Star Wars: The High Republic – The Rising Storm by Cavan Scott
Kicking off the next wave of the burgeoning High Republic publishing line of Star Wars media, Cavan Scott’s The Rising Storm had a heavy load to lift. It shoulders it in the end, but not without some effort and some bruising on the way.
For those who have not been following the Star Wars literary line in 2021, The High Republic is an ambitious initiative spanning books and comics for all ages set in the golden age of the Jedi Knights, some two hundred years prior to the Prequel Trilogy. The Jedi are at the peak of their power and not yet the more ethically compromised characters we see in the fading years of the Galactic Republic, while their assorted foes are all very different to the Dark Side wielders with which we are so familiar from the films.
The Rising Storm tells the story of the continuing conflict between the Jedi of this era and the most fascinating of these new enemies, the marauding Nihil. The focus of this second wave of titles is the Republic Fair, an event intended by the Supreme Chancellor to act as a symbol of prosperity and possibility to the Galaxy.
While theoretically a standalone novel, The Rising Storm is in practice a direct sequel to the initiative’s debut in Light of the Jedi, picking up the vast majority of its expansive cast where author Charles Soule left them off in January 2021. Unfortunately, the invited comparison is not always a flattering one for this book. Where Light of the Jedi balanced a tremendous amount of worldbuilding with a fast-paced, propellant plot and instantly compelling characters, The Rising Storm becomes bogged down with an over-lengthy set-piece that loses all cohesion thanks to erratic jumps between an overwhelming number of character perspectives.
With the already-expansive cast of Light of the Jedi only growing and the tangled web of connections between them becoming ever more intricate, few novels have ever cried out quite so much for a Dramatis Personae like the ones so commonplace in the pre-Disney canon. This problem is not helped by the novel’s rapid pace and fleeting chapter length, which allows the reader very little time to sit with any particular Jedi character before they are on to the next, and the next.
A few members of the sprawling cast do manage to stand out in spite of this lack of focus, in particular newer characters such as the charismatic Stellan Gios and the very human Elzar Mann. Both have multiple memorable scenes that leave an impact on the reader long afterward, and the relationship between them is one of the few that is given the space necessary to flourish. However, most of the characters feel drowned within a story that is trying to do too much at once and repeatedly cuts itself off before it can settle into a rhythm. This is perhaps most regrettable with the intriguing new ‘saber-for-hire’ Ty Yorrick, who is never quite allowed the room to live up to her promising introduction.
This is really a shame because when the book is good, it’s often very, very good. The strengths of the novel reflect the strengths of the High Republic as a whole, above all a compelling world that feels both related to the Star Wars Universe we know yet also wholly fresh. Scott is especially talented at weaving together references to the broader galaxy in ways that add multiple layers of richness. There are continual winks and nods to all aspects of Star Wars from the films to Legends continuity to the broader High Republic project, but they are carefully presented in a way that makes the world feel bigger and never makes even the casual reader feel that they are missing something. By the novel’s end, the Galaxy of the High Republic feels more full of promise than ever – and more full of danger for the Jedi.
And the source of that danger is one of the book’s highlights. The villainous Nihil deserve special mention, once again managing to steal the show from the protagonists as they often did in Light of the Jedi. These chaotic space Vikings feel like nothing else in Star Wars, in large part due to an ingeniously constructed and vividly depicted political structure and internal culture which makes their every scene crackle with tension. Indeed, one of The Rising Storm’s greatest accomplishments is the unique impression it crafts of a group who see themselves as the lead players in a tangled family drama with the Jedi featuring only in occasional walk-on parts. It helps that the number of Nihil character viewpoints is kept low, allowing the reader to become familiar with a core set of characters in a way that doesn’t happen enough with the Jedi protagonists. It’s easy to see why Scott will be returning to the Nihil with August’s Tempest Runner audio drama focusing on the character of Lourna Dee, one of the more memorable antagonists here.
Following up an opening as well-received as Light of the Jedi was never going to be easy, and The Rising Storm often falls short of the bar that had been set. Through it all, with such a refreshing premise, the strength of solid worldbuilding, and original antagonists, The Rising Storm is an entertaining and worthwhile journey to an even longer time ago in a Galaxy Far, Far Away.
Early review copy provided by Del Rey Books. The Rising Storm releases in all good bookstores and digital storefronts 06/29/2021.