Out of the Shadows is the sixth novel in The High Republic and the second YA novel, following Into the Dark by Claudia Gray. I have enjoyed both Middle-Grade novels, but Into the Dark and Out of the Shadows have been disappointments, not equalling the engaging storytelling of their colleagues. And it is not a reflection of the authors as both Gray and Ireland have written some of the best Star Wars stories (Ireland’s A Test of Courage is one of my favorites of The High Republic and Lost Stars by Gray is considered one of the top modern Star Wars novels).
A painfully slow second act threatens to derail this entire novel, but it is salvaged with solid character development for Vernestra, canon contributions, and some fascinating political intrigue.
**Mild spoilers for Out of the Shadows**
I appreciate that this story connects the most with the events of Into the Dark, starting immediately with a “cause and effect” scenario from the Byne Guild going under. Sylvestri “Sly” Yarrow is drowning in debt as a smuggler from fuel costs and having to alter routes due to Nihil threats. And the Byne Guild membership allowed some protection against creditors and profit-sharing. With the Guild gone, the people who are hurting the most are the working class of the galaxy. But that quickly becomes the least of Sly’s concerns when her ship gets pulled out of hyperspace by an unknown force, and she must abandon her ship. Left with nothing, Sly travels to Coruscant to voice her concern with the Senate, hoping someone will believe that what happened was not a natural occurrence. Some believe that the Nihil have created a weapon that can pull ships from hyperspace and that they are operating from uncharted areas in space. Xylan Graf enlists Sly to accompany him to a hyperspace lane in the Berenge Sector up for lease to prove that there is nothing of the sort going on. The Graf family is one of the wealthiest in the galaxy and deal in hyperspace lane technology and real estate. Essentially, they are the business rivals to the San Tekka’s, who also factor into the story as the Nihil still are keeping Mari San Tekka alive for her hyperspace path clairvoyance.
On the case is Vernestra Rwoh and her Padawan Imri, who are summoned from Starlight Beacon to be the Jedi supervision for Xylan and Sly. Vernestra’s age is a concern for Graf, so Master Cohmac and Reath Silas accompany them under the command of Stellan Gios. Meanwhile, someone keeps calling out to Vernestra through the Force, making it clear that time is running out.
When they finally set out on the mission, we are 70% into the novel. Before that, when Out of the Shadows is not introducing new characters, there are discussions on the current state of the galaxy, the Jedi’s role in the current state, and hyperspace politics. That is not necessarily a bad thing, but it makes the reading experience feel like homework, and, for a second, I wondered if they were going to go on the mission in this book.
Out of the Shadows does capture the perfect frustration of politics and posturing, demonstrating why Jedi like Vernestra and Cohmac, are disillusioned with the politics. They have been out in the galaxy and know that there is a real sense that the Jedi are failing people, particularly in the Outer Rim removed from the Core Worlds. It is the type of geopolitics that makes The Mandalorian interesting. And it deserved to be the focus of this novel instead of building to a climactic action event that felt unsatisfying.
Out of the Shadows is a character-driven novel, so there is a lot to discuss. If you have read my thoughts on A Test of Courage, you know Vernestra and Imri are two of my favorite Jedi in The High Republic. Vernestra is one of the more complex characters that is trying to figure out her place in the Jedi Order as a new Knight and coming to terms with the idealized version of the Jedi versus reality. If this were the five stages of grief, Vernestra would be in anger. She is both angry at the Nihil’s action while finding the level of brutality incomprehensible and is starting to resent the Jedi’s apprehension on fighting the Nihil. Meanwhile, Reath falls somewhere in between bargaining and acceptance (especially when thinking about Nan and how he hopes their experience in Into the Dark could help change her course).
Imri was one of the standouts in A Test of Courage and his empathetic Force abilities that were hinted at are fleshed out more here. But outside of that, he is sidelined in this story, partly because there are two too many Jedi. I like Cohmac and Reath and thought they were the best part of Into the Dark (Reath went through losing his Master just like Imri and the two have a connection on that front). But, having them in this story feels forced, particularly Reath since most of his page time is spent fawning over Vernestra. It is as if Reath himself is trapped in YA until his character matures. Cohmac advises Vernestra, which helps her development, but nothing moves Cohmac or Reath’s development forward. They both will be back for Midnight Horizon, the third YA, in Wave three, and I hope Reath and Cohmac get the character-focused story they deserve (and need).
Unfortunately, Out of the Shadows has another leftover from Into the Dark in Nan. A cringe-level minor antagonist with little complexity and cartoonish thoughts. The words reflecting how she feels about belonging to the Nihil read like some of the 90s Middle-Grade Star Wars novels and are so uncharacteristic of the quality of storytellers in The High Republic. Since she has been the worst character in Gray’s Into the Dark and now Ireland’s Out of the Shadows, this is either a complete misfire on a character from The High Republic team or Nan is going to be one of the biggest payoffs. I am hoping for the latter, but the journey is still going to be rough.
