Continuing the adventures set 200 years before the movies, The Rising Storm takes place nearly a year after the pivotal events seen in Light of the Jedi. Although he’s written a plethora of previous Star Wars content such as the Adventures in Wild Space book series, the first volume of the Star Wars Adventures comic line, and the Dooku: Jedi Lost audio book, amongst many other tales, The Rising Storm represents Cavan Scott’s first foray into Star Wars adult fiction.
The High Republic series is broken up into three phases, with three waves within each of those phases. We are still within Phase 1 of the releases, called Light of the Jedi, after the first novel release. Wave 1 of Phase 1 were the novels released in January and February of this year (2021), including the adult novel Light of the Jedi, the YA novel Into the Dark, and the middle grade novel A Test of Courage. All of these novels took place concurrently, centered around the Great Hyperspace Disaster and the dedication of Starlight Beacon. Wave 2 kicked off with The Rising Storm, and is completed by the YA novel Out of the Shadows, and the middle grade novel Race to Crashpoint Tower.
Nearly a year has passed since The Great Hyperspace disaster and Chancellor Lina Soh is determined to go forward with her plans for a Republic Fair celebrating the many worlds of the Galactic Republic with the hopes to entice other worlds not in the Republic to join its ranks. The Nihil, led by Marchion Ro, have generally laid low since the battle that brought down the Tempest Kassav, hoping to lull the Republic into a false sense of security. One of the three Tempests, Pan Eyta, does not agree with this complacency and begins to have his people attack Republic worlds, setting off a series of events that could devastate the Republic Fair itself.
The High Republic is a unique publishing initiative for Star Wars because even though it is helmed by five authors, those five jump around on what they are going to be publishing, from adult novels, to YA and middle grade, to various comic series. So, even though the storyline is controlled by the five authors, the storytelling varies by the style brought in by each author. This produces a variability, where if a reader doesn’t enjoy one of the stories (say an adult or YA novel), then the next one in the line will be a completely different experience brought by a different author. Story stability is then created by a consistent storyline. It’s a unique storytelling venture and so far it seems to be working.
Although the story picks up several months after the events of Light of the Jedi, it feels like a rather seamless transition with the Nihil going into silent mode. Like Light of the Jedi though, we get the perspective of many characters, with the narrative bouncing around between all of them. I had listened to the audiobook, where the vocal talents of Marc Thompson helped to different many of the characters, making them more distinct than I feel they otherwise would have been.
First off, there are a LOT of characters in this book. Many of them are blink-and-you’ll-miss-them appearances. The primary “good-guy” characters of the book are generally Stellan Gios of the Jedi Council, Elza Mann, who was recently upgraded to a Jedi Master, Bell Zettifar, a Jedi padawan, and Ty Yorrick, essentially a former-Jedi for hire. And although I would consider these the main characters, even Ty disappears for large chunks of the book, leaving us alone with the three male Jedi. For the bad guys, we mainly focus on Marchion Ro and Pan Eyta, with major contributions by Lourna Dee.
Besides that, we have sometimes brief and sometimes prolonged appearances by what had to be no less than 20 to 30 named characters, many of whom we have known from other books and movies (such as the dignified, yet underrated Yarael Poof). That has the potential to make this a difficult story to follow, however Cavan Scott does a remarkably good job keeping everyone in line. We had already met many of these characters before, if you have been caught up on the previous releases, so there isn’t much time wasted on backgrounds. My biggest problem was trying to remember where I had heard of these characters before. What story were they in? Was this one Jedi in Light of the Jedi, or one of the other books? It’s a lot and one of the reasons I would highly recommend them put a Dramatis Personae at the front of the books, perhaps even with what books they had previously appeared in.
My biggest issue at the beginning was keeping Elzar and Stellan straight. I couldn’t remember which one was which and my mind kept flip flopping them. Eventually I figured it out and was able to go with their character development, but it definitely took a while at first. I was also extremely disappointed with the limited use of the major female characters in this story. Despite the numerous female characters in the series, and many of them appearing here, not many were the primary focus of the book. Even Ty dropped in and out, even though it felt like she was supposed to be a primary character.
Even the most highly elevated Jedi were left out of the story, with Yoda and Avar Kriss left off the page entirely. The lack of these main characters, combined with the dropping in and out of characters we knew, such as Vernestra Rwoh, gave the reader a serious case of “something is happening off-screen”. There are other books and comics that are running parallel to this story that Cavan Scott needed to juggle without the feeling that we were missing major plot points, but the reader is still left with a feeling of missing out. What happened over there? Well once I read that other book I’ll find it out, but I don’t know exactly which book relates to which off-screen hint. At times like this it would be useful for the old comics “*See issue #134 to find out about this dropped reference” trope.
The story itself in the book is rather exciting and riveting. The first half of the book is essentially build-up to the climactic battle that occupies nearly all of the second half of the book. And this book was definitely gritty — like the previous releases, they are not going easy on the characters. Many of the characters are placed in mortal peril, to the point that I am constantly questioning whether they killed off a major character or not. But even with the exciting battle, it feels like we are still in the setup phase of the story. There are many, many storylines in this book and it feels like a few of them are setups for future stories. Or at least I hope they are, because they were left dangling by the end of this book.
I don’t want to sound overly negative, because I did greatly enjoy this book, but it left me wanting. I definitely had a hard time following the bouncing around of the plot, especially during the battle. Who was in the AT-AT-like thing again? Who was in the ship going under water? Oh yeah, OK. And then I was fine following the story forward. It was just a bit of a checkup in my mind at the start of each chapter.
By the end of the story, we learn the most about Elzar Mann and Stellan Gios and their relationship together. They need each other, and Elzar is by far the more damaged of the duo, but they carry on regardless. But even besides these two, the Jedi in this book are not the brown-robed monks that we think of when we think of the Jedi. They aren’t perfect, emotionless beings. They have hearts, feelings, and failings. And this story delves more into that than I think we ever expected to go. I feel the emotionless Jedi is the reason many people don’t like Jedi stories, but here the complicated Jedi with confusing emotions are much more interesting. These Jedi make mistakes. They are not perfect. They give into their emotions, both for the good and the bad. And the end results provide us with a jumping off point for future stories.
As mentioned above, I listened to the audiobook narrated by Marc Thompson, and he gives an exceptionally stellar performance here. His various character voices were clear, allowing the listener to follow the dialogue rather easily, despite the sometimes confusing story bits.
Overall, I would say this is a fantastically fun read. The storyline progresses along the High Republic time period nicely and we got great insight into quite a few of the major tentpole characters. I don’t know if I would rank this as my favorite book of the series so far, but this is definitely not a weak link in the chain, and it feels on par with Light of the Jedi. It is fun, exciting, and an adventurous romp that had me questioning who would make it through to the end of the book. The adventure story almost takes a back seat in much of the story, delving much more into these characters that we have only started to get to know. I feel like they are trying to get us to love everyone, so by the time the characters meet their end, the impact of that hits much harder. If you enjoyed the first few books in The High Republic, then you will greatly enjoy this one as well.
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