Biweekly Book Review: The High Republic: The Rising Storm

Just a note to say that this is a SPOILER-FILLED review. If you want Spoiler-Free, check out my review over at The Geeky Waffle here.

It’s time. It’s finally time. Wave Two of Star Wars: The High Republic is finally here! When I think back to silly, skeptical Arezou back when the publishing initiative was announced, I can’t help but laugh. I thought it sounded cool, but weird. Too detached from the main timeline to hold my interest and definitely way too much going on for me to follow it easily.

The joke was very much on me. Since January, the High Republic era and stories have become some of my favourite storytelling coming out of Star Wars. Ever. They even got me reading single issue comics. Who am I??

The Rising Storm, the adult-focused novel (novel for adults? I never know what to call it so it doesn’t sound like an 18+ thing) that kicks off Wave Two. I was already super excited for Cavan Scott’s prose take on the High Republic era. Dooku: Jedi Lost was an unexpected favourite of mine when it came out and the High Republic has very similar vibes to D:JL. After having read it, I said this is a Top 3 Star Wars novel for me. I would like to now amend that statement. It’s my favourite Star Wars novel full-stop..

With that in mind, let’s get into The Rising Storm by Cavan Scott.

The Story

One year after the Great Disaster changed lives all over the galaxy, its citizens are reeling. But as any group does in the wake of a crisis, they soldier on and try to get back to normal. Specifically, getting on with the long planned “Republic Fair”, to be held on the Mid-Rim world of Valo. Jedi Master Elzar Mann, the administrator on Valo, is given run of the event, but is plagued by horrifying visions of everyone he’s ever known and loved dying in a horrifying way.

Speaking of which.

The Nihil are looking for a way to strike out at a government they already perceive as weak and struggling after the Legacy Run disaster. With Marchion Ro somewhat out of commission on a hunt of his own, the remaining Nihil Leaders launch an attack on the Republic Fair not to do anything in particular, but simply to show that they can.

If this summary seems vague, it’s because I truly cannot summarize this book without delving into just how rich all the characters are. Because it’s told from multiple points of view, so much of the plot is intermingled with the characters, which are a big part of what I loved about this book, so we’ll get into it below.

5 Things I Liked (and 1 I Wanted More Of)

1. Elzar Mann, the incurable romantic

Oh, Elzar Mann. My sweet boy. We can talk about how keenly or intensely the other Jedi from the PT/OT/ST love, but truly, there was never a Jedi who loved as deeply as Elzar Mann does. The man just loves love.

We first met Elzar in Light of the Jedi, and one thing that everyone seemed to be talking about – at least in my circles – is the seemingly doomed romance between Elzar and his childhood best friend Avar Kriss. And don’t get me wrong, I’m still very invested in seeing what happens to these two crazy kids (it’s not gonna go well, is it? Star Wars likes to break my heart)

But rather than spending the bulk of the book pining over Avar, and their last encounter a year ago on the Starlight Beacon, Elzar actually surprised me! OK, yes, there was some pining, I’d be disappointed if there wasn’t any pining. But Elzar isn’t sitting in his room moping. Oh, no. Instead, he’s sparked up a flirtation with a Valo administrator named Samera. A flirtation that the two of them take to the next level, if you catch my drift.

That’s right. Not to sound like a super immature teenager, but this book actually has sex in it. I mean, not explicitly, this is still traditionally published Star Wars, and not the AO3 kind. But like…a Jedi that fucks. Multiple times. A game changer.

This might seem silly to get this excited over. But I honestly can’t believe it took this long to be this explicit about it (and, again, it’s not actually explicit). There are a lot of stories that talk about the conflict Jedi have over feeling attachment for another, and what that might look like, but it’s always presented as this amorphous, larger-than-life kind of love/attachment. What we have here is an attachment that could blossom into love someday, but for now is manifesting in a very real way. The way some adults actually like to express feelings for each other in the real world. And the way Elzar and Samera’s relationship is written is the actual, heart-pounding kind of slow burn I love to read.

And like every sweet, romantic man, this goes beyond sex for Elzar. He can see this thing with Samera escalating into something long term down the line. Unfortunately for him, she doesn’t feel the same and says they should just leave it at what it was. Now I might dismiss this as just them being on different pages about the whole thing, but the fact that she left him naked and asleep in her apartment (this book made my brain short-circuit, I swear, it’s so horny) while she went back to the Fair? Kinda sus, I’m just saying…

But before you think that Elzar spends the entire book only thinking about one thing, his tendency to for deep attachments comes up in other ways too.

His sudden friendship with Ty Yorrick is fascinating. It’s unexpected, and intense. I hope this gets revisited down the line, because the nature of their Face Bond really made me sit up in my seat. Is this some kind of proto-dyad? Something like it? Something totally different? I don’t know but I’m ready to find out. But all this is to say that while Jedi might preach no attachment, I almost feel like Elzar is incapable of NOT forming attachments.