Besides Vernestra, the other main character in the novel is Sly Yarrow, the forementioned down on her luck smuggler. Despite the rough start, and a tragic backstory (a common thing in Star Wars), Sly is quite lucky in the novel. She is approached by wealthy Xylan Graf for a mission and runs into her ex-girlfriend, Jordanna (a member of the San Tekka family). Lucky because both these encounters end up helping Sly overall. Other than that, Sly is the least compelling main character of The High Republic novels so far and is more of an emotional tie-in to the hyperspace weapon. Without spoilers, there are clear parallels to Jyn Erso in Rogue One with Sly in many ways. Xylan Graf and the Graf family also feel a part of the long game in The High Republic, and their motivations are as murky as the politics surrounding this novel.
Speaking of politics, we also meet Senator Ghirra Starros, mother of science prodigy Avon Starros who first appeared in A Test of Courage. She is the embodiment of the Republic that makes Jedi like Cohmac uneasy. Politicians, like Chancellor Soh, continue to push the Jedi to fight the Republic’s battles instead of being guided by the will of the Force. But Starros is great for a shot of energy in the novel and pops off the page, making the most of her time. She is using the Jedi, but why can be added to the pile of ongoing mysteries. I would not mind a story (whether short form or novel) that focuses on the Starros family. They are a legacy family existing entirely in publishing, with Sana Starros living during the Reign of the Empire and Age of Rebellion.
This conflict within the Order is explained clearly and concisely by Jordanna Sparkburn when speaking with Sly:
While Vernestra and Sly are the focal characters in Out of the Shadows, Jordanna is the audience surrogate, vocalizing the thoughts that Star Wars readers have come to understand about the Jedi. She has been a deputy on her frontier homeworld of Tiikae, dealing with the aftermath of Nihil attacks, and has long since given up on taking prisoners. She also has some insight about the Nihil, but it all feels more from the authorial voice than Jordanna’s voice. But it is still the most insight into the High Republic Jedi Order thus far. It is also refreshing to have someone know what is really going on in the galaxy, and still choose violence.
There is a significant amount of added information on hyperspace mythos within the Star Wars universe. There are knowns and unknowns in theoretical hyperspace physics. The knowns are things that families like the San Tekka’s and Graf’s have been able to capitalize from and make unrivaled fortunes. Xylan throws the term “hyperspace prospectors” to Sly: discovering new lanes and byways through space like the wild west. Some of these lanes were private until campaigns were launched by scientists to make them accessible to everyone. Also, certain lanes are not usable due to their proximity to habitable planets or moons and physics involving their gravitational pulls that would equal a death sentence for someone to travel through. The unknown is what exactly hyperspace lanes are: navigable wormholes are something more fantastical? Vernestra feels like the Cosmic Force is involved, merging the Jedi religion with science. It cannot be a coincidence that Mari San Tekka, who has mapped paths that no one thought possible, is Force-sensitive. I hope the mystery behind hyperspace remains a mystery, like Yoda’s species.
More information is given about the San Tekka’s and the Graf family. We still do not know how large each group is, but both have rigid structures in their family operations. On the San Tekka side, family duties include protecting their respective homeworlds through deputy service, which is Jordanna’s job on Tiikae. The Graf matriarch, Catriona, tests her descendants by giving them a real estate property with one goal: to turn a profit. Xylan was given a tower on Coruscant. It is a difference that subtly hints at the psyche behind how each family sees both themselves and their responsibilities as wealthy kingmakers in the galaxy. The Graf family was first introduced as explorers in Wild Space in the young readers’ novel Adventures in Wild Space: The Escape by Cavan Scott. The story follows Milo and Lina Graf during the Reign of the Empire, and the family fortune seems to be gone.
Imri’s empathic Force abilities are due to his half Genetian heritage from his father’s side. He is learning how to control it from the writings of Samara the Blue, a Jedi that was stationed on Genetia, and created meditation techniques by studying the Genetians.
There is a tapestry in the Coruscant Jedi Temple that illustrates a battle between the Jedi and the Sith from a Ubdurian Jedi artist that lived 200 years prior named Sherche La Plenn. Plenn was a Jedi Marshal of a Jedi Temple on the planet Sag Kemper. The tapestry was feared lost in history but recovered as a gift from the Republic to the Jedi. This is the first mention of Jedi Plenn and the planet Sag Kemper and could be foreshadowing a future conflict with the Sith.
There is plenty of interesting new canon material presented in Out of the Shadows. However, both this and Into the Dark point to another problem narratively within The High Republic: More than any other novels or comics, the YA ones feel the most constrained where there is a key story beat that needs to happen to push the entire narrative forward. So, while Middle-Grade gets personal stories and adult novels get epic scale and intense battles, the YA’s individual stories have heavy exposition and unwanted leftovers.