Biweekly Book Review: The High Republic: Into The Dark

New year, new Star Wars era, and now…a new book by Claudia Gray *squeals*.

Of all the High Republic books, this is the one I was most looking forward to. I was not disappointed in my anticipation. Looking to the future though, Claudia is the only High Republic author who hasn’t been confirmed for any future books yet, though she is working on something Star Wars (Obitine please please please yes I know that isn’t High Republic shhh). But that’s the future. Let’s turn our focus to the here and now, and take a look at Into the Dark by Claudia Gray.

Because this is a very new release, I’m going to change things slightly:

*The “story” section will not contain spoilers, only plot and my opinion. The rest of the review will have spoilers. Proceed with caution.*

The Story

Jedi Padawan Reath Silas is being sent to the frontier to meet up with his Master, Jora Malli. He is going thoroughly against his will because he would rather stay in the Core than venture out into the unknown of the Outer Rim. But go he must. He is accompanied on his trip by three fellow Jedi – Master Cohmac, Wayseeker Orla, and Jedi Knight Dez Rydan – as well as the crew of the Vessel, the, well, vessel charged with taking them to the Starlight Beacon, crewed by Captain Leox Gyasi, teenager Affie Hollow and a giant rock named Geode.

A lot of characters, yes. But all are given their due here.

The “Great Disaster” that informs the entire High Republic era does not spare those onboard the Vessel, and they are knocked out of hyperspace in the middle of nowhere. Well, almost nowhere. There is an old abandoned waystation floating out there. What could possibly go wrong?

They rally the rest of the ships stranded in the area and coordinate shelter on the station until they can contact the Republic for assistance. While there, the crew faces strange, unseen threats from the station itself, as well as individual crises about what it means to be them, their relationships with the people in their lives and what it is they really want.

Did that sound corny? Yes. Does it sound corny in the book? Absolutely not, because as usual Claudia Gray masterfully weaves beautiful character development and internal growth and struggle with the more action-driven scenes that are a hallmark of Star Wars books.

OK on to the deep dive stuff (I had a very hard time narrowing this list down):

Spoilers begin below

5 Things I Liked (and 1 I Didn’t)

1. The Jedi and their relationship to the Order

Yes I realize this takes up the bulk of the novel, what of it?

There are four prominently featured Jedi in this book, and we get to know all of them really well. It occurred to me, however, that unlike in Light of the Jedi, as we get to know them, we don’t really get a sense of how they perceive the Force (like the way Avar sees it as music, or Elzar the sea). Instead, we get a look at how they perceive the Jedi.

Reath is still a Padawan, and still learning how to walk the line between what he wants and what is expected of him. In this way, he is a lot like Imri and Vernestra from A Test of Courage, which makes sense because they’re all the same age.

Dez loves being a Jedi and longs for action and adventure, until those desires are the catalyst for the profound struggle he undergoes later, at which point he decides to take a step back from public life to heal his connection to the Force.

Then there are Orla and Cohmac. As Padawans, both were present during a hostage crisis where Cohmac’s master was killed, as was one of the hostages they were meant to protect. Cohmac, in his grief doubles down on the teachings of the Jedi, chastising himself for grieving for his master at all, even while he envies others the ability to mourn openly. Meanwhile, Orla holds herself responsible for the death of the hostage. She listened to the instructions of the Jedi Council, at the expense of not listening to what the Force was telling her. Both leave the experience disillusioned, but while Cohmac doubles down on his commitment to the order, even taking on Reath as a Padawan by the end, Orla remains determined to leave the order without actually leaving, becoming a Wayseeker (essentially a gap-year Jedi) to live out in the world and reconnect with the Force in that way – though not as harshly as Dez intends to.

Most of the time when we’ve seen the Jedi in a temple setting prior to the High Republic, it has been during the Prequel era. It is the final days of the order, it is wartime and nothing operates as it should. The exception is Dooku: Jedi Lost, and I think this expertly builds on that foundation: the Jedi do not view their place in the galaxy, or their relationship with the Force or the Jedi Order as a monolith. I am eager to see if we come across these characters again to expand even more on their arcs in this book.

2. The Drengir

When they first announced the High Republic, when all the synopses and character cards were coming out, we also got the names of our two groups of villains. One was the Nihil, the other was the Drengir, who are sentient plant monsters.

After two books centring the Nihil as the villains, I just assumed they would be the “book” villains and the Drengir would be comic book villains. I was extremely wrong.

While the Nihil are in this book a little, the primary antagonists are the Drengir, who are sentient plant life as I mentioned. But this is less “Little Shop of Horrors” than it sounds.

The Drengir are mysteriously strong with the Dark side. So strong that the Sith that discovered them on the way station felt the need to bind them in place and isolate them there so they wouldn’t get out.

