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.
The middle-grade offerings for The High Republic have a unique quality about them. Though the High Republic as a whole has been excellent for rich characters and their overall development, there’s just something about the Middle Grade books. With smaller casts and smaller-scale stories that nevertheless keep the high stakes, we get to watch the future of the High Republic blossom before our eyes.
Race to Crashpoint Tower is no exception. Like it’s MG predecessor, it takes place in the background of the major event that categorizes this wave of books, but does so even more overtly than its predecessor. It also introduces brand new characters, as well as those who are making the jump from comics to prose.
I will say, before we really get into it, if you were a fan of this book and haven’t checked out the IDW comics yet, do it. Do it now. Do it before there is simply too much to keep up with and it becomes intimidating. You won’t regret it.
With that, Race to Crashpoint Tower by Daniel José Older.
Set against the backdrop of the Nihil attack on the Republic Fair, Race to Crashpoint Tower tells the story of the teens and tweens caught in the middle. There is local Valo Jedi Padawan Ram Jomaram, who experiences the Force in his own way and is a little off-beat with the others at his Temple.
Arriving on Valo for the occasion, are Jedi Padawan Lula Talisola and her Force-sensitive friend Zeen. They’re looking into the mystery of what happened during a Nihil raid on Zeen’s homeworld, and their investigation leads them and their Jedi Master to Valo where all hell naturally breaks loose when the Nihil attack.
But the Nihil haven’t just attacked. Oh no. They also brought Drengir with them. Jumping off of things seen in the comics and in Into the Dark, the Nihil seem to now be using Drengir to take care of large crowds while they cause chaos. They plant some near the main relay station on Valo, Crashpoint Tower, interfering with the signal and preventing them from calling out for help. Naturally it’s up to the kids to do something to take care of that while the grown-ups are busy with the bigger threat at the Fair.
4 Things I Liked (and 1 I Wanted More Of)
1. The kids act like kids
This one might seem obvious because it’s a kids book, but this doesn’t happen as much as you think it does. I’ve even seen it happen in Star Wars books, where the kids act unrealistically mature. Like please, no one is that well-adjusted as a tween. Fortunately it seems to be the case not only with this book, but with A Test of Courage, that the kids actually act like real teens and tweens.
These are, of course, very skilled youth with a particular skillset, and any one of them could kick my ass before breakfast. But they still act their age. They are insecure in their own interests and personalities, they doubt themselves, they make mistakes (and I cannot stress enough how important that is). These are kids that young readers of The High Republic can, and should look up to!
Just, maybe, if you’re running off to take care of a killer plant infestation, maybe tell an adult where you’re going, ok?
2. Different interests and personalities
Hand in hand with the fact that the kids actually act like kids, is the fact that their interests and personalities are so wildly different.
There is Zeen, who is prominent though not a point-of-view character. She is currently dealing with the struggle of casting off the shame and struggle of her homeworld, where Force powers are stigmatized, and she was meant to feel ashamed for exhibiting them. Any reader who is living or has lived in an environment that didn’t appreciate them can find something in Zeen to identify with.
There is Ram, who is one of the more unusual Jedi Padawan’s we’ve seen, though he’s by no means an unusual depiction of a teenager. He likes to keep himself to himself, he likes machinery. The way it all fits together for him you get the sense that this is how he perceives the Force. If Avar Kriss sees it as a song, and Elzar Mann sees it as the sea, then to Ram, the Force is a machine, each part working together to make it all work.
Then we have Lula Talisola, who is honestly the one I identified with the most out of all of them. She’s also not really something we’ve seen in a Star Wars teenager before, except…well…Anakin Skywalker, but that’s a bit extreme. Lula is good at what she does. Really good even. But she always feels like there is someone around her who does it a little better. She wants to be one of the youngest Jedi Knights, and lo and behold, there’s Vernestra Rwoh, younger than her and knighted already. No matter what Lula does, she constantly compares herself to others and finds herself coming up short. It’s something I do all the time. It’s something I was doing this very day. The lesson is, naturally, each at their own pace. But sometimes it’s hard to hear, and harder to take in.
3. The Drengir
You’ve heard me say it before. When the Drengir were first introduced I thought it was the stupidest idea I’d ever heard in my life.
Then came the books and comics of Wave One to make me realize that no, the sentient plants are actually extremely terrifying. Which definitely made me wonder how, if at all, would these creatures carry over to entertainment made for kids? They’re actually scarier than the Nihil (at least in my opinion)
The secret, it turns out, was to turn it over to Master of Unexpected Comedy, Daniel José Older. His Drengir are not the mindless monsters of the comics, or the dark and sinister Drengir of Into the Dark. His are…actually funny?
I said back in my Into the Dark review that the Drengir scared me because I didn’t know how a person was supposed to reason with sentient plants. It turns out, you can reason with them very easily – even if they won’t stop referring to you and all your loved ones as “meats”.
4. More overlap!
While the adult and MG book overlap somewhat in Wave One, here they overlap a lot.
Like a whole lot.
Like a few of the scenes are the same scene from two different points of view.
Nothing really changes about either plot, either way, and you can definitely read one and not the other (but really, you should read it all). What I appreciate about it as someone reading all of it is how connected it makes the whole thing feel.
Not to mention we have characters and concepts making the jump over from Wave One, from the comics, from other books. This isn’t the introductory wave anymore. This shows that The High Republic has well and truly landed.
5. Where are the Nihil?
Yes, I’m obsessed. Hush.
Obviously, the Nihil have a huge part to play in the events on Valo. So in that way, they’re there. But how fun would it have been to have one of the POV characters be a Nihil teenager? Why not have it be Krix, Zeen’s friend from the comics? Or another teenager, even. They can’t all be bitter, jaded adults.
Also, yes, technically Lourna Dee is there for a bit, but that’s not what I meant. Ah well, we’re getting a full Nihil audio drama so I really shouldn’t complain.
Random Thoughts and Lingering Questions
Through it all, there is also the wonderful lesson that Ram receives from a Jedi master at the Temple to “see the whole for the whole”. To see the whole thing for what it is and essentially not miss the forest for the trees. A reminder I think we all need once in a while.
I know it doesn’t ever get better long term, but I do wonder if Zeen is going to become some kind of older Padawan, or a renegade independent Force user as she gets older. I hope she sticks around either way, I like her.