Into the Dark is the third novel released for the new Star Wars: The High Republic publishing initiative after last month’s Light of the Jedi and A Test of Courage. Into the Dark is written by acclaimed Star Wars author Claudia Gray, who has written some of the best books of the new Star Wars canon including Lost Stars, Bloodline, Leia: Princess of Alderaan, and Master and Apprentice.
Set 200 years before any of the movies, Into the Dark takes place concurrently with both Light of the Jedi and A Test of Courage. The story actually starts off just before The Great Disaster, which kicks off Light of the Jedi, so this book is now the earliest book we have in the canon. Pushing the story back even further are a series of flashback chapters, taking place 25 years before the main High Republic time period.
On a trip to the Starlight Beacon, the not yet operational Outer Rim Hub, a group of Jedi charter a transport to get them there. Along the way, The Great Disaster occurs, forcing them the evacuate hyperspace, leaving them stranded in an unknown system with an even more unknown space station. Over time the groups are able to study the station, and things go from weird to dangerous, triggering an enemy that will likely have dire consequences to everyone in the galaxy.
The group of Jedi are made up of Reath Silas, padawan to Jora Malli, who had left for Starlight Beacon a few weeks before; Dez Rydan, former padawan to Jora Malli; Orla Jareni, Jedi Wayseeker; and Master Cohmac Vitus. The crew of the vessel, affectionately named Vessel, are Captain Leox Gyasi, copilot Affie Hollow, and navigator Geode. Together they must not only survive the disaster that occurs, but everything that happens in the aftermath. Along the way they discover that many of their paths are not only crossing, but converging on the same point: the Amaxine station.
I don’t know how Claudia Gray does it, but she manages to do something not a lot of authors can do as she interweaves an action-packed novel with thrilling characters that we watch grow and change throughout the story. Not only is the story mesmerizing, but the characters are intriguing and some of the characters (Geode, I’m here for Geode) are some of my favorite new characters that have introduced in some time.
All of the characters have their own paths to follow, as is most of life, with the disparate paths ending up together in this adventure that no one saw coming. Reath needs to determine what kind of padawan he wants to be: a bookish one intent on studying about the Force, or the “adventure seeker” that his master wants him to be (or at least learn about). Dez, a newly appointed Jedi Knight, is that adventure seeker who gets everything that he is looking for, however good or bad that may be. Master Cohmac and Orla have an intertwined past and present, trying to come to grips with events that happened 25 years ago and how they are related to “present day” events. This leads them to question the Jedi Order itself and how does that influence their directions in life.
Meanwhile, the crew of the Vessel have their own issues. The copilot of the group, Affie Hollow, is not only the copilot, but also Byne Guild representative (the shipping guild), and daughter of the leader of the Byne Guild. Along her travels, she discovers some of the not-so pleasant secrets about the Byne Guild, leading her to question everything that she knows. Captain Leox may be the most open character in the story. He is essentially a bead wearing, asexual, hippie, who, according to Gray herself, was modeled after 1990s Matthew McConaughey.
And then there’s Geode. Geode is essentially a sentient rock, who never speaks within the story, and rarely even moves. However, by the comments and actions of Affie and Leox, it is hard to tell if Geode is for real a sentient rock or just a rock, and the crew is playing a joke on the Jedi. It’s a gag that goes on throughout the story and one that never gets old. It actually endears me to Geode more than I ever was before, being a geologist.
At the start of the story, the Great Disaster forces the Vessel out of hyperspace into an unknown system that happens to have a very large space station built by a mysterious ancient race known as the Amaxines. Dubbing the station the Amaxine Station, the Vessel along with 11 other ships stranded in the system must make their way to the station in order to save themselves from solar flairs as well as distribute supplies, since it is unknown how long they will be stranded there.
The Amaxine station, a station previously seen in the comic series The Rise of Kylo Ren, is essentially a greenhouse that is inundated in plant growth, tended to by a series of 8-T (Aytee) droids. Among the station there are hidden dangers, not even including the dangers presented by the crews of the other ships, all coming together in an unknown region of space. It is a recipe not only for adventure, but for tension, suspense, danger, and discovery.
I will stop here with the story plot, because to go any further would lead to heavy spoiler territory, and I would like the reader to experience this book on their own. Although marketed as a Young Adult (YA) novel, Gray has shown us again that YA doesn’t necessarily mean only young adults will enjoy it. I assume that once more High Republic stories are released, this will become an essential read for The High Republic time period, introducing us to a major new threat to the galaxy. A threat that seemingly also counters the Nihil introduced in the other two books.
And that is one of the issues I had, not with the book itself, but with the marketing of the book. Because of the marketing, I saw where the villains were coming from and I could see it a mile away. However, to preserve what mysteries may still be present for other readers, I’m not even going to name them here.
Although the story moves along at a great pace, especially for the first half, there is a lag in the story. Where other books might have been broken up into a Part 1 and a Part 2, the book seems to shift trajectories. I understand the reasons behind where the story progresses, but it felt like the second half of the story, while answering all of the questions we had, also wasn’t nearly as strong as the first half. It was entirely enjoyable and I loved every minute of it, but it definitely felt like that lull in the middle hurt the momentum.
Another issue I had with the book was the “25 Years Earlier” sections, which seemingly were meant to tie into the novel but often felt out of place; they just didn’t feel wholly consistent with the rest of the book. Where the perspectives we got in the current time bounced around among the major crew and Jedi characters (essentially the good guys), the “25 Years Earlier” section not only bounced between the Jedi, but the enemies as well. This made it feel disconnected from the main story, despite character overlaps. Eventually, the story does tie back into the events of the book, but even then, it’s a tenuous tie. I would have much rather had those entire sections removed from the book and released as a separate story. I think then it would have worked better.
As usual, I consumed this story via audiobook, and it was a great listen. At first, listening to Dan Bittner’s narration of the book felt odd — he sounded like an early 1980s Book on Record announcer. But over time he grew on me, as well as his character voices. The best of the bunch had to be Leox — Bittner nailed the ’90s McConaughey drawl to the point that I said it sounded like McConaughey before even knowing the character was based on him.
Into the Dark is an extreme delight and I would say the best that The High Republic has so far delivered to date, and I loved both of the previous books. The characters are fantastic, and the adventure is riveting. I can see this story propelling us into the future with not only the Nihil to contend with, but also this new, and perhaps even more dangerous, threat.
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