The HoloNet Marauders were recently given early access to two releases from the second wave of Star Wars: The High Republic stories. Published by Disney-Lucasfilm Press, Race to Crashpoint Tower by Daniel José Older and Out of the Shadows by Justina Ireland, continue the adventures of many characters introduced in previous novels and comic books. Rapidly expanding the galaxy of the High Republic era, many exciting new heroes and villains are also revealed.
I’ll be sharing my spoiler-free thoughts on these stories. So no need to worry about being able to experience these books fresh. While not required, I would strongly recommend reading the first wave of High Republic publications before diving into these however, beginning with Light of the Jedi by Charles Soule. They are great reads themselves. The world building and continuing narrative of the era is some of its biggest strengths. It will only enhance reading subsequent books as the campaign continues.
Race to Crashpoint Tower is listed as a middle-grade novel. It takes place concurrently with the events of Cavan Scott’s upcoming The Rising Storm. The storytelling is fast paced but doesn’t feel rushed. Keeping its reader both entertained and invested. Daniel José Older’s familiarity with the setting and characters from his work on Star Wars Adventures: The High Republic comic series is on full display. Primarily in the way he blends this tale into the ongoing metastory. He integrates humor proficiently, especially for a novel aimed at younger readers. Doing so in a way which doesn’t detract from the more serious story beats and still feels very ‘Star Wars’.
Keeping the action focused around a single event is an efficient device for moving the plot along. It allows the narrative to jump between a few different viewpoints. Older takes full advantage without selling any of those characters short. I especially liked his descriptions of how newly introduced Jedi Padawan Ram Jomaram interacts with the Force and machines. Characters like Anakin and Rey Skywalker displayed similar talents with droids and starships in other media. Here, Older ably allows the reader to see from Ram’s point of view. He describes very well how the Padawan works with mechanical devices through the Force.
The continuing story of Padawan Lula Talisola from Older’s Adventures series was a welcome addition, providing a deeper look into her own thoughts and motivations. I enjoyed the author’s inclusion of different creatures in important roles to the narrative. Which is something that reinforced the sense of being part of the galaxy far, far away. I did feel however that the ending of the book was a bit abrupt. It may be the result of the action occurring at the same time as The Rising Storm. Perhaps not wanting to stray too far from those events. The book could have benefitted from more time wrapping up the various threads of the story. Perhaps allowing the consequences to settle with the characters.
Those concerned about younger readers should be aware that there are a number of battle scenes. Many of these contain some violent content, but they are in no way gratuitous or overdone. Instead they fit quite well with the themes and pacing of a Star Wars story. Overall making Race to Crashpoint Tower a very enjoyable and easy read.
As for Justina Ireland’s Out of the Shadows, this book benefits greatly from having first read her book A Test of Courage, in addition to the aforementioned Light of the Jedi. It is not strictly necessary to enjoy this new story. However, many events and the characters in those books are often referenced. I sincerely urge you to read them, as they are certainly worth the time.
Aimed at a more mature reader level, Out of the Shadows deals capably with themes of loss, doubt, anger, and romance. How to deal with, embrace, and ultimately accept emotions lies at the heart of the novel. Given the role of attachment and feelings in the Jedi Order, Ireland deftly approaches these subjects. She allows her characters to face them organically over the course of the story. The glimpses she provides into individuals’ decisions and reactions feel theatrical without becoming too melodramatic. Most notably when dealing with the Jedi such as Vernestra Rwoh and cargo pilot Sylvestri Yarrow.
Ireland’s switching of perspectives extends to the villains as well. Putting the reader inside their consciousness makes the antagonists feel much more fully fleshed out. Having motivations and goals other than just being evil for evil’s sake makes for a much more interesting read. There is still plenty of lightsaber fodder to populate the book’s many exciting actions scenes. Often in the form of often nameless but menacing Nihil and other assorted scum and villainy. But the primary adversaries never feel two dimensional.
Out of the Shadows’ story skillfully captures the tone and feeling of a space opera. It makes good use of surprise revelations, welcome cameos, dramatic monologues and declarations as might be expected. However, the quiet moments of solitary reflection also stand out. Particularly well-handled in regards to the Jedi and their meditations within the Force. Each Jedi’s experience is unique and grounded in an understanding of the mythos surrounding the Cosmic and Living Force. New aspects of Jedi abilities shown, yet none of them feel out of place with what has come before.
This facility extends to the author’s use of technology, aliens, and the other accoutrements of Star Wars as well. I did wish on occasion that the book went into greater detail when discussing certain topics. For example, the specifics of Jedi training. Naming of lightsaber forms instead of more generic terminology or covering the Jedi Trials in more depth for example. A minor complaint, from an admitted lore enthusiast. The unique dynamic of Jedi Knight Vernestra and her Padawan Imri Cantaros is contrasted aptly with the more traditional relationship of Master Vitus and Reath Silas. This provides some great character moments as well. I also liked that despite her impressive skills, Vernestra still experiences doubt about her place in the Order. Underlined by the fact that not everyone agrees with Rwoh having achieved her current rank.
I hope that the High Republic stories continue to explore the ideas touched on in this book. The era has a unique feel in Star Wars, very different than the darkness of the Galactic Civil War. It is an age of prosperity and light. The Jedi and the Republic truly acting as forces for good in the galaxy. I look forward to seeing how the Jedi face their struggles against the Nihil, the Drengir, and the Dark Side. Hopefully, without treading too closely to the familiar territory of the Clone Wars as the series progresses. And it would be great to see Justina Ireland continue to write the story of these characters further. Out of the Shadows is a strong addition to the High Republic publishing campaign.