One thing I picked up on throughout, and that made me really happy to see, is the friendship between Elzar and Stellan Gios. These are two men who grew up together, who respect each other even when the other one is being an idiot. They are best friends, and they truly do love each other. I said in my non-spoiler review that media needs more healthy male friendships like this, and I was delighted to learn that Cavan Scott feels the same!

Speaking of Stellan…

2. Stellan Gios, my sweet nerdy boy

I already had a feeling I would fall in love with Stellan Gios. On paper, he’s everything I love in a Jedi. He’s got the Obi-Wan aesthetic. His Padawan Vernestra is already a Jedi knight so we know he’s a dedicated teacher. He’s got a crossguard lightsaber. He’s basically a perfect combination of my favourite Skywalker-era boys: Obi-Wan Kenobi and Ben Solo.

Beyond that though…Stellan is just SUCH a dork. The biggest nerd. He relishes having the opportunity to talk and teach, and tries to use his role on the council to do more of that. So it comes as a huge shock and adjustment to his character when the Nihil’s actions in nearly killing Chancellor Soh thrust him into a heroic spotlight position he hadn’t really anticipated taking on. Images of him cradling Soh’s body circulate all over the holonet, and we don’t need to live in the GFFA to know the power of a single, widely disseminated image.

He also makes for such an interesting contrast to Elzar. Light of the Jedi describes Elzar as being the type to never do things the same way twice, and never explain his reasoning. Stellan is the exact opposite. Everything is just so with him, he absolutely loves explaining himself, and it’ll be interesting to see how that comes into play with his dual role as hero/saviour and Jedi Council member.

We got little snippets of him and Vernestra in this book, and I hope we get to see more of their dynamic in later books. I wonder how much of the pressures and responsibilities she puts on herself stem from the kind of training she got.

Like Elzar, he appears to be a kind, even loving man. But we only ever see this through the lens of him as a teacher, and as a friend. What would happen, I wonder, if Stellan Gios were to fall in love? Poor, dorky man wouldn’t know what to do with himself. I need it. I realize this is less review and more speculation, but it’s the mark of a well-written character when I can start speculating about their interior life. Means the author gave me a lot to work with!

Also, and this is a propos of nothing but I love the way his name sounds. It’s just fun to say.

3. Force Users of all kinds

One cool feature of this High Republic era is the pervasiveness of Force users. By the time we catch up with them in the Prequel-era, the use of the Force has become so diminished, even the Jedi are having trouble sensing it. We see some characters pop up down the line in animation, like the Bogan or the Lasat in Rebels. In Legends of Luke Skywalker, we meet cultures that live beyond the reach of the Republic/Empire that have their own relationship to the Force.

But the times we see the Force used or spoken of in this way are more scarce. Not only to they not have a large impact on the story as a whole, they’re also such unknown entities within the story that their introduction also serves as their explanation.

While that also happens here – concepts are not just dropped into our laps and left alone – we get to see these different relationships to the Force built out over the course of the novel.

There is, first and foremost, “saber-for-hire” Ty Yorrick. Hers is still the typical “Jedi” style of Force-usage, but what makes her so interesting is that she’s not a Jedi. She left her Jedi training behind at the Padawan stage for some thus-far-unknown reason. As such, she has continued to develop her usage of the Force in a way that suits her, without adherence to Jedi dogma. Perhaps we’ll learn more about her when Monster at Temple Peak comes out later this year!

There are other moments, such as the way the Togruta perceive the Force, but that falls more in line with what I mentioned above. The one thing that really caught my eye was the scene with Kufa on Rystan. Kufa is a cousin of everyone’s favourite -ok, my favourite – space pirate Marchion Ro (and don’t you worry, we’ll circle back to him). He seeks her out on Rystan to guide him to “the Shrine”, a location sacred to her, and to him once upon a time. Though his primary motivation in going is to acquire a weapon known as “The Leveler”, we actually learn much more about his mysterious people than I think we bargained for. Most interestingly is that whoever his people are, they have some kind of relationship to the Force. One that might even predate the Jedi.

Kufa asks Marchion about what’s been going on with the conflict in the galaxy, and the two draw comparisons between the Jedi, and the “Faithful”.

As in the Jedi are not considered those who are most faithful to the Force.

As in, we’ve got a real mystery on our hands, and I love a good mystery. I’m really looking forward to seeing how this develops, while also keeping in mind that anything Kufa and Marchion say ought to be taken with a grain of salt.

It’s also not quite a “usage” of the Force, but the moment when Bell thought he was going to die and was resisting the call to pass gently into the Force…let’s just say I had some horrifying December 2019 flashbacks.

4. The World’s Fair vibe

When they announced that the second wave would take place in and around an event called The Republic Fair, it immediately conjured up all kinds of images. World’s Fair, Stark Expo, EPCOT Centre. In a franchise dominated by wilderness, rebel bases, Jedi Temples and government HQ’s of the Republic and Imperial varieties, this was a whole new ballgame. This was something that felt so real.