If the Sith are scared of them, just how scary are they? We don’t see a lot of them in this book, but what we do see – particularly with Dez Rydan – is chilling. Honestly, they scare me more than the Nihil do. I kind of understand where the Nihil are coming from. But how do you reason with murderous plants?

3. The Nihil. Again.

OK I said they weren’t in this much, and they aren’t. But shout out to this book for sneaking them in there just a little. Two of the refugees they meet at the way station are Nihil in disguise (something that took me an embarrassingly long time to notice considering how much I like them).

While this pays off later, the real highlight is the last half page of the book, when the same Nihil refugee goes to Marchion Ro to seek his help. I have nothing intelligent to add here, I just love Marchion so much that I’ll take any scraps I can get until the next book comes out.

4. Dez Rydan

You ever meet a character and you just love them right away and would possibly risk it all for them? That is Dez Rydan, for me.

Dez is Jora Malli’s former Padawan, and is a big brother type for Reath. The kind of confident action-loving Jedi who makes a nice counterpart for his bookish “little brother”.

So when I thought he just died in a vaporizing poof halfway through the book, I was…upset to say the least. I should have known better. Claudia would never.

Instead, Reath accidentally ends up on a world overrun with Drengir, after stepping into the same room Dez “died” in and realizing it’s actually an escape pod. He (and we) logically assume that Dez might not be dead. And we’re right. Except Dez has been so tortured by the Drengir – who again, are so Dark Side it scared the Sith – and his connection with the Force is fractured. On return to Coruscant he vows to go into isolation to repair that connection.

What he’s going through, being so close to losing himself to the Dark only to get pulled back is fascinating, and not really something we’ve seen before. We haven’t seen a Jedi get that close and not actually fall. I hope he comes back, I would love to explore that more, maybe give him more of a POV?

But for now, he’s off to exile himself and heal. My poor baby boy. Is it even a Claudia Gray book if your heart doesn’t get curb stomped? I think not.

5. Affie and her cause

Affie is a teenager, yes, a teenager with aspirations. As the foster daughter of the leader of the Byne Guild. On the station, she discovers symbols that the Guild pilots have left behind, including her own parents. This leads her to investigate the practices of the guild as a whole, convinced the pilots are cheating her foster mother.

What she discovers instead is the Guild’s extreme indentured servitude practices.

So Star Wars has a slavery problem. It comes up…a lot. It’s outlawed in the Republic, even this far back in the timeline but exists in the form of indentured servitude. Books are usually stuck in that they can’t solve the problem if the universe at large hasn’t done it yet. But this book brings it up, and then takes active steps to address the injustice.

Granted it’s a small scale thing. Affie finds out that the Guild operated on indentured servitude and turns her foster mother in to the Republic. Does it solve the widespread problem? No. But it was a great surprise considering I thought this subplot would just end with a resolution to do something about it at some undetermined time in the future, and then never talk about it again.

6. The flashbacks

Here we are at my “thing I didn’t” like in a Claudia Gray book which, as usual, is the nitpickiest of nitpicks. On a few occasions the book cuts away to a mission “twenty-five years ago”, when Orla and Cohmac were Padawans. The mission is crucial to the story, both in the feeling of helplessness it instills in them that is eerily similar to their current mission, but also in the way it informs their individual views of the Jedi Order.

It’s a very engaging subplot, but at times felt so spread out that it would take me a minute to get back into the flow of it. I don’t know what my recommended fix would be, and honestly it wasn’t that jarring. Maybe make each flashback section a little longer?

Random Thoughts

Geode, a member of the crew of the Vessel is literally a giant rock. No features, no voice, no nothing. But apparently he is something of a party animal. And can move around on his own. I have no idea how any of this works, but the mental image of a giant rock just kinda showing up and scaring the shit out of whoever happens to be around is hysterical. If we ever get a movie or show set in the High Republic, I want Geode in it for this reason alone.

A great detail from new canon that I absolutely love is that the Jedi Temple on Coruscant is built on the remains of a Sith Temple. It’s also, in my opinion, a greatly under-utilized, so any time it comes up I am a happy camper. More interconnections in my stories, please.

Reath doesn’t want to go to the Outer Rim because there might be bugs there. If this isn’t the biggest mood…

The people of Zeitooine are called the “Zeit”, which now makes me wonder if the people of Tatooine are called the “Tat”.

AMAXINE WARRIOR CALLBACK. If I haven’t mentioned it before, I absolutely love Bloodline (I have? Several times? That tracks). The Amaxine Warriors were first brought up in that book as the paramilitary force that everyone thought long extinct. In actuality, they were biding their time and would go on to play a part in the rise of the First Order. Why are they mentioned here? Because they are the ones who built the way station that most of the book is set on. Who knows if they’ll come back, but it was cool to see them while we did.

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