Mission to Disaster is more of a direct sequel to Justina Ireland’s first The High Republic novel A Test of Courage than it is to the previous middle-grade, Race to Crashpoint Tower, or even the YA Out of the Shadows involving many of the same characters. This is, of course, ideal for young readers staying in the middle-grade space. But it also expands on the epilogue of A Test of Courage in which Kara Xoo, the Nihil Tempest Runner, is losing members and hints at recruiting children.
At first read, or even glancing at the synopsis, Ireland’s Mission to Disaster might be considered filler or low stakes involving younger characters in The High Republic. But getting deeper into the story and subtext, leading to the third act disaster, the stakes are higher than a ship falling apart in space or even a station crashing slow enough for the entire galaxy to witness.
Mission to Disaster shows how governments continually fail their citizens whether in service to their pockets, lives, or bigger self-interests. And it is often up to communities to band together during disasters, even if members in the community do not get along.
**Spoilers for Mission to Disaster**
Avon Starros is currently working with a scientist, Professor Glenna Kip, on Port Hailep. She is trying to replicate a Kyber crystal from the broken pieces she secretly stole from Imri in A Test of Courage. When the Nihil raid Port Hailep, Avon leaves her hiding place to retrieve the Kyber and gets caught and taken by a Nihil raider. Meanwhile, on the planet, Kirima, Jedi Knight Vernestra Rwoh, and her Padawan Imri are taking the time to practice when Vernestra has a vision of Avon being stunned and taken by someone.
On high alert, the two reach out to Master Maru on Starlight, who confirms an attack on Port Haileap. The search takes them to Dalna where a series of kidnappings have been ignored by the government. The Jedi stationed on Dalna, led by Master Jedi Knight, Nyla Quinn, are consistently stonewalled in investigation attempts. What starts as initial inquiries about the kidnappings soon spirals into a larger mystery involving the Nihil and the government of Dalna that, once again, reminds the Jedi that the Nihil are still a threat.
In A Test of Courage, the key action sequence occurs at the beginning, and we spend the rest of the story in the aftermath of the main characters as they deal with the trauma. Mission to Disaster takes time with characters old and new before the action-packed, yet rushed final act.
In the overall timeline, Mission to Disaster takes place before the events of Claudia Gray’s The Fallen Star when the Jedi still think that they have depleted most of their numbers and resources. I expected an epilogue reflecting on the events of The Fallen Star, but it ends on Vernestra going off on another mission with Avar Kriss. Because this is the last middle-grade in Phase One and Phase Two will take place in the past, I am curious how the next middle-grade will cover Starlight’s demise since Phase Three could be a few years from now.
Whether Imri accompanies her is left unclear as he and Avon have a separate mystery to solve involving Avon’s mother, Ghirra Starros. Readers of all things canon will know what this mystery entails, but Ireland succeeds in leaving enough hints for young readers to come to conclusions.
For reoccurring characters, Mission to Disaster focuses on their progression and how things have changed for them since A Test of Courage. Vernestra and Imri have been through a lot together, and Vernestra has worked with him to hone his empathic abilities. In turn, Vernestra is becoming more confident with having a Padawan. She has less doubt in her ability as a Jedi and less doubt in her role as a teacher. But she is emotionally exhausted, and instead of taking time to rest after the events here, she is off again with Jedi Master Avar Kriss.
While A Test of Courage focused on Vernestra and Imri dealing with the aftermath of The Great Disaster, Mission to Disaster focuses on Avon Starros and Imri Cantaros as they negotiate their way through politics within the Nihil and the Republic. Imri, deeply concerned about Avon, is anxious during his time on Dalna to keep trying to look for her but recognizes his duty to the people of Dalna. He leans on memories of Avon and his former Master Douglas Sunvale as well as Vernestra’s meditations to keep him focused. Ultimately, Imri helps develop a plan to save Dalna when the planet is faced with an environmental disaster. Avon and Imri made an impression on each other during A Test of Courage. How that relationship develops further as the two work together could test Imri’s attachments as a Jedi.
Avon, who is a student of science for better or worse (even though she likes to think it is for better), learns a difficult lesson. No matter the good intentions one has for science, their idea and creations can be used as weapons with unintended consequences.
Even the simplest of breakthroughs can have lasting consequences beyond initial comprehension. Back in 2015, John Sylvan, the inventor of the K-Cup, expressed regret for the invention for the cost per cup and the environmental impact (there was no way to recycle K-cups at that time). He initially wanted to create something to balance out the number of coffee cups brought into work. There are always unintended consequences.
Avon’s experiments and knowledge of Kyber crystal structures and matrixes save her from the treatment of other kidnapped children, but her work is used by a mad Doctor to create enough quake activity to destroy Dalnan’s atmosphere.
