Claudia Gray’s anticipated YA entry into The High Republic arrives as a companion read more than a standalone story.
The High Republic added more canon material this past week with the release of Claudia Gray’s Into the Dark, introducing many new characters to canon and one of the main villains. The Great Disaster is more of an afterthought here as our characters struggle with new evils and challenges that arise from being temporarily stranded with many strangers on a strange space station.
There will be mild plot detail reveals but I will not be discussing spoilers.
The novel starts off, like all The High Republic novels thus far, with a prologue. We meet Reath Silas in the beginning as he is running a mission with his Master Jora Malli, who if you have read Light of the Jedi, you have met as we see her Padawan (his strengths and weaknesses) through her POV before we step into Reath’s POV for Chapter One. Reath is headed to the Galactic frontier under a new assignment from his Master, which he is less enthusiastic about and is hoping for a miracle to get out of it and remain Coruscant-based. Since this takes place at the time of The Great Disaster, you can imagine that things don’t go smoothly on their way to Starlight Beacon and they find themselves, along with a caravan of many other ships, waiting off the shutdown of hyperspace lanes on a seemingly abandoned space station full of Amaxine technology (the Amaxine being an ancient group of warriors mentioned in other Claudia Gray novels). The novel stays in Reath’s POV for the first few chapters but then the novel toggles between at least six POVs. While not abnormal for a YA novel, it is more than most Star Wars YA Novels. Some of the other perspectives include three other Jedi headed to the frontier: Cohmac, Orla, and Dez Ryden, the pilot, Leox Gyasi, co-pilot Affie Hollow and navigator Geode, a sentient rock (yes, a sentient rock). Also, we get reoccurring flashbacks to a mission involving Orla and Cohmac 25 years ago that mirrors their journey through the events on the Amaxine Station. The flashback sections are a few too many and, while I understand the choice to space them out so they parallel the lessons the two seasoned Jedi Knights are still learning, they pull focus from the main story and I am not sure the payoff is there to warrant them overall.
In fact, Into the Dark spends a little too much time trying to set up additional character arcs for future content rather than completely focusing on the YA characters, Reath and Affie, which has worked so well in previous Gray novels. The pacing was not consistent and I found myself much more engrossed with the first half of the novel than the second. There is a convenient plot point midway through, almost as if it was willed by the force itself, where the four main characters (Reath, Affie, Cohmac, and Orla) have revelations about their respective experiences on the Amaxine station and each decides they must return. And by this point, the story loses steam for most of the characters, but it does pick up for one of them.
Reath Silas, a seventeen-year-old human Padawan is our main hero of the story and he is set up perfectly in the prologue through a conversation with his Master, Jora Malli. She asks her Padawan a key rhetorical question about the Kyber arch in the Jedi Temple, and Reath takes it literally. He is a studious Padawan whose connection to the force is not as strong as most but he makes up for it by working harder. Reath is also paralyzed by his failures and dwells on them more than his accomplishments, which is relatable to every young adult. The first few chapters give us a great sense of why taking Reath out of the metropolitan Coruscant and placing him on the frontier creates instant conflict as he has not traveled much outside of the core worlds. Our co-lead of the novel (and the other person on Gray’s cover) is Affie Hollow, who is also the co-pilot of the Vessel and is constantly traveling. She is Reath’s age and the adopted daughter of the head of the Byne Guild, a fleet of ships that transport various types of cargo (interestingly, we learn that the doomed Legacy Run was a part of the Guild). Affie is genuinely curious about the Jedi but doesn’t press too hard into their lifestyle (though the question of sex and how close Jedi relate to Monks comes up). She also wants to prove herself within the guild and has a close relationship with Leox and Geode. Affie’s investigation of a mystery involving the Byne Guild and her ultimate discovery and decision is Gray at her best. Reath’s arc is compelling, though a lot of his revelations come all at once and late in the novel and, therefore, seem a bit rushed. Chormac Vitus is a human Jedi Master