, but haven't gotten around to writing about it till today, when I plan to start reading it one more time, hoping to finish it before I watch the movie. This post does contain spoilers from the plot of the book/movie, so don't read it if you'd rather watch the film with an open mind.
I've always believed that books are much better than movies at conveying storylines, and this book (I bet) will be no exception. I must have read around 40-50 Star Wars books, and this one easily surpasses all of them. Matthew Stover has delivered a brilliant piece of art. I wouldn't rate this a page-turner, I would rate this book an activity-forgetter. I didn't realize I was turning pages, not that the clock was ticking, nor even that I existed, while I was reading this book, I was so wrapped up in the story. Part of that, of course, comes from being a Star Wars fan - but a lot of it comes from writing so inspired it could only have been produced in a moment of genius. In this book, you do feel the Force.
The key characters in the plot of Episode III are, of course, Anakin, Obi-Wan and Palpatine. Each is brought to life in a powerful, but different ways. We get to know Anakin from inside his mind, from the chaos, confusion, anger and fear that lives there. His journey from a Jedi to a Sith began in Episode II by decimating Sandpeople in the heat of anger and passion, and it is complete when he murders padawans in the Jedi temple in cold blood. The chilling part is how the journey is made plausible.
Obi-Wan is revealed through the Force. Its tough, really tough, to describe the mystical Force in words. Many authors have tried, but very few have succeeded - but Stover does it to perfection, surpassing even his admirable storytelling in Shatterpoint. Obi-Wan stands out among the Jedi - sometimes the lone representative of all that they should stand for. We see the purity of the Force moving with him as he effortlessly battles his way out of Dooku's flagship, defeats General Grievous (twice), gives encouraging advice to Mace Windu, no less, and finally, defeats Anakin, a feat whose very possibility is the subject of debate among many Star Wars fans. If anything, in this series of depressing events, Obi-Wan's way with the Force is a beacon of hope that allows the struggle to continue on even after the Sith have had their revenge.
What makes this book a masterpiece, though, is Palpatine's character development. Apparently, from the reviews I've read so far, the same is true of the movie. Palpatine is what gives the entire story its flavour - darkness. Darkness is not an enemy you can fight against; but darkness is something that insiduously envelops you when you least expect it. A foe that can use your very attacks against it to turn you over to the dark side. As you read through the plot, you find that Anakin isn't so much an evil person as he is a fallible human with darkness held deep inside (as indeed, are many of the Jedi). It is Palpatine's brilliant manipulation, wordplay and avuncular temptations to delve into the dark side that are the cause of his downfall. His slide down the dark path is the point of the entire movie (and indeed, the entire prequel series). It was so well engineered that it left me with dark thoughts for days afterward.
From a literature point of view, Matthew Stover has used a very interesting approach - he switches between storytelling and descriptive parts very distinctly. In fact, he uses glaring pointers - "this is what it feels like to be Anakin now...", and if anybody had told me before I read the book about this idea; I'd have scorned it. Somehow, though, the obvious switches in style tie in really well and contribute wonderfully to the overall story.
In short, its a phenomenal read. Don't miss it, especially if you appreciate the Star Wars universe. I'm off to read the book for a second time. I've earned it!