Three waves into The High Republic, and I am now convinced that the only thing distinguishing the middle grade novels from the young adult and adult ones is word count and vocabulary accessibility. Because if there’s one thing that Justina Ireland’s Mission to Disaster makes clear, anyone choosing to skip it on the basis of the target demographic is doing themselves a huge disservice.
Set shortly before – and leading directly into – the events of The Fallen Star, Mission to Disaster follows both whiz-kid Avon Starros as she is kidnapped by the Nihil, and master-padawan duo Vernestra and Imri as they try to find out what happened to her. Their search takes them to the nearby world of Dalna, a planet where the local population is both very insular and very distrusting of the Jedi.
Mission to Disaster has all the hallmarks of the middle grade High Republic novels. It is a well-paced and engaging adventure that never once sacrifices character for the sake of action. Indeed, the growth of characters like Vernestra, Imri and Avon is evident as the story progresses, though I expect the next time we catch back up with them, their lives will have gone in unexpected directions. Even so, the seeds have been so expertly planted here that whatever they become will be thrilling to watch.
Ireland has a wonderful talent for taking brand new characters and making them feel like old friends right away. While on their mission, Vernestra and Imri meet three new Jedi who blend in so seamlessly, it’s as if they’ve always been a part of the story. Old friends and faces from across Ireland’s other High Republic novels also make an appearance here, and in some cases escalate the intrigue surrounding our main characters.
The beauty of Mission to Disaster in particular is that unlike its two predecessors, it is not set during the key event of its wave of stories, but instead set just before. It is the calm before the storm, and with the lack of urgency and the need for immediate survival comes the chance to see what they look like when the stakes aren’t quite so life-and-death. That’s not to say the stakes aren’t high, or somehow less important than in earlier novels. Rather, they’re an interesting combination of immediate conflict to be resolved, and a sort of slow-burn, slow-motion car crash that will have ramifications going forward.
That is the one aspect of this book that I cannot stress enough is how instrumental a story I suspect it’s going to be in the future. While there is one key event that has gotten a few passing mentions throughout the first phase of The High Republic, this is the first book to examine it in any great detail. If my suspicions are correct, the second phase of books is going to engage with the event directly, making Mission to Disaster the best Phase Two primer we could have asked for.
Mission to Disaster is available digitally now, and in print on March 1, 2022. Special thanks to Disney Books for the advance copy for review purposes.
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