and Folklorist, which piques Reath’s interest in the older Jedi. We get a lot of insight into Cohmac mostly through the flashbacks that connect to his present-day thoughts on the Jedi Order. Orla Jareni, an Umbaran, is a Jedi who is leaving the Jedi Order (sort of) to becoming a Wayseeker, a position that some Jedi take which leads them outside of the Jedi Order and searching for their own path in the universe. I am sure we will explore this type of lifestyle and more from Orla in a future High Republic content piece since this is the first time we have ever heard of that title and could tie into paths that future Jedi in the Star Wars universe take. The last passenger on board the Vessel is Jedi Dez Rydan, who is the former Padawan of Jora Malli and whose species is not made clear, just a description of his golden skin. Because they share the same relationship with Jora Malli, Reath has the closest relationship to Dez, though Chormac and Orla also share a bond and a past history as colleagues. The last character that I think is worth noting is Master Jora Malli herself. It is not a terrible spoiler to reveal why she is barely in this novel: she is killed during a battle with the Republic fleet and the Nihil in Light of the Jedi. While we get a more straightforward presentation of her in that novel, it is nice to see another side of her here as a teacher who understands so well her Padawan’s strengths, weaknesses, and growth opportunities. It is a testament to why her death has had such an impact not only on Reath in Into the Dark but Master Sskeer who was in Light of the Jedi and is currently in the Marvel The High Republic comic run. She is not a major character but will continue to have an impact in at least three Jedi’s journeys, though towards what we have yet to discover.
Is There A Star Wars Moment?
Not really. At least, not to the level of Light of the Jedi. But there is an interesting battle between the Jedi and the dark side forces on the space station that is similar to Luke’s encounter with the Cave on Dagobah in Empire Strikes Back, which thanks to the Certain Point of View collection of short stories, we know is also a dark side entity. There is also something poignant about the dark side of residing in something as welcoming and beautiful as plant life. Although even in our world, plants can be deadly (especially to insects), greenery can project a beauty that can be dangerously deceiving.
Favorite Thing in the Novel?
Affie, her relationship with Leox and her arc are all excellent. And the running gag of Geode not being seen moving or speaking pays off incredibly well. I also enjoyed the time on Coruscant during The High Republic era, especially from the perspective of a Padawan and a pilot of a guild. Even though we spent time on Coruscant both in the Prequel trilogy and in The Clone Wars, it was interesting reading about the city hundreds of years before (and learning that there was a Dexter’s Diner type place even back then). If I was living in the Star Wars universe, I would definitely want to live in the upper levels of Coruscant.
Least Favorite Thing in the Novel?
Similar to my complaint with A Test of Courage, there are Nihil characters in this novel that seem shoehorned. While the Nihil was a welcome adversary in Light of the Jedi, they wear out their welcome here as side villains, and, moving forward, I think less might be more with them if they are not going to be the main antagonist. Outside of the main Nihil in the Light of the Jedi, their stories and grievances are starting to sound the same, which I understand can underscore why their lifestyle might be appealing to people but is more repetitive than necessary throughout the three novels. And, while carnivorous plants that crave conquest and also are connected to the dark side are a big problem for the Jedi, I am not sure how I feel about the Drengir as they are presented. They do seem more terrifying in comic form as we get a brief glimpse in The High Republic #2, but we are still in the very early stages of the High Republic so I am keeping an open mind on their progression as we learn more about the sentient plants.
Even though a lot happens in this novel, it feels more like an in-between story and the least friendly to read as a standalone. Perhaps in future novels, like Justina Ireland’s upcoming Out of the Shadows, some of these characters and plot points will pay off but there are one too many of them here that slow things down. All that being said, Into the Dark does introduce concepts and conflicts to the Star Wars universe that will likely be important the further we get into this era so it is a worthwhile read, but only if you are reading other content from The High Republic.