After what felt like an eternity, I have finally finished Claudia Gray’s inaugural entry into ‘The High Republic’ series.
The first YA novel of the series ‘Into the Dark’ never feels like a YA novel, and only really falls into that genre because of the age of the main protagonists, Reath Silas and Affie Hollow, both in their late teens.
Happening during the timeline of The Great Disaster that has been the backdrop for the other two books in the first wave (Light of the Jedi and A Test of Courage), ‘Into the Dark’ follows the crew and passengers of the ship ‘The Vessel’, one of the ships from the Byrne Guild that operates on the frontier regions of the Galaxy, crewed by the Matthew McGonaughey of Star Wars, Leox Gyasi, the navigator Geode (a huge sentient rock) and Affie, who is learning the ropes of the Guild and will one day take over from her adoptive-mother, the owner, Scover Byne.
The Vessel has been hired to transport a group of Jedi, Padawan Reath Silas, Master Cohmac Vitus and Jedi Knights Orla Jareni and Dez Rydan to the Starlight Beacon in time for the dedication ceremony but The Great Disaster forces them out of Hyperspace early.
In what seems like the middle of nowhere, and stranded with an array of other ships, The Vessel locates a Space Station and shepherds the other ships to it in time to save them from a solar flare. Once inside, the crews of the stranded ships start mingling which leads to some chaos that the Jedi manage to settle, including a kidnapping of a young girl called Nan that Reath puts an end to, leading the two of them to become close.
Cohmac and Orla explore the central arboretum that makes up the bulk of the station, where a strong sense of the Dark Side is located. After experiencing visions they decide to remove a set of statues they believes have been imbued with the Dark Side. Meanwhile, whilst exploring the Station, Dez Ryden is killed when he enters a strange corridor and Affie finds proof that members of the Byne Guild have used the Station as a way point, despite its strange and seemingly dangerous nature.
Once the hyperspace lanes are reopened, The Vessel returns to Coruscant. Affie does more digging on the Station and it’s connections to the Guild, whilst Reath deals with the news of his Master, Jora Mali’s death during a battle with The Nihil and Cohmac and Orla take the statues to try and learn about their connection to the Dark Side.
Affie, Reath, Cohmac, Orla and the crew of The Vessel return to the Station, Reath to arrest Nan after he realises she and her guardian are members of The Nihil, Orla and Cohmac to return the statues when they realise that they were keeping the Dark Side forces in check and Affie to get proof that her adoptive mother was utilising illegal indentured servants as pilots for The Byne Guild in a bid to try and get her to change her practices.
On the station, they encounter The Drengir, plant based creatures, attached to the Dark Side and hungry for meat which the statues had been keeping in a state of stasis. Reath is transported to another planet where he finds a beaten and poisoned Dez who had been transported to the planet and now a prisoner of a group of Drengir. Reath manages to escape back to the Station with Dez but finds it in a state of utter carnage with The Nihil trying to take over. The Drengir, once again imprisoned are released again to act as a distraction for The Nihil but The Vessel becomes stuck and only a life threatening plan from Reath can stop the enemies fight and fire The Vessel.
With the Station now empty of hostiles, The Vessel returns to Coruscant, Reath asks Cohmac to be his new Master, Orla finally fulfils her goal to become a Wayfinder and Affie foils Scover’s plans for indentured pilots allowing Affie, Geode and Leox to make their own way in the Galaxy.
Despite taking me a long time to read (took a Star Wars break half way through and then struggled to find time to just sit and read) I really did enjoy this book. Structurally it felt very different to most Star Wars books, in the sense that the first half was a very slow burn, getting to know the characters and their situations before an explosive second half. It has a very ‘Alien’ vibe in how it plays out as well. Having already known that this was the introduction of The Drengir and that’s they were the main antagonists, I was fully expecting them to show up at any time, picking off the different crews onboard the station, but we only get the one real casualty in Dez.
The second half is an absolute whirlwind, the pace is doubled or even tripled and the long wait make that first appearance of The Drengir that much more scary when the surround Cohmac and Orla and even Reath when he finds Dez on the Drengir homeworld.
In terms of the structure, I feel like the middle where they return to Coruscant for the first time could have been altered, perhaps not going back to Coruscant, instead having the characters make their discoveries in transit and make an unscheduled return to the danger zone would have ramped up the tension for me and maybe cut out a part that had a bit of a lull for me.
My one critique aside, Claudia Gray has written an amazing entry to ‘The High Republic’ and given us some great characters, some of which are returning in some of the upcoming books and comics which I am looking forward to (I’m loving how connected ‘The High Republic’ is) and it gives us some new ideas on different aspects of The Jedi Order, that we never got to see in The Prequel Trilogy, such as Wayfinders, Jedi who essentially go off on a sort of gap year but still being active Jedi, unlike those who take the Barash Vow who essentially leave the Order without actually leaving it to meditate on the Force.
I’m really looking forward to seeing what else Gray is going to bring to ‘The High Republic’ in the future, with a very full second phase coming up, I wonder if Gray along with Charles Soule will be hitting the front lines for the third phase which I assume will be out towards the end of this year/beginning of next year.
In terms of the rest of Gray’s Star Wars library, ‘Into the Dark’ is her first chance to bring us something wholly new without characters or settings familiar to fans, this book allows Gray to give us a completely new ‘Star Wars’ book and she does it with style, and it managed to surpass my expectations brilliantly.
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