Biweekly Book Review: Midnight Horizon

I can’t believe this is going to be the second-to-last High Republic deep dive until October. And that the next era is taking us 150 years into the past. In the wake of The Fallen Star that felt abrupt, but now it feels less so, thankfully.

To be honest, I really wasn’t sure where we were going to go after The Fallen Star story-wise. A few months time jump would cheat us of the raw emotion so quickly after the events that unfolded, and the immediate aftermath would be miserable. Fortunately this book does neither and instead takes place concurrently, focusing on an entirely unique adventure while also never quite letting us forget the sadness and pain happening across the galaxy. This is Midnight Horizon by Daniel José Older.

The Story

There’s trouble in the Core world of Corellia. After receiving a message from teenage security expert and utterly chaotic human Crash Ongwa, Jedi Masters Cohmac Vitus and Kantam Sy take Padawans Reath Silas and Ram Jomaram to Coronet City to investigate. Their timing is fortuitous as the Nihil are currently on their destruction tour of the galaxy, and attacks close to Corellia have drawn all the local Jedi away, leaving the world defenceless in the face of political machinations that run deeper and more corrupt than any could have expected.

The Jedi split into two teams, with the two adults conducting a more legitimate investigation while the padawans get roped in Crash’s convoluted – but well-meaning – schemes. Eventually along for the ride is Zeen Mrala, the Force sensitive youth who has been taken in by the Starlight Padawans.

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

1. Grief

Though the beginning is usually a very good place to start, I’m going to kick off my favourite parts of the book with something that happens at the end.

Midnight Horizon is set concurrently with The Fallen Star, at least in part. An overwhelming sense of dread, of coldness, of nothingness overtakes the main Force users consistently throughout the novel, and though they aren’t quite sure what the cause is, we the reader know what’s coming. And we know it’s going to hurt.

With a body count as high as it had, there’s no way we didn’t all lose a fave during The Fallen Star (RIP Stellan Gios, you handsome son of a blaster). But shortly after the Starlight crashes down, the book ends. The reader is given no space to process and is left reeling. While that confused me at first, it is in retrospect that I realize why that is. It’s because Midnight Horizon was going to be the space to grieve.

I don’t know why it took me by such surprise, but the fact that so much time was given to the characters to process the losses they’d felt and the ones still coming, to talk about what it means to them to love and let go? It wasn’t just appreciated, I’d argue it was necessary.

The book is never dismissive of what anyone feels when it comes to grief, but encourages them to embrace it in a way that doesn’t overwhelm every other sense. I know this was aimed at the characters and not at me specifically, but when the media we use to escape the current *gestures around* suddenly becomes so sad and heavy? The reminder to breathe, to take it in and let it go is appreciated no matter the source.

But never mind my own feelings, it is also very important to me that the characters got the chance to feel their own heartbreaks and losses and process them with one another. Sometimes, without naming names, some stories have characters suffer a devastating loss, then slap an orchestral swell on it, maybe a triumphant pose devoid of any meaning for the character and tell the audience that it’s Happy, Actually™️.

Midnight Horizon has enough decency, respect for its characters and respect for its audience to not try anything of the sort. Messy feelings are OK, the heroes losing sometimes is OK.

2. Romance

We all know that Star Wars is romantic tragedy, right?

WRONG (mostly).

Because Midnight Horizon has not one, not two but three love stories. And two of them actually have potential?? I would say no one died in the end, but as of the end of the book Zeen doesn’t know if Padawan and love of her life Lula Talisola survived the Starlight Beacon crash. But I’d like to hope that she did. Daniel wouldn’t do us dirty like that.

I also appreciated that while all three romances in the book were queer romances, not a single one ended in tragedy. One of them – Kantam Sy’s relationship with Aytar the trapeze artist – did end, but not with screaming, crying, a refusal for anyone to accept themselves for who they are, or censure from a third party. They just…grew apart, as so many young people do.

But Zeen and Lula. ZEEN AND LULA. The slowest of adolescent slow burns brought to life not only in this book, but in the Star Wars: The High Republic Adventures comics, where the bulk of their story is told. Obviously at this point, we’re still not sure where their story will end up, but I am excited at the potential for the future. Zeen Mrala is one of those characters who grew on me slowly, but I find myself more interested than ever in seeing where her story goes. I hope she returns in future phases and waves, hand in hand with her secret Jedi girlfriend.

