It’s great that Disney is finally starting to expand the Star Wars universe past the confines of The Skywalker Saga and the time frame it’s set in. I’ve always believed the Star Wars universe was one rife for exploration, and what better way of exploring new aspects of it than with a big, multimedia event? That’s exactly what Disney and Lucasfilm are doing with The High Republic, a multi-media publishing event spanning novels and comics. Set some 200 years before The Phantom Menace, The High Republic looks to explore a new corner of the galaxy’s history—and that’s exhilarating. While the first few titles of this event came out last month, I haven’t read any of them. Instead, I wanted to start my High Republic journey with Claudia Gray’s entry—the YA novel, Into the Dark. Gray is one of my favorite Star Wars authors and the book’s synopsis had a very claustrophobic Alien vibe. So, I was pretty excited to read it. And, having read it, it lives up to my expectations. Star Wars: Into the Dark is an exhilarating, character-driven story that deftly explores this new era. It’s a quick-paced, satisfying read, and I’m eager for more. (4.5 out of 5 wands.)
NOTE: I received an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are mine. Additionally, this review will be as spoiler free as possible.
Star Wars: Into the Dark (The High Republic) by Claudia Gray
Padawan Reath Silas is being sent from the cosmopolitan galactic capital of Coruscant to the undeveloped frontier—and he couldn’t be less happy about it. He’d rather stay at the Jedi Temple, studying the archives. But when the ship he’s traveling on is knocked out of hyperspace in a galactic-wide disaster, Reath finds himself at the center of the action. The Jedi and their traveling companions find refuge on what appears to be an abandoned space station. But then strange things start happening, leading the Jedi to investigate the truth behind the mysterious station, a truth that could end in tragedy…
Star Wars: Into the Dark follows Reath Silas, a Jedi Padawan, as he journeys alongside two Jedi Masters (Orla and Chomac), a Jedi Knight (Dez), and the crew of a shipping freighter called The Vessel (Leox, Affie, and Geode). Their mission takes them to the Starlight Beacon, a new Republic space station being built on the edges of the Outer Rim. But before they can arrive, a hyperspace disaster forces them to dock at a mysterious space station in the middle of nowhere. However, all on the space station is not what it seems and they quickly uncover a mystery wrapped in Dark Side energy and an imminent threat from the mysterious Nihil (a previously-unseen kind of space pirate). To say much more, though, would venture too far into the territory of spoilers. Into the Dark takes a bit of time to get going. The plot doesn’t completely kick in until a hundred pages in, or so, leaving much of the first chunk of the novel to exposition and narrative setup. This isn’t the waste of time you might think, though, as it allows Gray to let one of her greatest strengths shine—character development. Yes, I’d have loved it if the novel had a more energetic, enveloping opening, but there are six characters who have to be introduced in a fairly quick manner, so it’s understandable why the first chunk of the novel would need to be dedicated to doing that.
At first, Gray’s penchant for hopping between each character’s point of view is a bit disorienting, but it quickly settles into a comfy rhythm that helps keep the first chunk of the book interesting and tense. It’s impressive how quickly Gray establishes the characters. Each of them feels wholly unique, with well-defined wants, well-sketched backgrounds, and distinct voices that feel authentic to who they are. Reath makes for a compelling protagonist, fitting nicely into the reluctant adventurer trope. His character arc is an obvious one—he’ll need to adjust to a life of adventure and find the value in that—but that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable. Equally enjoyable are the crew of The Vessel, a ragtag bunch of smugglers who bring some much-needed levity to the story. There’s even a special level of enjoyment that comes with uncovering Cohmac and Orla’s shared backstory—which is told through several interludes scattered throughout the novel. Their past seems to be reflecting the experiences they’re undergoing in the present and it’s neat to see Gray explore how this impacts them.
After a while, the plot does get going, but I’d never call this a plot-driven book. It’s definitely one that’s driven by its characters’ wants, needs, and actions. That’s not to say that nothing happens, though; far from it. It’s just that almost everything that happens is the direct result of something one of the characters does or learns. A character learns something or experiences something, they react to that thing, and the plot is propelled forward. It’s not a difficult story to follow, by any means—even as the mystery deepens and wrinkles are added to it. But this sense of grounded simplicity is among the novel’s greatest traits. Because everything that happens is so deeply grounded by the characters, it’s very easy to follow what’s going on because it’s easy to track the characters’ motivations and plot arcs. There’s a fairly big conspiracy at play in this book, and it would’ve been easy to get lost in it, so this grounded approach works very well. It results in a book with rather large stakes that still manages to feel intimate—and I loved every bit of it.
Gray’s talent isn’t only in writing strong characters, though. Her prose is equally wonderful. She wastes no time overly-describing things that aren’t particularly important to the story or its characters. Instead, she prioritizes keeping things light and breezy while adhering to the voices she’s given each of her characters. To be clear, none of this novel is written in a first-person perspective; all of it is written from a limited third-person point of view that shifts from between each character as the novel shifts between their perspectives. This works remarkably well, giving the novel a sense of fluidity and largely resulting in this YA novel feeling dissimilar to most YA novels one might think of. Honestly, the only thing that makes Into the Dark a YA book seems to be that its main character is a teenager. Otherwise, there aren’t many noticeable differences between this book and any other “adult” Star Wars novel you might find. The themes here are just as complex, the characters are just as well developed (if not better), the commitment to worldbuilding is just as present, and there’s quite a bit of action. If you have an aversion to YA books (which you shouldn’t—there are plenty of great ones!), then you needn’t worry here.
All in all, Star Wars: Into the Dark is an excellent entry in this ongoing saga of The High Republic. It seems to stand on its own, requiring little knowledge of anything that’s happened in the rest of the event. What’s on display here is an excellently crafted, character-driven story that follows this group of characters as they uncover the mysteries of a strange space station. The pacing is quick and breezy, with the prose split between the points of view of all of the characters. The plot is easy to follow, feeling both epic in scale and delightfully intimate. The characters are so well-sketched, feeling wholly believable, authentic, and lived in. Every aspect of this book works remarkably well and, aside from the slow(ish) beginning, I loved every page of it. I’m eager to see what else Gray may write for The High Republic and I’d love to see these characters pop up in one of the future stories. Until then, this book is a wonderful read for Star Wars fans of all ages and I thoroughly recommend it.
4.5 out of 5 wands.