I can’t believe it took us so long to get a carnival type atmosphere in a Star Wars book, but here we are. It managed to walk that line between feeling so, so real and yet remaining quintessentially Star Wars. The details were all there, from the food stalls, to the displays from around the galaxy, to the Unity Song playing on a loop. Also, the Unity Song is absolutely supposed to be “It’s A Small World” and I will hear no different.

But beneath the amusing carnival atmosphere lingers the point I’ve been making about the High Republic all along. I have maintained since the beginning that the Republic area colonizing presence on the Outer Rim, and nothing told me that more than a carnival meant to show the benefits of joining the Republic. Propaganda much?

The traditions of signatory worlds have been packaged and put on display and commodified for Republic citizens to consume in a safe way – kinda like any World’s Fair that happened at the turn of the century when international travel was less common/more difficult.

I have to imagine that Cavan Scott is at least somewhat sympathetic to this reading. Not only is it present in his Marvel comics run, but also…

5. The Nihil

…it’s present in the Nihil.

Oh, the Nihil.

I have made it no secret on Twitter that I absolutely adore them. I was already excited at the prospect of a non-Sith villain, though I was initially worried that this band of marauders would be just faceless, cackling murder-pirates.

But picking up where we left off in Light of the Jedi, and a little more indirectly through the Wave One books and comics, Rising Storm drops us headfirst into the turmoil of the Nihil. In the year since the Battle of Kur, their internal structure has fractured, and everything is in chaos.

The book gives us ample time with Marchion Ro, Pan Eyta, and Lourna Dee, as the latter two try and seize power while the former tries to hold on to it. I was especially interested in the chapters focusing on Lourna Dee, because she’s getting an audio drama all her own at the end of the summer! By the time we leave off with them, they’re in a position of trying to fight both all the outside forces as well as each other, and it almost makes me wonder if this is why we don’t see the Nihil around anymore. At least in their current iteration. Cloud-Riders anyone?

6. More Marchion please, I’m insatiable

There is plenty of Marchion Ro in this book. Do not get me wrong. But I can’t help it if I wanted more. I understand that this is a long-haul initiative. The character is going to be built out over the course of subsequent waves and phases. And we do get plenty more about him in this book, such that he’s not as much of a mystery as he was in Wave One.

Not to say that what we don’t get isn’t great. The man is terrifyingly manipulative. He has some kind of pre-Nihil history with a Force-like faith. He has to contend with the weight of who his father was before he died (oh and how I love a tall, dark-haired boy with daddy issues)

We also go into these books knowing that if his ultimate goal is to stop the spread of the Republic, and to take them and the Jedi down, that he will fail. After all, both those things are still around two centuries later and the Nihil are not. But it’s not learning that he’ll fail that interests me. It’s learning how.

Also I just love that the more we see of him, the more I realize that – at least to me – he’s not as calculating as I think the Nihil believe. This is a big, scary shark-man holding the whole thing together with duct tape and a prayer. And he’s still terrifying. Fascinating stuff. More of this please. Maybe even a whole book about him one day?

Random Thoughts and Lingering Questions

Jedi that f*ck. Like…canoncially. This book, man. It’s a gift. Yes, I know Anakin technically, but that doesn’t count somehow. It never made my heart race the way the buildup between Elzar and Samera did.

Ty Yorrick thinking the concept of the Drengir sounded stupid was my exact reaction when they were announced at the High Republic panel. Like almost down to the word.

There’s a lot of speculation about the “Lost 20” and do they originate with this generation. This book disproves that almost right away, with a mention of the statues of “The Lost” in the prologue. That said, there’s no mention of how many are lost, which leaves an opening for one of these Jedi to join them. We already know from Dooku: Jedi Lost that Keeve Trennis from the Marvel Comics will join their ranks, but my money right now is also on Bell Zettifar because that poor boy has been through so much.

Know how I know the Republic are colonizers? Because Chancellor Soh has a wroshyr-wood desk. She had someone go to Kashyyyk, chop down a tree and make her a desk. If that doesn’t reek of Imperialism to you, then I don’t know what to say.

On that note, I loved the moment when the Togruta queen points out that the “Outer Rim” isn’t actually outer to everyone. I’ve been saying it for a while, and I love when the books validate my opinion.

The way this book ends positions Chancellor Soh to take even more power, and let me state again, for the record, that I do not trust this woman. I do want to say, though, that I believe her to be more along the lines of a Tarkin/Krennic than a Palpatine.

What happens to Loden is one of the single most horrifying visuals in a Star Wars novel and if this had happened on-screen I would probably never watch the movie again. That was terrifying. The ramifications of it will be devastating down the line, but until we get to that, I just get to live with that image looping in my head forever.

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