3. Time in the Core – finally!

Star Wars spends so much time in the far-flung destinations, the Outer Rim worlds and the wild ones that we hardly ever get to spend time in the urban environments. One obvious exception is the Prequel trilogy/The Clone Wars, which takes place in large part on Coruscant, but otherwise it’s usually a quick glance here and there. Canto Bight, Chandrilla, Corellia.

Other than a few scenes in the first part set on the Starlight the entire story takes place in Coronet City. And look, I love a good hidden jungle base as much as the next fan but what a refreshing change of pace to go somewhere that has streetlights, celebrities, take out, concerts, parties, etc. Because of how true-to-life that feels, it’s almost funny to watch the Jedi swish around what is functionally a modern city in their tabards and robes. Even Coruscant doesn’t feel as modern as Corellia does sometimes. I almost wish we’d gotten to see the Corellian Jedi. Do they dress any differently? Do they look down on the frontier Jedi?

4. The Pacing

I mean it in the best way when I say this book is dense.

It took me almost a week after reading to actually sit down and write this. I needed the time to process just the sheer volume of what I’d just read. There are easily three books in here, and yet somehow they are woven together so well it never once feels like its dragging. Each new element is a natural extension of what came before.

I think it all comes down to the pacing. It’s not just Zeen and Lula’s romance that’s a slow-burn, the whole book is a slow burn. It’s a mystery/crime novel where all the pieces of the narrative carefully fall into place one at a time while leaving enough space for the characters to grow and actually have conversations about their feelings. I walked away from Midnight Horizon feeling like I had a much better understanding of who the characters were, and where they are right now. The didn’t feel like caricatures, they felt real.

Daniel José Older has brilliantly worked this mystery element in every Star Wars story of his that I’ve read so far, and he really is the master of not tipping his hand too soon, while dropping just enough to keep you engaged.

There is also the other thing. The burning space station in the room. Throughout the novel, the reader knows at the back of their mind that Starlight Beacon is going to crash at some point. But the book doesn’t dwell on the impending doom at the expense of everything else. The central mystery of the Nihil’s presence on Corellia is given such focus that you almost let yourself forget…until the forgetting becomes suddenly impossible.

5. The Nihil Masquerade

You know what, I am adult enough to admit that some of this might be on me. I see the words “Nihil Masquerade” floating around on social media and my brain starts immediately conjuring up a scene out of a pseudo-Beauty and the Beast story involving Marchion Ro in a half-mask and a half-buttoned old-timey shirt, and-

Ahem. Moving on.

What the Nihil Masquerade actually wound up being was one of my favourite plot elements because of how cutting it was. The wealthy and upper-class of Corellia hold a Nihil-themed ball complete with masks and all, which provides the actual Nihil with perfect cover to infiltrate the Core world and cause the chaos they are so known for.

Here’s why it works. First of all, because it is just so classically out of touch for the wealthy to host a party making light of the suffering they don’t actually have to endure (Handmaid’s Tale and Squid Game parties, anyone?).

But more than that, it is just so twisted – and unfortunately true to life – for certain among the upper class to enable and glorify certain behaviours to get what they want. One of the politicians, the one who brokered a deal with the Nihil in the first place, admits that he allowed them the space to run rampant on Corellia, with the understanding that they would only cause enough damage to further his bigoted agenda.

Obviously they don’t respect this particular limit (and honestly, nor should they), so things don’t go to plan.

But I just love the idea of this opulent and tone-deaf party so much for all the despicable behaviour it represents, and I just wish we’d spent more time actually at the party. Like a space pirate Canto Bight or something. Small complaint, all things considered, since it really was executed so well.

Random Thoughts

The ways in which this book overlaps with Most Wanted – from Powlo, to Proxima, to various locations visited by Han and Qi’ra – delights me to absolutely no end.

The fact that all the Jedi in this book feel the same sort of wavering coldness and fear that I felt throughout The Fallen Star is extremely comforting and relatable

Please know that anytime they refer to something between 100-200 years old, I sat up and did that Leonardo DiCaprio point thing

A younger Lady Proxima showing up to help out Crash is one of the cameos I probably should have seen coming but which still took me by complete surprise.

***

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