While Avon interacts with a few Nihil like Kara Xoo and Deva, both of whom have made appearances in Star Wars canon, they are afterthoughts in this story. Their presence is more felt in their extortion and exploitation of Dalnan resources (including their children) and through their mad Doctor, Zadina Mkampa. Mkampa is written similarly to Chancey Yarrow (people who care only about their work and not who funds it). The main difference is Dr. Mkampa is part cybernetic, more cartoonish, and is only interested in Avon because of her intelligence. Chancey had the emotional connection to her daughter to humanize her. But the Doctor is a good reminder that there are people, and industries, that profit from war. Mkampa is removed from the troubles/triumphs of Marchion Ro and the Nihil organization and is only concerned with creating weapons because she loves the work. Her insistence to Avon that the Jedi will lose interest is more so the Nihil can thrive again and she can get more money for her projects.
New Jedi are introduced, but they are minor characters with no development meant for exposition for Dalnan history. Twi’lek Nyla Quinn is the Jedi Master at the Dalnan Temple, with Jedi Knights Yacek Sparkburn and Lyssa Votz. Yacek Sparkburn, who may or may not be a San Tekka and distant relative of Jordanna Sparkburn from Out of the Shadows, and Lyssa, the Jedi archivist who has a particular genius idea in the latter part of the book involving hyperspace. It is unfortunate that I also have to add Honesty Weft as a minor character in this novel because he is also only used for exposition. Honesty’s life was turned around during A Test of Courage as he had to step outside of his father’s shadow after his death on the Steadywing. Since testifying to the Republic Senate, he returned to Dalna and became an apprentice in the protection corps. We do not learn much more, except he has a new friend, a Pantoran named Sha’nai. He gets a great moment with Vernestra as one of the few Dalnans that has a decent relationship with the Jedi. But now that Dalna is currently uninhabitable, Honesty might show up again in Phase Three.
A lot of Mission to Disaster consists of Dalnan geology and history lessons. We learn that it is a young planet with highly sulfurous parts and they have a volcano season that causes dangerous earthquakes. The Nihil exploit this and create a machine to activate enough volcanic activity to poison the atmosphere. It is hinted that Dalna is only temporarily uninhabitable and will be studied by Republic scientists so, perhaps the Dalnans will return in a later Phase.
When Vernestra presses Honesty on why the Dalnans do not trust the Jedi, he mentions the Night of Sorrow. The timeline of this event puts it around the same time that Phase Two is supposed to take place. We get the overview of the event from Honesty after some hesitation: When the Republic and Jedi answered a call for help from the Dalnans, something went wrong and a lot of people died. We don’t get elaborate details on the Night of Sorrow (also the name of a real-life battle, La Noche Triste, between the Spanish Conquistadors and the Aztecs). If it does take place around the time of Phase Two, there is a high chance that we will get to see/read it play out.
We have seen both Shani in this novel before: Deva is in Marvel’s War of the Bounty Hunters, and Professor Kip is a scientist for the Empire, then the Resistance. Shani is a newer species to Star Wars canon so every piece of content will have some new information. We still do not know how long the species lives for, but now we have confirmation that Deva was also around during The High Republic and could be close in age with Kip.
Just in time for its opening at Galaxy’s Edge theme park at Disney World, we get an appearance from the Halcyon cruiser. It is always awkward when these novels include theme park elements because the authorial voice shifts immediately to marketing mode and it is jarring to read someone else’s checklist in the “voice” of great authors. I will not regurgitate the talking points of ship specifications in the book, but the Halcyon now has bragging rights in history as being part of the rescue efforts of the Dalnan people.
Mission to Disaster succeeds at presenting another frightening element of the Nihil that is different from the other novels. Kidnapping children and either radicalizing them or selling them into slavery would probably galvanize the galaxy more but the Nihil in Kara’s Tempest are smart enough to stay low-key. Combined with planting allies within the Dalnan government and extorting other officials to look the other way, the Nihil have created another obstacle for the Jedi. Could the Jedi fight Nihil children? Would they have the resources to track down kidnap children who have been sold into slavery? It also brings up the question of whether we will see the Zygerrian Empire in The High Republic? The Zygerrians have been referenced enough to suggest that we will, and they could be another formidable antagonist for the Jedi.
The Jedi operating as an extended arm of the Republic is increasingly weighing on the Jedi Order and its younger generation. Since we are going back in time 150 years in Phase Two, I am curious if we will see the beginning of these two institutions intertwining and the role Jedi Masters (like Yoda) played in that happening. Ireland rounds out a great trilogy of middle-grade for Phase One, and I look forward to reading what Phase Two has to offer.